South Africa is a big country. Trying to see all of it is an impossible task and choosing these spots for the ultimate guide to South Africa was no mean feat. In the end, I settled for 10 places that I think showcase the beauty of the country.

To put in into perspective South Africa is almost 5 times as big as Great Britain or a little less than twice the size of Texas. It is a diverse country both culturally and geographically. From the fishing villages dotted along the coast to the semi-desert of the Karoo, the majesty of the Drakensberg Mountains and the breathtaking scenery of the mother city, Cape Town. You will have difficulty deciding where to spend your time.

For many people, it is the lure of a safari and seeing the Big Five that is the main drawcard. For others, it is the natural beauty in abundance. If you enjoy a road trip then you will love the wide open spaces, awesome mountain passes and beautiful roads that hug the rugged coastlines.

 

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Table Mountain

 

When to go

You need to decide what your main focus of the holiday will be. If it’s enjoying the ocean and the cafe society lifestyle while soaking up the sun then the summer months (November- March) are best in and around the Cape Town area.

If you are planning a beach holiday in Durban, which is more subtropical, then you would head to KwaZulu Natal in April – October.

You can go on safari at any time of the year, but my preference if you are going to the Kruger National Park is in winter (June, July, August). This is before the rains come and the land is dry. The vegetation is also thinner than is summer so you have a better chance of spotting the game. The animals also tend to head towards the waterholes so it’s a perfect place to set up to view them.

If you have limited time available and let’s face it, most of us do, fly into Cape Town and enjoy the sights then head to the Kruger area for a safari. You can just about manage this in 2 weeks, although if you want to venture further afield another week would be perfect.

 

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African sunset

 

The Ultimate Guide to South Africa

Cape Town

I am a proud Capetonian so naturally, this has to be no 1 on my list. It really has everything you could want in a holiday destination. If you are looking for white beaches to catch the rays or surf, a vineyard to wander through sipping a glass of wine or a mountain to climb then Cape Town is the perfect place for you.

You could spend a leisurely morning in the Bo Kaap exploring some local culture or if you are a foodie there are some fabulous farmers markets to enjoy. There are also a number of world-class restaurants, but you will have to book at least 3 months in advance to get a table at any one of these.  If you love shopping you will be in heaven at the V & A Waterfront.

 

Enjoy: The Best Markets for foodies in Cape Town

 

Boulders Beach Nature Reserve is also high up on my list of sights to see and the wacky penguins will keep you entertained as they waddle around.  You have to visit the Cape Point Nature Reserve which is also on the same side of the peninsula. The views from the top of the point will leave you speechless.

Cape Town is often ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world which is a well-deserved accolade.

 

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Colourful street in the Bo-Kaap

Discover: The Bo Kaap

 

The West Coast Flower Route

Just after the winter rains for about 2 months the semi-desert area of Namaqualand becomes a carpet of flowers. Don’t miss this! It is just as beautiful as the lavender fields in Provence.

 

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West Coast daisies

 

If you are unable to plan a trip around this time it is still worth a visit to this part of the world as the coast is beautiful. Try and spend a couple of days in Paternoster, a whitewashed fishing village where you can indulge in freshly caught fish, crayfish ( a bit like a lobster with smaller claws)  and mussels straight off the rocks.

 

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Fishermans cottage

 

The Garden Route

No ultimate guide to South Africa is complete without including a visit to the Garden Route. You will be seduced by the sheer natural beauty of a drive along the coast. The 200 km stretch includes George, the Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and ends in the Tsitsikamma Forest, a magical world of ferns, bird life and giant trees. The sandy beaches, lagoons and cliffs are stunning. If you are an adrenaline junkie then drive an extra 26 km to the Bloukrans River Bridge to bungee from the highest commercial bungee bridge in the world.

 

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Knysna Lagoon

 

The Karoo

This area is a vast semi-desert region best described as big sky country. You really can see for miles. The region is dotted with small villages and a few larger towns. Windmills litter the landscape like solitary sentries guarding the secrets the of the land.

One of these gems is the town of Matjiesfontein, just off the N1 between Touws River and Laingsburg. Visiting here is like stepping back to a bygone era. The town was established in 1884 on the main line between Cape Town and Johannesburg. It was also a popular spa in the Victorian Era and was declared a National Heritage site in 1975. If you want to step back in time then this is living history at its best. The only place to stay is at the Lord Milner Hotel where the Union Jack still proudly flies.

 

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The Karoo

 

The Drakensberg (Ukhahlamba) Mountains 

The Drakensberg mountain range is the highest in South Africa. It has a rich plant life, rugged peaks, forests, waterfalls and rivers in abundance. It is one of the World Heritage sites found in South Africa. It is about 1000 km in length and is paradise for hikers and lovers of the great outdoors.

The area is divided into 3 regions, southern, central and northern, each with their own unique beauty. The mountains are littered with San rock art sites featuring around 35 000 images. Over the years I have visited much of this region, but my favourite remains the northern area. The Amphitheatre is a cliff face that is 5 km wide and 1200 m tall. The scale is immense and you feel totally dwarfed by its majesty.  You can climb a chain ladder to the top for spectacular views,

 

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The Drakensberg Mountains

 

Kruger National Park

You can’t miss visiting the Kruger National Park. It is a once in a lifetime experience for most people and often is the highlight of the trip. This is one of the world’s greatest national parks and covers nearly 2 million hectares. The vast number of animals makes it a unique and special place. If you are lucky enough you can come face to face with the iconic safari animals or Big Five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo)

The scenery changes as you move from the south to the north of the park. The southern part is my favourite with its granite outcrops and the Lebombo mountains dominating the scenery. Because of the diversity of the area, you will find many different species have made this their home.

How to plan your trip to Kruger

 

Elephants in Kruger

 

Durban

If you like the beach then the coast of KwaZulu Natal has got to be the best destination for you. With sandy beaches that stretch forever, warm water, balmy temperatures and a surfers paradise it has everything if you are looking for some fun in the sun.

It is also home to one of the largest population of Indians living outside of India. Spicy food and delicious curries are always on the menu.

 

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Durban Curry

 

The Transkei

The Transkei is still wild, rugged and for the most part an unspoilt stretch of incredibly beautiful coastline.  It starts at the Great Kei River and ends at the Umtamvuna River in the Eastern Cape. This is the home of the Xhosa people and the birthplace of Nelson Mandela.

It is quite rural and the hills are dotted with traditional villages. The houses are known as rondavels because of their circular nature. I love the beautiful indigenous Nguni cattle. They are magnificent animals and come in a variety of colours. They are hardy and are well suited to the environment.

The Transkei is also a favourite amongst fishermen, nature lovers, surfers and hikers.

 

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Nguni Cattle

 

The Cradle of Humankind

While this might not be a destination that you have considered but it is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Africa. It is famous for being the place where humankind originated.  It is in the Gauteng province about an hour’s drive from Johannesburg and has proved to be one of the world’s richest sources of hominid fossils.

You can also visit the Sterkfontein Caves, another fossil site. You descend around 60m underground and can explore some interesting caves in the process. The Wonder Caves are also in the area and are open to visitors.

 

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Sterkfontein Caves

 

 

The Winelands

The Winelands lie to the east of Cape Town. It is a spectacular part of the country. There are a number of areas to visit which include Stellenbosch, Paarl, Tulbach, Wellington and Franschoek. Grapes are affected by climatic conditions so each region delivers a unique style of wine.

Many of the estates can be visited and most offer wine tastings. A number of them also have restaurants on the property.

If you don’t have the time to head to the country then you could explore the Constantia Wine Route which is much closer to the city centre and produces some outstanding wines. The farms higher up the hill have breathtaking views across the peninsula.

Read: A foodie guide to Paarl

 

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Wine collage

 

South Africa is a beautiful country with many places that are outstanding in their natural beauty. My ultimate guide to South Africa has only really scratched the surface. Once you have visited I am sure that you will want to return and explore further as many visitors return time and time again. It has such diversity that you will not tire of it easily.

 

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17 COMMENTS

  1. South Africa looks so much like Southern California until you start seeing elephants and the Karoo. I would love to visit South Africa because of this. It’s almost like home, but unique and special. There is so much to see and do and so many different ecological zones.

  2. South Africa is on top of our bucket list and yes safari is the main draw but villages, vineyards and the coastline are enticing enough. The flower route in Namaqualand looks spectacular.

    • I have managed to see the flowers a couple of times over the years and they are a spectacular sight. Some years they are better than others so you never know quite what the season will be like. It’s all a bit of a lottery, but when they are all in bloom its amazing.

  3. I haven’t been much around Africa and South Africa itself is so massive, just like you mention, that it becomes difficult to choose what to do and what to miss. I definitely have to get to Capetown, whenever I do get myself to travel to South Africa and Durban as well. Having heard a lot of Kruger National Park, that’s also in my list. I have never heard of the Flower Route, but thanks for that tip as it looks pretty awesome and I’d love to go on it. Also, Drakensberg mountains look really nice! I have to make it to the wine country too, of course. South Africa has some amazing wines!

  4. Everywhere just looks SO beautiful! I visited Cape Town years ago but I’ve not had the chance to return to South Africa since then. Your post has just made me realise that it’s high time I organise a return trip and a long enough trip that takes in as many of these 10 regions as possible! I absolutely love the look of Namaqualand and the Transkei sounds fascinating. Thanks for the travel inspiration!

    • Pleasure! These are my favourite areas of the country so I am glad that you enjoyed them. Hopefully, you will have another opportunity to visit and explore more of the country.

  5. I’ve been wanting to visit the Winelands for a while now – all you have done is made me realise I need to visit SA for longer – Cape Town is a must – and the Garden Route looks stunning!

    • I could spend a week in the Winelands alone, but it’s all about prioritising so it makes deciding what to visit even more difficult. The Garden Route is a pretty awesome part of the world as well.

  6. We loved the chance to visit a few spots in South Africa and then we stayed in Cape Town over Christmas. But even wth this, we saw so little of this beautiful country. We just loved your home town Cape Town. It was so much more stunning than we expected. We would definitely want to try Paternoster the next time for fresh seafood. We did a game drive in Richards Bay and outside Cape Town. But we definitely want to go back to actually stay in Kruger. Want the sunrise and sunset experience. Your photos are wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks so much! SA has so much natural beauty to enjoy and it’s a pretty chilled country as well, especially Cape Town. I hope that you do have the opportunity to come back as visit Kruger. It is a very special experience.

  7. I had no idea just how much was in South Africa. I always see Table Mountain, wine and safaris, but this showed me so much more! I would love to visit the Drakensberg mountains. They look so gorgeous! And I had no idea that cradle of humanity is there! Too cool! This post bumped South Africa up on my list, so thanks!

    • I am so glad that you enjoyed the post. SA has so much to offer a tourist. The currency is relatively weak against the dollar, euro and pound so it makes it a really affordable country to visit as well.

  8. I can imagine how hard it was to just select 10 places at the ultimate go-to visits in South Africa. You had your work cut out for you.

    Cape Town sounds like the place to start. With restaurants and farmers markets, this foodie would be very happy. But I would definitely have to head to Durban to try some of those curries!

  9. Those flowers are so beautiful and colorful. I also like the landscapes- those mountains, they are like paintings of paradise! The water is so clear you could see the reflection of the mountains! It’s just amazing.

  10. I would love to see the colorful houses in cape town and watch the penguins at Boulders Beach Nature Reserve. The fact that there is wine country nearby is a n added bonus!

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