Get to Know South Africa

Africa's most popular and best-developed travel destination is famed for its sun-soaked beaches and vast game reserves, but it also provides exceptional opportunities to indulge in pursuits as varied as wine-tasting, hiking and museum-hopping

South Africa is a land of extraordinary natural wealth and variety. Indeed, one recent ecological survey ranked it as the third-most important country in the world in terms of biodiversity. The Big Five – lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino – roam freely through South Africa's premier safari destination, the vast Kruger National Park, along with a host of other iconic large mammals.

And the country is even more remarkable when it comes to smaller creatures – it is home, for instance, to more endemic and near-endemic bird species than any other African country, while the tiny Cape Floral Kingdom in the southwest contains around five percent of the world’s plant species.


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Why South Africa?

  • Endless choices of breathtaking scenic hiking trails
  • Spectacular birdwatching and a diverse flora kingdom
  • Delicious selections of cuisine and wine tastings
  • Some of the best white sandy beaches
  • Amazing abundance of wildlife, adventure and history

Where to Go in South Africa

Cape Town

table mountain view from lekbos cape town south africa safari Table Mountain from Melkbos on the West Coast

Routinely lauded as to one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Cape Town offers visitors a breathtaking portfolio of natural and cultural attractions. The City Bowl is enclosed by the lofty heights of Table Mountain to the south, the dramatic outcrops known as Lion’s Head and Signal Hill to the west, and the choppy waters of the Atlantic to the north. It is endowed with some fine colonial architecture, more than a dozen worthwhile…

Cape Town

table mountain view from lekbos cape town south africa safari Table Mountain from Melkbos on the West Coast

Routinely lauded as to one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Cape Town offers visitors a breathtaking portfolio of natural and cultural attractions. The City Bowl is enclosed by the lofty heights of Table Mountain to the south, the dramatic outcrops known as Lion’s Head and Signal Hill to the west, and the choppy waters of the Atlantic to the north. It is endowed with some fine colonial architecture, more than a dozen worthwhile museums reflecting every facet of its complex multicultural history, and the culinary and retail delights of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Cape Town also provides an excellent base for day trips to sites as diverse as Table Mountain, the Alcatraz-like confines of Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years), the peaceful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the historic wine estates of the Constantia Valley, and the wave-battered cliffs of Cape Point.

Highlights

clouds over table mountain cape town south africa safari Table Mountain as the ‘tablecloth’ descends

Rising to an altitude of 1,086 m, iconic Table Mountain sometimes basked in golden sunlight, other times swathed in a misty shroud known as the tablecloth, dominates the city’s southern skyline. The ‘table top’, most easily reached by cable car, offers stunning views to reveal the geological drama of the Cape Peninsula.

cape town castle of good hope south africa safari Castle of Good Hope | Credit: Craig Howes

South Africa’s oldest working building, the pentagonal Castle of Good Hope was constructed over 1666-79 and served as the seat of the Dutch colonial government for more than a century. It now houses a military museum and art gallery.

camps bay beach cape town south africa safari Camps Bay Beach

Of the countless beaches in and around Cape Town, first choice among fashionistas is Camps Bay, set below the spectacular Twelve Apostles formation, while families tend to head to suburban Muizenberg. For a scenic beach walk, nowhere is Table Mountain seen to better advantage than from the aptly-named Bloubergstrand (Blue Mountain Beach) north of the city centre.

district six museum cape town south africa safari District Six Museum in Cape Town

The award-winning District Six Museum is arguably the city’s most engaging and poignant installation. Taped recollections, possessions and photographs donated by former residents evoke everyday life as it was in the cosmopolitan multiracial suburb of District Six prior to it being bulldozed by the apartheid government in 1966 and rezoned as a whites-only area.

kirstenbosch botanical gardens cape town south africa safari Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Set on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, the 528-hectare Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is serviced by a network of well-marked trails passing through thematic beds of indigenous flora – most notably a lush cycad garden, but also a fascinating collection of ‘useful plants’, and a conservatory containing succulent species typical of the arid Kalahari and Namaqualand.

bo kaap cape town south africa safari The colourful neighbourhood of the Bo-Kaap

The Bo-Kaap (Upper Cape) is the spiritual home of the Cape Malay community, whose colourfully painted houses include the Bo-Kaap Museum, a beautifully restored 1760s homestead that explores the history of this fascinating suburb.

vna waterfront cape town south africa safari The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

Reputedly the most-visited tourist attraction in South Africa, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a vast harbour-front development comprising 50-plus restaurants, hundreds of shops, and boats offering sunset cruises around Table Bay, where dolphins and seals frolic below the outline of Table Mountain.

robben island cape town attractions south africa safari Robben Island | Credit: South African History

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Robben Island gained infamy as a site of the maximum-security block where Nelson Mandela and other prominent anti-apartheid leaders were detained in the height of the struggle. It can be visited on a boat-and-bus excursion that leaves from Victoria & Alfred Waterfront several times daily and includes a visit to the tiny cell Mandela was required to call home for 18 years.

Cape Town_Groot Constantia Groot Constantia lies on the slopes of Table Mountain

The birthplace of Cape wine, the Constantia Valley houses some of the country’s most historic and beautiful estates, among them Groot Constantia, centred on an original 1680s homestead now preserved as a museum.

Cape Town_Cape Point Cape Point is a great day-trip excursion

Now part of Table Mountain National Park, the 77 km2 Cape of Good Hope protects the most southerly section of the Cape Peninsula. The main focus is Cape Point Lighthouse, which stands atop a precipitous windswept cliff that rises 250 m from the rocky beach below. It’s also good for fynbos endemics such as the Cape sugarbird and Orange-bellied sunbird, while mammals include Cape fur seals and half-a-dozen antelope species, notably eland and bontebok.

boulders beach cape town attractions south africa safari Jackass penguins at Boulders Beach

Just five minutes drive south of Simon’s Town, Boulders Beach supports a permanent breeding colony of several thousand penguins, which can be observed strutting, surfing, squabbling and sunbathing from a network of boardwalks and viewing platforms.

Travel Tips
  • Cape Town has all the amenities you’d expect of the country’s leading urban tourist destination. A world class dining scene and selection of cosmopolitan shops is complemented by a array of overnight options, ranging from five-start city and boutique hotels to backpacker hostels and B&Bs.

  • Cape Town is served by an ever increasing number of international flights, as well as by several dozen daily flights from Johannesburg, and domestic flights to all other major centres in South Africa. All flights land at Cape Town International Airport, which lies 20km east of the city centre, and is connected to it by the N2 highway.

  • The city lends itself to casual exploration using public transport such as the MyCiti bus service. The popular Cape Town Explorer is also an option as a hop-on-hop-off bus service that connects the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront to all the major museums as well as the Table Mountain Cableway, Camps Bay, Sea Point and Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Also worth considering is the Metrorail train service, which connects the central railway station on Adderley Street to Simon’s Town via the Southern Suburbs and Muizenberg. Self-drive, picking up a rental car at the airport, is also a viable option.

Durban and the South Coast

The most populous city and busiest port on the east coast of Africa, Durban is a vibrant and interesting city set in the municipality of eThekwini (a Zulu name meaning ‘Place of the Sea’). A substantial Indian population and sticky subtropical coastal climate combine to give Durban a slightly Asiatic feel, but the city’s main attraction is its fine beaches and sunny coastlines. The urban setting will appeal to those seeking a more down-to-earth, lived-in experience than one tends…

Durban and the South Coast

The most populous city and busiest port on the east coast of Africa, Durban is a vibrant and interesting city set in the municipality of eThekwini (a Zulu name meaning ‘Place of the Sea’). A substantial Indian population and sticky subtropical coastal climate combine to give Durban a slightly Asiatic feel, but the city’s main attraction is its fine beaches and sunny coastlines. The urban setting will appeal to those seeking a more down-to-earth, lived-in experience than one tends to associate with other beach resorts.

Durban and the South Coast_Common dolphins Common and Bottlenose dolphins frequent the waters of Durban and often interact with surfers

Durban lies midway along the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, a 200 km stretch of subtropical Indian Ocean frontage stretching from the Tugela River Mouth south to the border with the Eastern Cape. This is South Africa’s most conventional beach holiday destination, a beach nirvana strung with palm-fringed expanses of broad white sand. Unlike Cape Town, the beaches around Durban cater mainly to domestic holidaymakers from landlocked Gauteng, and thus tend to get congested over school holidays and long weekends (especially around Christmas and Easter), but to be quiet at other times.

Durban and the South Coast_Tugela River Mouth Tugela River Mouth | Credit: Fresh Water Health

Highlights

South Africa’s most resort-like urban beach, Durban’s Golden Mile is divided from the CBD by the pedestrianised OR Tambo Parade. Protected by shark nets and patrolled by lifeguards, the beach is ideal for swimming, sunbathing and surfing, though it can get very crowded during peak season.

Durban and the South Coast_Durban beaches Warm waters from the Indian Ocean make Durban beaches a pleasure to visit during the summer | Credit: South African Tourism

TheuShaka Marine Worldhouses the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere. Marine life is on show where dolphins, seals, sharks, rays and penguins are the main attraction. Attached to this child-friendly installation is the Shaka Wet ‘n’ Wild Waterworld, a family fun park that incorporates the country’s largest waterslide.

Landmarks associated with Durban’s Indian population include the golden-domed Juma Mosque, the largest building of its type in southern Africa, and the less central Alayam Hindu Temple.

Durban and the South Coast_Hindu Temple Durban Hindu Temple in Durban | Credit: KZNIA.com

The central Durban Botanical Garden includes fabulous collections of prehistoric cycads and rare orchids.

Durban’s most ecologically important conservation area,Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve offers a rare opportunity to see mangrove dwellers such as the brilliant mangrove kingfisher and quirky mudskipper fish from a wooden boardwalk.

The popular resort town of Umhlanga Rocks, 20 minutes drive north of Durban, is home to the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board, where lifelike replicas of various sharks and rays can be viewed along with an audiovisual display emphasising the importance of these oft-maligned creatures in the marine ecology.

![Durban and the South Coast_Kingfisher Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve]https://www.discoverafrica.com/images/Ansie_Coetser_Mangrove_Kingfisher.jpg) A mangrove Kingfisher in the Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve | Credit: Ansie Coetser

Ballito, 40 km north of Durban, is a thriving and well-equipped upmarket resort town with a 2.5 km long beachfront promenade and plenty of family friendly activities on offer. Its Willard Beach is ideal for swimming while Boulder Beach is popular with surfers.

Durban and the South Coast_Ballito Ballito is a popular holiday spot for locals

Carved by the Mzimkulwana River, the euphorbia-studded Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve is run through by several walking trails from which bushbuck, blue monkey and a vast array of colourful forest birds might be seen. White-water rafting and abseiling can be undertaken outside the reserve. Durban and the South Coast_Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve The suspension bridge over the Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve | Credit: Wild 5 Adventures

A succession of wonderful beaches run along the 120 km stretch of coast south from Durban, among them Amanzimtoti, Umkomaas, Scottburgh, Port Shepstone, Margate and Ramsgate. Excellent snorkelling and diving opportunities are available at reefs and wrecks offshore of Amanzimtoti, Umkomaas and Shelley Beach.

Protecting a forested river gorge on the Eastern Cape border, Umtamvuna Nature Reserve offers some lovely coastal and forest hiking, and it harbours various small antelope, along with a breeding colony of the endangered Cape vulture.

Durban and the South Coast_Cape Vulture The Cape vulture is a protected species due to the fact that many are killed for traditional medicine and their nesting sites destroyed as a result of habitat loss | Credit: The Flacks Wildlife Photography

Practical Information

Airport Durban King Shaka International Airport

  • Durban is connected to Johannesburg, Cape Town and many other large centres by several flights daily. All flights land at King Shaka International Airport, 35 km north of the city centre. The usual car rental agencies are available here, and airport shuttles and taxis are available to get you to the city center or elsewhere on the coast.

  • There is no shortage of hotels in Durban and the city is also serviced by many B&Bs and backpacker hostels. Hotels and resorts can also be found all along the coast flanking Durban, with Ballito and Umhlanga Rocks being particularly well endowed when it comes to stylish upmarket lodges.

  • Indian cuisine is well represented in Durban and good seafood can be had throughout the region.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North

South Africa’s major safari destinations are mostly clustered in the country’s northern interior. Foremost among these is the iconic Kruger National Park and bordering private reserves, which collectively protect a vast tract of low-lying bushveld that offers some of the finest Big Five viewing anywhere on the continent. Also very popular, particularly for those who want to avoid the slim risk of malaria associated with the Kruger, are the more westerly Madikwe and Pilanesberg Game…

Gauteng, Kruger and the North

South Africa’s major safari destinations are mostly clustered in the country’s northern interior. Foremost among these is the iconic Kruger National Park and bordering private reserves, which collectively protect a vast tract of low-lying bushveld that offers some of the finest Big Five viewing anywhere on the continent. Also very popular, particularly for those who want to avoid the slim risk of malaria associated with the Kruger, are the more westerly Madikwe and Pilanesberg Game Reserves, both of which harbour all the Big Five along with other safari favourites such as giraffe and warthog in the malaria-free North-West Province.

(P.S. If you’re looking for Gauteng accommodation specials, we’ve got some great travel deals for you.)

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Pilanesberg The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is a great malaria-free destination for cautious travellers | Credit: Leon Rossouw

The main air gateway to these fine reserves is built-up Gauteng, a province that accounts for less than 1.5% of South Africa’s surface area but supports a full 20% of the national population and generates an astonishing 10% of the entire African GDP. Bustling, chaotic and unapologetically commerce-driven. Gauteng - a seSotho name meaning ‘Place of Gold’ - exists purely because of the immense mineral wealth that lies beneath its soil. It is home to four of South Africa’s most populous ten cities, including the national capital Pretoria and megapolis of Johannesburg.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Johannesburg Johannesburg is known as the “City of Gold”, a tribute to its humble gold-mining beginnings

Although its attractions may not be as immediate as those of, Cape Town or Durban for instance, the province does offer plenty of worthwhile sightseeing, from the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cradle of Humankind - one of the world’s most significant paleoanthropological sites, to the first history-making former ‘township’ of Soweto.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Cradle of Humankind A hot air balloon experience is a great way to enjoy the panoramas of the Cradle of Humankind | Credit: Bill Harrop

Highlights

Quite simply one of the world’s largest and most rewarding safari destinations, the iconic Kruger National Park supports 147 mammal and 517 bird species, including substantial populations of all the Big Five. Included on of the most organised tours through South Africa, it is also an unusually straightforward goal for DIY safari-enthusiasts.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Hornbill The African hornbill is a common sighting in the Kruger National Park

The best known of those private reserves sharing an open border with Kruger, Sabi Sand is home to several bar-setting game lodges and camps offering all-inclusive Big Five safaris to an exclusive clientele. Expertly guided game drives in open 4x4 vehicles offers some of the world’s most intimate leopard viewing.

The sheer escarpment that divides the sweltering lowveld of Kruger from the breezy highlands around Graskop can be explored on the Panorama Route, a loosely-defined road circuit that offers access to several beautiful waterfalls and viewpoints. Highlights include the restored goldrush village of Pilgrim’s Rest and the spectacular 1.4km deep Blyde River Canyon.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Panorama route Blyde River Canyon is made up of great peaks and valleys

South Africa’s premier malaria-free safari destination, Madikwe Game Reserve offers excellent Big Five viewing, with lion, elephant and rhino being particularly conspicuous. It functions much like the private reserves bordering Kruger, with an emphasis on guided game drives in open 4x4s, and is serviced by a couple of dozen small and exclusive all-inclusive bush lodges

A study in contrasts only two hours’ drive north of Gauteng, the Pilanesberg Game Reserve and adjacent Sun City pits another fine malaria-free safari venue against the altogether more hedonistic pleasures of Sun City, a massive casino complex that sports two superb golf courses and plenty of child-friendly activities.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Sun City Sun City is a great family destination and is just two hours by car from Johannesburg

Founded above the world’s richest gold deposits in 1886, Johannesburg is South Africa’s largest city and main economic hub. The vibrant social fulcrum of the country’s most culturally integrated and forward-looking province, it is also renowned throughout Africa as a shoppers’ paradise. Visitors from further afield won’t regret making the effort to explore the Apartheid Museum and the exhaustive selection of photographs, old newsreels and other imaginative displays documenting the rise and fall of the system of institutionalised racism for which it is named.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Apartheid Museum The Apartheid Museum is a must-visit museum with poignant stories and a celebration of the struggle for democracy in South Africa

The ‘township’ of Soweto – rather prosaically, an acronym of South West Townships – was the setting of many pivotal events during the anti-apartheid struggle. Guided tours lead past such landmarks as the poignant Hector Pieterson Memorial, whose 13-year old namesake was felled by the wave of police fire that initiated the Soweto Rising on 16 July 1976, and the Calabash-shaped FNB Stadium, which hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. Soweto tours usually include a lunch break at one of its so-called shebeens - now legitimised hole-in-the-wall bars that thrived illegally under apartheid.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Orlando Towers The Orlando Towers in Soweto

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, the paleontological treasure trove dubbed the Cradle of Humankind protects an ancient Karstic landscape whose wealth of fossils forms a unique record of the last 3-4 million years of human evolution. Its centrepiece is the Maropeng Visitors Centre, an award-winning and unusually child-friendly installation where self-guided tours start with an exciting boat ride through a subterranean waterway that takes you backwards in time, reproducing the volatile seismic conditions that shaped our planet’s geology. The nearby Sterkfontein Caves are where, in 1936, Dr Robert Broom discovered the first fossil confirming Darwin’s theory that humans evolved in Africa.

Established in 1855, Pretoria - now part of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality - has long served as the administrative capital of South Africa. The avenues of the stately city centre are lined by jacarandas that bloom purple in October and century-old buildings. Foremost among the latter, the sandstone Union Buildings, designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1913, is where Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration was held in 1994. Standing sentinel on the city’s southern outskirts, the hilltop Voortrekker Monument is an immense granite monolith built in the 1940s to commemorate the Afrikaner pioneers who trekked from the Cape to what is now Gauteng a century earlier.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Jacaranda_Pretoria The jacaranda trees line the streets of Pretoria and blossom in spring

Set on stark baobab-studded granitic hills running down to the south bank of the Limpopo, Mapungubwe National Park is the site of medieval trading city that supported some 5,000 people in its 13th-century peak as a supplier of gold, copper and ivory to the Swahili Coast of East Africa. Guided tours of the archaeological site, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, run every morning and an award-winning museum displays artefacts unearthed there. Elephant, kudu and klipspringer are regularly seen, and lion and leopard are also present.

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_Mapungubwe National Park Mapungubwe National Park has great cultural and historical significance | Credit: Scott Ramsay

Practical Information

Gauteng, Kruger and the North_O R Tambo International Airport O.R Tambo International Airport is one of the busiest airports in Southern Africa | Credit: Business Events Africa

  • The terminus of most international flights to South Africa, OR Tambo International Airport lies on the eastern outskirts of Johannesburg, about one hour’s drive from from Pretoria and two hours from Pilanesberg and Sun City. OR Tambo is also the most important hub for domestic flights, with several connections to the likes of Cape Town, George, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Kruger-Mpumalanga International Airport (for Kruger and the private reserves), as well as thrice-weekly flights to Pilanesberg. Self-drive is straightforward throughout and most major rental companies are represented at OR Tambo (and for that matter at Kruger-Mpumalanga International Airport) and there are also plenty of shuttles and taxis for those not being met by an operator or hotel shuttle.

  • Johannesburg and Pretoria are served by literally hundreds of city hotels. Most rustic out-of-town lodges, B&Bs and backpacker hostels. A fair range of similar accommodation can be found in most other towns the region. In game reserves, the choice tends to slit between all-inclusive upmarket lodges (Madikwe and Sabi Sands) and simple but well-priced rest camps (Kruger, Mapungubwe and Pilanesberg).

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

enter image description here iSimangaliso encompasses a variety of terrains that make it an important biodiverse region of the South Africa

South Africa’s third-largest protected area and oldest UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 3,320 square km iSimangaliso follows the Indian Ocean coastline for a full 220 km north of Lake St Lucia (Africa’s largest estuarine system) to Kosi Bay on the border with Mozambique. It is easily the country’s most biodiverse reserve, incorporating five separate Ramsar Wetlands, a…

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

enter image description here iSimangaliso encompasses a variety of terrains that make it an important biodiverse region of the South Africa

South Africa’s third-largest protected area and oldest UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 3,320 square km iSimangaliso follows the Indian Ocean coastline for a full 220 km north of Lake St Lucia (Africa’s largest estuarine system) to Kosi Bay on the border with Mozambique. It is easily the country’s most biodiverse reserve, incorporating five separate Ramsar Wetlands, a lush tropical mosaic of mountains, bushveld, palm groves, wooded dunes, grassland and coastal forests, as well as a 5 km-wide marine section that harbours Africa’s most southerly coral reefs. The faunal diversity of iSimangaliso (Zulu word meaning ‘something wondrous’) was encapsulated by Nelson Mandela, who described it as “the only place on the globe where the oldest land mammal (rhinoceros) and the world’s biggest terrestrial mammal (elephant) share an ecosystem with the world’s oldest fish (coelacanth) and the world’s biggest marine mammal (whale)”. Indeed, iSimangaliso can boast a higher count of vertebrate species than any other African conservation area with 129 terrestrial and aquatic mammals, 525 birds, 128 reptiles, 50 amphibians, and 991 marine as well as 48 freshwater fish. Despite this, while wildlife is abundant in parts, the stunning coastal scenery is at least as big an attraction as the game viewing.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park_Hippo Hippos fight for territory in lake St Lucia | Credit: Scott Ramsay

Jungle-swathed St Lucia Village, fringing the freshwater estuary for which it is named, stands at the far south of iSimangaliso and is the park’s main travel hub. A contender for South Africa’s most wildlife-friendly settlement, it is home to plentiful hippos and crocs, as well as the likes of porcupine, bushbuck and warthog. The tropical birdlife includes African fish eagle, Trumpeter hornbill, Purple-crested turaco and Mangrove kingfisher. Popular activities include visits to an out-of-town crocodile farm and launch trips on the St Lucia Estuary.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park_Turtle Tracking Turtle tracking at iSimangaliso | Credit: Donna Scherer

Set below forested dunes on a reef-shielded beach north of St Lucia, Cape Vidal is a superb beach that offers good low-tide snorkelling and seasonal land-based whale and dolphin viewing. It also forms a vital seasonal nesting site for loggerhead and leatherback turtles.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park_Vervet Monkey Vervet monkeys in Cape Vidal

Halfway between St Lucia and Cape Vidal, the forested dunes around Mission Rocks are some of the world’s tallest and provide sanctuary to the secretive red duiker and localised blue monkey. Buffalo, rhino, elephant and possibly cheetah might be seen on the game-viewing loop to Lake Bhangazi.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park_Nyala antelope The nyala antelope

The 400 km2 uMkhuze Game Reserve offers the finest game viewing within iSimangaliso. Home to elephant, buffalo, giraffe and and elusive populations of leopard and cheetah, it is popular with wildlife photographers thanks to some well-sited photographic hides that attract a steady stream of nyala, kudu, zebra, warthog, white rhino and black rhino. More than 420 bird species include the localised Yellow-spotted nicator, Livingstone’s turaco, Neergaard’s sunbird and African broadbill.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park_Reef Snorkeling and diving are popular activities near Sodwana Bay

Africa’s southernmost coral reefs stand offshore of Sodwana Bay, whose Seven Mile Reef is ranked among the world’s most beautiful dive sites, with overhangs, drop-offs and mushroom rocks reaching around 20 m below the surface, and a dazzling array of colorful reef fish to be seen.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park_Lake Sibaya Lake Sibaya

South Africa’s largest natural freshwater body, Lake Sibaya is backed by tall forested dunes and supports around 150 hippos along with a wide diversity of aquatic birds.

Comprising eight lakes and a series of connecting channels that drain into the Indian Ocean through a sandy estuary, scenic Kosi Bay offers unusually calm snorkelling conditions and the opportunity to seek out 150 marine fish species on the rocky reef in the estuary mouth. The complex fishing traps set in the estuary by the local Thonga people represent a highly sustainable form of traditional resource management, since the estuarine fish are readily replenished from the open sea.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park_family vacation iSimangaliso is a wonderful family safari destination

St Lucia village is a convenient base for day safaris to the nearby Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, providing refuge to all the Big Five, including the world’s densest populations of both white and black rhino. Other wildlife includes African wild dog, giraffe, zebra, impala, nyala, greater kudu, warthog, Vervet monkey and almost 400 bird species.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park_Cheetah in Phinda A cheetah family in the Phinda Game Reserve

Sharing its eastern boundary with iSimangaliso, the private Phinda Resource Reserve is KwaZulu-Natal’s most prestigious safari destination. All-inclusive packages with guided game drives in an open 4x4 are also certain to yield all the Big Five over the course of a two- to three-night stay. A dense population of habituated cheetahs allows for great close-up behavioural viewing.

Not strictly speaking a private reserve, but effectively functioning as one, the 300 km2 Tembe Elephant Park is best known for its giant tuskers, but the rest of the Big Five are also present, and the birdlife is fantastic.

Practical Advice
  • Several scheduled flights daily connect Johannesburg to Richards bay, a large industrial port town about one hour’s drive southwest of St Lucia Village by road. There are also regular flights from most major South African cities to Durban, about three hours’ drive from St Lucia along the N2. Some visitors to Phinda and other private reserves use direct charter flights.

  • Most Durban-based tour operators offer overnight trips to southern iSimangaliso and/or Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. The region is also well suited to self-drive visits, though 4x4 is required for most places that lie north of Mkhuze Game Reserve and east of the N2.

  • A varied selection of budget to mid-range accommodation can be found in St Lucia Village. Most reserves set within or associated with iSimangaliso have inexpensive but comfortable rest camps. Upmarket bush camps can be found in Phinda, on the outskirts of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, and at certain sites along the iSimangaliso coastline north of Sodwana.

Kruger National Park

Extending over a mind-boggling 19,485 km², the Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest and most iconic safari destinations, comparable in area to Wales or the state of New Jersey, and sharing open borders with several smaller private reserves as well as two transfrontier national parks in the form of Gonarezhou (Zimbabwe) and Limpopo (Mozambique). It vies with with Cape Town as South Africa’s top destination, attracting more than one million visitors annually, and the park…

Kruger National Park

Extending over a mind-boggling 19,485 km², the Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s largest and most iconic safari destinations, comparable in area to Wales or the state of New Jersey, and sharing open borders with several smaller private reserves as well as two transfrontier national parks in the form of Gonarezhou (Zimbabwe) and Limpopo (Mozambique). It vies with with Cape Town as South Africa’s top destination, attracting more than one million visitors annually, and the park itself is better suited to affordable self-drive safaris than any other major African park. By contrast, the exclusive private reserves that border Kruger, and ‘concession lodges’ that occupy exclusive enclaves within it, set the bar when it comes to all-inclusive luxury safaris in open 4x4 vehicles driven by expert guides.

Kruger National Park_Game drive Having a professional guide to rack wildlife in the bush is the best way to enjoy a trip to Kruger National Park

Set in the hot eastern lowveld, Kruger is traversed by several rivers and punctuated by a few hilly areas, but mostly it comprises flat savannah dominated by acacia trees in the south and mopane woodland in the north. A tally of 147 mammal species includes all the Big Five (around 40,000 buffalo, 13,000 elephant, 1,600 lion, 2,000 leopard and 7,000 white and 400 black rhino) along with other safari favourites such as cheetah, hippo, zebra, giraffe, warthog, baboon, Vervet monkey and a full 21 antelope species.

Kruger National Park_Elephant Elephant in the Kruger National Park

The Nile crocodile is the most conspicuous of 114 reptile and 34 amphibian species, but the ethereal communal calls of the Bubbling kassina and other tree-frogs often provide a haunting aural backdrop to dusk waterhole vigils. Kruger is a magnet for bird lovers, with 517 bird species recorded, ranging from the spectacularly colourful Lilac-breasted roller and White-fronted bee-eater to several heftier species now rare outside of protected areas, among them the eyelid-fluttering Southern ground hornbill, the bizarre Secretary-bird, the massive Kori bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird), the macabre Marabou stork, and of course the ostrich.

Kruger National Park_Lilac breasted roller The colourful lilac-breasted roller

Highlights

Thanks to its relative proximity to Gauteng, Southern Kruger carries the highest volume of safari goers. The far south offers the park’s most reliable game viewing: the surfaced H4-1 that follows the Sabie River from Skukuza to Lower Sabie often throws up elephant, buffalo, lion and even leopard, and is also a favourite with birdwatchers, while the H4-2 and associated dirt roads running south to Crocodile Bridge explore the park’s best rhino country.

Kruger National Park_rhino Rhino in the Kruger National Park. Dedicated teams work around the clock to protect these animals from poachers

The focal point of the lightly-wooded savannah of Central Kruger, Satara stands at the crossroads of some superb game-viewing roads. Seasonal concentrations of wildebeest and zebra are reminiscent of the Serengeti, and it is the best place to look for cheetah and to see lion kills - the latter also often attracting jackals and hyenas. The aptly-named Olifants River is favoured haunt of elephants and it also often attracts immense herds of thirsty buffalo.

Kruger National Park_Cheetah cubs Cheetah cubs in the Satara region of the Kruger National Park. Long golden grasses provide a great camouflage for these cubs

Wildlife viewing in the remote Northern Kruger is challenging, for while buffalo and elephant are conspicuous, lion, leopard or rhino encounters are rare. Balanced against that, the untrammelled north possesses a mesmerising wilderness feel, and hosts a great many localised bird species absent further south. Thulamela Heritage Site, on the south bank of the Luvuvhu River, protects the substantial ruins of a 16th-century Zimbabwe-style stone-wall royal village.

Kruger National Park_Parfuri_Elephant A lone elephant makes his way around Pafuri in the far north of the Kruger National Park | Credit: Rudolph de Girardier

The 240 km² Makuleke Contractual Park, which runs south from the Limpopo River as it runs along the border with Zimbabwe, was annexed to Kruger following the forcible relocation of its inhabitants in 1969. Restored to the Makuleke community in the 1990s, it is still managed as part of Kruger, and hosts two private lodges that offer much to keen birdwatchers or anybody seeking a genuine wilderness escape. An excellent place to seek out the likes of Pel’s fishing owl, Racket-tailed roller and Triple-banded courser, it also offers exclusive access to the spectacular Lanner Gorge and lush Fever-tree forest at Crooks Corner.

Kruger National Park_Pels Fishing Owl Pel’s Fishing Owl is a rare sighting on safari

Home to some of South Africa’s most lauded game lodges, the Sabi Sand Reserve was amalgamated from several now jointly-managed private properties in 1948. It shares an open boundary with southern Kruger, and expertly guided game drives in open 4x4 vehicles often throw up all the Big Five, as well as cheetah and African wild dog. The reserve also arguably offers the world’s best and most intimate leopard viewing. But while the game viewing is peerless, shared traversing rights with neighbouring properties.

Kruger National Park_Singita Boulder's Lodge The Singita Boulder’s Lodge in the Sabi Sand is an example of the five-star luxury you can find in this corner of the Kruger

Immediately north of Sabi Sand, Manyeleti Game Reserve, whose Shangaan name means ‘Place of Stars’, was set aside in 1964 and now shares an unfenced 30 km eastern border with Kruger and supports a similar selection of wildlife, though poaching and low tourist volumes mean that game viewing isn’t quite up there with several of its neighbours.

Kruger National Park_Manyeleti Game Reserve Close encounters with wildlife in the Manyeleti Game Reserve

Named after the seasonal river that flows close to its southern boundary before crossing into Kruger, the private Timbavati Nature Reserve, created in 1962, and now unfenced along its border with Kruger, operates in a similar manner to Sabi Sand. Game drives don’t quite match up when it comes to leopard and rhino sightings, but since camps are more spread out, they tend to operate at a more relaxed and impulsive pace.

The Kruger’s dozen-or-so privately-run Concession Lodges stand on individual enclaves of national park land where exclusive traversing rights have been awarded to the concessionaire. Much like the private reserves bordering Kruger, each concession hosts between one and three exclusive small camps that offer guests an upmarket package inclusive of expertly guided game drives in open 4x4s. However, the concessions are typically much larger than the private reserves, wildlife is less habituated to vehicles, and there is no cross-traversing with other lodges - the net result being that game viewing tends to be more erratic but the overall experience is arguably more holistically satisfying.

Kruger National Park_Tanda Tula Tanda Tula in the Timbavati Game Reserve

Practical Information

Kruger National Park_Self Drive Kruger National Park offers great self-drive opportunities, which may be less expensive than a stay in a luxury lodge

  • Kruger is well suited to affordable self-drive safaris. A good network of sealed roads can easily be explored in an ordinary saloon car. The 20-odd rest camps offer inexpensive but comfortable accommodation, and most have grocery shops, filling stations and restaurants. In addition, an excellent selection of maps, guidebooks and other interpretive material is available on site.

  • Kruger-Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) lies within an hour’s drive of Numbi and Phabeni Gates. It is connected to Gauteng’s OR Tambo International Airport by several scheduled flights daily, and several car rental companies are represented there. For couples or families, it may be more affordable to rent a car out of Gauteng and drive, following the N4 east from Pretoria to Mbombela, or the N12 from Johannesburg/OR Tambo to connect with the N4 at eMalahleni (formerly Witbank). Allow five hours for the drive.

  • The private and concession lodges associated with Kruger offer a very different and somewhat more costly experience. Most exude an aura of safari chic, pamper clients with gourmet meals and service levels in line with a luxury spa, and include a guided evening and morning game drive in rack rate. These lodges are normally visited as a two- or three-night all-inclusive fly-in or drive-down package from Gauteng. You could also tag one night at a private reserve to the end of a self-drive Kruger safari – though be sure to time things so that you arrive at camp in time and leave late enough to do all game drives.

  • Kruger is hot and seasonally humid, with summer daytime temperatures routinely topping the 30°C mark (frequently 40°C in the north). The air dries out in winter, when nights can be very cold, and you’ll want plenty of warm clothing for evening and early morning game drives.

KwaZulu-Natal

South Africa’s most ecologically diverse province, KwaZulu-Natal is flanked by two vast and very different but equally important and alluring UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the lush subtropical Indian Ocean coastline protected within iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the lofty 3,000-plus metre peaks of the hiker-friendly uKhahlamba-Drakensberg.

(P.S. If you’re looking for affordable KwaZulu-Natal accommodation specials, we’ve got some great travel deals for you.)

KwaZulu-Natal_iSimangaliso snorkelling Snorkelling in the…

KwaZulu-Natal

South Africa’s most ecologically diverse province, KwaZulu-Natal is flanked by two vast and very different but equally important and alluring UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the lush subtropical Indian Ocean coastline protected within iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the lofty 3,000-plus metre peaks of the hiker-friendly uKhahlamba-Drakensberg.

(P.S. If you’re looking for affordable KwaZulu-Natal accommodation specials, we’ve got some great travel deals for you.)

KwaZulu-Natal_iSimangaliso snorkelling Snorkelling in the temperate waters of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which offers visitors a variety of landscapes to explore both on land and underwater

Other attractions include the seaside city of Durban, the countless smaller beach resorts that flank it on either side, the top-notch Big Five game-viewing offered at the likes of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Phinda Game Reserves, and a wealth of historical and cultural sites associated with the Zulu nation for which the province is named.

KwaZulu-Natal_Durban The beautiful coastline of Durban

Highlights

South Africa’s third largest city, the vibrant port of Durban stands at the hub of a 200 km stretch of Indian Ocean coastline endowed with an endless succession of perfect beaches.

A magnet for hikers and ramblers, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site remarkable not only for its scenic beauty, but also for its botanical diversity, wealth of endemic birds, and prehistoric rock art dating back up to 3,000 years.

KwaZulu-Natal_Drakensberg The Drakensberg is a hiking paradise | Credit: Places.co.za

KwaZulu-Natal’s most important Big Five destination, the 960 km2 Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve was first accorded official protection in 1895, and formerly served as the royal hunting ground of King Shaka Zulu. The reserve has played a crucial role in the conservation of both African rhino species, and it now protects the world’s densest population of these endangered creatures. Other prominent residents include elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, impala, nyala, greater kudu, warthog and to a lesser extent lion and leopard. From mid-March to mid-December, four-night wilderness trails lead through a 300 km2 area closed to vehicular traffic.

KwaZulu-Natal_Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve is an important conservation area, with a healthy population of African wild dogs

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the coastal iSimangaliso Wetland Park incorporates five separate Ramsar Wetlands and a checklist of more than 2,000 vertebrate species, more than any other African conservation area.

The Dhlinza Forest Reserve, bordering the small town of Eshowe, protects the country’s most accessible patch of mistbelt forest. Home to the diminutive Blue duiker and an interesting selection of forest birds, it is traversed by a 125 m aerial boardwalk that terminates at a tall tower offering grandstand views to the Indian Ocean.

KwaZulu-Natal_Dhlinza Forest Reserve The Dhlinza Forest Reserve is home to many indigenous trees and offers a fairy-tale experience for hikers | Credit: Biotree.earth

Sleepy Howick overlooks the spectacular 95m-high Howick Falls and offers access to the Karkloof Nature Reserve, which protects the country’s largest remaining stand of mist-belt forest. It is also the focal point of the Midlands Meander, which comprises a few dozen loosely-affiliated cottage industries ranging art and pottery studios to craft workshops and cheese producers. An imaginative sculpture comprising 50 steel columns marks the out-of-town Nelson Mandela Capture Site, the place where its namesake was arrested for anti-apartheid activities in 1962.

The showy but exuberant cultural program at Shakaland provides an informative and enjoyable introduction to the culture of the province’s numerically dominant Zulu people.

KwaZulu-Natal_Shakaland Shakaland celebrates the Zulu culture. Visitors can learn about traditional ways of life at this cultural centre | Credit: Robert Harding

The 250 km2 eMakhosini Heritage Park protects the Zulu ‘Valley of Kings’ and includes such cultural landmarks such as King Shaka’s Grave, the reconstructed residence of King Dingane, and the Hill of Execution where the voortrekker party led by Piet Retief was slaughtered. It is also home to rhinos and other typical Zululand wildlife.

The so-called Battlefields Route through the province’s northern interior comprises a number of important sites associated with what was the 19th-century Zulu-Boer and Anglo-Zulu Wars, and Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. These include Blood River, Isandlwana, Rorke’s Drift and Spionkop Hill.

The inland city of Pietermaritzburg, founded in 1838 as part of a short-lived Boer Republic called Natalia, has been the provincial capital since 1843. Its pedestrian-friendly CBD contains several well-preserved Victorian buildings, among them the redbrick City Hall, the Railway Station, the former Supreme Court (now the Tatham Art Gallery) and the Voortrekker Msunduzi Museum.

Practical Information

KwaZulu-Natal_Hartford House Kwazulu-Natal offers a variety of accommodations to suit any budget | Credit: Hartford House

  • The main air gateway to KwaZulu-Natal is King Shaka International Airport, which lies 35 km north of the central Durban. It is connected to Johannesburg, Cape Town and many other large centres by several daily flights.

  • An alternative port of entry for the northern part of the province is Richards Bay, which is connected by daily scheduled flights to Johannesburg, and lies about one hour’s drive southwest of iSimangaliso’s St Lucia Village or Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. The usual car rental agencies are available at both airports, and airport shuttles and taxis are available to get you to Durban or elsewhere on the coast.

  • Travelling between Gauteng and Durban by road, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park lies about halfway between the two and makes for an excellent place to break up the journey for a couple of nights. Hotels, B&Bs and backpacker hostels are plentiful in most parts if the province. The provincial conservation authority also operates an extensive network of affordable and comfortable rest camps set in its various reserves.

Madikwe and Pilanesberg

lions in the madikwe game reserve south africa animals Pride of lions in the Madikwe Game Reserve

Situated in the blandly-named low-profile North West Province, these two relatively recently-created reserves have grown in popularity in recent years thanks to their family-friendly location in a malaria free-zone and excellent Big Five viewing. Pilanesberg and Madikwe are quite similar in ecological terms, both being situated on the transitional zone to the moist eastern bushveld and the semi-arid Kalahari biome that extends into…

Madikwe and Pilanesberg

lions in the madikwe game reserve south africa animals Pride of lions in the Madikwe Game Reserve

Situated in the blandly-named low-profile North West Province, these two relatively recently-created reserves have grown in popularity in recent years thanks to their family-friendly location in a malaria free-zone and excellent Big Five viewing. Pilanesberg and Madikwe are quite similar in ecological terms, both being situated on the transitional zone to the moist eastern bushveld and the semi-arid Kalahari biome that extends into neighbouring Botswana. The usual safari favourites are supplemented by many dry-country species at the eastern limit of their range. However, two reserves cater to very different clienteles. Pilanesberg, only two hours from Gauteng, stands adjacent to the glitzy Sun City casino and resort complex and is geared primarily towards self-drive day and overnight visitors. By contrast, the more remote Madikwe is closed to day visitors and caters exclusively to the top end of the safari market, hosting a few dozen exclusive bush camps that offer plush accommodation and all-inclusive packages comparable to the private reserves bordering Kruger.

wildlife in madikwe on a south africa safari Zebra in the Madikwe Game Reserve

Now entrenched as South Africa’s premier malaria-free safari destination, the 750 km2 Madikwe Game Reserve abuts the Botswana border some four hours’ drive northwest of Gauteng. Flanked by the perennial Great Marico River, the reserve was established in 1991 following a government study that concluded it could be utilised more profitably and offer greater benefits to local communities as a conservation area than as an unproductive farm. Following an extensive program of reintroduction, it now offers an excellent chance of sighting three of the ‘Big Five’ – lion, elephant and rhino – while buffalo and leopard are also present, but scarcer. Common grazers include giraffe, zebra, greater kudu, springbok, Red hartebeest and tsessebe. It is also possibly the most reliable reserve in South Africa for encounters with the endangered African wild dog, and night drives frequently offer good sightings of the shy brown hyena and bizarre aardwolf. A checklist of 350 bird species includes several northwestern specials, most conspicuously the Southern pied babbler (dubbed the ‘flying snowball’ for reasons that become obvious when you first encounter one) and the exquisite Crimson-breasted shrike, Shaft-tailed whydah and Violet-eared waxbill.

rhino in pilanesberg wildlife Rhino are quite at home in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Nestled scenically within a collapsed volcanic crater, the 550 km2 Pilanesberg Game Reserve supports game densities similar to the likes of Kruger, and ranks as one of the best places anywhere in South Africa for close-up encounters with white rhino and elephant. Situated only two-hours drive north of Gauteng, it forms a realistic goal for time-pressed travellers looking for a malaria-free overnight safari destination out of Johannesburg or Pretoria. Large predator sightings are comparatively hit-and-miss, but odds of encountering lion or leopard - along with the strictly nocturnal brown hyena and aardwolf improve greatly if you join a guided night drive into the reserve. As with Madikwe, a checklist of 350 bird species includes several species that reflect its transitional location.

sun city in south africa Sun City resort

Established in 1976, Sun City is sometimes dubbed Las-Vegas-in-the-bush. While the massive casino at the complex’s heart just about justifies this tag, it also doubles as a fun family-friendly destination boasting a fake inland beach called the Valley of Waves, two superb golf courses designed by Gary Player, and day safaris into the adjacent Pilanesberg.

Travel Tips
  • Three scheduled flights weekly connect Johannesburg to Pilanesberg Airport, which also serves Sun City. It is arguably easier (and quicker) to drive. This takes about two hours from O.R Tambo Airport, Johannesburg or Sandton, or 90 minutes from Pretoria, via the scenic Hartebeespoort Dam. It is also easy to arrange a road transfer to Sun City or Pilanesberg.

  • It’s more like four hours’ drive from Johannesburg to Madikwe, and since all lodges here offer all-inclusive packages and self-drive exploration is forbidden, the best option is to fly.

  • Accommodation at Madikwe is limited to upmarket lodges. Pilanesberg and Sun City offer everything from five-star resort hotels and upmarket game lodges to budget-friendly rest camps within the reserve.

Stellenbosch and the Winelands

Stellenbosch and the Winelands_Stellenbosch The beautiful landscape of the Stellenbosch wine valley

The scenic Boland (literally ‘Upland’) immediately inland of Cape Town enjoys twin claims to fame. Not only is it home to some of South Africa’s oldest and most vivid towns (most notably Stellenbosch and Franschhoek), but it also forms the hub of the Cape’s burgeoning wine industry. Characterized by lush vine-planted valleys set below spectacular mountain ranges such as the Simonsberg, Groot Drakenstein and Helderberg,…

Stellenbosch and the Winelands

Stellenbosch and the Winelands_Stellenbosch The beautiful landscape of the Stellenbosch wine valley

The scenic Boland (literally ‘Upland’) immediately inland of Cape Town enjoys twin claims to fame. Not only is it home to some of South Africa’s oldest and most vivid towns (most notably Stellenbosch and Franschhoek), but it also forms the hub of the Cape’s burgeoning wine industry. Characterized by lush vine-planted valleys set below spectacular mountain ranges such as the Simonsberg, Groot Drakenstein and Helderberg, these beautiful areas are collectively referred to as the Cape Winelands, and few visitors pass up the opportunity to enjoy a ‘wine tour’ through some of its more famous estates, most of which offer free or inexpensive tasting facilities. Stellenbosch and some of the older wine estates also house some handsome examples of Cape Dutch architecture, a uniquely South African style typified by whitewashed thatched buildings with a rounded and ornately bordered gable set above the main door, and two flanking perpendicular wings.

old cape dutch buildings stellenbosch cape town attractions Impressive Cape Dutch buildings can be found all over Stellenbosch |Credit: Johan Fourie

Established in 1679, South Africa’s second-oldest town Stellenbosch is named after its founder Simon van der Stel. Nicknamed Eikestad (Town of Oaks), it retains a pleasingly time-warped Cape Dutch character whilst also hosting a lively selection of contemporary restaurants, cafés and shops. The Stellenbosch Village Museum comprises four restored houses – the oldest being the Schreuderhuis, one of the few buildings to survive the great fire of 1710 – representing different phases in the town’s development.

lanzerac wine estate where to eat in cape town Lanzerac wine estate

Founded on the outskirts of Stellenbosch in 1692, the scenic Lanzerac Estate is known for its stately Cape Dutch architecture and for producing the world’s first commercial Pinotage (a red cultivar unique to South Africa) in 1959, and it includes a five-star restaurant and hotel.

Stellenbosch and the Winelands_Franschhoek The best way to enjoy Franschhoek is a delicious meal at one of the many award-winning eateries | Credit: Petit Plaisir

Named for the many Huguenot refugees who settled there in the late 1680s, pretty little Franschhoek (‘French Corner’) hosts a few historic buildings, notably a pastoral Cape Dutch church built in in 1848. Its French roots are reflected in the handsome arched Huguenot Monument built on its outskirts in the 1840s, and the adjacent Huguenot Memorial Museum. The village is a culinary Mecca, hosting several of the country’s finest restaurants.

Stellenbosch Boschendal wine estate where to eat in cape town Nestled among ancient oak trees, Boschendal has a unique history

Set in a verdant valley flanked by the Groot Drakenstein and Simonsberg Mountains midway between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, the perennially popular Boschendal Estate was first planted with vines in 1685, and is notable both for its superb Cape Dutch architecture and Mediterranean-style picnics served on the oak-shaded lawn.

Spring flowers in darling west coast south africa Spring blooms of vibrant colours in the quaint West Coast town of Darling | Credit: Darling Tourism

Regularly known for its spring wildflowers and sleepy museum, the quaint town of Darling not only has its own wine route but is home to the cabaret venue and supper club Evita se Perron (named after Evita Bezuidenhout, a politicized South African equivalent to Dame Edna Everage created by the cross-dressing satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys).

Stellenbosch and the Winelands_Spier Wine Estate Picnicking on the lawns of Spier Wine Estate is a popular weekend activity

The family-friendly Spier Estate might lack the ambience of its older counterparts, but an excellent range of activities and amenities include a swimming pool, spa, playground, cheetah outreach programme, raptor centre, horseback excursions and two onsite restaurants. Thus making it an excellent family-friendly venue.

Vergelegen where to eat in cape town south africa safari Vergelegen offers a wonderful wine tasting experience | Credit: Cape town Travel

Founded in 1685 on the slopes of the Helderberg, Vergelegen (roughly translated as ‘far away’) is arguably the loveliest estate anywhere in the Winelands thanks to its gracious manor house, octagonal garden and row of gnarled camphor trees planted circa 1700. The restaurant and award-winning wines are also exceptional.

paarl in the cape winelands south africa safari As the third-oldest town in South Africa, Paarl and its famous wine valley brim with ancient folklore and terrific wines

The Winelands’ largest town, Paarl is redeemed from mundanity by the pearl-smooth granite dome of the adjacent Paarl (‘Pearl’) Mountain, reached on a footpath through the protea-rich slopes of the nature reserve bordering the town centre. The Taal Monument, built in 1975 to commemorate the centenary of Afrikaans’ recognition as an official language, lies on its lower slopes.

Tulbagh cpae town attractions Tulbagh experiences snow on the surrounding mountains in winter

A recommended diversion for devotees of Cape Dutch architecture is modest Tulbagh, whose Church Street has been restored in traditional style following a devastating earthquake in 1970.

Fairview Goat Tower cape town holiday attractions Fairview’s goat tower is a huge hit with the kids

Ideal for those travelling with children, unpretentious Fairview Estate combines a laidback farmyard atmosphere with a superb deli serving a fabulous range of handcrafted cheeses and homegrown wines.

Travel Tips
  • Stellenbosch lies a mere 50 km inland of Cape Town and 35 km from Cape Town International Airport, which is served by a number of international flights, as well as by several dozen daily flights from Johannesburg, and domestic flights to all other major centres in South Africa.

  • The winelands can easily be visited as a day trip out of Cape Town. For those who prefer an overnight stay, the region is also well-endowed with hotels, B&Bs and backpacker hostels, most of which offer a more countrified feel than their coastal and city counterparts around Cape Town.

  • Although self-drive is a straightforward option, the best way to sample a few of the region’s wine estate is on an organized day excursion out of Cape Town, Stellenbosch or Franschhoek. These usually take in around five different estates and is recommended because the self-drive wine-tasting option is in contravention of both commonsense and the law.

  • Opening hours vary, but you can safely assume that any name estate will be open for tasting over 09.00-16.00 Mon-Fri, and most also open on Saturdays and even Sundays.

The Garden Route

The Garden Route The Garden Route stretches from Mossel Bay to Storms River Mouth

The 200 km stretch of coast connecting Mossel Bay to the Storms River Mouth is commonly referred to as the Garden Route in reference to its beguiling diversity of wide sandy beaches, lovely lakes and lagoons, shady evergreen forests and protea-studded slopes. Lined with family-friendly beaches, but also ideally suited to hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, the region is home to the patchwork Garden Route National Park…

The Garden Route

The Garden Route The Garden Route stretches from Mossel Bay to Storms River Mouth

The 200 km stretch of coast connecting Mossel Bay to the Storms River Mouth is commonly referred to as the Garden Route in reference to its beguiling diversity of wide sandy beaches, lovely lakes and lagoons, shady evergreen forests and protea-studded slopes. Lined with family-friendly beaches, but also ideally suited to hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts, the region is home to the patchwork Garden Route National Park and a host of protected indigenous forests. Large terrestrial wildlife is scarce, but the region offers fabulous aquatic and forest bird watching, including striking avian endemics such as Knysna turaco, yellow-throated warbler and olive woodpecker, while seals, dolphins and whales are commonly seen from seaside cliffs.

The Garden Route_Storms River Mouth Storms River Mouth

The Tsitsikamma sector of the Garden Route National Park protects a vast tract of indigenous forest along with a series of breathtaking cliffs that rise 180 m above the breakers below. Highlights include the thrilling suspension bridge across the Storms River Mouth, and the 6 km Waterfall Trail, which follows the same stretch of rocky wave-battered shore as the legendary five-day Otter Trail.

The Garden Route_Bloukrans Bridge Bungee jump from the world’s highest bridge if you dare

A short distance inland of Tsitsikamma, the 215 m Bloukrans Bridge bungee jump is reputedly the world’s highest.

The Garden Route_Birds of Eden Sanctuary Birds of Eden sanctuary is a safe haven for rescued and abandoned birds from all over the world

Family friendly Monkeyland is a private sanctuary offering refuge to more than a dozen species of monkey and lemur, all rescued from domestic captivity. The adjacent Birds of Eden is a massive free-flight aviary run through by a 1km walkway and suspension bridge. A third associated sanctuary Jukani is home to rescued lions and various other big cats and smaller carnivores.

The Garden Route_Robberg Nature Reserve Robberg Nature Reserve offers stunning vistas over the ocean; perfect for a hike | Credit: Scott Ramsay

Set on the aptly named Baia Formosa (Beautiful Bay), the perennially popular resort town of Plettenberg Bay boasts one of the South Africa’s loveliest and calmest urban beaches, along with a great selection of seafood and other restaurants.

Adjacent to Plettenberg Bay, the towering cliffs of the Robberg Nature Reserve, home to large numbers of Cape fur seal, are circumnavigated by a stunning day trail from which dolphins, humpback whales and the endemic African black oystercatcher are often observed.

The Garden Route_Knysna Heads The twin peaks of the Knysna heads. Take a boating trip during the annual Knysna Oyster Festival

The charming town of Knysna, whose Holy Trinity Church might have been transplanted from a sleepy English village, stands on a pretty lagoon hemmed in by a pair of sheer rock faces known as the Knysna Heads. Several quayside eateries specialise in fresh oysters cultivated in the lagoon and crafts beers such as those pioneered by the legendary Mitchell’s Brewery. Despite its genteel veneer, Knysna supports a thriving alternative scene whose annual highlight is the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras and Arts Festival, a five-day gay pride event held every April or May.

The Garden Route_Cape Sugarbird A Cape sugarbird in the Garden Route National Park | Credit: Diary of a birder

Sandwiched between beach and lagoon, the resort village of Wilderness flanks a sector of the Garden Route National Park whose vast network of freshwater lakes and forested waterways form a genuine birdwatcher’s paradise. It can be explored along a network of six easy walking trails, each named for one of the park’s half-dozen kingfisher species, or by canoeing through a stunning forested gorge formed by the Touws River.

The Garden Route_Ostrich Oudtshoorn The ostrich the the world’s largest bird

Set in the arid Little Karoo an hour’s drive inland, Oudtshoorn is was the booming centre of a lucrative trade in ostrich feathers in the late 19th century. The CP Nel Museum has good displays on the ostrich trade while a number of out-of-town ostrich farms offer travellers the opportunity to learn about, pet and ride these bizarre outsized birds.

The Garden Route_Swartberg Pass The Swartberg pass

In the scenic Swartberg (Black Mountains) north of Oudtshoorn, guided 60-minute trips lead deep underground through the sequence of well-lit labyrinths of the Cango Caves, whose chambers are decorated by all manner of unusual limestone formations. An extended 90 minute ‘adventure’ tour into Cango Caves entails squeezing and clambering through crevices unsuited to the claustrophobic or seriously overweight.

The Garden Route_Shark cage diving Mossel Bay Shark cage-diving off the coast of Mossel Bay

Mossel Bay is where, on 3 February 1488, Bartolomeu Dias became the first European to set foot on South African soil. Three years later, it is where a stranded Portuguese navigator left an account of his misfortunes in an old shoe suspended from a milkwood tree that went on to serve as South Africa’s first ‘post office’ for decades. The post office tree still stands in the grounds of the Bartolomeu Dias Museum, but Mossel Bay is now better known as a base for caged shark dives and boat trips to the aptly named Seal Island.

Practical Advice

  • The main gateway to the Garden Route is George, a well-equipped city whose out-of-town airport is connected to Cape Town and Johannesburg by regular scheduled flights, and has all the usual car rental agencies. It is also possible to drive along the well-maintained 430 km N2 between Cape Town and George in 4-5 hours. The Garden Route is studded with literally hundreds of hotels, beach resorts and B&Bs, so it’s usually easy to find a competitively priced room, though rates rocket sky high, and booking is usually necessary, over the South Africa Christmas and New Year holidays.

The Panorama Route

The Panorama Route The Panorama Route is a geological extension of the Drakensberg

A popular add-on to Kruger safaris but also well worth exploring in its own right, the Panorama Route is a loose circuit of mostly natural attractions associated with the towering cliffs that divide the highveld around Sabie and Graskop from the lowveld of the Kruger Park and Mpumalanga’s provincial capital Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit). A scenic and ecologically-varied region, its defining feature is the Mpumalanga…

The Panorama Route

The Panorama Route The Panorama Route is a geological extension of the Drakensberg

A popular add-on to Kruger safaris but also well worth exploring in its own right, the Panorama Route is a loose circuit of mostly natural attractions associated with the towering cliffs that divide the highveld around Sabie and Graskop from the lowveld of the Kruger Park and Mpumalanga’s provincial capital Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit). A scenic and ecologically-varied region, its defining feature is the Mpumalanga Escarpment, a geological extension of the Drakensberg that rises sharply from the coastal plain (below 500m) to several peaks that top the 2,000 m mark. Although much of the region is given over to exotic plantations, significant tracts of indigenous forest remain, especially on steep cliffs, as do several areas of grassland studded with proteas and red-hot pokers. The region is notable historically as the site of South Africa’s earliest gold rush, one that proved to be short lived, as far richer seams of gold were discovered soon after in the vicinity of Johannesburg.

Highlights

african finfoot bird tour south africa panorama route The African finfoot

Well worth a stop if you pass through Mbombela, the 169 ha Lowveld National Botanical Garden, set on the confluence of the Nels and Crocodile Rivers, is of equal interest to botanists and ornithologists. The rainforest section protects a vast collection of prehistoric cycads, while a bird checklist of 250 species includes Purple-crested turaco, Half-collared kingfisher and African finfoot.

Mac Mac Falls along the panorama route south africa Mac Mac Falls

This 65 m Mac-Mac Falls is named after a pair of Scottish prospectors who camped above it in the gold rush era. You can swim in the pool at the base of the falls, or continue by car for 2 km to the start of a 4 km day-trail to the little-visited Forest Falls. otherworldly potholes of bourkes luck Natural potholes at Bourke’s Luck

Situated at the confluence of the Blyde (Joy) and Treur (Sorrow) rivers, the bizarre riverine formation known as Bourke’s Luck comprise a series of deep cylindrical potholes created entirely by water erosion, and can be explored along a short network of paths and footbridges.

The Panorama Route_Blyde River Canyon Blyde River Canyon

The 25 km-long and 1.4 km-deep red sandstone Blyde River Canyon, protected within a 270 km2 nature reserve, is one of the largest and most spectacular features of its type on earth. It offers much to keen walkers and wildlife lovers, with the most rewarding of several day hikes being the Kadishi Trail, which leads through lush indigenous evergreen forest, inhabited by Vervet and Blue monkeys, to an impressive stalactite-like Tufa waterfall. Look out for localised and endemic birds such as Knysna turaco, Narina trogon, Southern bald ibis, Cape vulture and Gurney’s sugarbird.

One of the most scenic spots anywhere in South Africa, the Three Rondavels viewpoint gazes across the wide Blyde River Canyon – the river itself a blue ribbon hundreds of metres below – to a striking trio of outcrops that recall traditional thatched rondavels (round houses).

The dank, cool chambers of the Sudwala Caves support some wonderful limestone drip formations and can be explored on regular guided tours that lead about 500 m deep into the subterranean labyrinth.

pilgraims rest panorama route The Royal Hotel in Prilgrim’s Rest

Pilgrim’s Rest mushroomed into life in 1873 following the discovery of a large deposit of alluvial gold. The boomtown’s heyday was short lived, but it was later restored as a living museum evoking the gold rush era. Points of interest include the Anglican Church (built in 1884), the Methodist Church (1911), Catholic Church (1928), Old Police Station (1902), and the hilltop cemetery whose graves all point in the same direction, the one exception being an anonymous Robber’s Grave.

The Panorama Route Gods Window God’s window offers heavenly views

The finest of several viewpoints offering views along the R532, God’s Window offers a splendid view over the edge of the escarpment to the expansive lowveld more than 1,000m below, though its impact depends on very clear weather.

The tallest single-drop waterfall in the region, the twin-stream Lisbon Falls plunges over a 90m stone amphitheater whose base is accessible via a steep footpath.

Travel Tips
  • The main air gateway to Mpumalanga is Kruger-Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA), which stands about 25 km northeast of Mbombela off the R40 to White River. It is connected to Gauteng’s OR Tambo International Airport by several scheduled flights daily, there are also direct flights from Durban and Cape Town, and several car rental companies are represented there.

  • For couples or families, it may well be more affordable to rent a car out of Gauteng and drive, following the N4 east from Pretoria to Mbombela, or the N12 from Johannesburg/OR Tambo to connect with the N4 at eMalahleni (formerly Witbank). The drive takes 3-5 hours, depending on your ultimate destination.

  • Self-drivers could visit most sites along the Panorama Route in one day, but two would be better. A good variety of hotels and lodges are available in Mbombela as well as smaller towns such as Hazyview, Sabie and Graskop.

The Western and Eastern Cape

Collectively protecting around two-thirds of South Africa’s phenomenal coastline, the country’s two most southerly provinces also incorporate several of its oldest and most characterful settlements. The main regional travel hub (and administrative capital of the Western Cape) is the city of Cape Town, which boasts an incomparable setting on the Atlantic coastline below the slopes of majestic Table Mountain. For nature lovers, the adjacent Cape Peninsula stands at the core of the…

The Western and Eastern Cape

Collectively protecting around two-thirds of South Africa’s phenomenal coastline, the country’s two most southerly provinces also incorporate several of its oldest and most characterful settlements. The main regional travel hub (and administrative capital of the Western Cape) is the city of Cape Town, which boasts an incomparable setting on the Atlantic coastline below the slopes of majestic Table Mountain. For nature lovers, the adjacent Cape Peninsula stands at the core of the world’s smallest and most botanically diverse floral kingdom, one that supports a wealth of endemic plants and animals, ranging from the beautiful King Protea to the endangered Cape mountain zebra and striking Cape sugarbird.

(P.S. If you’re looking for affordable Western Cape or Eastern Cape accommodation specials, we’ve got some great travel deals for you.)

table mountain in cape town holiday attractions The iconic Table Mountain is the landmark of Cape Town, boasting city, beaches and the pleasures of nature

Further afield, some of the world’s finest and most scenic wine estates are concentrated around the historic towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The clifftop resort town of Hermanus offers the world’s best land-based whale-watching, while the Garden Route is named for its lush vistas of scenic lagoons and beaches framed by tall mountains and evergreen forests. The garden route runs into the the Eastern Cape, a province that is less popular with international tourists than its western counterpart, but almost as rich in attractions. These range from the idyllic Wild Coast and surfing scene at Jeffrey’s Bay to the malaria-free Big Five game-viewing on offer in the Addo Elephant National Park and the National Arts Festival held in Grahamstown every July.

grahamstown in the eastern cape of south africa The quaint, old frontier town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape hosts the National Arts Festival each year, drawing thousands of performers and artists from all over the country | Credit: The Goodman Gallery

Highlights

One of the world’s most scenic and culturally rewarding cities, Cape Town is the gateway to any number of fine swimming beaches as well as a magnificent mountainous peninsula that terminates at the sheer wave-battered cliffs of Cape Point.

world famous clifton beach in cape town holiday Clifton beach in Cape Town is a popular spot for sunbathers and yachts during the summer months

A perennially popular day or overnight excursion out of Cape Town runs inland to the Cape Winelands, where dozens of historic wine estates offer tasting sessions in characterful Cape Dutch buildings shadowed by spectacular mountain ranges such as the Simonsberg and Groot Drakenstein.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Cape Winelands The picturesque winelands outside of Cape Town offers delightful wine farms and beautiful scenery

Stretching for 200 km between Mossel Bay and the dramatic Storms River mouth, the Garden Route is lined with family-friendly Indian Ocean beaches, but its plethora of lakes, forests and mountains - many protected in the patchwork Garden Route National Park - offer rich pickings to hikers, birdwatchers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

The Western and Eastern Cape_Storms River Mouth Storms River Mouth along the famous Garden Route

Set on the cliffs above Walker Bay 120 km southeast of Cape Town, Hermanus is an attractive town of cobbled alleys and relaxed seafood restaurants best known for offering some of the world’s finest land-based whale-watching. The season runs from Jun to Nov and peaks over Sep-Oct, when around 100 Southern Right whales and a smaller number of Humpback whales converge there to calve.

whale watching season in hermanus along the garden route The seaside town of Hermanus draws visitors from all over the world during the whale-watching season between July and November | Credit: Hermanus Tourism

Protected within the recently created Agulhas National Park, the rocky headland known to the Portuguese as Cabo das Agulhas (Cape of Needles) is not only the southernmost tip of Africa, but also forms the semi-official divide between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. More than 250 ships fell victim to the jagged offshore rocks for which Agulhas is named prior to the construction of what is now the country’s second-oldest lighthouse.

cape agulhas in the western cape Cape Agulhas is at the Southernmost tip of Africa and has claimed many lives due to the rough seas and unpredictable weather | Crdit: Pam Golding

The West Coast National Park north of Cape Town is centred on the vast Langebaan Lagoon, a globally important site for marine birds, ten species of which breed there colonially. It is also renowned for its multihued spring wildflower displays, which usually take place over Aug-Sep.

West Coast National Park south africa coast The West Coast National Park is well-known for Spring flowers, a blue lagoon and great birding opportunities

Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast is studded with scenic gems, ranging from arty Port St Johns on the Mzimvubu River mouth to the sea-eroded rock formation known as Hole in the Wall or EsiKhaleni (isiXhosa for ‘Place of Noise’). It is also the birthplace if Nelson Mandela, whose three-hut maternal home is preserved as a museum annex in the village of Qunu.

hole in the wall eastern cape of south africa The Hole-in-wall of Coffee Bay along the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape

Founded by the British immigrants known as the 1820 settlers, the well groomed university town of Grahamstown is studded with Georgian and Victorian buildings, including an astonishing 40 churches. The 11-day National Arts Festival held here in early July is the premier event of its type in South Africa, hosting everything from Shakespearean plays to live African music and a multitude of street artists.

national arts festival in grahamstown eastern cape The National Arts Festival brings many different people together in a celebration of South African creativity and talent | Credit: Michelle Cunliffe

Created in 1931 to protect the region’s last 11 surviving elephants, Addo Elephant National Park is now one of the country’s top malaria-fee Big Five safari destinations. Roughly 500 elephants roam the park, alongside naturally occurring populations of leopard, buffalo and greater kudu, and reintroduced black rhino, lion and spotted hyena. While Addo is ideal for self-drivers, several neighbouring private offer guided luxury safaris in game lodges comparable to those in Sabi Sands.

addo elephant park on a family safari in south africa There are over 600 elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park

The attractive Blue Flag beach at Jeffreys Bay is dominated by what many surfers regard to be the world’s longest and most perfect right-hand break: supertubes. Scintillating surfing aside, dolphins are frequently observed from the unspoilt coastline protected within the nearby Cape St Francis Nature Reserve.

surfing capital of south africa jeffreys bat Jeffreys Bay is considered the surfing mecca of South Africa where surfers from all over the world come to compete for glory in the waves

Travel Tips

scenic chapmans peak in cape town South Africa has a variety of well-maintained roads and beautiful scenic coast lines. While there are numerous airports around the country, sometimes it’s worth taking a road trip | Credit: TravelNation.co.za

  • The main air gateway to the region is Cape Town International Airport (CTIA), which lies about 20 km east of the city centre and 35 km from Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. An increasing number of international flights land at CTIA, and it’s also serviced by dozens of flights daily from Johannesburg, and domestic flights to all other major centres in South Africa.

  • Other important airports can be found at George (the largest town on the Garden Route), Port Elizabeth (capital of the Eastern Cape) and East London (gateway to the Wild Coast). Depending on how long you have to spare and where you want to visit, an excellent way to explore the region independently would be to fly into Cape Town, self-drive east as far as George, Port Elizabeth or East London, then fly back out. It is also possible to continue driving northeast of East London via the Wild Coast and southern KwaZulu-Natal to Durban.

  • As South Africa’s most travelled province, the Western Cape offers a immense selection of overnight options, ranging from five-star city and boutique hotels to backpacker hostels and B&Bs. Overnight options in the Eastern Cape are also profuse and varied. Although it is usually straightforward enough to find a competitively priced room, rates rocket sky high, and booking is usually necessary, over the South Africa Christmas and New Year school holidays.

travel advice discover africa

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park_Drakensberg The majestic Drakensberg mountains | Credit: Joe Cornish

Africa’s largest protected montane wilderness - the 2,500km2 uKhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park extends for a full 200 km along the border of KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho, and incorporates several dozen peaks with the highest rising to 3,000m. Its name combines the isiZulu uKhahlamba (“Barrier of Spears”) with the Afrikaans Drakensberg (“Dragon’s Mountain”). South Africa’s ultimate destination for high-altitude day…

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park_Drakensberg The majestic Drakensberg mountains | Credit: Joe Cornish

Africa’s largest protected montane wilderness - the 2,500km2 uKhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park extends for a full 200 km along the border of KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho, and incorporates several dozen peaks with the highest rising to 3,000m. Its name combines the isiZulu uKhahlamba (“Barrier of Spears”) with the Afrikaans Drakensberg (“Dragon’s Mountain”). South Africa’s ultimate destination for high-altitude day walks and overnight hikes, the park is a hub of botanical diversity and some 15% of its 2,500 identified plant species occur nowhere else in the world.

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park_Verreaux Eagle Verreaux’s eagle nests atop the high peaks of the mountain range

Large wildlife includes baboon, eland, bushbuck, mountain reedbuck, grey rhebok and grey duiker, as well as 300-strong bird checklist that is strong on cliff-associated raptors such as Verreaux’s eagle, Jackal buzzard, Cape vulture and lammergeyer, and also includes 20 species whose range is restricted to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park_Rock art Rock art in the Kamberg area

An important repository of prehistoric rock art, uKhahlamba-Drakensberg contains at least 500 painted caves and shelters where monochrome human figures and finely shaded polychrome elands share wall space with bizarre half-human-half-animal creatures known as therianthropes. Executed between 3,000 and 200 years ago, the art depicts the ritual trances experienced by shamans, and their complex relationships with revered animals. uKhahlamba-Drakensberg’s combination of rich biodiversity and prolific rock art has gained it recognition as one of only 35 ‘mixed’ natural and cultural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park_Hiking Drakensberg Amphitheatre Hiker celebrates the beauty of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre

No single feature encapsulates the mountains’ majesty quite like the Amphitheatre, a 5km-long, kilometre-high wall of burnished sandstone that dominates the skyline of Royal Natal National Park. A must for keen walkers is the half-day Gorge Trail, which follows a pretty riverine gorge past natural swimming pools to the 949m-tall five-stage Tugela Falls.

A feasible day hike from Royal Natal is the Witsieshoek’s Chain Ladder Trail. It’s the easiest hike to the top of the escarpment, and offers sensational views from the lip of the Tugela Falls as it crashes over the Amphitheatre.

The ideal goal perfect for those who want to enjoy splendid submontane scenery without breaking a sweat, Champagne Valley is overlooked by a trio of distinctive high peaks – domed Champagne Castle, fang-like Monk’s Cowl, and freestanding Cathkin Peak. It also houses a great selection of golf courses, stables, shopping malls, craft factories and the like.

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park_Giant's Castle camping Camping below Giant’s Castle | Credit: Drakensberg Hikes

Named after a 3,314m basaltic protrusion that stands at the convergence of the mountains’ northern and southern escarpments, Giant’s Castle Game Reserve is renowned for its rock art, in particular the hundreds of superb images that adorn Main Cave. It’s also a good place to see the stately eland antelope and other large mammals and raptors.

Didima Rock Art Centre contains life-size reproductions of several inaccessible rock art panels set higher in the mountains. Only 45 minutes’ walk away, the Lower Mushroom Cave is decorated with a wonderful scene of stick men evading a marauding leopard.

Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg Cathedral Peak

The striking 3,005m Cathedral Peak, which towers above the main escarpment like a squatted version of the cow horn alluded to in its traditional name Mponjwane, is an attainable goal for a tough full-day guided hike from Didima.

The undulating slopes of Kamberg support fair numbers of eland and mountain reedbuck. A three-hour round hike leads to the Game Pass Shelter, a superbly preserved rock art panel dubbed the Rosetta Stone in double reference to its significance in helping scholars ‘crack the code’ of shamanistic symbolism that underlies the prehistoric paintings.

uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park_Mountain Pipit The Mountain pipit

The only motorable track to breach the Barriers of Spears, rocky 4x4-only Sani Pass follows a series of switchbacks uphill to a remote Lesotho border post (passport required) set at a windswept altitude of 2,865m. Here, the tussocky grass, mossy boulders and clumped heather of the Alpine zone acquires an ethereal beauty in the soft light of dusk or dawn. It’s also the easiest place to see high altitude endemic birds such as the Drakensberg rockjumper and mountain pipit.

Practical Advice
  • The rugged topography of uKhahlamba-Drakensberg divides the park into a dozen-odd different sectors, each effectively a self-contained destination with its own attractions and access roads. Most visitors will only have time to explore one or two. As a guideline, Royal Natal ranks highest for scenic impact, Champagne Valley for upmarket tourist development, Giant’s Castle and Kamberg for accessible rock art, and Sani Pass for birdwatching and 4x4 enthusiasts.

  • uKhahlamba-Drakensberg is geared best to active self-drive travellers who are willing to explore its slopes on foot. Bank on at least up to four hours to cover the 350 km from Gauteng to Royal Natal Park (in the north), or two hours from Durban to Himeville (near the base of Sani Pass).

  • For ecological reasons, no hotels exist within the park, but the park authorities operate rest camps at several entrance gates, and there are private hotels in Champagne Valley and in the vicinity of Royal Natal, Cathedral Peak and Sani Pass.

  • uKhahlamba-Drakensberg’s non-nannyish management policy stands in contrast to the strict regulations and hefty costs associated with other iconic African mountains – simply pitch up at any entrance gate, hand over the nominal entrance fee, sign into the mountain register, and off you go.

  • Hikers on the upper slopes frequently get trapped in stormy or misty conditions, so dress suitably, and be prepared to turn back or stay put as weather conditions dictate.

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South Africa Safaris

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When is the best time to travel to South Africa?

Peak Low Mixed
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec

South Africa in January

January is all about going to the beach in South Africa | Credit: Buzz South Africa Johannesburg and the Highveld is hot by day, warm at night and receives regular rainfall often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms. Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot and dry, cooling down at night. The Kruger Park and surrounds is very hot by day, warm at night and receives occasional rainfall. January is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast, though Durban…

South Africa in January

south africa in january beach holiday January is all about going to the beach in South Africa | Credit: Buzz South Africa

Johannesburg and the Highveld is hot by day, warm at night and receives regular rainfall often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms. Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot and dry, cooling down at night. The Kruger Park and surrounds is very hot by day, warm at night and receives occasional rainfall.

  • January is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast, though Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal coast to its north can be swelteringly hot.

  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves can be relatively challenging as animals are dispersed away from water sources and thick vegetation tends to reduce visibility. This is arguably compensated by the lush green condition of the bush, clearer skies (better for photography) and far greater variety and profusion of birds as resident species come into breeding plumage and are supplemented by a variety of intra-African and Palaearctic migrants.

  • January falls into the nesting season for loggerhead and leatherback turtles along the beaches of iSimangaliso, and turtle-tracking tours can be undertaken in the evening.

  • Accommodation tends to be very full during the school holidays, which run to mid-January, but much quieter towards the end of the month.

South Africa in June

The Drakensberg experiences snow during June Johannesburg and the highveld is cool but sunny by day, very cold at night, and dry. Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cool at night, and receives regular rainfall. The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, cool at night, and dry. June is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of the KwaZulu-Natal coast, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months, and very dry. Conditions on…

South Africa in June

snow in the drakensberg on a hike The Drakensberg experiences snow during June

Johannesburg and the highveld is cool but sunny by day, very cold at night, and dry.

Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cool at night, and receives regular rainfall.

The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, cool at night, and dry.

  • June is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of the KwaZulu-Natal coast, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months, and very dry. Conditions on the coast of the Eastern and Western Cape are less predictable and cooler.

  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves tends to be good in the dry season, as animals congregate close to perennial water sources and the undergrowth clears to improve visibility.

  • Hikers should be alert to the substantial risk of snow and treacherous weather on the mountain peaks in the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg over June/July.

  • Accommodation in tourist areas is usually relatively quiet in June, but try to avoid the winter school holiday that usually falls over late June and early July.

South Africa in March

The Golden oriole travels from Asia to South Africa in March Johannesburg and the highveld is warm and mild by day, cool at night and receives occasional rainfall often in the late afternoon. Cape Town and the Western Cape starts cooling down with regular windy spells, cooler evenings and crisp early mornings. The Kruger Park and surrounds is still hot during the day, cooling down at night and receives occasional rainfall. March is a good time for beach holidays anywhere along the…

South Africa in March

golden oriole on a birding tour in south africa The Golden oriole travels from Asia to South Africa in March

Johannesburg and the highveld is warm and mild by day, cool at night and receives occasional rainfall often in the late afternoon.

Cape Town and the Western Cape starts cooling down with regular windy spells, cooler evenings and crisp early mornings.

The Kruger Park and surrounds is still hot during the day, cooling down at night and receives occasional rainfall.

  • March is a good time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast, with different regions offering varied climates to attract tourists looking for a variety of experiences. Durban and the east coast is still warm and humid, although the peak tourist season has quietened down and costs are relatively low, making it a good option.

  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves starts picking up as the rainfall abates and the lush summer vegetation clears to make spotting wildlife easier. This is an excellent period for birdwatching as a profusion of birds come into breeding plumage and are supplement by a variety of intra-African and Palaearctic migrants.

  • March lies towards the end of the nesting season for loggerhead and leatherback turtles along the beaches of iSimangaliso, and turtle-tracking tours can be undertaken in the evening.

  • Accommodation in the main tourist areas is usually relatively quiet in March.

South Africa in August

Game viewing is exceptional in the Kruger from August Johannesburg and the highveld is mild to cool by day, cold at night, and dry. Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cool at night, and receives regular rainfall. The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, cool at night, and dry. August is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal coast, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months, and very dry. Conditions on…

South Africa in August

lions in the kruger national park wildlife safari Game viewing is exceptional in the Kruger from August

Johannesburg and the highveld is mild to cool by day, cold at night, and dry. Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cool at night, and receives regular rainfall.

The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, cool at night, and dry.

  • August is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal coast, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months, and very dry. Conditions on the coast of the Eastern and Western Cape are less predictable.

  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves tends to be exceptional towards the end of the dry season, as animals congregate close to perennial water sources and the undergrowth clears to improve visibility.

  • August usually heralds the start of whale-viewing season in Hermanus and the Western Cape.

  • Accommodation in tourist areas is usually very quiet in August.

  • Taking everything into account, August is one of the best months to visit South Africa, particularly if your main interest is safaris rather than beaches.

South Africa in February

Turtles begin to nest in February in iSimangaliso. You can track them on a turtle tour | Credit: Thonga Beach Lodge Johannesburg and the highveld is hot by day, warm at night and receives regular rainfall often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms. Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot and dry, cooling down at night. The Kruger Park and surrounds is very hot by day, warm at night and receives occasional rainfall. February is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the…

South Africa in February

South Africa in February_Turtle Hatchling_Thonga Beach Lodge Turtles begin to nest in February in iSimangaliso. You can track them on a turtle tour | Credit: Thonga Beach Lodge

Johannesburg and the highveld is hot by day, warm at night and receives regular rainfall often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms.

Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot and dry, cooling down at night.

The Kruger Park and surrounds is very hot by day, warm at night and receives occasional rainfall.

  • February is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast if a quieter holiday is more enticing. Though Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal coast to its north can be uncomfortably hot.

  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves can be relatively challenging as animals are dispersed away from water sources and thick vegetation tends to reduce visibility. This is arguably compensated by the lush green condition of the bush, clearer skies (better for photography) and far greater variety and profusion of birds as resident species come into breeding plumage and are supplement by a variety of intra-African and Palaearctic migrants.

  • February falls into the nesting season for loggerhead and leatherback turtles along the beaches of iSimangaliso, and turtle-tracking tours can be undertaken in the evening.

South Africa in May

May is a great time for safaris in the east of South Africa Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cold at night, and dry. Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cool at night, and might be wet and windy with winter rainfall. The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, cool at night, and dry. May is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal coast, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months, and very dry.…

South Africa in May

game drive in the kruger national park May is a great time for safaris in the east of South Africa

Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cold at night, and dry.

Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cool at night, and might be wet and windy with winter rainfall.

The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, cool at night, and dry.

  • May is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal coast, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months, and very dry. Conditions on the coast of the Eastern and Western Cape are less predictable.

  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves tends to improve following the end of the rains, as animals congregate close to perennial water sources and the undergrowth clears to improve visibility.

  • Accommodation in tourist areas is usually quiet in May.

  • Taking everything into account, May is one of the best months to visit South Africa, particularly if your main interest is safaris, rather than beaches.

South Africa in July

Whales begin to migrate along the coast of South Africa in July Johannesburg and the highveld is cool and sunny by day, very cold at night and dry. Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cool at night and receives regular rainfall. The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, cool at night and dry. July is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months, and very dry.…

South Africa in July

South Africa in July_Whale Watching Whales begin to migrate along the coast of South Africa in July

Johannesburg and the highveld is cool and sunny by day, very cold at night and dry.

Cape Town and the Western Cape is warm by day, cool at night and receives regular rainfall.

The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, cool at night and dry.

  • July is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months, and very dry. Conditions on the coast of the Eastern and Western Cape are less predictable.

  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves tends to be good in the dry season, as animals congregate close to perennial water sources and the undergrowth clears to improve visibility.

  • July usually heralds the start of unrivaled whale-watching season in Hermanus and the Western Cape.

  • Accommodation in tourist areas picks up over this period because it coincides with the long mid-year holiday break for South African schools.

  • Hikers should be alert to the substantial risk of snow in the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg over June/July. The 11-day National Arts Festival, the premier event of its type in South Africa, is held in Grahamstown over early July.

South Africa in October

It’s dry during October in the Kruger. Animals congregate at watering holes in large numbers | Credit: National Geographic Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cooler at night and will receive occasional rainfall. Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot by day, cooler at night, and generally dry, while the Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, warm at night, and dry. October is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast. This month usually…

South Africa in October

zebra at waterhole south africa in october It’s dry during October in the Kruger. Animals congregate at watering holes in large numbers | Credit: National Geographic

Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cooler at night and will receive occasional rainfall.

Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot by day, cooler at night, and generally dry, while the Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, warm at night, and dry.

  • October is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast.

  • This month usually offers excellent game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves, as animals congregate close to perennial water sources and the undergrowth clears to improve visibility, though they will start to disperse in the wake of the first rains.

  • September-November is peak whale-viewing season in Hermanus and the Western Cape.

  • Accommodation in tourist areas is usually very quiet in October, though it may fill up over the short spring school holiday that usually takes place in late September/early October.

  • Taking everything into account, October is one of the best months to visit South Africa.

South Africa in December

December is a wonderful time to take a cruise around Table Bay in Cape Town | Credit: Xpert Shuttle Johannesburg and the highveld is hot by day, cool at night and receives regular rainfall often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms. Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot by day, cooler at night, and dry. The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, warm at night, and dry. December is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast, though Durban and the…

South Africa in December

South Africa in December_Sailing Cape Town December is a wonderful time to take a cruise around Table Bay in Cape Town | Credit: Xpert Shuttle

Johannesburg and the highveld is hot by day, cool at night and receives regular rainfall often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms.

Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot by day, cooler at night, and dry.

The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, warm at night, and dry.

  • December is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast, though Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal coast to its north can be swelteringly hot.

  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves can be relatively challenging as animals are dispersed away from water sources and thick vegetation tends to reduce visibility. This is arguably compensated by the lush green condition of the bush, clearer skies (better for photography). Many resident species come into breeding plumage during December, and this transitional month also heralds the arrival of large numbers of intra-African and Palaearctic migrants.

  • December is the peak nesting season for loggerhead and leatherback turtles along the beaches of iSimangaliso, and turtle-tracking tours can be undertaken in the evening.

  • Accommodation along the coast and in other popular tourist areas tends to be very full during the school holidays that start in early December.

South Africa in April

Lush foliage can hide wildlife in its fold during April Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cool at night and might receive occasional rainfall. Cape Town and the Western Cape is mild by day, cool at night and might start receiving occasional rainfall to mark the start of the wet winter period. The Kruger Park and surrounds sees the seasonal shift towards autumn with noticeable drops in temperatures, occasional late summer rains and cool evenings. April is an ideal time…

South Africa in April

South Africa in April_Elephants Lush foliage can hide wildlife in its fold during April

Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cool at night and might receive occasional rainfall.

Cape Town and the Western Cape is mild by day, cool at night and might start receiving occasional rainfall to mark the start of the wet winter period.

The Kruger Park and surrounds sees the seasonal shift towards autumn with noticeable drops in temperatures, occasional late summer rains and cool evenings.

  • April is an ideal time for beach holidays along the east coast because of its warm and tropical climate throughout the year. However, it may not be the ideal time for a beach holiday in the western or eastern cape because the weather is cooler and rains start falling around this time.

  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves is can be relatively challenging as animals are dispersed away from water sources and thick vegetation tends to reduce visibility. This is arguably compensated by the lush green condition of the bush and clearer skies (better for photography). Most intra-African and Palaearctic migrant birds will have flown north by April.

  • Accommodation tends to be very full during the school holidays focussed on the easter break.

  • The easter weekend coincides with South Africa’s longest running music festival, the four-day Splashy Fen, which has been held on a farm in the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg foothills near the town of Underberg since 1990.

South Africa in September

Spring marks the start of the annual wildflower takeover along the West Coast of South Africa Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cold at night, and dry. Cape Town and the Western Cape is mild by day, cool at night and receives regular rainfall. The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, mild at night, and dry. September is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months,…

South Africa in September

spring in langebaan on the west coast south africa holiday Spring marks the start of the annual wildflower takeover along the West Coast of South Africa

Johannesburg and the highveld is warm by day, cold at night, and dry. Cape Town and the Western Cape is mild by day, cool at night and receives regular rainfall.

The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, mild at night, and dry.

  • September is an ideal time for beach holidays on the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal, which tends to be temperate to hot over the nominal winter months, and very dry. Conditions on the coast of the Eastern and Western Cape are less predictable.

  • September is widely regarded to offer the best game viewing of any month in the Kruger National Park and other reserves, as animals congregate close to perennial water sources and the undergrowth clears to improve visibility.

  • September to November is peak whale-viewing season in Hermanus and the Western Cape.

  • Accommodation in tourist areas is usually very quiet in September, though it may fill up over the short spring school holiday that usually takes place in late September/early October.

  • Taking everything into account, September is one of the best months to visit South Africa, assuming you are free to travel then.

South Africa in November

Johannesburg and the Highveld is hot by day, cool at night and receives regular rainfall often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms. Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot by day, cooler at night, and dry. The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, warm at night, and dry. November is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast, though Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal coast to its north can be rather hot. Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves…

South Africa in November

Johannesburg and the Highveld is hot by day, cool at night and receives regular rainfall often in the form of afternoon thunderstorms.

Cape Town and the Western Cape is hot by day, cooler at night, and dry.

The Kruger Park and surrounds is hot by day, warm at night, and dry.

  • November is an ideal time for beach holidays anywhere along the South African coast, though Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal coast to its north can be rather hot.
  • Game viewing in the Kruger Park and other reserves can be relatively challenging as animals are dispersed away from water sources and thick vegetation tends to reduce visibility. This is arguably compensated by the lush green condition of the bush, clearer skies (better for photography).
  • Many resident species come into breeding plumage during November, and this transitional month also usually heralds the arrival of large numbers of intra-African and Palaearctic migrants.
  • September-November is peak whale-viewing season in Hermanus and the Western Cape.
  • November is the start of the nesting season for loggerhead and leatherback turtles along the beaches of iSimangaliso, and turtle-tracking tours can be undertaken in the evening.
  • Accommodation in tourist areas is usually quiet in November, though it starts to fill up towards the end of the month.

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Our Destination Expert

Alice Lombard Alice Lombard Alice Lombard Alice Lombard Alice Lombard Alice Lombard

Meet the Team

Alice Lombard

Alice is Discover Africa’s Sales & Product Manager, responsible for managing the Discover Africa Sales Consultants as well as all the products and itineraries that we promote.

About Alice

What does Alice love about African travel?

The people, the culture, the diverse scenery, the wildlife and of course the food & wine.

What African countries have you travelled to?

Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls), Botswana (Okavango Delta, Linyanti, Chobe), Namibia (Southern), Zanzibar, Kenya (Mombasa and Malindi), Mauritius and South Africa.

What is Alice’s favourite place in Africa?

Victoria Falls and Cape Town.

Contact Discover Africa

Send us a message, to ask any questions, or request a tailor-made safari or experience.

Call Discover Africa on +27 (0)21 422 3498

Get in touch to find out more about the tours on offer or request a personalized no-obligations quote.

Megan Warrington Megan Warrington Megan Warrington Megan Warrington Megan Warrington Megan Warrington

Meet the Team

Megan Warrington

Megan is an Africa Concierge Expert at Discover Africa, she is responsible for compiling travel programs for people in search of their dream safari in Africa.

About Megan

What does Megan love about African travel?

There is always a new adventure around the next corner.

What African countries have you travelled to?

South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Tanzania.

What is Megan’s favourite place in Africa?

Namibia

Contact Discover Africa

Send us a message, to ask any questions, or request a tailor-made safari or experience.

Call Discover Africa on +27 (0)21 422 3498

Get in touch to find out more about the tours on offer or request a personalized no-obligations quote.

Alice Lombard Alice Lombard Alice Lombard Alice Lombard Alice Lombard Alice Lombard

Meet the Team

Alice Lombard

Alice is Discover Africa’s Sales & Product Manager, responsible for managing the Discover Africa Sales Consultants as well as all the products and itineraries that we promote.

About Alice

What does Alice love about African travel?

The people, the culture, the diverse scenery, the wildlife and of course the food & wine.

What African countries have you travelled to?

Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls), Botswana (Okavango Delta, Linyanti, Chobe), Namibia (Southern), Zanzibar, Kenya (Mombasa and Malindi), Mauritius and South Africa.

What is Alice’s favourite place in Africa?

Victoria Falls and Cape Town.

Contact Discover Africa

Send us a message, to ask any questions, or request a tailor-made safari or experience.

Call Discover Africa on +27 (0)21 422 3498

Get in touch to find out more about the tours on offer or request a personalized no-obligations quote.

Matthys van Aswegen Matthys van Aswegen Matthys van Aswegen Matthys van Aswegen Matthys van Aswegen Matthys van Aswegen

Meet the Team

Matthys van Aswegen

Matthys is Discover Africa’s Senior Travel Consultant, with over 13 years experience in the travel industry and a keen eye for photography.

About Matthys

What does Matthys love about African travel?

Diversity and abundance of landscapes, cultures, wildlife, beaches, food and everything you can think of.

What African countries have you travelled to?

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mauritius and Tanzania.

What is Matthys’s favourite place in Africa?

Cape Town

Contact Discover Africa

Send us a message, to ask any questions, or request a tailor-made safari or experience.

Call Discover Africa on +27 (0)21 422 3498

Get in touch to find out more about the tours on offer or request a personalized no-obligations quote.

Adelle Bell Adelle Bell Adelle Bell Adelle Bell Adelle Bell Adelle Bell

Meet the Team

Adelle Bell

Adelle is Discover Africa’s Senior Travel Consultant and has been in the travel industry for the past 10 years. She is a FIT specialist and has extensive experience in planning and executing dream itineraries in luxury travel.

About Adelle

What does Adelle love about African travel?

You have not lived if you have not experienced an African Safari - the early morning safari drives with the African sun rising in the distance, the smell of morning freshness, coffee in the Bush. You have got to experience a morning in Africa!

What African countries have you travelled to?

South Africa (Kruger National Park, Sabi Sands and Phinda Game Reserve), Botswana and Mozambique.

What is Adelle’s favourite place in Africa?

Kruger National Park

Contact Discover Africa

Send us a message, to ask any questions, or request a tailor-made safari or experience.

Call Discover Africa on +27 (0)21 422 3498

Get in touch to find out more about the tours on offer or request a personalized no-obligations quote.

Antoinette Van Heerden Antoinette Van Heerden Antoinette Van Heerden Antoinette Van Heerden Antoinette Van Heerden Antoinette Van Heerden

Meet the Team

Antoinette Van Heerden

Antionette is a Travel Consultant at Discover Africa, with 5 + years experience in the travel and tourism industry. She specializes in luxury safari packages.

About Antoinette

What does Antoinette love about African travel?

Adventure combined leisure travel makes for the best trip!

What African countries have you travelled to?

South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

What is Antoinette’s favourite place in Africa?

South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

Contact Discover Africa

Send us a message, to ask any questions, or request a tailor-made safari or experience.

Call Discover Africa on +27 (0)21 422 3498

Get in touch to find out more about the tours on offer or request a personalized no-obligations quote.

Excellent Experience All-Around with Discover Africa

Ryan L.

23 Feb 2019

Superb organization, couldn't ask for any better

Justin Vanning

01 Jan 2013

Everything was organized so well

Michael

16 Sep 2016

Discover Africa organized a perfect Botswana safari for us

Friedrich

22 Jun 2015

A wonderful time in SA and Botswana

Gerry

10 Jun 2016

Dream Work Through Team Work

Zelda Mycroft

01 Oct 2015

Excellent Service

BigMo

07 Jun 2021

A gem

Jacob Weiss

11 Nov 2019

Thank you Ellena for your professional service

Dirk Van Den Berg

01 Feb 2013

Fantastic safari, excellent logistics and service for a fair price

Francisco

05 Jul 2018

Everything was organized so well

Michael

16 Sep 2016

See South Africa in Your Comfort

Affordable Safari in South Africa

Value-for-money holiday in South Africa
A self-drive adventure helps to keep costs down

An excellent option for those who want to travel in reasonable comfort whilst keeping down costs is to self-drive some or all of the time. Rental cars can be arranged in all major centres (as well as at all airports) and roads are generally up to international standards, though potholes are increasingly prevalent in smaller towns.

The Kruger National Park ranks as Africa’s ultimate DIY self-drive safari destination, thanks to its good…

Affordable Safari in South Africa

Value-for-money holiday in South Africa
A self-drive adventure helps to keep costs down

An excellent option for those who want to travel in reasonable comfort whilst keeping down costs is to self-drive some or all of the time. Rental cars can be arranged in all major centres (as well as at all airports) and roads are generally up to international standards, though potholes are increasingly prevalent in smaller towns.

The Kruger National Park ranks as Africa’s ultimate DIY self-drive safari destination, thanks to its good network of (mostly surfaced) roads and well-equipped and affordable rest camps, but similar facilities are available at most public major public reserves including iSimangaliso, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Pilanesberg, uKhahlamba-Drakensberg and any number of less publicised places.

South Africa is a destination that caters to all budgets, offering something special that is sure to meet your expectations. The level of three or even four-star graded establishments is generally higher than that of European standards for example and therefore you are able to travel on a more restricted budget.

Budget Safari Holiday in South Africa

South Africa is well-suited to budget travellers. There are backpacker hostels and affordable B&Bs as well as self-catering options in all major centres. There are also very affordable and well-equipped campsites, usually with hot water in the ablution blocks and electricity. For transport, the perennially popular <a href=https://www.bazbus.com/”hop-on, hop-off Baz Bus connects Johannesburg to Cape Town via the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and the Garden…

Budget Safari Holiday in South Africa

South Africa is well-suited to budget travellers. There are backpacker hostels and affordable B&Bs as well as self-catering options in all major centres. There are also very affordable and well-equipped campsites, usually with hot water in the ablution blocks and electricity. For transport, the perennially popular <a href=https://www.bazbus.com/”>hop-on, hop-off Baz Bus connects Johannesburg to Cape Town via the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route. Good and very affordable coach services run along with these and most other trunk routes.

Budget safari holiday in South Africa

Most backpacker hostels offer or can arrange a variety of excursions - from half-day, wine-tasting trips out of Cape Town to multi-night Kruger safaris out of Johannesburg - at prices that cater to their intended clientele. Although restaurants in South Africa are very affordable by international standards, the cost of eating out three times a day will add up, and you can save a lot of money by self-catering and buying ingredients and drinks directly from supermarkets and liquor stores.

Low Season Rates

You’ll be able to take advantage of some very generous low season pricing offered by several safari lodges depending on the time of year that you travel for your budget safari holiday in South Africa.

Low season rates in South Africa are available from the beginning of May to the end of September when the country is experiencing its winter. Surprisingly, for Kruger National Park and many other private reserves in South Africa, this is not the rainy season. Rather, the rainy weather in Cape Town is to blame for the low season prices all around South Africa!

This is excellent news for wildlife enthusiasts, as these are the greatest months to go on a budget safari holiday in South Africa. May through September is the dry season for Kruger and Madikwe. The bush isn’t as lush and green at this time of year, allowing for greater game viewing, and the animals are more dependant on waterholes and rivers because it’s the dry season.

This also makes it easier to locate the game in the winter. This is the perfect place to go if you want to see a variety of African animals collected around a waterhole early in the morning before the heat of the day sets in on your budget safari holiday in South Africa.

Budget Safari Lodges

South Africa, in particular, has a wide choice of less expensive or budget private lodges. While they aren’t exactly budget, they provide the same game viewing experiences as their more expensive neighbours at a fraction of the expense.

You can’t go wrong with one of these budget lodges if you’re going to South Africa primarily for the animals. While the accommodations aren’t quite as polished and elegant, and the food isn’t quite as sumptuous, they offer fantastic value for money and world-class safaris.

Luxury Safari Holiday in South Africa

A must-for for anybody with a taste for bush luxury is a stay at one of the small and exclusive camps or lodges set in private reserves or concessions such as the Kruger concessions, Sabi Sand, Madikwe, Phinda and the vicinity of Addo Elephant National Park.

Typically these lodges combine chic Africa-themed accommodation with world-class cuisine, fine wines, attentive staff and most importantly, thrilling game drives led by expert guides in open-sided 4x4s. A three-night stay at any…

Luxury Safari Holiday in South Africa

A must-for for anybody with a taste for bush luxury is a stay at one of the small and exclusive camps or lodges set in private reserves or concessions such as the Kruger concessions, Sabi Sand, Madikwe, Phinda and the vicinity of Addo Elephant National Park.

Typically these lodges combine chic Africa-themed accommodation with world-class cuisine, fine wines, attentive staff and most importantly, thrilling game drives led by expert guides in open-sided 4x4s. A three-night stay at any given lodge or camp is probably ideal for a luxury South Africa Safari.

Luxury safari holiday in South Africa_Singita_LeBombo The five-star Singita Lebombo in the Kruger is an example of safari luxury

Elsewhere, the likes of Cape Town, the nearby Cape Winelands and Garden Route are studded with small but superb boutique hotels that combine five-star service and amenities with individualistic decor. The most comfortable way to travel on a luxury holiday would fly between major centres, and then arrange airport pick-ups and drop-offs, as well as any required outings, with the lodge or hotel you book into.

When it comes to wining and dining on a generous budget, South Africa is a real treat. Any good tour operator can put together a package of this sort for those who don’t want the bother of arranging it themselves.

For more luxury safaris in Africa, have a look at the options we offer.


Holiday Styles and Options in South Africa

An Active Holiday in South Africa

enter image description here Trail biking in South Africa

With its fine year-round climate and varied landscapes, South Africa is custom-made for active travellers. Indeed, there are a few parts of the country where a good selection of fun activities can be integrated into a regular holiday.

An active holiday in South Africa_Surfing Ballito Surfing in Ballito Bay

A lovely area for active travellers is the Garden Route, where low-key physical activities range from canoeing along the Touws River and several excellent mountain biking routes to any number of…

An Active Holiday in South Africa

enter image description here Trail biking in South Africa

With its fine year-round climate and varied landscapes, South Africa is custom-made for active travellers. Indeed, there are a few parts of the country where a good selection of fun activities can be integrated into a regular holiday.

An active holiday in South Africa_Surfing Ballito Surfing in Ballito Bay

A lovely area for active travellers is the Garden Route, where low-key physical activities range from canoeing along the Touws River and several excellent mountain biking routes to any number of coastal and montane day walks ranging from 5 km to 20 km in duration - none finer perhaps than the cliff top trail through Robberg Nature Reserve. The Garden Route is also a great area for swimming, surfing, sea-kayaking and other marine activities.

Cape Town and environs offers a similar array of activities to the Garden Route. These range from cliff walks in the whale-watching capital of Hermanus or on the stunning Cape of Good Hope, to a steep but scenic day hike from the City Bowl to the summit of Table Mountain.

Another popular walking destination is the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg. The foothills of this lovely range can easily be explored by casual ramblers, but the upper slopes are unpredictable in terms of weather, and recommended only to experienced and properly equipped hikers.

An active holiday in South Africa_Hiking Table Mountain Hiking up Table Mountain

Generally speaking, game viewing is a rather inactive pursuit, since most reserves understandably forbid unguided walking.

Overnight guided wilderness trails are available in the likes of the the Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, but these must usually be booked well in advance. Most private reserves will also offer guided walks as an alternative to game drives, but these tend to focus on birds, insects and other small wildlife rather than seeking out the Big Five. Unguided nature trails are typically free and up to 10 km in duration. They can be found in many minor reserves that lack dangerous wildlife.

An active holiday in South Africa_Horseback riding Noordhoek Horseback riding on Noordhoek beach, Cape Town

South Africa has a strong culture of recreational running and cycling. Mountain bikes can easily be hired at most destinations with good cycling possibilities, and you can ask local running clubs about park runs, time trials and other good local routes.

If you plan on walking a lot, bring suitable footwear and a few pairs of thick socks. A walking stick can be useful in more hilly areas or trails with loose rocks underfoot. Binoculars will greatly enhance bird and other wildlife sightings on the trail.

An Adventure Holiday in South Africa

An adventure holiday in South Africa_Fish River Canyon Exploring the Fish River Canyon | Credit Getaway Magazine

South Africa is a brilliant destination for adventurous travellers. Hard to beat, in fact. Depending on your tastes, interests, age and level of fitness, activities on offer range from week-long rafting excursions along the Orange River as it follows the border between the Northern Cape and neighbouring Namibia, to multi-day coastal hikes such as the world-famous Otter or Oystercatcher Trails. Mountain biking in the remote…

An Adventure Holiday in South Africa

An adventure holiday in South Africa_Fish River Canyon Exploring the Fish River Canyon | Credit Getaway Magazine

South Africa is a brilliant destination for adventurous travellers. Hard to beat, in fact. Depending on your tastes, interests, age and level of fitness, activities on offer range from week-long rafting excursions along the Orange River as it follows the border between the Northern Cape and neighbouring Namibia, to multi-day coastal hikes such as the world-famous Otter or Oystercatcher Trails. Mountain biking in the remote montane heights of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg is a highlight, as is an overnight guided wilderness trail looking for wildlife and camping wild in Big Five reserves such as the Kruger National Park or Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. Whilst the Garden Route is renowned for its paragliding courses.

An adventure holiday in South Africa_Abseil Table Mountain Abseiling off Table Mountain, Cape Town | Credit: Abseil Africa

Other popular one-off adventure activities range from caged shark-diving in Mossel Bay and diving the coral reefs off Sodwana Bay to the world’s highest bungee jump (215m) off the Bloukrans Bridge and abseiling off Cape Town’s Table Mountain.

Longer adventure activities such as hiking trails, rafting trips and wilderness trails should definitely be booked well in advance in order to build your itinerary around the dates.

An adventure holiday in South Africa_hiking Discovering South Africa’s landscape

Adventure travellers should pack sensible outdoor clothing as well as waterproof clothing (trousers and jackets) and appropriate walking shoes or hiking boots, It would also be advisable to check if any specialist clothing and gear is required to bring from home. Day activities such as bungee jumps or caged dives can usually be arranged on the spot, or with a day or two’s warning. Probably the best part of South Africa for tackling a wide array of adventure activities on to your itinerary is in Cape Town and the Garden Route.

A Relaxed Safari Holiday in South Africa

A relaxed safari holiday in South Africa_Wild Coast Discover the beaches of the Wild Coast in Eastern Cape on a leisurely adventure at your own pace

South Africa’s lovely coastline offers ideal conditions for chilling out, catching a tan, taking the occasional dip, and relaxing over a paperback or magazine. Most coastal resorts also boast a fine array of restaurants where seafood and other cuisines can be enjoyed along with fine homegrown white and red wines.

If you want to punctuate lazy seaside days with the occasional gentle…

A Relaxed Safari Holiday in South Africa

A relaxed safari holiday in South Africa_Wild Coast Discover the beaches of the Wild Coast in Eastern Cape on a leisurely adventure at your own pace

South Africa’s lovely coastline offers ideal conditions for chilling out, catching a tan, taking the occasional dip, and relaxing over a paperback or magazine. Most coastal resorts also boast a fine array of restaurants where seafood and other cuisines can be enjoyed along with fine homegrown white and red wines.

If you want to punctuate lazy seaside days with the occasional gentle stroll, you’re probably best heading for one of the rural or suburban beaches that line the Garden Route and Eastern Cape coast.

A relaxed safari holiday in South Africa_Oliver's Restaurant and Lodge A stay at a resort means a relaxing time with all your needs catered to | Credit: Oliver’s Restaurant and Lodge

For those who prefer a more overtly resort-like setting, the standout region is Durban and the south KwaZulu-Natal coast, while Cape Town and the adjacent peninsula is ideal for those wanting the modern amenities and varied cultural life associated with a world-class city.

People seeking a relaxed holiday might prefer to limit their itinerary to a couple of venues, spending up to a week at each in order to minimise day-to-day travel and to really settle in.

Walking Safari Holidays in South Africa

Walking safari holidays in South Africa A walking safari allows you to experience South African wildlife from close up | Credit: South Africa Tourism

South Africa is a great destination for keen walkers. Hundreds if not thousands of day trails have been marked out countrywide, many within easy reach of cities such as Cape Town or Durban. The country also supports a superb network of overnight hiking trails ranging from easy one-night excursions to more arduous five- or seven-night mountain treks.

The Garden Route is…

Walking Safari Holidays in South Africa

Walking safari holidays in South Africa A walking safari allows you to experience South African wildlife from close up | Credit: South Africa Tourism

South Africa is a great destination for keen walkers. Hundreds if not thousands of day trails have been marked out countrywide, many within easy reach of cities such as Cape Town or Durban. The country also supports a superb network of overnight hiking trails ranging from easy one-night excursions to more arduous five- or seven-night mountain treks.

The Garden Route is particularly well suited to walkers. It supports any number of coastal and montane day walks ranging from 5 km to 20 km in duration - none finer perhaps than the clifftop trail through Robberg Nature Reserve.

Walking safari holidays in South Africa_Drakensberg hike Hiking the Drakensberg | Credit: South African Tourism

South Africa’s ultimate walking destination is the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg, which offers opportunities for both casual ramblers and experienced and properly equipped hikers.

Guided multi-day wilderness trails operate in the Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, but must be booked well in advance. Shorter unguided nature trails, typically up to 10km in duration, can be found in many minor reserves that lack dangerous wildlife. If you plan on walking a lot, bring suitable footwear and a few pairs of thick socks. A walking stick can be useful in more hilly areas or trails with loose rocks underfoot.

Beach and Bush Safari Holidays in South Africa

Beach and bush safari holidays in South Africa_Twelve Apostles Cape Town has some of the best beaches in the world

South Africa is an ideal location for a beach and bush holiday. Time permitting, best perhaps to split the ‘bush’ and ‘beach’ components. For the former, try the Kruger National Park and associated private reserves for a great chance of ticking the Big Five, or almost-as-good but malaria-free Madikwe and Pilanesberg Game reserves northwest of Johannesburg.

For beaches, it would be hard to beat the Garden Route (best in the…

Beach and Bush Safari Holidays in South Africa

Beach and bush safari holidays in South Africa_Twelve Apostles Cape Town has some of the best beaches in the world

South Africa is an ideal location for a beach and bush holiday. Time permitting, best perhaps to split the ‘bush’ and ‘beach’ components. For the former, try the Kruger National Park and associated private reserves for a great chance of ticking the Big Five, or almost-as-good but malaria-free Madikwe and Pilanesberg Game reserves northwest of Johannesburg.

For beaches, it would be hard to beat the Garden Route (best in the southern summer) or KwaZulu-Natal south coast (good in winter too). For a shorter best-of-both-worlds holiday, no better candidate than the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, with a night or two’s diversion to nearby Hluhluwe-Imfolozi or Phinda.

A Photography Safari in South Africa

Sabi sands is ideal for a kruger national park photo tour Certain camps and lodges offer guests professional photographic equipment for hire | Credit: Sabi Sands, Kruger National Park

South Africa is a highly photogenic country, especially in the summer months (November-April) when the air is least hazy and landscapes are at their greenest. The coastline and mountains all make great subjects, but the country’s most popular venues for photography are its game reserves, with their magnificent array of wildlife, which tends to be better for…

A Photography Safari in South Africa

Sabi sands is ideal for a kruger national park photo tour Certain camps and lodges offer guests professional photographic equipment for hire | Credit: Sabi Sands, Kruger National Park

South Africa is a highly photogenic country, especially in the summer months (November-April) when the air is least hazy and landscapes are at their greenest. The coastline and mountains all make great subjects, but the country’s most popular venues for photography are its game reserves, with their magnificent array of wildlife, which tends to be better for photographing during winter.

For dedicated photographers, it’s worth weighing off the pros and cons of a guided safari in a private reserve such as Sabi Sand, or a self-drive trip in a public one such as Kruger. Private reserves are generally a lot more costly to visit, and guides tend to focus strongly on the Big Five rather than less glamorous but equally photogenic subjects such as birds and antelope. In addition people with long lenses may find the seating arrangements in the open 4x4s to be rather crammed unless they arrange private game drives in advance.

wildlife photography in south africa lioness Close-up of a lioness

On the other hand, most private reserves offer far superior sightings of lions, leopards and other photogenic predators that you can hope for in public reserves. Also, the ability to drive off-road means you can stick with the subject for longer, and usually get far closer to it and line up better.

A photography safari in South Africa_Kommetjie beach Stunning landscape shot of Kommetjie beach in Cape Town | Credit: Juan Wernecke

First-time safari goers should also be aware that wildlife photography requires faster and higher-magnification lenses than most other subjects. The ideal lens combination would be a zoom that goes up to 300 together with a fixed 400, with a fastest f-stop of 4 or better, 2.8. A beanbag upon which to rest your lens to minimise the risk of camera shake is a vital accessory. To save weight you can travel with an empty bean bag and fill it up with rice or something similar upon arrival at your destination.

travel quotes for south africa safari

Malaria Free Safari Holidays in South Africa

Malaria free safari holidays in South Africa_Kichaka Game Reserve An aardvark in the malaria-free Kichaka Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape

Although malaria is a major travel concern in much of Africa, it has a very limited presence in South Africa. Indeed, more than 95% of South Africa, and most of its major attractions, are entirely free of malaria. There are only two exceptions. The eastern lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, which includes the Kruger National Park and associated private reserves, is classified as moderate risk.

Malaria free safari holidays in South Africa_Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve Rhinos in the…

Malaria Free Safari Holidays in South Africa

Malaria free safari holidays in South Africa_Kichaka Game Reserve An aardvark in the malaria-free Kichaka Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape

Although malaria is a major travel concern in much of Africa, it has a very limited presence in South Africa. Indeed, more than 95% of South Africa, and most of its major attractions, are entirely free of malaria. There are only two exceptions. The eastern lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, which includes the Kruger National Park and associated private reserves, is classified as moderate risk.

Malaria free safari holidays in South Africa_Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve Rhinos in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. This is another malaria-free safari destination

Then there is coastal KwaZulu-Natal, north of Richards Bay, which is regarded to be low risk and includes iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve.

Transmission in these areas is more-or-less confined to the rainy summer months. Most other safari destinations in South Africa are malaria-free, notably Madikwe and Pilanesberg Game Reserves, and Addo Elephant National Park. There is also no malaria in other popular areas such as Cape Town, the Cape Winelands, the Garden Route, Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg and Johannesburg.

Foodie Holidays in South Africa

Foodie holidays in South Africa_Carbon Bistro Carbon Bistro in Johannesburg

South Africa’s larger cities have thriving culinary scenes and visitors will find the quality to be very high and prices very affordable by international standards. A celebrated facet of South Africa’s cuisine is the superb variety of good, affordable wine produced mainly in the Western Cape. Cape Town and the nearby Cape Winelands are rightly renowned as the culinary capitals of South Africa, and would form the obvious starting point of any foodie…

Foodie Holidays in South Africa

Foodie holidays in South Africa_Carbon Bistro Carbon Bistro in Johannesburg

South Africa’s larger cities have thriving culinary scenes and visitors will find the quality to be very high and prices very affordable by international standards. A celebrated facet of South Africa’s cuisine is the superb variety of good, affordable wine produced mainly in the Western Cape. Cape Town and the nearby Cape Winelands are rightly renowned as the culinary capitals of South Africa, and would form the obvious starting point of any foodie tour of the country.

Foodie holidays in South Africa_Reubens One and Only Crayfish risotto at Reuben’s at the One and Only Hotel, Cape Town

Seafood is particularly recommended anywhere along the coast, while excellent venison can be enjoyed in the vicinity of the Kruger National Park. Oudtshoorn in the Karoo region is famed for its lean, free-range ostrich meat (and eggs), while Durban excels when it comes to Indian restaurants, the latter usually offering a good vegetarian selection.

Foodie holidays in South Africa_roti Roti is a very popular side to curries and stews in Cape Malay cuisine

Don’t forget to try some of the several dishes that are more-or-less unique to South Africa. ‘Cape Malay’ specialties include sosatie kebabs (a variation on the Indonesian satay) and a fruit-sweetened baked mincemeat dish called bobotie. Spicy boerewors ‘farmer’s sausage’ is an integral component of any casual braai (barbecue) countrywide, while biltong is an air-dried strip of salted and spiced beef or game meat reminiscent of American jerky.

Foodie holidays in South Africa_La Motte The Cape winelands pair fine dining with delicious wines | Credit: Sarah Graham

Birding Safari Holidays in South Africa

Birding safari holidays in South Africa_Narina Trogon The narina trogon in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

South Africa is a superb bird watching destination. The national checklist comprises around 840 species, and includes the world’s largest bird (ostrich) and what is reputedly its bulkiest flying species (kori bustard) along with a dazzling variety of birds of prey, ranging from the largely terrestrial secretary-bird to the charismatic African fish eagle and macabre Lappet-faced vulture. It also supports a dazzling array of colourful…

Birding Safari Holidays in South Africa

Birding safari holidays in South Africa_Narina Trogon The narina trogon in iSimangaliso Wetland Park

South Africa is a superb bird watching destination. The national checklist comprises around 840 species, and includes the world’s largest bird (ostrich) and what is reputedly its bulkiest flying species (kori bustard) along with a dazzling variety of birds of prey, ranging from the largely terrestrial secretary-bird to the charismatic African fish eagle and macabre Lappet-faced vulture. It also supports a dazzling array of colourful bee-eaters, turacos, parrot, rollers and waxbills.

Birding safari holidays in South Africa_Kori Bustard A kori bustard in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

There are several sites in South Africa where a moderately skilled birder could tick 100 species in a day. Foremost among these – and an excellent overall introduction to African birds - is the Kruger National Park, though some would argue that it is outranked by iSimagaliso Wetland Park. But rewarding birdwatching can be enjoyed anywhere in South Africa, even in the suburbs of Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Of particular interest to visiting birders are the 35 species more-or-less endemic to South Africa (some have a range extending into the small bordering kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho) and several other near-endemics with a range that extends a small way into Namibia and/or Botswana. Good sites for these localised species include the Western Cape, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg and Pilanesberg/Madikwe.

Birding safari holidays in South Africa_Sunbird Southern double-collared sunbird in the Western Cape | Credit: Jaime MacArthur

Avian variety is greatest in the southern summer (Nov-Mar) when several resident species assume a colourful breeding plumage and dozens of migrant species arrive from Europe or elsewhere in Africa. Several good regional field guides can be bought at any decent bookshop in South Africa.

Big Five Safari Holidays in South Africa

leopard are elusive big five animals to spot The most elusive of the Big Five; the leopard will drag its prey high up into the trees to escape scavengers

For many first time visitors to Africa, a top priority is ticking off the so-called Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. South Africa offers many excellent opportunities to do this, and it is the easiest place in Africa to see rhinos, since it supports more than 90% of the continental population of these endangered creatures. It is also the African country…

Big Five Safari Holidays in South Africa

leopard are elusive big five animals to spot The most elusive of the Big Five; the leopard will drag its prey high up into the trees to escape scavengers

For many first time visitors to Africa, a top priority is ticking off the so-called Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. South Africa offers many excellent opportunities to do this, and it is the easiest place in Africa to see rhinos, since it supports more than 90% of the continental population of these endangered creatures. It is also the African country best suited to self-drive safaris.

South Africa’s top Big Five destination is the Kruger National Park, which extends over almost 20,000 km² to form one of Africa’s largest and most iconic safari destinations. Kruger is home around 40,000 buffalo, 13,000 elephant, 1,600 lion, 2,000 leopard, 7,000 white rhino and 400 black rhino. For those who can afford it, great alternatives to Kruger are the exclusive private reserves that border it, and ‘concession lodges’ that occupy enclaves within it.

cape buffalo one of the big five animals The Cape buffalo can weight up to 850 kilograms

South Africa boasts many other world-class safari destinations, among them the malaria-free Pilanesberg and Madikwe Game Reserves northwest of Johannesburg.

travel eexpert big five safari south africa

City and Bush Safari Holidays in South Africa

City and bush safari holidays in South Africa_Cape Town Cape Town by night | Credit: SA Visas

No other country matches South Africa when it comes to offering a world-class city and bush holiday. Cape Town is quite simply the most beautiful city in Africa, and also arguably the best equipped when it comes to urban attractions such as museums, live music, restaurants and wine-tasting venues. Cape Town also offers access to some fabulous beaches and the incomparable Table Mountain.

City and bush safari holidays in South Africa_Giraffe
Giraffe in the Kruger National Park

It can be twinned with…

City and Bush Safari Holidays in South Africa

City and bush safari holidays in South Africa_Cape Town Cape Town by night | Credit: SA Visas

No other country matches South Africa when it comes to offering a world-class city and bush holiday. Cape Town is quite simply the most beautiful city in Africa, and also arguably the best equipped when it comes to urban attractions such as museums, live music, restaurants and wine-tasting venues. Cape Town also offers access to some fabulous beaches and the incomparable Table Mountain.

City and bush safari holidays in South Africa_Giraffe
Giraffe in the Kruger National Park

It can be twinned with the Kruger National Park (and/or associated private reserves) for a Big Five safari to match anything else Africa has to offer (though those seeking a malaria-free safari experience might prefer Madikwe and Pilanesberg Game Reserves northwest of Johannesburg.


Who is Travelling to South Africa with you?

Solo Traveling Through South Africa

Solo traveling through South Africa Drakensberg Hike Solo travel through South Africa is a pleasure. Locals are friendly and you’ll be able to meet many people

Most parts of South Africa are suited to solo travel. Locals are very friendly, and will often go out of their way to make single travelers feel at home. Cape Town in particular is suited to those who relish urban attractions, whether it be museums, galleries and theatres, or bars, nightclubs and live music venues. Private reserves are probably better suited to single travelers…

Solo Traveling Through South Africa

Solo traveling through South Africa Drakensberg Hike Solo travel through South Africa is a pleasure. Locals are friendly and you’ll be able to meet many people

Most parts of South Africa are suited to solo travel. Locals are very friendly, and will often go out of their way to make single travelers feel at home. Cape Town in particular is suited to those who relish urban attractions, whether it be museums, galleries and theatres, or bars, nightclubs and live music venues. Private reserves are probably better suited to single travelers than national parks and other public sanctuaries, since they tend to offer a more hands-on personalized service.

Solo travelers tend to gravitate towards more urban attractions than couples. Cape Town is a must for solo travelers, and it is a good base for exploring the gorgeous Cape Peninsula and Winelands. Many solo travelers prefer not to self-drive, which makes it difficult to explore areas like the Kruger Park and Garden Route unless you join an organized tour. Private game reserves such as Sabi Sand and Phinda are particularly well-suited to solo travelers.

An excellent way for single travelers to explore South Africa is by using the combination of the Baz Bus and the many backpacker hostels that are scattered around its cities and other main sites of interest. The Baz Bus is an affordable hop-on, hop-off bus service that connects Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and several other popular places of interest, and its clientele is dominated by single travelers who are receptive to making new friends and meeting like-minded travel companions on the road. Likewise, most backpacker hostels have lively communal areas where it is easy to meet other travelers, and they usually also offer affordable group tours to local sites of interest, as well as overnight tours further afield, for instance from Gauteng to the Kruger National Park or Cape Town to the Winelands.

At a more luxurious level, most private reserves operate group game drives and many also encourage guests to dine together, which makes it easy for solo travelers to mingle.

In the middle range, solo travelers seeking personalized attention should consider booking into small B&Bs and other owner-managed lodges rather than larger and more institutional hotels.

There are no risks specific to solo travel in South Africa, but single women in particular should apply the usual common sense precautions such as not walking alone in cities at night, and avoiding deserted beaches. Additionally, it is advisable to notify family and friends of your whereabouts during travels.

Family Safari in South Africa

A family holiday in South Africa A family safari is a lot of fun and kids get to learn about new cultures and the wildlife in South Africa

  • South Africa is one of the world’s best safari destinations for families. It’s mostly malaria-free and offers excellent infrastructure and relatively good road networks. There are also a number of parks that offer self-drive safaris, making it ideal for families wanting to holiday in the African bush.

  • Amongst the best family-friendly parks is Pilanesberg National Park in the…

Family Safari in South Africa

A family holiday in South Africa A family safari is a lot of fun and kids get to learn about new cultures and the wildlife in South Africa

  • South Africa is one of the world’s best safari destinations for families. It’s mostly malaria-free and offers excellent infrastructure and relatively good road networks. There are also a number of parks that offer self-drive safaris, making it ideal for families wanting to holiday in the African bush.

  • Amongst the best family-friendly parks is Pilanesberg National Park in the North-West province. Not only does it neighbour the famous Sun City entertainment resort, but it’s malaria-free, an easy two-hours’ drive from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and hosts the Big Five.

  • Addo Elephant National Park is not only overflowing with elephants, the rest of the Big Five can also be sighted in the park. The beauty of the park is that it’s close proximity to the coast, allows families to see whales at the right time of the year. Once inside the park, there are a number of excellent, affordable camps and self-catering options with good roads.

  • The Kruger National Park is the crown jewel in South Africa’s wildlife crown and is the most accessible - an easy four-hour drive from Johannesburg makes it a great option for families. Within the park itself there is an abundance of affordable accommodation options which are surrounded by the Big Five.

  • Madikwe Game Reserve in the North-West is also 100% malaria-free and is regarded as South Africa’s best private game reserve. They cater for families of all sizes and ages, with their “Jungle Drives” for children under the age of four and the “Children’s Safari” for slightly older kids. The latter teaches them about the bush, how to track and use bush medicine.

(P.S. If you’re looking for family holiday specials, we’ve got some great travel deals for you.)

LGBT Safari Holidays in South Africa

LGBT safari holidays in South Africa South Africa celebrates equal rights for all

South Africa ranks among the world’s more progressive countries when it comes to LGBT rights. Indeed, the new South African Constitution, drawn up in 1996, was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 2005 South Africa became the fifth country in the world, and first in Africa, to recognise same-sex marriage.

LGBT safari holidays in South Africa_Pink Loerie Festival The Pink Loerie Festival in Knysna

Cape Town is the most amenable city anywhere in…

LGBT Safari Holidays in South Africa

LGBT safari holidays in South Africa South Africa celebrates equal rights for all

South Africa ranks among the world’s more progressive countries when it comes to LGBT rights. Indeed, the new South African Constitution, drawn up in 1996, was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 2005 South Africa became the fifth country in the world, and first in Africa, to recognise same-sex marriage.

LGBT safari holidays in South Africa_Pink Loerie Festival The Pink Loerie Festival in Knysna

Cape Town is the most amenable city anywhere in Africa for LGBT visitors, thanks to a lively and friendly gay scene focused on De Waterkant and parts of Green Point. Larger cities such as Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban also have thriving LGBT Communities. Of the smaller towns, Knysna is renowned for its annual Pink Loerie Carnival.

Elsewhere in South Africa, attitudes tend to be more conservative, but LGBT rights are guaranteed and you are highly unlikely to encounter open discrimination.

A South African Holiday as a Couple

A South African holiday as a couple_Madikwe Safari Lodge There are plenty of romantic getaways in South Africa that are perfect for couples | Credit: Madikwe Safari Lodge

Most parts of South Africa are suited to couples. However, it’s easier for couples travelling without children to self-drive (which also helps keep costs down) and ensures plenty of privacy and quality time together. Many couples opt to visit areas like the Garden Route, Kruger Park and iSimangaliso, which are ideal for self-drive exploration and many romantic…

A South African Holiday as a Couple

A South African holiday as a couple_Madikwe Safari Lodge There are plenty of romantic getaways in South Africa that are perfect for couples | Credit: Madikwe Safari Lodge

Most parts of South Africa are suited to couples. However, it’s easier for couples travelling without children to self-drive (which also helps keep costs down) and ensures plenty of privacy and quality time together. Many couples opt to visit areas like the Garden Route, Kruger Park and iSimangaliso, which are ideal for self-drive exploration and many romantic interludes.

(P.S. If you’re looking for romantic holiday packages, we’ve got some great travel deals for you.)

South Africa Honeymoon

An authentic South Africa honeymoon is wonderful for romantic holidays, especially for those who want to mix up the romance with outdoor pursuits such as game viewing and walking.

South Africa honeymoon_Singita Ebony Lodge

If it’s a bush luxury you are after for your South Africa honeymoon, look no further than a lodge in a private reserve(for instance, Sabi Sands, Madikwe or Phinda), many of which have honeymoon suites and can arrange romantic gaslit dinners on a private terrace or deep in the bush.

A romantic getaway in South Africa_Tintswalo Atlantic wedding

Another popular…

South Africa Honeymoon

An authentic South Africa honeymoon is wonderful for romantic holidays, especially for those who want to mix up the romance with outdoor pursuits such as game viewing and walking.

South Africa honeymoon_Singita Ebony Lodge

If it’s a bush luxury you are after for your South Africa honeymoon, look no further than a lodge in a private reserve(for instance, Sabi Sands, Madikwe or Phinda), many of which have honeymoon suites and can arrange romantic gaslit dinners on a private terrace or deep in the bush.

A romantic getaway in South Africa_Tintswalo Atlantic wedding

Another popular venue for a honeymoon safari in South Africa is the super-luxurious Sun City complex, which lies just two hours’ drive from Johannesburg and borders the excellent malaria-free Pilanesberg Game Reserve.

Ideally, pair up your South Africa honeymoon with a few days at a coastal resort such as Umhlanga Rocks and Ballito in KwaZulu-Natal, Plettenberg Bay and Knysna on the Garden Route, or even Cape Town itself.

Kruger as a honeymoon destination

Finally, no self-respecting foodie should miss out on the Cape Winelands, which host some of South Africa’s finest, most gracious and most romantic restaurants and wine-tasting venues.

Where to go on Safari in South Africa for your honeymoon

  • Thornybush lodge
  • Each lodge has a unique nature that lends itself to the romanticism of celebrating love; whether it’s a private candlelit dinner or simply the magic of being immersed in the bush, Thornybush lodge ensure you get only the best in special treatment.

    Thornybush Lodge Honeymoon

    Let us take care of the small things while you spend quality time together and enjoy your intimate moments in one of the most romantic destinations in Africa.

  • Lion Sands
  • Another popular African safari lodge for honeymooning in Southern Africa is Lion Sands – an award-winning lodge that was just rebuilt in 2016 with stunning views of the Sabie River in Kruger National Park.

    Lion sands honeymoon

    The rooms are huge and uber private with fireplaces, viewing decks, and private pools.

  • Tintswalo Private Safari Lodge
  • Sharing an unfenced boundary with the renowned Kruger National Park, Tintswalo Safari Lodge sits on the pristine Manyeleti Private Game Reserve, home to some of the best game viewing and game drive experiences that South Africa has to offer.

    Tintswalo Safari Lodge

  • Royal Malewane
  • For a six-star safari lodge experience that is delectably luxe, look no further than Royal Malewane, where you can actually watch elephants from your very own pool.

    Royal Malewane honeymoon

    Royal Malewane is easily accessible by air and road and is located in the Thornybush Private Game Reserve on the Western Border of The Greater Kruger National Park. The closest airport is Hoedspruit and there is a private landing strip at Royal Malewane, as well.

    This is an ultra-luxurious private safari lodge and an ideal South Africa honeymoon.


    What You Need To Know

    Why Go to South Africa?

    No other country in Africa, and few anywhere else in the world, offer a diversity of attractions to rival South Africa.

    South Africa is one of the continent’s finest Big Five destinations. The likes of the Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve have all the amenities and attractions one would come to expect from world-class wildlife destinations. While adjoining private reserves such as Sabi Sand and Phinda rank among the world’s most luxurious venues for…

    Why Go to South Africa?

    No other country in Africa, and few anywhere else in the world, offer a diversity of attractions to rival South Africa.

    South Africa is one of the continent’s finest Big Five destinations. The likes of the Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve have all the amenities and attractions one would come to expect from world-class wildlife destinations. While adjoining private reserves such as Sabi Sand and Phinda rank among the world’s most luxurious venues for all-inclusive guided safaris. Importantly, when it comes to families with young children, South Africa is unique in that several of its most alluring Big Five reserves - for instance Madikwe, Pilanesberg and Addo Elephant National Park - lie within regions that are 100% free of malaria.

    lion kruger national park wildlife safari The lion is the king of the Big Five

    South Africa is remarkable when it comes to the ‘smaller stuff’. Indeed, some ecologists regard it to be the world’s third most important country in terms of overall biodiversity, thanks to its unusually high level of endemism. The tiny Cape Floral Kingdom, centred on Cape Town, contains something like 5% of the world’s plant species, two-thirds of which occur nowhere else on the planet.

    fynbos flora in cape town Fynbos is one of the most diverse species of flora on the planet | Credit: PhantomForest.com

    Wildlife aside, South Africa’s 2,500km coast line is one of the most varied in the world. Split between the warm Indian Ocean and cooler Atlantic, it is studded with idyllic sun-kissed swimming beaches, but also embraces everything from the subtropical forested dunes and coral reefs of iSimangaliso Wetland Park to the craggy windswept cliffs of the Cape and Robberg Peninsulas.

    cape peninsular south africa safari credit sowetotour.co.za Cape Point in the Cape Peninsula is the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian oceans | Credit: SowetoTour.co.za

    South Africa today displays a unique cultural blend of African, European and Asian influences. There’s the brash economic powerhouse of Johannesburg and its altogether more stately coastal counterpart Cape Town, as well as the curry houses of Indian-influenced Durban, and the French vinicultural tradition and Dutch-derived architecture that characterises the winelands around Stellenbosch. Elsewhere, traditional Zulu and Ndebele cultural villages pay homage to the country’s indigenous cultural diversity, as does the incomparable wealth of prehistoric rock art found in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg.

    A significant part of modern South Africa’s fascination is the immense progress it has made as a unified nation since the first democratic election was held there in 1994, a progression placed in sobering historical perspective by visit to Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum or Cape Town’s District Six Museum. At the opposite end of the immediacy scale, the three-million-year-long hominid fossil record preserved in the ancient limestone caverns of Gauteng’s Cradle of Humankind has no peer elsewhere in the world.

    All in all, South Africa is a country like no other.

    South Africa Visa Requirements and Fees

    • All visitors must present a passport upon arrival at their port of entry. This must be valid until at least 30 days after the end of their intended stay, and must have at least one blank page to accommodate entry and exit stamps.

    • Technically, visitors should also have a return or onward ticket, and be able to demonstrate access to sufficient funds to cover day-to-day expenses for the duration of their stay, but these requirements are seldom enforced.

    • Visas for stays of up to 90 days…

    South Africa Visa Requirements and Fees

    • All visitors must present a passport upon arrival at their port of entry. This must be valid until at least 30 days after the end of their intended stay, and must have at least one blank page to accommodate entry and exit stamps.

    • Technically, visitors should also have a return or onward ticket, and be able to demonstrate access to sufficient funds to cover day-to-day expenses for the duration of their stay, but these requirements are seldom enforced.

    • Visas for stays of up to 90 days are not required by holders of the following passports: Australia, Andorra, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania (90 days per year), United Kingdom (including Guernsey and Jersey, Isle of Man and Virgin Islands, and British Overseas territories), United States of America, Uruguay, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

    • Visas for stays of up to 30 days are not required by holders of the following passports: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Gabon, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Jordan, Lesotho, Macau, Malaysia, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Peru, Poland, Seychelles, Slovak Republic, South Korea, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey and Zambia

    • Holders of other passports must organise a visa in advance, and require at least two unused pages for endorsements. For those planning an air or road excursion from South Africa to another neighbouring country, a multiple-entry visa is required.

    • A strictly enforced new ruling aimed at curbing child trafficking requires that all children under 18 show an Unabridged Birth Certificate upon arrival in or exit from South Africa (or, if a visa is required, when they apply for that). If the child is travelling with one or neither parent, a Parental Consent Affidavit or equivalent document from the absent parent(s) is also required.

    Lodges in South Africa: The Do’s and Don’ts

    • Cover up when on safari; closed shoes are a must (or at least open shoes that fasten tightly).

    • Consider neutral-coloured clothing when in the bush. Keep it down to preserve noise pollution and respect fellow safari goers.

    Lodges in South Africa: The dos and don'ts_Casual Clothing Keep clothing neutral and comfortable

    • Notice the small things. While sighting the Big Five in South Africa is a must, noticing the smaller details will make your experience that much more enriching.

    • Don’t get too close to the wildlife - the power of nature is…

    Lodges in South Africa: The Do’s and Don’ts

    • Cover up when on safari; closed shoes are a must (or at least open shoes that fasten tightly).

    • Consider neutral-coloured clothing when in the bush. Keep it down to preserve noise pollution and respect fellow safari goers.

    Lodges in South Africa: The dos and don'ts_Casual Clothing Keep clothing neutral and comfortable

    • Notice the small things. While sighting the Big Five in South Africa is a must, noticing the smaller details will make your experience that much more enriching.

    • Don’t get too close to the wildlife - the power of nature is formidable and should be respected at all times.

    • Take a pair of binoculars if you want a good close-up of wildlife while still maintaining your distance

    Lodges in South Africa: The dos and don'ts_Buffalo

    • Respect wildlife by keeping a safe distance

    • Protect yourself in terms of insects and viruses. Always check what vaccinations you need.

    • Understand how game drives work. Private lodges offer game drives for guests (anywhere from 4-10 people). There is generally a chance for a coffee break in the morning and sundowners in the evening.

    Lodges in South Africa: The dos and don'ts_Gondwana Game Reserve Camps and lodges in game reserves offer meals as part of your safari package | Credit: Gondwana Game Reserve

    • Rangers are usually in radio contact with other vehicles and allow the other the courtesy of enjoying a sighting before making it known to the rest of the vehicles.

    • Pack the right kit for a safari.

    • Keep children entertained with an animal checklist when on game drives.

    Lodges in South Africa: The dos and don'ts_Children Children will love the excitement of the African bush

    • Sit in the middle of the vehicle. This gives you the best of both vantage points.

    • If you are a keen birdwatcher or photographer then you may want to consider a private vehicle - just be sure to comply with the game lodge rules, i.e. never get out of your vehicle.

    Packing List for a South Africa Holiday

    Aside from checking any relevant vaccinations and seeking advice about anti-malaria drugs, no special preparations are required for a trip to South Africa. All over-the-counter medications are widely available at pharmacies, but you might want to buy essentials such as sunblock and insect repellent before you travel. Travellers who wear contact lenses might find that their eyes are more irritable in the dry heat typical of parts of South Africa. Pack glasses as a backup.

    Travelling…

    Packing List for a South Africa Holiday

    Aside from checking any relevant vaccinations and seeking advice about anti-malaria drugs, no special preparations are required for a trip to South Africa. All over-the-counter medications are widely available at pharmacies, but you might want to buy essentials such as sunblock and insect repellent before you travel. Travellers who wear contact lenses might find that their eyes are more irritable in the dry heat typical of parts of South Africa. Pack glasses as a backup.

    Travelling with Children

    If you are travelling with children, please make sure that you have all of the required documentation and original birth certificates for each child at hand. This is part of the child visa regulations implemented by the South Africa Home Affairs department and more information can be obtained using the this [checklist]

    If you are travelling to South Africa and a safari is part of your planned itinerary then there a couple of things to consider packing as part of your planning. Some of the items below will be helpful;

    • High-SPF sunscreen and a sunhat.

    • Comfortable lightweight clothes of neutral colours.

    • Comfortable closed shoes.

    • A light fleece or sweater for the evenings.

    • Insect repellent.

    • Binoculars

    • Camera equipment.

    • Anti-malarial medication if you’re in a malaria area (rare)

    • US dollars in cash – You don’t need much but a couple of hundred will allow you to at least change if need be, and helps for tipping purposes as well.

    Highlights of South Africa

    South Africa attracts more than its fair share of repeat visitors. Some return every year or two to enjoy the familiar pleasures of a favourite beach or re-explore the vast expanses of the Kruger National Park, where no two days on safari are every quite the same. For others, it would be the fact that South Africa offers so many fresh potential experiences to more adventurous travellers.

    Hluhluwe Game Reserve south africa safari black rhino and calf Black rhino and calf in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve

    You’ve done Cape Town and the Kruger? Then…

    Highlights of South Africa

    South Africa attracts more than its fair share of repeat visitors. Some return every year or two to enjoy the familiar pleasures of a favourite beach or re-explore the vast expanses of the Kruger National Park, where no two days on safari are every quite the same. For others, it would be the fact that South Africa offers so many fresh potential experiences to more adventurous travellers.

    Hluhluwe Game Reserve south africa safari black rhino and calf Black rhino and calf in the Hluhluwe Game Reserve

    You’ve done Cape Town and the Kruger? Then try KwaZulu-Natal’s contrasting UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the lush subtropical beaches and rich wildlife of iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, and superb hiking and rock art associated with the lofty uKhahlamba-Drakensberg. Or a few days in the lovely Cape winelands followed by a coastal foray along the Garden Route to the Eastern Cape. Or head northwest to the vast and thinly populated Northern Cape, whose main attractions include the wildlife-rich red dunes of Kgalagadi, spectacular spring wildflower displays of Namaqualand and magnificent Augrabies Falls. Coupled with the excellent amenities and highly favourable exchange rate, this diversity makes South Africa an ideal destination for repeat visitors.

    namaqualand northern cape south africa safari credit northern cape tourism Each year the landscape of Namaqualand bursts into bloom as a carpet of wildflowers cover the earth | Credit: Northern Cape Tourism

    Medical Insurance for South Africa

    Full medical travel insurance, inclusive of air evacuation from remote areas, is highly recommended. Be aware that some insurance policies may not cover activities deemed to me hazardous, for instance paragliding or scuba diving.

    When travelling to South Africa we always recommend that you speak to a local travel consultant to ensure that you have all of the right documentation and cover. These policies and procedures may change and therefore your local operator cannot be held…

    Medical Insurance for South Africa

    Full medical travel insurance, inclusive of air evacuation from remote areas, is highly recommended. Be aware that some insurance policies may not cover activities deemed to me hazardous, for instance paragliding or scuba diving.

    When travelling to South Africa we always recommend that you speak to a local travel consultant to ensure that you have all of the right documentation and cover. These policies and procedures may change and therefore your local operator cannot be held responsible in cases of medical emergency.

    There are a couple of fantastic resources for both such as Just Landed that can guide you through the process.

    South Africa vs Botswana

    South Africa vs Botswana Botswana is known for its pristine wildlife destinations and natural world wonders

    Botswana is a more pure wildlife destination than South Africa. Its main safari reserves, for instance the Okavango and Chobe, are less accessible than their South African counterparts, far wilder in feel, and tend to cater more to high-cost, low impact fly-in tourism. Botswana thus offers more of an overt wilderness experience than anything in South Africa, but it is not well suited to budget-conscious…

    South Africa vs Botswana

    South Africa vs Botswana Botswana is known for its pristine wildlife destinations and natural world wonders

    Botswana is a more pure wildlife destination than South Africa. Its main safari reserves, for instance the Okavango and Chobe, are less accessible than their South African counterparts, far wilder in feel, and tend to cater more to high-cost, low impact fly-in tourism. Botswana thus offers more of an overt wilderness experience than anything in South Africa, but it is not well suited to budget-conscious travellers, or to DIY self-drivers in the way that Kruger or Pilanesberg are.

    South Africa is a more family-friendly and affordable destination than Botswana, and it has a far greater variety of attractions - there is nothing in Botswana to compare to historic South African cities such as Cape Town or Stellenbosch, or to the lofty heights of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg, and it is a landlocked country with no coastline whatsoever as compared to 2,500km in South Africa. South Africa is also the only country in Africa to boast several malaria-free safari destinations.

    Wildlife in South Africa

    Several Big Five reserves protect the more charismatic large mammals associated with the African savannah. Foremost among these is the Kruger National Park and abutting private reserves, but other key safari destinations include iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Madikwe, Pilanesberg, Addo Elephant National Park and a variety of smaller and more exclusive private reserves.

    These premier reserves all support healthy populations of lion, elephant and buffalo. South Africa…

    Wildlife in South Africa

    Several Big Five reserves protect the more charismatic large mammals associated with the African savannah. Foremost among these is the Kruger National Park and abutting private reserves, but other key safari destinations include iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Madikwe, Pilanesberg, Addo Elephant National Park and a variety of smaller and more exclusive private reserves.

    These premier reserves all support healthy populations of lion, elephant and buffalo. South Africa stands as the world’s most important stronghold for rhinos (around 90% of the global population of white rhino and black rhino is concentrated there), while the private reserves bordering Kruger have few if any rivals when it comes to intimate leopard encounters.

    Wildlife in South Africa_Leopard Leopards are elusive and shy animals so spotting one on safari is a magical experience

    Other wildlife associated with these reserves includes African wild dog, cheetah, spotted hyena, giraffe, zebra, warthog, baboon and vervet monkey. The country supports around two dozen species of antelope, ranging from the outsized eland and stately spiral-horned greater kudu, to the gregarious blue wildebeest and impala, to arid-country specialists such as gemsbok and springbok and the diminutive forest-dwelling red and blue duikers.

    Wildlife in South Africa_wild dog The African wild dog is one of the most endangered predators in Africa, but also the most efficient hunters in the bush

    A number of large mammal species are endemic to South Africa. The black wildebeest and blesbok are associated mainly with grassy habitats in the highveld, while the Cape mountain zebra and bontebok are fynbos-dwellers more-or-less confined to the Western Cape.

    Wildlife in South Africa_Zebra Karoo National Park The iconic Mountain zebra in the Karoo National Park

    Marine wildlife is a strong feature of South Africa. The clifftop town of Hermanus offers the world’s finest land-based whale-watching, while other marine wildlife attractions range from caged shark dives at Mossel Bay and turtle-nesting excursions in iSimangaliso to the penguin colony at Cape Town’s Boulders Beach and dolphins that frequently visit many of the country’s bays.

    whale watching in South Africa A Southern right whale breaks the water near the coastal town of Hermanus in the Western Cape

    South Africa is a key bird watching destination. The national checklist comprises around 840 species, and includes the world’s largest bird (ostrich) and what is reputedly its bulkiest flying species (kori bustard) along with a dazzling variety of bee-eaters, turacos, parrot, rollers and waxbills. Around 35 bird species are more-or-less endemic to South Africa (some have a range extending into the small bordering kingdoms of Swaziland and Lesotho) and several more are near-endemics with a range that extends a small way into Namibia and/or Botswana. Avian variety is greatest in the southern summer (Nov-Mar) when several resident species assume a colourful breeding plumage and dozens of migrant species arrive from Europe or elsewhere in Africa. There are several sites in South Africa, most notably perhaps Kruger, where a moderately skilled birder could tick 100 species in a day.

    Wildlife in South Africa_Birds_Knysna Turaco The Knysna turaco is confined to the lush forests of Southern Africa

    South Africa vs Namibia

    South Africa vs Namibia Self-drive holiday in Namibia

    South Africa and Namibia stand out as two of the few countries in Africa truly suited to self-drive travel.

    Both also have excellent safari opportunities, self-drive or otherwise, in the form of Etosha National Park in Namibia, and Kruger National Park (among others) in South Africa.

    In most other respects the two countries are very different. Namibia is of greatest interest for its dramatic desert landscapes, most famously the stunning red dunes of…

    South Africa vs Namibia

    South Africa vs Namibia Self-drive holiday in Namibia

    South Africa and Namibia stand out as two of the few countries in Africa truly suited to self-drive travel.

    Both also have excellent safari opportunities, self-drive or otherwise, in the form of Etosha National Park in Namibia, and Kruger National Park (among others) in South Africa.

    In most other respects the two countries are very different. Namibia is of greatest interest for its dramatic desert landscapes, most famously the stunning red dunes of Sossuvlei, and for the overwhelming sense of space one might expect of the most thinly populated country in sub-Saharan Africa.

    South Africa is a more family-friendly and varied destination than Namibia, and generally more affordable too. There is nothing in Namibia to compare to historic South African cities such as Cape Town or Stellenbosch (though the remote German-influenced port of Luderitz tries its best).

    And while Namibia does boasts a long and scenic Atlantic coastline, it is for the most part too barren and windswept to qualify as a conventional beach holiday destination comparable to South Africa’s Garden Route or KwaZulu-Natal.

    Getting Around in South Africa

    A good network of domestic flights connects Johannesburg and Cape Town to other major cities such as Mbombela (for the Kruger Park), Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and George (for the Garden Route).

    Trunks roads are all surfaced and well maintained, so self-drive is a straightforward option, provided you have a valid license. The usual international car rental companies are represented in all major cities and airports. Driving is on the left side of the road, as in the UK, which…

    Getting Around in South Africa

    A good network of domestic flights connects Johannesburg and Cape Town to other major cities such as Mbombela (for the Kruger Park), Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and George (for the Garden Route).

    Trunks roads are all surfaced and well maintained, so self-drive is a straightforward option, provided you have a valid license. The usual international car rental companies are represented in all major cities and airports. Driving is on the left side of the road, as in the UK, which may require some adjustment for drivers from mainland Europe, the USA and elsewhere who are accustomed to driving on the right.

    A popular option with backpackers, the Baz Bus is a hop-on hop-off service that runs through the interior between Johannesburg and Durban via Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg, then along the coastal N2 between Durban and Cape Town via East London, Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route. Most trunk routes are also covered by inexpensive Greyhound-style coaches.

    Getting around South Africa_Baz Bus The Baz Bus is an affordable option for a budget safari and stops off at every main city in the country | Credit: SheSaid.co.za

    South African Cultures and Their Nuances

    South African cultures and their nuances_San Bushmen The San bushmen are one of the oldest groups of people in Africa. Their keen survival skills and ancient ways have been passed down from generation to generation | Credit: @Ghanzi

    • South Africa has four main ethnic groups that comprises the entire population.

    • There are 11 official languages that are spoken, with English being the most widely used.

    • South Africa is affectionately known as the rainbow nation because of its diversity in its people, climates, geography and wide array of…

    South African Cultures and Their Nuances

    South African cultures and their nuances_San Bushmen The San bushmen are one of the oldest groups of people in Africa. Their keen survival skills and ancient ways have been passed down from generation to generation | Credit: @Ghanzi

    • South Africa has four main ethnic groups that comprises the entire population.

    • There are 11 official languages that are spoken, with English being the most widely used.

    • South Africa is affectionately known as the rainbow nation because of its diversity in its people, climates, geography and wide array of experiences.

    • It covers 1,21 million square kilometers, making it roughly twice the size of France.

    • South Africans are very warm and accommodating.

    • The culture isn’t homogenous; rather it’s a collection of different cultures with different ones being predominant in different regions.

    South African cultures and their nuances_Zulu people Zulu culture is expressed in dress and ritualistic dance

    • The population is made up of a wide range of backgrounds, including people that are mixed African, Asian and European descent.

    • There is also a significant Indian population living in South Africa.

    • Eating with a knife and fork is the norm except at some traditional African eating occasions where eating meals with the right hand is the norm.

    • South African society is fairly liberal, as everyone’s rights are protected under the constitution.

    • South Africans usually express affection very openly, so shaking hands and slaps on the back are commonplace.

    Medical Requirements for South Africa

    Malaria is absent from most parts of South Africa, and it is nowhere as prevalent as it is in much of equatorial Africa. Exceptions are the eastern lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, which is classified as a moderate-risk malarial area, and coastal KwaZulu-Natal north of Richard’s Bay, which is regarded to be low risk. Transmission is more-or-less confined to the rainy summer months. For this reason, travellers who intend to visit the Kruger National Park and/or adjacent private…

    Medical Requirements for South Africa

    Malaria is absent from most parts of South Africa, and it is nowhere as prevalent as it is in much of equatorial Africa. Exceptions are the eastern lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, which is classified as a moderate-risk malarial area, and coastal KwaZulu-Natal north of Richard’s Bay, which is regarded to be low risk. Transmission is more-or-less confined to the rainy summer months. For this reason, travellers who intend to visit the Kruger National Park and/or adjacent private reserves from September to May are advised to take antimalarial drugs, and visitors to iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi might also consider it. Several such drugs are available and it is best to seek advice from a doctor or travel clinic a few weeks before.

    It is also advisable to take all reasonable precautions against being bitten by the nocturnal Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit the disease. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, trousers and socks in the evening, apply a DEET-based insect repellent to any exposed flesh, and sleep under a net, in an air-conditioned room, under a fan, or with a mosquito coil burning.

    Travellers with young children or who prefer not to take medication could consider visiting one of several malaria-free safari destinations, for instance Madikwe, Pilanesberg or Addo, in preference to the Kruger National Park.

    Travelling to South Africa

    Almost all visitors from abroad fly to South Africa. The main hub for international flights is OR Tambo International Airport on the outskirts of Johannesburg, but some carriers also operate international flights to Cape Town and/or Durban.

    The national carrier SAA, operates an extensive network of flights between Johannesburg and a large number of major cities in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and elsewhere in Africa. Almost all visitors from abroad fly to South…

    Travelling to South Africa

    Almost all visitors from abroad fly to South Africa. The main hub for international flights is OR Tambo International Airport on the outskirts of Johannesburg, but some carriers also operate international flights to Cape Town and/or Durban.

    The national carrier SAA, operates an extensive network of flights between Johannesburg and a large number of major cities in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and elsewhere in Africa. Almost all visitors from abroad fly to South Africa. The main hub for international flights is OR Tambo International Airport on the outskirts of Johannesburg, but some carriers also operate international flights to Cape Town and/or Durban.

    The national carrier SAA, operates an extensive network of flights between Johannesburg and a large number of major cities in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia and elsewhere in Africa.

    Most major international carriers operate direct flights between their home country and South Africa, among them Air China, Air France, Alitalia, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Delta, EgyptAir, EL AL, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Etihad, Iberia, Kenya Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas, Qatar, RwandAir, Singapore Airlines, Swiss, Turkish Airlines and Virgin Atlantic,. Particularly coming from a major European city such as London or Paris, there might be dozens of indirect options and you can save a lot of money by shopping around.

    Travelling to South Africa_Cape Town International Airport Cape Town International Airport was ranked the best airport in Africa | Credit: Cape Town Etc

    It is also possible to enter South Africa overland from the neighbouring countries of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, but you’d only be likely to do so as part of an extended overland trip through Africa.

    There are overland borders with the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland, the former surrounded entirely and the latter on three sides by South Africa. It’s highly unlikely anybody would enter South Africa directly via either of these small countries, but some itineraries pass through them (Swaziland in particular) in which case any visitor who requires a visa should apply for multiple-entry.

    South African Food and Tipping

    Restaurants operate on a similar basis to those in Europe or North America. A 10-15% tip to the waiter is standard, depending on the quality of service.

    At hotels, it’s usually easier to sign drinks and meals to the room than to pay cash, but you could still leave a tip for an individual waiter or bartender, or add one to the bill before you sign it.

    Hotel porters usually expect a tip of around R10 per item of luggage.

    On organized tours, most tips are handled by the guide, but it…

    South African Food and Tipping

    Restaurants operate on a similar basis to those in Europe or North America. A 10-15% tip to the waiter is standard, depending on the quality of service.

    At hotels, it’s usually easier to sign drinks and meals to the room than to pay cash, but you could still leave a tip for an individual waiter or bartender, or add one to the bill before you sign it.

    Hotel porters usually expect a tip of around R10 per item of luggage.

    On organized tours, most tips are handled by the guide, but it is customary to tip to the guide and/or driver at the end, usually as a group rather than on an individual basis.

    Upmarket lodges and camps that operate on a full-board basis generally have a tip box at reception. Tips will usually be distributed between all the staff, a system that seems fairest to backroom workers in a country where hotel staff is very poorly paid.

    In game lodges that offer guided game drives, any guides, drivers and trackers should be tipped. Many such lodges have guideline in the rooms; failing that ask management for a directive.

    South Africa has strict foreign exchange regulations so best tip in Rands rather than hard currency.

    Is South Africa Safe?

    Is South Africa safe? Public safety initiatives have been implemented in large cities to help curb crime | Credit: The CapeTowner

    Crime rates are high but as a rule not directed specifically at tourists. The main crime hotspots areas are probably the CBDs of the three largest cities (Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban) but an element of risk exists everywhere. That said, the overwhelming majority of visitors have hassle-free holidays and so should you if you follow the commonsense do’s and don’ts…

    Is South Africa Safe?

    Is South Africa safe? Public safety initiatives have been implemented in large cities to help curb crime | Credit: The CapeTowner

    Crime rates are high but as a rule not directed specifically at tourists. The main crime hotspots areas are probably the CBDs of the three largest cities (Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban) but an element of risk exists everywhere. That said, the overwhelming majority of visitors have hassle-free holidays and so should you if you follow the commonsense do’s and don’ts below:

    • Before you leave home, make sure you have a scan or other electronic version of all important travel documents, in case they are lost or stolen. Carry copies of these scans on all suitable devices, as well as emailing them to yourself.

    • Make sure your luggage can easily be padlocked; this won’t prevent a determined thief from slashing it open, but it is a strong deterrent to casual light fingers.

    • Never leave cash, mobile phones, electronic devices and other valuables lying around openly in your hotel room, and where possible show your passport and other important documents, as well as spare cash and cards, in a hotel safe.

    • Avoid displaying expensive jewellery, cameras, laptops or large amounts of cash in urban areas.

    • Avoid walking around towns after dark. If you do, there is safety in numbers, and it is always advisable to stick to busy and well-lit streets.

    • Be very alert around ATMs, especially in quiet areas and after dark.

    • Self-drivers should always keep their car doors lock and windows closed in urban areas. When leaving the car parked in transit, lock all valuables in the boot.

    Vaccinations for South Africa

    The one vaccination certificate you may be required to show at immigration is yellow fever, and then only if you arrive from or via the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America.

    Other recommended vaccinations are tetanus and polio. You could also consider immunisation against hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, rabies, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis.

    That said, please ensure that you always check with your local travel clinic or doctor before traveling, as there are different…

    Vaccinations for South Africa

    The one vaccination certificate you may be required to show at immigration is yellow fever, and then only if you arrive from or via the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America.

    Other recommended vaccinations are tetanus and polio. You could also consider immunisation against hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, rabies, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis.

    That said, please ensure that you always check with your local travel clinic or doctor before traveling, as there are different guidelines depending on the country you are traveling from.

    Languages in South Africa

    Languages in South Africa South Africa is a linguistically diverse nation with 11 official languages, more than any other country, and several other minor regional tongues. The most numerically significant language is isiZulu, which is the mother tongue of roughly 22.5% of South Africans, follows by IsiXhosa (16%) and Dutch-based Afrikaans (13.5%).

    English, the first language of 9.5% of South Africans, is the lingua franca of the tourist industry and will be spoken to a high to middling standard by practically…

    Languages in South Africa

    Languages in South Africa South Africa is a linguistically diverse nation with 11 official languages, more than any other country, and several other minor regional tongues. The most numerically significant language is isiZulu, which is the mother tongue of roughly 22.5% of South Africans, follows by IsiXhosa (16%) and Dutch-based Afrikaans (13.5%).

    English, the first language of 9.5% of South Africans, is the lingua franca of the tourist industry and will be spoken to a high to middling standard by practically all waiters, bartenders, shop assistants and staff of hotel and other tourist-oriented institutions.

    The other official languages are SeSotho, Sepedi (also known as North SeSotho), IsiNdebele, Tshivenda, Setswana, Xitsonga and siSwati.

    Changing Money in South Africa

    south africa currency

    The South African rand (ZAR) trades at very favourable rates to most international currencies. There’s no need to bring large amounts of hard currency cash or to buy Rands in advance. Major international credit/debit cards (for instance Visa, Master and to a lesser extent American Express) can be used to draw local currency at 24-hour ATMs throughout the country (the one exception being in most national parks and game reserves) and to pay directly for almost all services and goods.…

    Changing Money in South Africa

    south africa currency

    The South African rand (ZAR) trades at very favourable rates to most international currencies. There’s no need to bring large amounts of hard currency cash or to buy Rands in advance. Major international credit/debit cards (for instance Visa, Master and to a lesser extent American Express) can be used to draw local currency at 24-hour ATMs throughout the country (the one exception being in most national parks and game reserves) and to pay directly for almost all services and goods. That said, it’s a good idea to carry a bit of hard currency cash as a fallback, say the equivalent of around US$200-400; this can be exchanged into Rands at any bank or Bureau de Change.

    Health Care in South Africa

    Although South Africa has a public healthcare system, it is underfunded and understaffed, and facilities tend to be overcrowded, with some 20% of the country’s doctors employed to serve around 80% of the population. By contrast, private medical facilities compare favourably with anywhere in the world, and also tend to be affordable.

    Health Care in South Africa

    Although South Africa has a public healthcare system, it is underfunded and understaffed, and facilities tend to be overcrowded, with some 20% of the country’s doctors employed to serve around 80% of the population. By contrast, private medical facilities compare favourably with anywhere in the world, and also tend to be affordable.

    Shopping in South Africa

    Shopping in South Africa_Waterfront The Waterfront shopping mall in Cape Town is set against the backdrop of Table Mountain and is one of the most visited malls in the country

    Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and other large cities are liberally dotted with shopping malls that typically contain several supermarkets and a plethora of other retail outlets selling the sort of goods you’d expect in similar establishments in North America and Europe. Home-grown foodstuffs, wine, beer and other local produce tends to be…

    Shopping in South Africa

    Shopping in South Africa_Waterfront The Waterfront shopping mall in Cape Town is set against the backdrop of Table Mountain and is one of the most visited malls in the country

    Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and other large cities are liberally dotted with shopping malls that typically contain several supermarkets and a plethora of other retail outlets selling the sort of goods you’d expect in similar establishments in North America and Europe. Home-grown foodstuffs, wine, beer and other local produce tends to be very inexpensive by international standards but imported goods can be pricey. Smaller towns tend to have at least one mall offering a similar range of goods but less choice than their big city counterparts. Shopping opportunities are rather more limited in game reserves.

    Shopping in South Africa_Market on Main There are a variety of craft markets dotted throughout the country where you can buy souvenirs at reasonable prices | Credit: Market on Main

    Handicraft shops and stalls can be found at many lodges and most towns and other places where tourists congregate. And a mind-boggling array of crafts from all over Africa is on sale at markets such as Greenmarket Square in Cape Town and Norwood Rooftop Market in Johannesburg. Shops invariably charge fixed prices, but bargaining is essential at markets.

    Medical Emergencies in South Africa

    If no other assistance is at hand, call a medical emergency service. The government-run emergency number for ambulances in South Africa is 10177. Private 24-hour national emergency and ambulance services include ER24 (084 124), which is linked to a private network of 50-plus MediClinic hospitals, and Netcare 911 (082 911). The police flying squad can be reached at 10111.

    Medical Emergencies in South Africa

    If no other assistance is at hand, call a medical emergency service. The government-run emergency number for ambulances in South Africa is 10177. Private 24-hour national emergency and ambulance services include ER24 (084 124), which is linked to a private network of 50-plus MediClinic hospitals, and Netcare 911 (082 911). The police flying squad can be reached at 10111.