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 a country on the southernmost tip of the African continent, marked by several distinct ecosystems. Inland safari destination Kruger National Park is populated by big game. The Western Cape offers beaches, lush winelands around Stellenbosch and Paarl, craggy cliffs at the Cape of Good Hope, forest and lagoons along the Garden Route, and the city of Cape Town, beneath flat-topped Table Mountain.
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.
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