Known as the “City of Gold” for literal reasons, Jo’burg is the largest city in South Africa and the economic engine running the country. All roads (and most flights) lead to Jo’burg, so most visitors will spend at least a night here. If you want to stay longer, be sure to visit interesting spots such as Sandton for shopping, Mandela Square for people watching, Soweto for culture, and the Apartheid Museum for history. There’s much more here depending on your specific interests.
Cape Town is, in many people’s view, the prettiest and most pleasant large city in Africa. Set along a dramatic coastline with scenic Table Mountain providing the backdrop, Cape Town has something for everyone. Nature lovers can enjoy the mountains, hills, gardens and coastline. History buffs can view buildings dating back hundreds of years or boat to Robben Island, the site of Nelson Mandella’s incarceration for many years. Art lovers can stroll through galleries full of African and contemporary art. And those who appreciate fine dining with find a wide range of world-class restaurants and styles of food (including Cape Malay) to please any palate.
For any wine enthusiast or “foodie” and for those who love history and beautiful scenery, the Winelands is a must-see. The stars of the Winelands are Paarl, Franschhoek, and Stellenbosch and they can be visited in a day or spread over a week. No matter what the pace, visitors are sure to enjoy the many varietals produced here—be sure to try local favorites such as sauvignon blancs—and some of the best meals they’ve ever had. Several Winelands restaurants have been rated tops in the world. Accommodations choices include quaint bed & breakfasts and luxury hotels.
The Garden Route, from Cape Town to Knysna, is a stunning region filled with quaint towns, Cape Dutch architecture, welcoming locals, and scenic coastline. Lush with evergreen vegetation, beaches, rivers and lakes, the Garden Route is best experienced by road. Activities include golf, hiking, swimming, surfing and adrenaline sports, but many visitors focus on the rich marine life including viewing great white sharks, seals and African penguins, and whale watching (seasonal).
The Mpumalanga province is South Africa’s second smallest, but boasts popular destinations such as the Blyde River Canyon – the world’s third-deepest gorge; the Sudwala Caves – the world’s oldest; and the Kruger National Park – arguably the world’s most famous wildlife sanctuary.
One of the most famous parks in the world, Kruger National Park offers a plethora of big-game experiences. From lions to elephants, Zebra and giraffes, hippos and buffalo, Kruger has it all. More specifically, Kruger is home to 336 tree species, 49 types of fish, 34 amphibian species, 114 different reptiles, 507 bird species and 147 types of mammals. Located in the eastern edge of South Africa, Kruger covers an impression 7,523 square miles and now shares an open border with Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and with the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, creating the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park allowing animals to roam freely back and forth. Also bordering Kruger are fantastic private reserves such as the Sabi Sand, Manyeleti and Timbavati, which offer incredible game experiences, plus additional activities such as night drives, off-roading and game walks. Some of our favorites, and also some of the very best places to view leopards, are Mala Mala, Singita, Londolozi, Lion Sands and Sabi Sabi.
KwaZulu-Natal is the traditional home to this mighty Zulu tribe, regarded for its military tactics, introduced by King Shaka, and successfully employed in wars against the Boers (Dutch-speaking farmers) and British. Here, visitors can enjoy learning about Zulu culture at villages around the province, while extensive battlefields tourism routes bring these Zulu-Boer-British wars to life. KwaZulu-Natal’s cultural heritage also includes the San (Bushmen), with tens of thousands of San rock paintings to be seen in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountains. These exquisite mountains are a World Heritage Site and a major leisure attraction, offering walks, hikes and adventure activities. They house the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park with its abundant biodiversity, including 300 bird species and 48 mammal species. Other highlights of the region include the beautiful beaches around Durban, the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, a World Heritage Site, and several game reserves such as the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve.
North West Province
Extensive grasslands provide the perfect setting for a number of malaria-free wildlife reserves in the North West Province. These include Madikwe, South Africa’s fourth-largest game reserve, and the Pilanesberg National Park, both home to the Big 5 and many more southern African mammals and birds.
This normally dry and lightly populated region offers incredible wildflower viewing during certain times of year.