Located on the southernmost tip of Africa, Soth africa as one of the largest countries on the continent and the cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town have become popular tourist destinations for travelers from around the world. However, there are many other places in South Africa to visit than just the two biggest cities.
Travelers looking to escape the ordinary can enjoy the mountain air in Hogsback and the Drakensberg; settle back with world-class wines from the Cape Winelands; relax on the coastline of kynasa: or enjoy a safari in the oldest and best Wildlife Park in Southern Africa, Kruger national park.
Fortunately, it’s also relatively easy to travel around South Africa with several low-cost airlines operating throughout the country and excellent roads, which makes it convenient to rent a car to explore the country yourself.
Cape Town, Western Cape
Known for its cultural diversity and social tolerance, Cape Town is a trip highlight for many visitors to South Africa. The Mother City is blessed with a variety of great sights, experiences, dining destinations, and outdoor activities perfect for travelers of all ages and interests.
While in Cape Town, you can enjoy breathtaking scenery—from the white-sand beaches of the Cape Peninsula to the iconic cliffs of Table Mountain—or a whole selection of world-class restaurants and local wines. You can also spend leisurely mornings browsing beachside farmer’s markets or shopping at the V&A Waterfront; and afternoons hiking, surfing, scuba diving, or making friends with the penguins at Boulders Beach.
Cape Town is also full of important cultural sites, including Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years), and the apartheid-era ghettoes of Bo-Kaap and District Six.
There are several safari parks within a few hours’ drive of the city center.
The Cape Winelands, Western Cape
To the east of Cape Town lies the Cape Winelands, a spectacular region full of verdant mountains and fertile valleys. Visitors love the area for its astounding scenic beauty, for its culture (best represented by the stunning Cape Dutch architecture of its towns and outlying farms), and for its world-famous vineyards.
There are several distinct viticultural regions, the most popular of which include Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Wellington, and Paarl. Each one offers wine-tasting tours and an array of superb restaurants, most of which showcase the Western Cape’s finest local produce.
Tourists can rent a car in Cape Town to explore the vineyards independently, book a stay at a local B&B, or hop aboard the Franschhoek wine tram to take in a variety of vineyards and sample many different wines while in the region.
Hermanus, Western Cape
Located 120 kilometers southeast of Cape Town, the seaside town of Hermanus has earned itself a reputation as the whale-watching capital of South Africa.
Every year, migrating southern right whales pass within a few hundred feet of the Hermanus shoreline, with many of them stopping to breed and calve in the town’s own Walker Bay. You can book a tour with one of Hermanus’ many whale-watching boats, or you can enjoy the whales’ antics for free from any of the lookout points along the Cliff Path.
In the center of town, the restaurants that line scenic Gearing’s Point are a great place to sample gourmet cuisine while keeping an eye out for passing cetaceans. The whale-watching season lasts from July to November, but there are also plenty of other attractions worth seeing in Hermanus year-round.
Knysna, Western Cape
South Africa’s Garden Route is world-famous for its plethora of enchanting coastal towns, and Knysna is arguably the most beautiful of them all.
Nested between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean, Knysna offers a wide range of charismatic guesthouses and bed and breakfasts, in addition to artgalleries, boutiques, and craft centers. It’s especially well known for its seafood restaurants, which feature oysters freshly harvested from the town’s picturesque lagoon.
While in Knysna, you can take a hike to the top of the twin cliffs known as the Knysna Heads; spend idyllic days on the golden beaches of Leisure Isle and nearby Brenton-on-Sea; or encounter the world’s largest terrestrial animal at the Knysna Elephant Park.
Oudtshoorn, Western Cape
The small town of Oudtshoorn makes a great pit stop along Route 62 through South Africa’s wine country. Known for its ostrich farms and the nearby Cango Caves, Oudtshoorn offers a variety of attractions ranging from wildlife parks and ostrich museums to hot air ballooning over the countryside.
Among the top attractions in the region, the CP Nel Museum is dedicated to early 20th-century and Victorian-era life in the region as well as the rich history of the ostrich trade, which put the city on the map. While you’re there, you can also take a guided tour of the Safari Ostrich Farm or the Cango Wildlife Ranch for an up-close look at the wildlife around Oudtshoorn.
Hogsback, Eastern Cape
Situated high in the misty Amathole Mountains, Hogsback is a quaint town said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien (who was born in South Africa) when he wrote “Lord of the Rings.” The surrounding landscape is lush, green, and dotted with hiking trails that take you through the forest to a series of hidden waterfalls and streams.
The dense indigenous woodland also plays host to an array of endemic birdlife, including the highly endangered Cape parrot. The town itself is steeped in fairy folklore. Here, you’ll find a bohemian collection of backpacker lodges, guesthouses, art galleries, and New Age boutiques. Perhaps most magical of all, however, is the view from the cliffs at The Edge Mountain Retreat.
The Transkei, Eastern Cape
Designated as a black homeland under apartheid, the Transkei region was once considered separate from South Africa. Now, it is a wild, unspoiled area of incredible natural beauty that extends from the Great Kei River to the Umtamvuna River in the Eastern Cape.
As the birthplace of anti-apartheid leaders including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Oliver Tambo, the Transkei has a proud cultural heritage. The traditional Xhosa way of life is still observed in its remote rural villages, and its rolling landscapes are dotted by simple rondavel huts and herds of indigenous Nguni cattle.
With its abandoned beaches and pounding surf, the Transkei is also a haven for fishermen, hikers, surfers, and nature lovers.
The cosmopolitan center of KwaZulu-Natal province, Durban, is known for its golden beaches, its tropical climate, and its rich Indian culture.
Flavorful curry restaurants dominate the city’s culinary scene; and after dark, an impressive array of bars and nightclubs await visitors. For the best view with your cocktail, head to Moyo at the end of uShaka Pier. During the day, visitors embrace the perennial vacation atmosphere of Durban’s Golden Mile, home to some of the most famous surf spots in South Africa.
Shopping is another favorite pastime—whether you choose to explore the colorful stalls of Victoria Street Market or to spend your money in upscale malls like the Gateway Theatre of Shopping in Umhlanga.
The capital of KwaZulu-Natal province, Pietermaritzburg, is a great destination. Popularly referred to as Martizburg, this industrial hub known for its colonial buildings, rich gambling culture, and the lush nature found in parks and reserves nearby.
If you’re a fan of sports, you can catch the Comrades Marathon between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in June or the yearly Amashovashova cycling race held between the two cities in October. For history and art enthusiasts, Martizburg is also home to a number of museums and galleries including the KwaZulu-Natal Museum, City Hal, the Imperial Hotel, and the Tatham Art Gallery.
Additionally, Albert Falls Nature Reserve, Midmar Public Nature Reserve, Queens Elizabeth Park, World’s View, and Howick Falls are all within a few miles of Maritzburg, making it a great place to stay if you hope to explore the upland savanna around the city.
The Drakensberg Mountains, KwaZulu-Natal
The uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountain range stretches along the border of South Africa and Lesotho. It includes the country’s highest peak and Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world. It’s an impressive playground full of soaring summits and plunging valleys and is the ideal destination for those with a love of hiking, climbing, horse-riding, whitewater-rafting and mountain fly-fishing.
A series of trails cater to all abilities, with options ranging from hour-long hikes to multi-day expeditions. However, you choose to explore, keep an eye out for rare regional wildlife, including 300 different bird species and altitude-adapted mammals like the klipspringer and the mountain reedbuck. The mountains are also home to many fine examples of ancient San rock art.