Best Things to Do in South Africa

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When it comes to amazing ways to spend your time, South Africa is a land of endless opportunity. For the cultural traveler, cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg have a wealth of museums, galleries, and fascinating historical sites. For the discerning foodie, it’s difficult to rival the restaurants and wineries of the Western Cape, while adrenalin-junkies are spoiled for choice with shark-diving, white-water rafting, and the world’s highest bridge bungy. Of course, South Africa is also a country of unparalleled natural beauty, and exploring its diverse flora and fauna is top of the list for many visitors—whether they stay for several months or just a few days.

Realize Your Safari Fantasies

For most people, going on an African safari is probably one of the main reasons for visiting South Africa in the first place. The country’s most famous game reserve is the Kruger National Park, and for a good reason—it’s also the largest and oldest park, and it’s easily accessible. You can see all of the Big Five here, and there’s a wide range of accommodation from self-catering chalets to luxury lodges. Night drives, horseback safaris, and walking safaris are all possible.

Kruger’s popularity means that it is also often crowded. For a more off-the-beaten-track safari destination, consider Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a true wilderness located on the Botswana border and known for its population of black-maned lions. If you like the idea of a self-drive safari, check out Mkhuze Game Reserve (located north of Durban in Zululand) or Addo Elephant National Park (located near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape).

Tee Off at a Top Golf Course

South Africa is home to some of the most beautiful golf courses on the planet, and they’re surprisingly affordable. Gary Player and Ernie Els earned their first birdies on South African golf courses, and some of the country’s top spots were designed by these two golfing legends. Stand-out favorites include The Links at luxury hotel the Fancourt (located in George, Western Cape) and Leopard Creek, located near Kruger National Park.

The former is the top-rated golf course in South Africa and the 34th best course in the world. Designed by Gary Player, it boasts spectacular views of the Outeniqua Mountains. The latter is special for its truly African flavor. Where else can you see giraffes wandering across the green, or spot crocodiles and hippos wallowing in the water hazards? Many of South Africa’s golf courses are affiliated with luxury spa hotels so that non-golfers have plenty to do too.

Discover World-Class Surfing

South Africa’s coastline stretches for more than 1,600 miles, from the frigid Atlantic to the balmy Indian Ocean. Both coasts have their fair share of surf spots, but the most famous are all in the Cape Town area or further north along the east coast. If you’re headed to the Mother City, check out Muizenberg for beginner waves, or Big Bay near Blouberg Beach. For pros, the most famous wave here is Dungeons, a beastly right-hander known to get as big as 60 feet.

South Africa’s surfing capital, however, is Jeffreys Bay, located 50 miles south of Port Elizabeth. This laid-back town welcomes the likes of Kelly Slater and Jordy Smith for the annual J-Bay Open, which focuses on legendary right-hand break Supertubes. Further north, Durban is another hotspot for beginners and pros alike. For the biggest thrills, check out the waves at North Beach, Bay of Plenty, and New Pier.

Go Swimming With Sharks

If you’d rather be under the water than on top of it, consider signing up for an encounter with the world’s greatest apex predator: the great white shark. These magnificent animals are drawn to the waters of the Cape by an abundance of their favorite prey—Cape fur seals. Several companies in Gansbaai, Mossel Bay, and Simonstown offer cage-diving tours, allowing you to see the sharks in their natural environment without compromising your safety.

If you’d rather do away with the steel bars, head further north to Aliwal Shoal, a Marine Protected Area located just south of Durban. Here, you can dive with several species of sharks without the protection of a cage. In summer (November to April), baited dives allow you to get up close and personal with tiger sharks, while bull sharks and oceanic blacktip sharks are common throughout the year. During winter (June to September), sand tiger sharks congregate on the reef to mate.

Hike Amidst Stunning Scenery

South Africa’s natural scenery is undoubtedly some of the world’s most beautiful, and the best way to experience it is on foot. There are many long-distance hiking trails to explore, some of which take you along the breathtaking coast, while others introduce you to the hidden secrets of the country’s interior. Amongst the most famous routes are the Fanie Botha trail in Mpumalanga, and the Rim of Africa, which traverses the Western Cape mountains.

If you’re looking for a less structured hiking experience, head to the Wild Coast or the Drakensberg Mountains. In both places, an abundance of short and long trails allow you to explore as much or as little as you like. The Wild Coast (also known as the Transkei) offers an insight into the rugged beauty of the Eastern Cape shore and the culture of the Xhosa people. The Drakensberg is home to the highest mountain range in South Africa.

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