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What to do in South Africa: Our personal selection of highlights and hidden gems

You might know the saying: South Africa – The world in one Country. From its complex history and rich culture, its award-winning wine and amazing food, bustling art scene to its beautiful wildlife and nature: South Africa really has a lot to offer. This is our holistic guide on what to do in South Africa. Get to know South Africa’s diversity with these hidden gems and highlights.

1. Die Strandloper: Fish restaurant the South African way
South Africa what to do Strandloper
Are you still wondering what to do or where to eat in South Africa? Die Strandloper in Langebaan is a well-known fish restaurant directly at the beach. A little outside of Cape Town, it is well worth the 2-hour drive. But this is not just a normal fish restaurant, it’s an experience: You can indulge in an all-you-can-eat fish “braai” (a real South African barbecue), while sitting at the beach, your feet in the sand. The food is prepared by real West Coast people in true “West Coast style”. The meal consists of 10 courses, so make sure to go easy on that freshly baked bread to leave some room for all the fish. You can bring your own drinks, just pack a cooler box to keep them cold.

A visit at Die Strandloper can easily turn into a full day trip. The most convenient thing to do is to book a shuttle that brings you safely there and back. As the popular lunch spots can be booked out, we advise making a booking with the restaurant a bit in advance.

While in the area, make sure to visit the West Coast National Park.
What to do in South Africa

There are so many things to see and do here. You will find rare fynbos, green wetlands and beautiful white dunes. The national park’s highlight is its azure blue lagoon.

 

2. “First Thursdays”: Immerse yourself in Cape Town’s vibrant art scene
Highlights in South Africa first thursdays

If you are looking at what there is to do in Cape Town, you might get overwhelmed by the large choice. One event you should not miss is “First Thursdays”: Every first Thursday of the month, the vibrant South African art scene opens its doors for after-hours visitors. With a glass of wine in your hand, you can get a broad impression of the creativity South Africa has to offer. First Thursdays are a “walking event”, which means you can explore various art galleries and museums by foot in one night. The event is a great experience, especially when you don’t know anything about South African art yet. It is also nothing like your normal museum visit. “First Thursdays” provide an opportunity to mingle with fun-loving people, often even the artists themselves, in a casual environment.

Make sure to have a look at their website for their current programme. They often have exciting performances, live music or pop-up shows.

 

3. Santa Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetland Park: Hang out with hippos and experience South Africa’s tropical side

Did you know that South Africa has two climate zones? When visiting KwaZulu-Natal, you will feel it, too! This province of South Africa is home to the Zulu people and borders on Mozambique. With its tropical climate and long shoreline along the Indian Ocean, you find many popular holiday spots here. Santa Lucia is one of these spots, and it is not only a popular place for humans: Hippopotami are frequently seen roaming the streets here (watch out, they’re wild animals and dangerous), you might hear bush babies calling at night and even a leopard has been spotted on the streets of St Lucia. It is not surprising, that Santa Lucia was declared South Africa’s very first world heritage site.
St Lucia hippos South Africa

While in the St Lucia area, take some time to explore the “10 Jewels” that make up the vicinity of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. iSimangaliso is Zulu for “miracle and wonder”, which is an appropriate description of the unique ecosystems and rich biodiversity occurring in this relatively small area.

What to do in South Africa isiMangaliso Wetland Park

Don’t miss out on the turtles, crocodiles, whales, and all the other wildlife and natural beauty in this region.

Wild Coast beach South Africa
Photo: Willem van Valkenburg

 

4. What to do in South Africa: Coffee Bay and Mdumbi – where time stands still

While one of the more remote places in South Africa, the Wild Coast surely is one of the most beautiful ones. A small town called Coffee Bay is the gem of the Wild Coast: The tranquillity here is difficult to describe, it seems as if time stands still. The Xhosa people are incredibly friendly and welcoming. Scenic views and rugged cliffs make it a perfect hiking spot. This is also a famous destination for surfing.
Wild coast highlight South Africa

Make sure to visit Mdumbi beach, which was voted one of South Africa’s most beautiful beaches. Yet, there is a good chance that you will be here all by yourself – thanks to its remoteness, not many travellers make it all the way to the Wild Coast. Take a dip in the crystal-clear water, stick your feet in the soft white sand, and take a moment to take a break from the rest of the world. The Wild Coast should be up on your list of what to do in South Africa.

 

5. The Drakensberg: The stunning scenery of South Africa’s largest mountain range
South Africa Drakensberg

The Drakensberg’s cliff formations are truly one of a kind. It is the largest mountain range in South Africa. The area is a dynamic wonderland of dramatic waterfalls, rugged cliffs, high peaks and river valleys. You can also explore over 35.000 examples of ancient rock paintings of the San here. The Drakensberg is the ideal terrain for climbing, hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, or to simply take in the views. The mountains are dusted with snow in winter, a very special sight.

If you consider what to do in South Afrcia and hiking is up on your list, the Drakensberg mountains are your place to go: From gentle half-day hikes and multiple-day trips to more challenging climbs or even technical mountaineering. We recommend staying at the Greenfire Drakensberg Lodge in the Northern Drakensberg. From here you can enjoy the striking views over the Drakensberg Mountains, Lesotho’s Maloti Mountains and the Sterkfontein Dam.
Greenfire Drakensberg Lodge

 

6. What to do in Johannesburg? Visit Soweto!
Soweto township South Africa

When you happen to have a few days in Johannesburg, you should plan a visit to Soweto. Short for South Western Townships, Soweto is South Africa’s biggest township. Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu lived here. It is synonymous with Black resistance during Apartheid. Today you can still get a sense for the energy of these days when visiting the famous Vilakazi Street. In fact, Tutu still lives here and can sometimes be seen wandering the streets with his wife. When visiting Vilakazi Street, grab a bite in one of the many restaurants here that serve local cuisine. Vilakazi Street also has become a famous party spot for the Johannesburg youth.
Johannesburg skyline

By now, Soweto has developed from struggle to suburbia. It draws large crowds for a variety of events. The country’s largest stadium is in Soweto, where also a part of the soccer World Cup was hosted in 2010. However, Soweto is still a magical place. Here you can feel the heartbeat of the country.

 

7. Tulbagh: Enjoy South African “champagne” in a beautiful mountain scenery
South Africa highlights Tulbagh

The pretty little town of Tulbagh is nestled in a valley among the stunning scenery of magnificent mountains. It was established in 1699 and until today, you find many historic buildings here. Only a mere 1.5 hours’ drive away from Cape Town, Tulbagh lies in the heart of the Cape Winelands and is known for its bubbly. Beneath the dramatic backdrop of the Witzenberg range, you will come across many charming places to stay and eat.

Treat yourself to a nice glass of M.C.C. (short for Méthode Cap Classique), which is the South African “champagne”. You will find some excellent M.C.C. Sparkling Wines, at “The House of Krone”. If you want to cool yourself down while sipping some bubbly, you should visit the Montpellier Wine Estate and take a dip in their pool. At the foot of the mountain with the same name lies the Saronsberg Cellar, which is known for their high-quality white wines.

 

8. Where to go on safari in South Africa? Kruger Park – Your ultimate safari experience in the wilderness

This is a destination you should definitely put on your list when you are planning what to do in South Africa. The Kruger Park was South Africa’s first national park. Located in the northeast of the country, the park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa – it is larger than Tanzania’s Serengeti. The endless wilderness and over 140 mammal species (including the Big Five) make for unforgettable wildlife experiences. A visit to the Kruger Park is the ultimate safari experience.
Lions in Kruger Park South Africa

We recommend staying at the Skukuza Rest Camp, the “capital” of Kruger National Park. This camp is situated in the southern area of the park. It lies right in the heart of Big Five territory, lions are spotted frequently in this stretch. Take a game drive or go on bush walks to discover wild game and a multitude of birds. Skukuza camp is located next to the Sabie River. From the camp, you have beautiful views of both the river and the wildlife that regularly frequents the river for water.

A safari is only as good as the guide who accompanies you. If you want to get more insider knowledge while travelling South Africa, book our guided tour Jewels of the North and East Tour. This tour’s itinerary comprises the Kruger National Park, where you will overnight at the Skukuza Rest Camp. The tour also includes the Drakensberg, where you stay at the Greenfire Drakensberg Lodge. Moreover, we will take you to St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Rhinos on guided Safari South Africa

Speak to us, for your ultimate Africa trip. Our team is happy to help you plan your perfect travels. We advise you on what to do in South Africa and we make sure that you don’t miss out on any of the beautiful spots in this beautiful country!

We also operate in Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia and love to share our knowledge about these unique destinations with you.

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Author: Johanna Höß

Born in Germany, Johanna studied Media in Mainz before she visited South Africa for the first time in 2016. One year later, she relocated to Cape Town and has made it her mission to spread her love for Africa. Johanna writes in German and English. Besides writing, she is also passionate about photography. She has always been intrigued by travelling and is constantly looking for the next adventure.

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