Welcome to Travelpediaonline’s guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations! If you have stumbled upon this article while searching for the best places to visit in South Africa, it’s clear that you already recognize South Africa as one of the most extraordinary countries in the world and are contemplating a trip there. Trust us, South Africa is a destination that will leave you awestruck with its natural beauty and unique culture.
Often referred to as “The World in One Country,” South Africa is a perfect blend of the very best of the world’s offerings. From its incredible wildlife to its trendy food and quality wines, South Africa has it all. It is a diverse destination that offers a range of memorable experiences that are hard to come by anywhere else. One of the most exceptional things about South Africa is its diversity. Each region has its own distinct personality and culture, ranging from cosmopolitan cities to enthralling wildlife, rich history, and remote wilderness.
Whether it’s the bustling streets of Cape Town, the wild-game viewing in Kruger National Park, or the charming valleys of the Winelands, South Africa’s variety is truly enchanting. If South Africa is on your bucket list (and if it isn’t, it soon will be after reading this!), we are here to help you with practical information about the country’s scenic destinations. This guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations will provide you with everything you need to know before you go.
Guide to South Africa’s Scenic Destinations
This is your guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations. As a destination, South Africa is often referred to as “a world in one country,” and for good reason. It boasts a diverse range of landscapes, including stark deserts, lush forests, grassy savannahs, and jagged mountains. The country is home to over 20 national parks and hundreds of reserves, which protect an immense variety of wildlife.
Simply put, South Africa is a magnificent country with an incredible display of natural splendor. From the breathtaking coastal scenery surrounding Cape Town in the south to Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s most famous safari destinations in the north, and the vast Karoo semi-desert that spans its heart, South Africa has so much to offer.
Add to that the cosmopolitan cities, stunning beaches, award-winning wineries, and an interesting melting pot of cultures, and you have a world-class tourist destination. While it’s impossible to list all of the country’s treasures, we’ve put together a list of some of the top-rated scenic destinations in South Africa that you should consider visiting.
1. Cape Town
This is your guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations, and if there’s one place you simply must visit, it’s Cape Town. As the oldest European settlement in the country, dating back to 1652, Cape Town is often called the Mother City. Describing Cape Town in just a few words is a challenge as it offers a blend of African and European cultures, a mix of traditional and modern elements, and an exceptional combination of urban life and natural beauty.
If South Africa is a microcosm of the world, then Cape Town is the world in one city, and it’s an absolute must-visit destination. Here are some of the key sights to see in Cape Town, including the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Table Mountain, Signal Hill & Lion’s Head, Robben Island, the Bo-Kaap area, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Two Oceans Aquarium, and the city center with its local markets, shops, restaurants, and museums.
2. Cape Peninsula
This is your guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations, and alongside Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula is one of the country’s most impressive regions that you simply cannot miss. The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point are absolute highlights, as well as the breathtaking 12 Apostles coastline from Camps Bay to Hout Bay and further south along the Chapman’s Peak Drive. Simon’s Town is also a must-see, with its Boulder’s Beach penguin colony where you can spot wild penguins in South Africa!
Additionally, the ocean walkway from Muizenberg to Kalk Bay via St. James Beach is stunning. Within the Cape Peninsula, Groot Constantia wine region boasts spectacular scenery and some of the best wines in the country. Hout Bay is also a fantastic destination, where you can take a boat to visit the seal colony at Duiker Island (also known as Hout Bay Seal Island). This is a popular tourist attraction, so be sure to book in advance. For a more unique experience, you can even go snorkeling with the seals.
3. The Garden Route
This is your guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations, and the Garden Route is another absolutely amazing region that you must see. Spanning approximately 200km between Mossel Bay and Stormsrivier, this route is one of the most picturesque in the world, but taking the time to explore it is crucial to truly appreciate its beauty. Although you could drive the Garden Route in just half a day, you won’t see much by simply sitting in the car. Ideally, you should allow at least a couple of days to explore this area.
Some of the most enchanting places along the Garden Route include Storms River and Tsitsikamma National Park, Robberg Nature Reserve, Plettenberg Bay, the Knysna area (be sure to visit the Heads and the Featherbed Private Nature Reserve!), Wilderness, and the stunning coastline along the entire route. While Oudtshoorn, renowned for its ostrich farms and Cango Caves, is a bit out of the way from the rest, it’s still considered part of the Garden Route and definitely worth a visit.
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4. Kruger National Park
The guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Kruger National Park, one of the country’s most well-known attractions. If you’re after a quintessential African wildlife experience, Kruger NP is the place to be. As the oldest and largest national park in South Africa, it covers a vast area of 2,000,000 hectares (20,000 km2) – roughly equivalent to the size of Israel or the state of New Jersey. To make the most of your visit, plan to stay at least 2-3 days and take multiple game drives to fully appreciate the park’s abundant wildlife.
Kruger is home to hundreds of animal species and is particularly famous for being the best place to see the Big 5 – lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and Cape buffalo. Although the term “Big 5” originated from hunting terminology, it has now evolved to represent the must-see animals on an African safari. Kruger NP offers a variety of ways to explore its vast wilderness, from luxury lodges with private safaris to organized day tours or self-driving in your own car. No matter how you choose to experience it, Kruger National Park is a must-visit destination in South Africa.
5. Blyde River Canyon & Panorama Route
This is your ultimate guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations featuring the stunning Blyde River Canyon, one of the largest canyons in the world and a must-see natural landmark in South Africa. It’s conveniently located near the main entrances of Kruger National Park, making it an ideal day trip destination when exploring the northern part of the country. Along with Kruger NP, Blyde River Canyon is one of the most sought-after tourist attractions in the region.
To make the most of your visit, start your day with breakfast at the famous Harrie’s Pancakes in Graskop, then head north to witness the breathtaking views at the Pinnacle, God’s Window, and Wonder View. Don’t miss the other spectacular highlights of the Panorama Route, such as Lisbon Falls and Berlin Falls, Bourke’s Luck Potholes, and Lowveld viewpoint. However, the most impressive of all is the Three Rondavels viewpoint, which is guaranteed to leave you in awe.
6. Namaqua National Park & Namaqualand
This is a guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations, and one hidden gem you won’t want to miss is Namaqualand and Namaqua National Park. Located near the Namibian border, it’s often overlooked and not mentioned among the top tourist attractions in the country. However, during springtime, the dusty valleys transform into a breathtaking wildflower wonderland, making it a must-visit destination for locals and international tourists alike. The entire region is covered in a colorful carpet of flowers, and if you’re planning a trip to South Africa in August-September and want to venture off the beaten path, Namaqualand should definitely be on your itinerary.
Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa, has a rich history dating back to the 19th century when it was established as a gold-mining settlement. Despite its current bustling population of one million, it’s hard to imagine that this city had such humble beginnings. If you’re interested in learning about South Africa’s journey to democracy, be sure not to miss Soweto township, which was once home to both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu (but make sure to go with a guide!). A visit to Johannesburg should also include the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill, a former prison complex where tens of thousands of people, including Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, were incarcerated during South Africa’s tumultuous past.
Durban is widely regarded as one of the must-see cities in South Africa. However, we discovered that there were better ways to spend time in the country than exploring its urban areas. As a result, we advise not to stay in Durban for an extended period of time, but it’s important to note that Cape Town is a completely different story and a city that shouldn’t be missed. Nevertheless, if you’re in the area, Durban is definitely worth a visit.
Some of the top attractions include strolling along the Golden Mile and enjoying the beach, exploring UShaka Marine World or Durban Botanic Gardens, and using the city as a base for day trips to nearby destinations such as Hluhluwe-iMfolozi NP, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and the Drakensberg Mountains. Additionally, the Shakaland and Zulu culture day trip is a fascinating experience to have while in Durban.
9. West Coast National Park
This is a guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations. One of the must-visit places is the West Coast National Park, which is just an hour’s drive north of Cape Town. This park is a favorite among locals and attracts a large number of visitors during warm seasons. It boasts beautiful beaches, stunning coastlines, scenic hiking trails, diverse wildlife, and a plethora of wildflowers.
If you plan to see the flowers, the best time to visit is during springtime (August-September), although the park may be even busier than usual. While not a must-see destination in South Africa, West Coast National Park is considered a real jewel. If you have a day to spare while staying in Cape Town, be sure to add this beautiful park to your itinerary.
10. Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park
When it comes to safari experiences in Africa, one can never have enough, and if you happen to be in the St. Lucia/Durban area, then we highly recommend taking a day trip to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. While it may not be as well-known as some of the other national parks in South Africa, such as Kruger National Park, it is equally stunning and offers an incredible opportunity for wildlife viewing.
This park is home to Africa’s Big 5, which includes the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros, as well as many other fascinating animals. The Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park is situated in the heart of Zululand and covers over 96,000 hectares of pristine wilderness. The park is renowned for its conservation efforts, particularly in the preservation of the white rhinoceros, which was once on the brink of extinction. Thanks to the conservation efforts, the park now boasts a healthy population of white rhinos and offers an excellent opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
In addition to the Big 5, the park is also home to other wildlife such as giraffes, zebras, hyenas, and wild dogs. The landscape of the park is diverse, ranging from dense forests to open grasslands, making it an ideal habitat for many different species of animals. If you are looking for a unique and unforgettable safari experience, then a day trip to the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park should definitely be on your list. With its breathtaking scenery, diverse wildlife, and conservation efforts, this park is a true gem in South Africa’s safari destinations.
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11. Pilanesberg National Park
If you’re seeking a memorable wildlife safari experience in South Africa, Pilanesberg National Park is a must-visit destination, and the best part is that it’s easily accessible, located just over two hours’ drive from Johannesburg. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is situated within an extinct volcanic crater, which provides the ideal habitat for a diverse range of wildlife. The grasslands, enriched by the fertile soil, create the perfect environment for animals to thrive. A man-made lake, Mankwe Dam, is a highlight of the park as it serves as a popular watering hole for African animals.
You can spot a wide variety of wildlife in the park, including zebras, lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and many more. Given the relatively small size of the park, it’s quite easy to spot these incredible creatures, even if you’re short on time and only able to spend a few hours here. In addition to its exceptional wildlife, the Pilanesberg National Park is also renowned for its breathtaking scenery, which provides a stunning backdrop for your safari experience. With its vast plains and rolling hills, this park offers a picturesque setting that you won’t soon forget.
12. iSimangaliso Wetland Park
If you’re looking for a unique and off-the-beaten-path destination, then iSimangaliso Wetland Park should be on your list. This UNESCO World Heritage Site may not be as well-known as some of South Africa’s other tourist hotspots, but it’s an absolute gem that’s well worth a visit. iSimangaliso Wetland Park offers a diverse range of experiences, from stunning scenery and unique landscapes to white-sand beaches, snorkeling, diving, and, of course, incredible wildlife viewing opportunities.
You’ll have the chance to spot a wide variety of animals, including rhinos, zebras, buffalos, baboons, wildebeests, and even elephants. But the real highlight for many visitors is the opportunity to see hippos in the wild, as the park is a veritable paradise for water-loving animals. Additionally, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is one of the best places in South Africa to spot crocodiles.
With so much to offer, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is an excellent destination for nature lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, and anyone who wants to experience the beauty and diversity of South Africa’s natural wonders. So, whether you’re interested in exploring the unique landscapes, relaxing on the beach, or spotting incredible wildlife, iSimangaliso Wetland Park is an absolute must-visit destination.
13. Addo Elephant National Park
If you’re seeking a family-friendly safari adventure in Africa, then Addo Elephant National Park should be high on your list. Located in the southern region of South Africa, near Port Elizabeth and just a few hours’ drive from the Garden Route, Addo Elephant National Park is the third-largest national park in the country. As its name suggests, Addo Elephant National Park is a prime location for spotting wild elephants, with over 600 of these majestic creatures calling the park home.
However, the park is also home to numerous other African animals, and visitors may even be lucky enough to spot the Big 5. Addo Elephant National Park provides a perfect opportunity for families to get up close and personal with some of Africa’s most iconic animals in a safe and accessible environment. So if you’re looking for an unforgettable safari experience without the worry of malaria, then Addo Elephant National Park is definitely worth a visit.
14. Cape Agulhas – Southernmost Tip Of Africa
As a guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations, Cape Agulhas is a remarkable and underrated location that often goes unnoticed by tourists due to its remote location. Being the southernmost point in Africa, Cape Agulhas is far from any other landmark in South Africa and isn’t on the main tourist routes. However, this unique and stunning location is definitely worth a visit. Standing at the point where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, visitors can feel like they’ve reached the end of the world.
Cape Agulhas offers breathtaking views and a sense of solitude that is hard to find in other tourist hotspots. The best way to visit Cape Agulhas is by making a stop there on your way from Cape Town to the Garden Route (or vice versa). Although it is possible to visit Cape Agulhas in a day, the drive can be long and tiring. Even though it may not be as well-known as other destinations, Cape Agulhas is truly a hidden gem that should not be missed by travelers guide seeking unique and unforgettable experiences.
15. South Africa Wine Region: Stellenbosch and Franschhoek
South Africa has gained global recognition for its wine, and the Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek region is the prime location to experience the country’s wineries and wines. This picturesque area is just a short drive away from Cape Town and can be easily visited, even if you have limited time in South Africa. While Stellenbosch and Paarl are larger towns, the true allure of the region lies in the surrounding scenery and wineries.
The charming Franschhoek town, with its white buildings, rolling hills, and cozy atmosphere, is a must-see. The area’s quaint wineries provide ample opportunities to taste local wines and appreciate the stunning landscapes. Whether you’re a wine lover or simply seeking a tranquil getaway, the Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek region is a destination not to be missed in South Africa.
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The Best Time to Visit South Africa
As a guide to the best time to visit South Africa, it’s worth noting that the country is a great destination all year round. However, the ideal time for your trip largely depends on your preferences. Summer, which spans from December to February, is the peak tourist season when the weather is hot, with temperatures soaring above 30°C, and the rainfall levels are low. This is the perfect time for beach lovers, but it’s worth noting that flight and accommodation prices tend to be higher during this season due to the high demand.
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Getting around South Africa
Once you arrive in South Africa, there are multiple transportation options available to explore the country. Choose the one that aligns with your travel style and itinerary.
If you’re planning to explore the cities of South Africa, taking domestic flights is the most efficient means of transportation. Since South Africa is a vast country, flying saves time and allows you to cover more ground. Regular and reasonably priced flights are available between major cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, and Bloemfontein.
Although not very common, Shosholoza Meyl still provides long-distance train journeys at affordable prices between South African cities. Train travel may not be the most popular transportation method in South Africa, but if you have more time on your hands and want to enjoy the country’s beautiful scenery, it can be a relaxing way to travel.
For those planning to explore the wild outdoors of South Africa, renting a car is highly recommended, especially for those traveling in pairs or groups. Not only does it offer more safety, but it also provides freedom and flexibility to travel at your own pace. The roads in popular national parks such as Kruger and Addo Elephant are in good condition, so you don’t necessarily need a 4×4.
However, it’s important to read up on local driving customs and etiquette before hitting the road. While train travel is not prevalent in South Africa, long-distance rail journeys offered by Shosholoza Meyl provide a relaxing and affordable alternative for those interested in the country’s scenery.
Bazbus is a well-known tour bus company that provides services to tourists, with routes covering the distance between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, with 14 stops along the southern coast. In addition, they also offer organized trips from Cape Town to the Cape Peninsula, Kruger National Park, and a local game lodge for a more compact safari experience. Intercape and Greyhound are the most popular intercity bus companies for those seeking to travel cheaply to other parts of the country.
Be aware that in South Africa, the term “taxi” typically refers to privately-owned minibuses that operate on an irregular schedule, often carry more passengers, have limited space for luggage, and may be driven recklessly. Therefore, if you require a taxi in a South African city, it is recommended to use Uber instead.
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Staying Safe in South Africa
1. Familiarize yourself with safe and unsafe areas. Seek advice from the staff at your accommodation, tour guides, or locals to learn about the areas that are recommended for tourists to visit and those that are not.
2. It is recommended to avoid going out after dark. However, if you need to go out at night, it’s safer to hail an Uber.
3. To minimize the risk of becoming a target of theft, it’s advisable not to appear too touristy and avoid showing off your valuable possessions. Stay alert, especially in crowded places, and avoid keeping your valuables in easily accessible pockets. Make sure you know the quickest way to leave a crowded area in case of an emergency.
4. It’s advisable to decline politely and walk away if a stranger comes up to offer you something.
5. When driving, it’s best to keep the car doors locked and the windows closed, even when passing through a safari park.
6. It is advisable not to pick up any hitchhikers or individuals who seem to have had car trouble. Additionally, avoid leaving any items that may be considered valuable visible in your vehicle.
7. It is advisable to only use ATMs that are situated inside banks or other establishments.
8. It’s recommended to avoid drinking tap water outside major cities in South Africa.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is South Africa known for?
South Africa is known for its natural beauty, diverse landscapes, wildlife, culture, and history. It is often referred to as “The World in One Country” because it offers a blend of the best the world has to offer.
What are some of the top scenic destinations in South Africa?
Some of the top-rated scenic destinations in South Africa include Cape Town, Kruger National Park, the Winelands, Garden Route, Drakensberg Mountains, and the Wild Coast.
What kind of landscapes can you find in South Africa?
South Africa boasts a diverse range of landscapes, including deserts, forests, savannahs, mountains, and beaches.
What kind of wildlife can you see in South Africa?
South Africa is home to an immense variety of wildlife, including the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino), as well as many other species such as giraffes, zebras, antelopes, and birds.
What activities can you do in South Africa?
South Africa offers a wide range of activities for tourists, including wildlife safaris, wine tasting, hiking, surfing, cultural experiences, and visiting historical sites.
Is it safe to travel to South Africa?
Like any other tourist destination, South Africa has its share of safety concerns. However, if you take necessary precautions and stay informed about your surroundings, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip.
When is the best time to visit South Africa?
The best time to visit South Africa depends on your interests and activities. Generally, the best time for wildlife viewing is during the dry season (May to September), while the best time for beach activities is during the summer months (December to February).
What should I know before traveling to South Africa?
Before traveling to South Africa, you should have a valid passport, check visa requirements, get vaccinated if necessary, familiarize yourself with the country’s customs and culture, and take necessary safety precautions. It’s also a good idea to book accommodations and activities in advance.
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South Africa is a truly remarkable country that has something for everyone. From its diverse landscapes and wildlife to its rich culture and history, South Africa is a destination that will leave you in awe. Whether you’re a nature lover, a foodie, an adventure seeker, or a culture enthusiast, you’ll find something to satisfy your travel cravings in this beautiful country.
We hope this guide to South Africa’s scenic destinations has inspired you to add this incredible destination to your travel bucket list. So why wait? Start planning your South African adventure today and get ready to experience a world-class destination that will leave you with unforgettable memories.