South Africa is a diverse country and there are so many sights and experiences to recommend to visitors, that it’s almost impossible to select just ten for a bucket list. And, of course, the list would vary depending on whether you’re an adventure-lover, a family with kids, or a mature couple, and how much time you have available to explore our amazing country, and how many miles you are willing to put on the odometer.
So, I can’t possibly recommend a top ten must-see list, but below are some of my favourite places and experiences in this beautiful country I’m lucky enough to call home:
Cape Town – Western Cape
The Mother City is one of my favourite places in the world. There’s just something about Table Mountain dominating the landscape that sets this city apart from any other I’ve visited before. You absolutely need to take the cable car up to the top for an unforgettable view. When we were there, we also enjoyed visiting the penguins at Boulders Beach, traipsing through Kirstenbosch Gardens, exploring all the little villages around the Cape Peninsula and tackling the exhausting climb to the light house at Cape Point.
Kruger National Park – Mpumalanga/Limpopo
Let’s face it, you don’t come to Africa without taking the time to see the Big Five on safari. While South Africa has many private game reserves that provide luxury safaris at luxury prices, in my opinion there is no better place for game viewing than the Kruger National Park. The park covers an area about as large as Israel and you can explore it at your leisure in your own vehicle, on game drives, or on guided foot safaris. We loved camping there, looking up at the stars at night and listening to the sounds of the bush just a few feet away, but if roughing it is not for you the Park also provides chalet accommodation.
Whale Watching – Hermanus
I love Hermanus so much that we go there every year, without fail. September to October is calving season and the endangered Southern right whales come here to frolic and play in Walker’s Bay. You can see the whales from land (sometimes so close that you don’t even need binoculars) or you can take a boat trip to watch them from the water. Either way, it’s an enormously satisfying experience. The town itself is also a wonderful place to spend a few leisurely days.
Robben Island – Cape Town
If you’re at all interested in South Africa’s political history, then a trip to Robben Island is definitely worth your while. While you’re not allowed to explore the one-time prison island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years incarcerated on your own, your tour will show you all the places of interest on the island and provide you with an eye-opening reality check of what life is like for ex-prisoners today.
uShaka Marine World – Durban
Young and old will delight in a visit to uShaka. It boasts the fifth largest aquarium in the world where visitors can take part in animal encounters with dolphins and seals, as well as go shark cage diving in the open ocean marine tank. There is also a water park with lazy river rides and high speed water slides that makes the perfect ending to a warm summer’s day. And when you’ve had enough of the park itself, you can wander the promenade along the Durban beachfront or frolic in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean instead.
Panorama Route – Mpumalanga
If you’re looking for scenic vistas that just goes on and on as far as the eye can see, then the Panorama Route won’t disappoint (unless you happen to be unlucky enough to go on a misty day). Highlights include the Three Rondavels, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, some very spectacular waterfalls, exploring the Sudwala Caves, and the quaint mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest where you can try your hand at prospecting for gold.
Midlands Meander – KwaZulu-Natal
While exploring the bucolic countryside of KwaZulu-Natal, you absolutely have to meander around the Midlands to investigate the local arts and crafts scene. You’ll encounter tiny towns with names such as Nottingham Road, Curry’s Post and Dargle, and you’ll stay in fantastic boutique hotels that will make you want to linger forever. You can go horseback riding, clay pigeon shooting, fishing, and cheese and chocolate tasting.
Camping in the Drakensberg – KwaZulu-Natal
There are few things as awe-inspiring as waking up in the looming shade of a mountain. The brisk air bites as you dash back and forth from your tent to the public restroom in your pajamas or a towel. You spend your days hiking or searching for game, or discovering small towns with large reputations. At night, you light a braai and watch the unfiltered Milky Way high above you.
Haute Cuisine and Wine Tasting – Western Cape
South Africa is known for its delectable wines, and the Cape wine region is home to a number of wine farms where you can taste and decide which one is your favourite. Most of these farms also boast restaurants with pricey menus that will leave your taste buds aching for more, but if you’re in search of true haute cuisine, then you need to pay a visit to Franschhoek, historical settlement of the French Huguenots and also the location of an interesting motor museum for the petrol heads in your group.
Cradle of Humankind – Gauteng
Did you know that humans as a species first evolved in Africa and then spread out all over the world? And the Cradle of Humankind, including the Sterkfontein caves, is where many old fossils have been uncovered that help scientists track human evolution. Not too long ago the groundbreaking discovery of Homo naledi placed Maropeng firmly on the international map. You can come here to see the skull of Mrs Ples and learn all about our earliest ancestors.
So, what do you think of my list? Want more? Have a look at this extremely comprehensive list by Jen Miller. Anything you would add?