South Africa promises to impress in unique wildlife and breathtaking scenery. Beyond that, the eclectic culture, lively cities, and abundance of nature make the region a must-visit for all types of travelers. Aside even from the world-famous Kruger National Park, which allows you to witness the “Big Five” in action, South Africa offers a whole country full of lush landscapes and wildlife parks. Coupled with almost 2,800 kilometers of coastline, the Kalahari Desert to the northwest, and the very special Drankensberg countryside, this diverse place has something for everyone. The modern capitals of Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban are ideal starting points for a road trip or a great home base for an exciting city break.
Where to stay at a hotel in South Africa? Top locations at a glance:
City or Vineyard Fun on the Western Cape
The 1652 “Mother City” Cape Town lies near the southwest tip of South Africa, set beneath Table Mountain and stretching out to both the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Cape Town boasts a vibrant city spirit, the best food in the country, and a beautiful port. Most agree that you can always use a little more time in this amazing city; while you’re there, make sure to check out the Oranjezicht City Farm market, the V&A Waterfront, Long Street, and opt for the cable car ride to the top of the Table Mountain. The accommodation offered in Cape Town ranges from romantic hotels to trendy and well-equipped spa and boutique hotels. Beyond the city limits are some of the most stunning beaches and a lush and quiet wine country. The Cape’s Winelands are filled with surprises. The wine farms are tranquil, filled with old architecture, and offer the best bang for your buck. The university town of Stellenbosch and its environs are a great place to stay in the Cape Winelands, where you’ll be surrounded by lavish estates, an old town dotted with Victorian and Georgian architecture, and a youthful spirit. After a few nights at a vineyard hotel, head to Hermanus for whale watching or cage diving in shark-filled waters. Down the Cape Peninsula, find the Cape of Good Hope: a nature reserve worth a visit for lovers of rocky shorelines and views evocative of the end of the world. Before leaving the Western Cape, make sure to explore the Cape Point light house to get to know the nautical history of the peninsula.
Driving the Southern Coast
The southern coast of South Africa is primed for a road trip, regarded as the most beautiful region of the country and highly-accessible in terms of driving and sightseeing. The famous Garden Route technically runs between the towns of Mossel Bay on the Western Cape and Storms River on the Eastern Cape, but the de facto road-trip route covers almost the whole southern coast. Beginning at a beach hotel in Port Elizabeth or on the grounds of a nature reserve just an hour north, give yourself some time to explore this major seaport with a 10,000-year history. Drive through amazing forests and past a suite of excellent and swimmable beaches to reach Knysna, where the hotels sit on the blue-green lagoon, equipped with sprawling pools and golf courses. Continue on, passing through a myriad nature reserves, beaches primed for water sports and exploring the underwater fauna, and stunning views of the always-looming mountains of the hinterland. After a couple days, reach Mossel Bay, which has a human history of over 164,000 years. Get the most out of your stay here in a luxury hotel on the beautiful coast, known for its pristine beaches and outstanding natural beauty. A malleable road trip, take a few days or a few weeks moving through the landscape with your family, or plot an adults-only route with the one you love.
Wildlife and nature in Kruger National Park and uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park
A visit to the world-famous Kruger National Park should be on everyone’s bucket list. Opt for a wildlife safari through this breathtaking landscape filled with Africa’s Big 5: lions, leopards, rhinoceros, elephants, and Cape buffalo. The extra-adventurous can even choose a self-drive safari through this game reserve—the largest in Africa. Just meters away from the beasts you’ve only seen in zoos or photos, a trip through the northeasternmost part of South Africa promises to be one you’ll never forget. At a luxurious wildlife hotel on the outskirts of the park, enjoy colonial splendor in all-inclusive service, extensive spa areas, and amenities and rooms all radiating the spirit of safari. Drakensberg and uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park boast some of Africa’s most breathtaking natural landscapes and fascinating flora and fauna. A UNESO World Heritage Site, the park is filled with rocky caves and a huge collection of paintings made by the San people over a period of 4,000 years. Beyond the game reserves, South Africa is home to some of the best hiking trails of varying difficulty and composed of different, equally-stunning landscapes—among them coastal forests, river crossings, and wild viewpoints. Adrenaline lovers can also get excited about bungee jumping, surfing off the eastern coast, and rock climbing on the Cederberg Mountain. Africa’s Kalahari Desert is a must-see for admirers of solemn landscapes surrounded by vibrant colors and jarring contrasts. Head up to the border with Namibia and Botswana for a safari through seas of orange and black wiry trees.
The Wild Coast and Johannesburg
Stretching from East London north along the shore to around Port Edward, South Africa’s Wild Coast is a very special coast indeed. Called the Wild Coast for a reason, the choppy waters are filled with sharks and the roads a little bumpy. Beyond that though, this area of true natural beauty is worth a visit for the sights of shipwrecks and the confluence of green forests and bright-blue water and sky. Coffee Bay is a small town known for its remarkable beaches and being home to a large number of coffee trees, which grew from coffee beans scattered from shipwrecks and plunderers. North up the coast is the slightly larger town of Durban, an up-and-coming port city with extensive, pristine beaches. With perfectly mild weather all year long, Durban is the perfect place for a lavish resort holiday. Up north in Johannesburg, or Jo’burg, find a fascinating cityscape of renaissance. Explore fascinating history museums and discover Africa’s troubled past. Treat yourself to some seriously good cuisine in the city’s up-and-coming restaurant scene and make sure to check out Constitution Hill, a former prison for men, women, and children; this now museum works to document South Africa’s move toward democracy.
Good to know
Getting there: British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer direct flights to Cape Town. From there, book a transfer at the airport to get into the city or pick up a rental car for your road trip. For other locations, there are four other major airports in the country: OR Tambo which serves Johannesburg, Pretoria International Airport which serves Johannesburg and Pretoria, King Shaka International Airport in Durban, and the Nelspruit International Airport which serves those coming into Kruger National Park. If you’re looking to see more of the country in a short time and the road-trip idea is not of interest, there are also over 130 airports throughout the region, making connecting via domestic flight a possibility.
Safety: Do keep in mind that although there is an urban renewal project underway in Johannesburg and South Africa generally, poverty and crime have not been eliminated. In Johannesburg, avoid the areas of Hillbrow, Yeoville, and Berea at all costs, and simply be cautious otherwise. Your hotel staff will make sure you have the most fulfilling and safe stay by offering tips throughout your visit. It is not recommended to travel alone to Johannesburg. Visit Constitution Hill during the day, but it is not necessary to book a private tour—the hop-on hop-off bus or something of the like will suffice in terms of getting there.