A windswept and beautiful coast is the face that South Africa presents to the world – at turns tempestuous and tamed, stormy and sublime. It spans two oceans as it winds its way down the Atlantic seaboard in the west and up into the warmer Indian Ocean waters to the east.
In all, the country has more than 2850km (1770 miles) of coastline, which means a lot of beaches to choose from. So where should the beach lovers go? Cape Town is celebrated for its stunning beaches (and we've picked out a few), but there are other delights to be found along South Africa's vast coastline, from remote strands tucked away in national parks to top surfing spots on the Sunshine Coast.
If you visit at the right time of year, South Africa's beaches offer everything from sunbathing to surfing and whale-watching. To help you find your perfect strip of sand, here is our pick of the best beaches in South Africa.
Bloubergstrand, Cape Town's northern suburbs
Best beach for kite-surfing and windsurfing
The beaches beside this pleasant coastal suburb are where the British won their 1806 battle for the Cape. The panoramic view from the sand towards Table Mountain across Table Bay is fabulous, but these beaches are also popular with kite-surfers and windsurfers. Watching them ride the waves on the weekends is always an impressive sight. You can also see Robben Island clearly from here. Bloubergstrand is a good example of a poetic Cape name – it means "blue mountain beach."
Dolphin Beach, Jeffrey's Bay, Sunshine Coast
Best beach for surfers
Jeffrey's Bay on the Sunshine Coast is one of the world's top surfing destinations. Boardies from all over the planet flock here to ride waves such as the famous Supertubes, generally rated as one of the world's most perfect waves. June to September are the best months for experienced surfers, but novices can learn at any time of year. The town's main beach, Dolphin Beach, is a beautiful, wide and largely-untouched expanse of sand. It's safe for swimming and there are lifeguards on duty during peak season, which makes it very popular with families.
Boulders Beach, Simon's Town, Cape Town
Best beach for penguin-watching
You don't come to Boulders Beach for the sand and surf; you come here for bird-watching. This picturesque area, with enormous boulders dividing small, sandy coves, is home to a colony of some 3000 delightful African penguins. Three wheelchair-accessible boardwalks run from the Boulders Visitor Centre at the Foxy Beach end of the protected area – part of Table Mountain National Park – to Boulders Beach. Two have viewing platforms overlooking the penguin-dotted beach, while Willis Walk leads down to the beach, where you can mingle with the waddling penguins and even swim (just be ready for a slightly fishy odor). Don’t be tempted to pet the penguins: they are wild animals with sharp beaks that can cause serious injuries.
Golden Mile, Durban
Best beach for activities
Durban's beaches and promenade extend from the Blue Lagoon (at the mouth of the Umgeni River) to uShaka Marine World on the Point, an area known as the "Golden Mile," although it’s more like four miles. At the heart of Durban's Golden Mile is Bay of Plenty Beach, often packed with sunbathers and beach-sports enthusiasts.
At the southern end is uShaka Beach, a sheltered spot that's popular with families and local sand sculptors. Towards the north is Suncoast Beach, where you can rent loungers and umbrellas. Farther north still is Blue Lagoon Beach, with playgrounds and food stalls, making it a great place for families.
Excellent signage at the beaches provides maps and names of the different beaches, as well as what activities are permitted there. The surf and currents at Durban’s beaches can be dangerous. Always swim in patrolled areas that are indicated by flags. Installed shark nets protect swimmers from the big fish that cruise farther out.
Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town
Best beach for European-style vacationing
The multi-colored Victorian bathing cabins of Muizenberg Beach have become photogenic icons of Cape Town, and the surf isn't bad either! Surfboards can be rented and lessons booked at several shops along Beach Road at this surfing hotspot. The beach shelves gently, and the sea is generally safer here than elsewhere along the peninsula. There's also a water park at the western end of the beach, a popular stop for travelers with kids in tow.
The beaches on the False Bay (eastern) side of the Cape Peninsula are not quite as spectacular as those on the Atlantic side, but the water is several degrees warmer than on the west coast and can be as warm as 23ºC (73ºF) during the South African summer, making swimming more pleasant here. Shark spotters man the beach watching for the sharks that sometimes pass by.
Cape Vidal, Eastern Shores, the Elephant Coast
Best beach for a bush-and-beach experience
If you ask a local about the best things to see in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, they'll most likely suggest making the trip to the beach at Cape Vidal. Some of the forested sand dunes here rise to 150m (500ft), and the beaches are excellent for swimming and snorkeling. There's also decent wildlife viewing en route to the beach, and you'll likely have the sightings of hippos, antelopes, buffaloes and crocs to yourself unless you come on a holiday weekend.
Kings Beach, Gqeberha, Eastern Cape
Best beach for sunbathing
Gqeberha (formerly Cape Elizabeth) fringes Algoa Bay at the western end of the Sunshine Coast and offers many good bathing beaches, and some that are great for surfing and water sports. Marine life in the bay is also sensational, with plenty of dolphins and whales that can be spotted throughout the year. Kings Beach is a central beach stretching from the harbor to Humewood, popular for sunbathing and swimming in the shallows, but take extreme care in the water, as the current is very strong. More sheltered beaches can be found at Summerstrand.
Noordhoek, Cape Town
Best beach for breezy, unspoiled beauty
This magnificent five-mile stretch of beach is favored by surfers and horse riders, but strong winds, cold water and currents deter swimmers. If you want to get wet, it’s best to stick with splashing in the small pools at the edge of the water. The Hoek, as it is known to surfers, has an excellent right beach break at the northern end that can hold large waves (usually attempted at low tide); it’s best with a southeasterly wind. In the middle of the beach, the rusted shell of the steamship Kakapo sticks out of the sand like a weird sculpture; it ran aground here in 1900 on its maiden voyage from Swansea, Wales, to Sydney, Australia.
Langebaan Beach, West Coast National Park, West Coast
Best beach for sunsets
Langebaan's beautiful location at the mouth of the Langebaan Lagoon in West Coast National Park has made this seaside resort a favorite vacation destination for South Africans. The town is known for its water sports, particularly kite-surfing and windsurfing on the lagoon. For those seeking something less strenuous, there are phenomenal sunset views over Saldanha Bay and a few good swimming beaches, the best of which is Langebaan Main Beach.
Kraalbaai Beach, Western Cape
Best beach for paradise seekers
You’re forgiven for thinking you’ve been teleported to the Maldives at this dazzling white-sand beach edging turquoise Langebaan Lagoon on the Western Cape’s west coast. It’s that spectacular. To top it off, the water is shallow, calm and warm, making it ideal for swimming, especially for younger kids. Angling, boating, waterskiing, kayaking and birdwatching (flamingoes arrive in September) are ways to pass the time if you tire of sunbathing and castle building.
A number of houseboats moor in the lagoon’s shallows, offering a unique accommodation experience. There’s a wooden boardwalk, jetty, and washing stations, along with a picnic and braai (barbecue) area. Kraalbaai lies outside Postberg Flower Reserve, which bursts into spectacular bloom every spring.
Clifton 4th Beach and Camps Bay, Cape Town
Best beach for romance
Clifton 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th beaches all offer top sunbathing spots and exhilarating (read: freezing) swimming conditions. But it's 4th Beach that really stands out. This is the only Blue Flag beach among the four sheltered stretches of sand along Victoria Road and is popular with families by day. On calm summer evenings, especially the night of Valentine's Day, couples and groups of young people have candlelit picnics on 4th from sunset onwards.
Nearby Camps Bay, another Blue Flag beach, with soft white sand and a backdrop of the spectacular Twelve Apostles range (part of Table Mountain), is one of the city’s most popular beaches, and it gets very crowded. It’s also one of the windiest, though on a windless day, the dazzling sand-and-sea scene is pure magic.
Mabibi Beach, KwaZulu-Natal
Best beach for snorkeling
You can take in a broad sweep of subtropical beauty at this undeveloped beach in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, where coastal forest and dunes serve as a backdrop to golden silica sands and lapping surf. The waters are crystal clear, ideal for swimming and even better for snorkeling on the coral reefs offshore. Offshore scuba diving is primo too. Access is by off-road vehicle through sand, which keeps the beach quiet and uncrowded.
Second Beach, Port St Johns, Wild Coast
Best beach for a local vibe
Second Beach is the heart and soul of Port St Johns on the Wild Coast. Locals come to this idyllic stretch of sand to while away the hot days and party as the sun goes down. Wandering down to the shallows for a paddle and spotting Nguni cows lounging on the sand are classic Port St Johns experiences. Paddling on the edge of the surf is fine, but don't go any deeper; rip currents are common and there have been shark attacks in the bay.
Platboom Beach, Western Cape
Best beach for random wildlife
About 64km (40 miles) south of Cape Town, this spectacular, wild beach, celebrated as the Cape’s most deserted beach, snuggles into the coastline of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, where you can sunbathe on the soft white sand, kitesurf and windsurf. Where this beach differs from most others are the different animals that roam the shore: ostriches, baboons and eland (large antelopes) among them. Birdlife is abundant here too, including terns, gulls, kiewiet and sandpipers. Sandboarding on the dunes is popular, as is surfing the large waves. Be forewarned: there are no lifeguards and the water is icy cold.
Gonubie Beach, Eastern Cape
Best beach for little kids
The entrance to Gonubie Beach, tucked along the Sunshine Coast north of East London, is pretty spectacular. You'll walk along a 450m (1500ft) raised boardwalk that protects the forested sand dunes, coming to a scenic tidal pool at the mouth of the Gonubie River. Kids love looking for fish in the calm waters, building sandcastles on the white-sand beach and hunting for shells. There are picnic tables, fire pits and a playground. The boardwalk is a sensational spot for viewing whales and dolphins in season, and you can also watch surfers riding the offshore waves.
Robberg Beach, Western Cape
Best beach for long, long walks
The scenery all along the famous Garden Route will wow you, but Robberg Beach is something special. Extending for miles between Robberg Peninsula and Beacon Island, its idyllic white sands front the warm waters of Plettenberg Bay, backed by misty mountains. In season, you can dolphin- and whale-watch from shore – you might see seals too. Facilities include a boardwalk, washing stations and umbrella rentals and the beach is watched by lifeguards. At the south end of the beach, the Robberg Nature Reserve has lovely hiking trails with dramatic coastal views.
Nahoon Beach, East London, Eastern Cape
Best beach for championship surfing
Another fine stretch of sand at East London, pristine Nahoon Beach will appeal to sunbathers and surfers alike. At the southern end of the beach is Nahoon Reef, which has excellent surfing opportunities thanks to its reliable reef break. The Nahoon River mouth provides safe swimming for those a little less confident in the pounding surf.
Coffee Bay, Wild Coast
Best beach for hikers
With its beautiful long beach of sand edged by stones and dramatic surrounding scenery, including the rock arch known as the Hole in the Wall, the once-remote village of Coffee Bay has become something of an essential Wild Coast stop for backpackers and South African hippies. The village itself is no great shakes, but it's a great base for those who want to hike this dramatic stretch of shoreline and surf the breaks of the Wild Coast.
Bordjiesdrif Beach, Western Cape
Best beach for braaiing
If you’re looking for a spectacular seaside spot to braai (barbecue, South African style) with friends or family, Bordjiesdrif, overlooking False Bay in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve south of Cape Town, should be your go-to beach. Circular braai areas create the perfect gathering place, and while the grillmasters are doing their thing, kids can swim in a calm tidal pool or search for sea creatures. Don’t be surprised if a local ostrich or small buck passes through. Picnic tables are provided, but you need to bring your own grilling grids and firewood.
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