South Africa is one of my favorite countries in the world. I lived there for many years and traveled extensively around the country so I know what I’m talking about when it come down to writing a list of the top things to do in the country.
This list is meant to summarize countless months and years of traveling through the Rainbow nation. It’s purpose is to give you a small flavor of what South Africa has to offer and hopefully induces a little bit of FOMO for you to start planning your trip. Whether you’re planning a two week trip to South Africa or a South African honeymoon in conjunction with Zanzibar, this post will help you all along the way.
1. Climb Lion’s Head in Cape Town
Of all the things to do in Cape Town, Lion’s head is my favorite. Shortly after hiking Table Mountain, we were aiming to go to Cape Point midday but the traffic was so horrible that we turned around and went back to our hotel in Camps Bay. A short nap later, I decided we needed to climb Lion’s Head as well so to get both mountains in. Climbing both Table Mountain and Lion’s Head in the same day is not for the feint of heart and most people thought we were crazy to do it.
But we did it anyway! Compared to the first time I climbed this, I was not hungover, and I wore proper shoes which made it much easier to climb. I wasn’t winded at any point and I think this is one of the best hikes I’ve ever done.
To get to Lion’s Head, simply drive on the road towards Signal Hill and the base of Lion’s Head will be located before you reach it. There is parking all on the side of the road and you’ll know where the entrance is just by the row of cars parked.
The hike up Lion’s Head is much easier physically than Table Mountain. Not only is it a shorter hike but it zig zag’s around the mountain whereas Table Mountain is a straight shot up. Lion’s Head is also a more fun hike in my opinion as there are some very minor rock climbing (chains and ladders) aspect to it!
All in all, the hike will take about 45 minutes to 1 hour. When you’re at the top, you’ll see many other hikers soaking up the views. There are no bars and no restaurants here, it’s completely untamed which I absolutely loved. During the summer months, the top can be quite packed but can you blame people for appreciating such stunning views?
To make it even more enjoyable, make sure to take some beers, or a bottle of wine from perhaps a previous day of wine tasting in Stellenbosch with you to enjoy at the top with incredible views of the Atlantic ocean and Cape Town’s city centre. I didn’t do this the first time and got serious FOMO by seeing all my fellow hikers cracking open beers and wine bottles. Fewer places in the world offer nicer views than Lion’s Head!
I’d highly recommend this to anyone that wants to do something active in Cape Town, likes amazing views, or want to get actively romantic with their significant others like my friends did on their honeymoon!
2. Cape Point Day Trip
If there’s one thing I tell my people not to miss when visiting Cape Town is a day trip to the absolutely stunning Cape Point. Cape Point is home to the famous Cape Point lighthouse as well as the Cape of Good Hope where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. It is not the southern most point of South Africa, that honor goes to Cape Aghulas but that is a 3 hour drive from Cape Town.
Cape Point, along with visiting Boulders beach home to the African penguin colony, Muizenberg beach, and the Chapman’s peak drive make for the absolute perfect day trip from Cape Town. If this sounds like something you’re keen to do, then all you’ll need to know about planning the day will be in this post!
If you’re staying in Cape Town, make sure to also read my Ultimate Cape Town Travel guide for insider tips on what to do and see in the mother city.
A Day Trip Itinerary for Cape Point from Cape Town
So now that you’re keen and ready for visiting Cape Point, this is how I would arrange the day. This is of course really only applicable if you’re self-driving or you have a private driver taking you around. If you go on an organized tour, then you’ll follow whatever schedule they’ve laid out for you.
9:00am – Leave Cape Town and drive towards Hout Bay
10:00am – Enjoy fish and chips at Snoeckies, enjoy Hout Bay beach
11:00am – Drive along Chapman’s Peak until you reach Boulder’s Beach
11:30am – Visit the penguins at Boulder’s Beach
1:30pm – Arrive at Cape Point, walk or take funicalar to the top of the lighthouse
3:00pm – Leave Cape Point and drive to Muizenberg Beach to look at the iconic colorful houses
5:00pm – Leave Muizenberg Beach back to Cape Town
6:00pm – Arrive in Cape Town.
Booking an organized tour
If you’re not keen for driving, then rest assured, there are many tours you can book that will take you to most of these places. This is what I do when I plan honeymoons for my readers to the Rainbow Nation as most honeymooners aren’t keen to drive on the other side of the road. If you are keen for driving, rest assured that the roads around Cape Town are in perfect condition and the traffic is pleasant.
On Viator, I normally book this tour for my readers as it visits all the main sights I’ve listed below, as well as a wine farm in Constantia. It is a bit rushed for my liking but it is a fair price for what it is.
Alternatively, you could just book a private driver for the day and tell them to make all the stops listed on this post. They may even have more insider tips than me and take you to cool spots I’ve never heard of before! My preferred tour with be the small group Instagram Cape Point tour that visits all the places that I highlight on this itinerary and in a small group setting.
3. Visit Table Mountain
No trip to South Africa is complete without a visit to Cape Town and no trip to Cape Town is complete without a visit to the world famous Table Mountain.
One the absolute best things to do in Cape Town and undoubtedly one of its top attractions, Table Mountain was recently voted as one of the new wonders of the world. It’s not hard to see why. Its impossibly flat peak is visible from all of the surrounding area and is perhaps the most iconic landmark in Cape Town. Sandwiched between Devils Peak and Lions Head, Table Mountain stands 1km above sea level. It is also one of one of the oldest mountains in the world being hundreds of millions of years older than even the Himalayas.
Then there are the views. Panoramic views of Cape Town, all the way down to Cape Point can be seen from its peak allowing for breathtaking photos.
Cable car up Table Mountain
Unlike Lion’s Head, which can only be hiked, there is the incredibly popular table mountain cable cars that will take people straight to the top. Two cars, holding 60 people a piece go up and down this thing and it’s only a short 7 minute ride. However, during high season on ANY nice day, the line for this place is ridiculous. I came once before, with the intention of using the cable car but the line was 3 hours so we gave up and went to Lion’s Head instead.
The second time, I was determined to use this damn thing to get to the top. We came here at 8am, thinking we’d be early enough to avoid the lines but not a chance. Even at 8am, the line was 2 hours.
We had some friends wanting to hike up the mountain which I wasn’t against, and after discovering the long line, I was all for hiking. Also, the hike takes the same amount of time so screw it, hiking up we go. The cost for the cable car if you’re willing to wait is 210R round trip. Tickets can also be purchased ahead of time online, but you still need to wait in line.
Note that the second time I visited was during New Years so naturally you’ll see a spike in tourism. It’s not always so packed, but you should always plan for a crowd in the summer months.
Hiking Table Mountain
The hike up iconic Table Mountain is no joke. It’s physically more demanding than the Lion’s Head hike and far less fun. It is, to sum it up, just non-stop stair-master. The hiking trail is very structured, and consists of thousands of rocky steps. The hike starts from the Plattekip entrance, about 1km down from the cable car.
The signs here say it’ll take 2.5 hours to hike to the top, but if you’re in decent shape, which I’d consider myself to be in, it should take no more than 2 hours.
With a few breaks in between, we completed the hike in 1.5 hours. They also recommend 2 liters of water for the hike, I think that’s a little ridiculous. 0.5-1 liter should be plenty because you don’t want to weigh yourself down.
The hike was taxing, but we took about 5 short breaks (1-2 min), and we were up before we knew it. There were some crazy people that more or less ran up the mountain and did it in an hour. I’d also recommend doing this hike in the morning or before sunset so to avoid the heat.
A Table Mountain hike is definitely something every serious hiker should do but if you are limited on time, go to Lion’s Head instead.
After 1.5 hours, we’re finally at the top, and what a gratifying feeling it is. The top of the mountain is huge and you have to walk to the edges in order to have a view. There are many viewing points and I’ve yet to find the ultimate picture spot but I’m sure I will be back. There is a restaurant/cafe up here that serves food, and beverages, including alcoholic ones to celebrate the climb! We stayed up here for about 1 hour to have some drinks and take our pictures. We took the cable car down as we had enough to hike for the day. The line was much shorter to get down.
4. Visiting the Apartheid Museum
If you’re visiting in Johannesburg or just stopping in for a day or two before your safari, a visit to the Apartheid Museum is a must. Like the Jim Crow era of the United States, Apartheid was a dark and grim period of South Africa’s past where non-white races were systematically discriminated against according to official Government policy.
Life during this time for Blacks and other non-white ethnicities were terrible to say the least. This era lasted for many decades and only officially ended in 1994 with the democratic election of Nelson Mandela. This museum is very well constructed offering a glimpse into the life of the not so distant past and a reminder of how stark the differences are between now and just a few decades ago.
It’s common to combine a visit to the Apartheid museum with a tour of the Soweto township, which is the largest township in South Africa. Townships were the ghettos that blacks were forced to live in during Apartheid. Nowadays, Soweto is quickly gentrifying and has become a vibrant cultural center of the Black South African community.
5. Go Wine Tasting In the Most Beautiful Vineyards In the World
The wine region of the Western Cape is in my opinion, the most underrated wine region of the world. It’s not undiscovered by any means, but it is lost in the shadows of places like France, Italy, Mendoza, and Napa Valley. I can safely say that Cape Town’s wine region is more stunning than all of the aforementioned, not to mention a hell of a lot cheaper with wine tastings that average R50.
For those visiting South Africa, a visit to the wine region is an absolute must to sample delicious South African wine. I’ve visited many more wine farms than what I will list below so make sure to read about all of the wine farms I’ve visited in Cape Town.
While I’d highly recommend a few nights stay in the fabulous wine country, not everyone has the time so I’ve come up with the ultimate one to two day wine tour for those looking to do day trips from Cape Town. Although I’d like to think I’m a sommelier at heart, I am mostly just an amateur that likes to drink wine.
Almost all the wine I’ve had during my time in South Africa is great, I’m just focused on which wineries (they’re called wine farms in South Africa), are the most stunning and picturesque.
6. Road Trip Through the Garden Route
Without a doubt, one of the best road trips in the world is in the Garden Route of South Africa. This 1,000km stretch of coastline stretching from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay is jam packed with incredible beaches, hikes, views, animals, and more.
Famous destinations like Plettenberg Bay, Knysna, George, Wilderness, Tsitsikama National Park, and more are just a few of the destinations you can plan for when doing this trip. You’ll can rent a car from Cape Town and drive at your own pace towards George or Plettenberg Bay where you can either drop the car off and continue somewhere else or return to Cape Town.
I would recommend at least 5 days driving this route as there are so many amazing stops along the way.
7. Go on a world famous safari
No trip to South Africa is complete without a world famous safari in one of the many national parks of South Africa.
The Kruger National Park is the flagship of the South African parks, and in my opinion, probably the easiest accessed, most budget friendly safari option with the widest variety of wildlife you will find anywhere in Africa.
The park itself contains hundreds of thousands of creatures, made up of over seven hundred species of birds, mammals and reptiles, as well as containing archaeological, historic and cultural treasures. I visited the Kruger many times, and it makes for an easy trip for those visiting from out of the country, or those living in Joburg.
Located in a summer rainfall area, the park can be very hot and humid at this time, and daytime temperatures from October to March can range from mid twenties up to into the forties, nights in winter can drop to single figures but daytime temperatures are mostly perfect, sunny and low to mid twenties.
This makes the park suitable to visit all year round, with varying temperatures throughout due its vast size and number of eco systems. I’ve been to many game parks all around Africa and I always recommend the Kruger for the beginners as it has something for everyone. However, I still think the most picturesque and “elite” safaris are in East Africa, particularly in the Serengeti and Masai Mara.
8. Drakensberg Hiking
Hiking the Drakensberg Valley of South Africa is a truly unforgettable experience. The Drakensberg Mountains, also known as the Dragon Mountains, are located in the eastern part of the country and stretch for over 1,000 kilometers. The valley is situated in the heart of the mountain range and is a popular destination for hikers and nature enthusiasts.
The Drakensberg Valley offers some of the most breathtaking scenery in all of South Africa. The rugged peaks, deep gorges, and rolling hills are a sight to behold. The valley is also home to a wide range of flora and fauna, including rare species such as the Bearded Vulture, which can be seen soaring overhead.
One of the most popular hiking trails in the Drakensberg Valley is the Amphitheatre trail. This trail takes hikers on a 4-5 hour journey through some of the most stunning scenery in the region. The trail leads to the top of the Amphitheatre, a natural amphitheater-like formation that offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Another popular hiking trail in the Drakensberg Valley is the Tugela Gorge trail. This trail takes hikers on a 5-6 hour journey through a deep gorge, past cascading waterfalls, and through dense forests. The trail leads to the Tugela Falls, the second-highest waterfall in the world, which drops 948 meters from the top of the Drakensberg Mountains.
The Drakensberg Valley is also home to a number of unique rock art sites. The San people, who lived in the region thousands of years ago, left behind a rich legacy of rock art. These sites are well-preserved and offer a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these ancient people.
9. Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga offers some superb climbing on quartzite mesas, and Waterval Boven has over 700 routes on orange quartzite. This is South Africa’s premier sport climbing destination, with routes for every level and taste.
10. Cave exploring in Oudtshoorn
The Cango Caves are well known throughout South Africa and is a hugely popular destination for the locals and foreign tourists alike. We came here the morning after the Ostrich riding and it was packed.
There are two tours you can here, “The standard tour” , and “Adventure Tour”. Naturally, being the adventurous type that we are, we straight away book the Adventure tour. It lasts about 1.5-2 hours depending on how many people are on the trip and because it was peak season, this place was packed.
Both tours started at the same time with a tour guide giving us some history and facts about the caves before we split up into our separate tours with another tour guide. Ok, word to the wise, the adventure tour is REALLY adventurous. We didn’t know what to expect when we bought the tour but holy shit, this was quite the surprise for us.
We ended up climbing through the narrowest crevices, climbing up a cave version of a chimney, getting on our stomachs to climb through tight area and many other things. I thought it was very fun but if you’re claustrophobic at all, this is likely not the tour for you. It would have been far more fun if there were less people so we could do the activities quicker.
11. Whale Watching in Hermanus
Hermanus is a quaint seaside town about 1.5 hours east of Cape Town that is famous for its whale watching. During the winter months between June and October, Southern Right whales routinely come visit this part of the country.
There are multiple daily departures on whale watching expeditions to see these amazing animals. Also, Hermanus is just an amazing little town with some incredible scenery, and beaches. It is one of the top destinations in the world to kitesurf.
12. Eat Oysters in Knysna
If Oysters are your thing, then there is no better place to eat oysters than in Knysna. Knysna, located on the Garden Route in South Africa, is known for its stunning natural beauty and abundant seafood. One of the delicacies that visitors must try while in Knysna is the fresh oysters that are harvested from the local estuary.
The Knysna oyster, also known as the Eastern Cape oyster, is prized for its delicious flavor and plump meat. These oysters are grown in the estuary of the Knysna Lagoon, which provides a unique mix of fresh and saltwater that creates an ideal environment for oyster cultivation.
Visitors to Knysna can enjoy oysters in a variety of ways, from raw and freshly shucked to grilled or baked. The local restaurants offer a variety of dishes that feature these delectable shellfish, including oyster platters, seafood buffets, and even oyster shooters.
One of the best places to try oysters in Knysna is the Knysna Oyster Company, located on the banks of the estuary. Here, visitors can watch as the oysters are harvested and shucked right before their eyes, ensuring the freshest possible taste experience. If you’re in Knysna in the winter months, particularly around June and July, there is the annual oyster festival of Knysna where you can revel in a festive atmosphere as the freshest catch of oysters come through.
13. Venture to the Wild Coast of South Africa
The Wild Coast, also known as the Transkei, is a rugged and unspoiled stretch of coastline that runs from East London to Port Edward. It is a place of stunning natural beauty, diverse cultures, and fascinating history.
The journey along the Wild Coast is an experience in itself. The road winds its way through small rural towns and remote villages, passing by pristine beaches, rolling hills, and rocky cliffs. It is a journey that is best taken at a leisurely pace, allowing ample time to explore and take in the sights and sounds of this unique part of the world.
One of the highlights of the Wild Coast is the traditional Xhosa villages that dot the landscape. These villages offer visitors a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the Xhosa people, including their traditional dress, music, and dance. Visitors can also learn about the Xhosa tradition of sangomas, or traditional healers, who play an important role in the local community.
The Wild Coast is also home to a number of nature reserves and parks, including the Mkambati Nature Reserve and the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve. These reserves offer visitors the chance to explore the stunning natural beauty of the region, including lush forests, pristine rivers, and diverse wildlife.
In addition to the natural and cultural attractions, the Wild Coast is also home to a number of adventure activities. Visitors can go hiking, kayaking, surfing, and even horseback riding along the coast. The waves along the Wild Coast are renowned for their size and power, making it a popular destination for surfers from around the world.
14. Scuba diving in Sodwana Bay
Located on the east coast of South Africa, Sodwana Bay is known for its crystal-clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life.
The bay is home to over 1,200 species of fish and is considered one of the top diving destinations in the world. The warm waters of the Indian Ocean, combined with the abundance of marine life and stunning underwater topography, make Sodwana Bay a must-visit destination for any scuba diving enthusiast.
Divers can explore a variety of dive sites in the bay, ranging from shallow coral gardens to deep underwater canyons. The Two Mile Reef is one of the most popular dive sites in Sodwana Bay, featuring a vast array of colorful coral formations, schools of tropical fish, and even the occasional shark sighting.
Other popular dive sites in Sodwana Bay include the Cathedral, a deep dive site that features a large coral archway and resident potato bass, and the Pinnacles, a series of towering rock formations that are home to a variety of pelagic fish species.
In addition to the diverse marine life and stunning underwater landscapes, Sodwana Bay is also known for its eco-friendly approach to diving. The local dive operators and conservation organizations are dedicated to protecting the marine environment and promoting sustainable diving practices.
15. Jump off the highest Bungy bridge in the world
If you’re planning to visit the Garden Route, absolutely make a stop outside of Plettenberg at the world famous Bloukrans bridge. This is the highest bungy bridge in the world at 220 meters high. I’ve been here on two occasions and it is an absolute thrill each time to jump off this huge bridge.
Make sure to make a reservation on their website before showing up as it can get busy. If you’re not keen to jump, there is a bar where you can watch people jumping to their deaths over a nice pint of beer.
List of my South Africa posts
Before I start the list, make sure to check out all my South Africa related posts in one place for you to read!
- Cape Town Hiking: Ultimate Guide To Table Mountain And Lion’s Head
- The Perfect One Day Itinerary For Cape Town’s Wine Region – Stellenbosch
- Why South Africa Is The Perfect Destination To Learn English
- Guide to South African Wine Country
- Garden Route Roadtrip Part 4: Cape Town New Years Travel Guide
- The Perfect One Week, Two Week, and Three Week Travel Itinerary For South Africa
- The Ultimate Cape Town Travel Guide
- Houghton Views Review: The Perfect Camps Bay, Cape Town Hotel
- Guide to Visiting Cape Town
- Cape Point, Boulder’s Beach & Muizenberg: The Ultimate Day Trip Itinerary From Cape Town
- 26 Amazing Things To Do In Cape Town, South Africa
- Is Johannesburg Really The World’s Unfriendliest City?