Black-maned lions framed against Kalahari dunes; powdery beaches lapped by two oceans; star-studded desert skies; jagged, lush mountains – this truly is a country of astounding diversity.
South Africa is one of the continent's best safari destinations, offering the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) and more in accessible parks and reserves. You can drive right into the epic wilderness at Kruger, Kgalagadi and other parks, or join khaki-clad rangers on guided drives and walks. But it's not all about big-game sightings – wildlife watching here also teaches you to enjoy the little things: a leopard tortoise ambling alongside the road, a go-away bird chirping its distinctive chant in the trees, or an encounter with seals, whales or a great white shark along the coast.
South Africa's ever-changing scenery is the perfect canvas on which to paint an activity-packed trip. Try rock climbing in the craggy Cederberg, surfing off the Eastern Cape coast, abseiling from Cape Town's iconic Table Mountain, bungee jumping from the Garden Route's Bloukrans Bridge, or swinging into Graskop Gorge. If adrenaline sports aren't your thing, opt instead for a hike: options include multi-day treks through wildlife reserves, dusty day walks in the Karoo semidesert, "slackpacking" trails along the Cape coast, or an overnight hike into the sometimes snow-capped peaks of the Drakensberg.
To visit South Africa without learning about its tumultuous history would be to miss a crucial part of the country's identity. Museums from Jo'burg to Robben Island, many including exhibits on the apartheid era, might not be lighthearted, but will help you to understand the fabric of South African society and appreciate how far the country has come. Continue your history lesson with a township visit to the likes of Soweto (Jo'burg) or Langa (Cape Town), chatting to locals and learning that, despite the heart-wrenching past, there is great pride here and an immense sense of promise for the future.
South Africa's landscapes are stunning, from the burning Karoo and Kalahari semideserts to the misty heights of the Drakensberg range and the massive Blyde River Canyon. Even in urban Cape Town, you need only look up to see the beautiful fynbos (indigenous flora) climbing the slopes of Table Mountain, while nearby, two of the world's most dramatic coastal roads lead to Cape Point and Hermanus. Add the vineyards carpeting the Cape Winelands, old-growth forests along the Garden Route, wrinkly mountain ranges from the Cederberg to the Swartberg, and Indian Ocean beaches, and there's a staggering variety to enjoy.
Discover some of the most unique and fulfilling experiences your next destination has to offer.
Tips & Travel trends to help you pick the perfect time to visit this destination.
Golden rules to keep in mind when traveling to this destination.
Put these must-see destinations on your next travel wish list.
Everything you need to know about services, requirements, and the application process when traveling internationally.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout South Africa.
GardensKirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Location and unique flora combine to make these 5.28-sq-km botanical gardens among the most beautiful in the world. Gate 1, the main entrance at the Newlands end of the gardens, is where you’ll find the information centre, an excellent souvenir shop and the conservatory. Added for the garden's centenary in 2013, the popular Tree Canopy Walkway (informally known as the 'Boomslang', meaning tree snake) is a curvaceous steel and timber bridge that rises through the trees and provides amazing views.
Do not leave Jo'burg without visiting Constitution Hill. One of South Africa's most important historical sites, the deeply moving and inspirational exhibitions here are split across four locations: the Old Fort, which dates from 1892 and was once a notorious prison for white males; the horrific Number Four Jail, reserved for nonwhite males; the Women's Jail; and the Awaiting Trial Block – now mostly demolished and replaced by the Constitutional Court. Tours depart on the hour and provide essential context.
Nature ReserveCape of Good Hope
This 77.5-sq-km section of Table Mountain National Park includes awesome scenery, fantastic walks, great birdwatching and often-deserted beaches. The reserve is commonly referred to as Cape Point, after its most dramatic (but less famous) promontory. Bookings are required for the two-day Cape of Good Hope Trail, a spectacular 33.8km circular route with one night spent in a basic hut. Contact the Buffelsfontein Visitor Centre for further details.
National ParkKruger National Park
In terms of wildlife alone, Kruger is one of the world's greatest national parks. The diversity, density and sheer numbers of animals is almost unparalleled, and all of Africa's iconic safari species – elephant, lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino, buffalo, giraffe, hippo and zebra – live out their dramatic days here, along with a supporting cast of 137 other mammal species and more than 500 varieties of bird.
The Apartheid Museum illustrates the rise and fall of South Africa’s era of segregation and oppression, and is an absolute must-see. It uses a broad variety of media to provide a chilling insight into the architecture and implementation of the apartheid system, as well as inspiring stories of the struggle towards democracy. It’s invaluable in understanding the inequalities and tensions that still exist today. Located 8km south of the city centre, just off the M1 freeway.
Nature ReserveBlyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
This stunning 260-sq-km reserve centres on the 30km-long Blyde River Canyon, where epic rock formations tower above the forested slopes and eagle-eye views abound at the dramatic meeting of the Drakensberg Escarpment and the lowveld. It's one of the world's largest canyons and one of South Africa’s most outstanding natural sights. Most visitors drive along the canyon’s edge, where Rte 532 offers plenty of viewpoints for gazing in awe. If you have enough time, however, the canyon is even better explored on foot.
National ParkKgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Welcome to the African safari of your childhood daydreams. Packs of entertaining meerkats scurry across the sand, antelopes wander the dry river beds munching on thorny vegetation, and as dusk nears the implausibly large sun dips behind orange and white sand dunes leaving behind a star-filled sky. Best of all though are the predator sightings: prides of black-maned lions relaxing in the shade, spotted hyenas roaming in pairs and cheetahs prowling for their dinner.
Around 600 million years old, and a canvas painted with the rich diversity of the Cape floral kingdom, Table Mountain is truly iconic. You can admire the showstopper of Table Mountain National Park and one of the 'New 7 Wonders of Nature' (https://nature.new7wonders.com) from multiple angles, but you really can’t say you’ve visited Cape Town until you’ve stood on top of it.
ParkTable Mountain National Park
Stretching from Signal Hill to Cape Point, this 220-sq-km park is a natural wonder, its range of environments including granite and sandstone mountains, giant-boulder-strewn beaches and shady forests. For the vast majority of visitors, the main attraction is the 1086m-high mountain itself, the top of which can easily be accessed by the cableway, which runs every 10 to 20 minutes.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in South Africa.
Saving the rhinos during Covid-19
Life After Lockdown: Lonely Planet writers reveal their next travel destinations
These toilets around the world have amazing views
Top 10 best value destinations to visit in 2020
Epic hikes around the world