South Africa has so many amazing things to do that designing an itinerary can be a real head-scratcher. To help you out, we narrowed down all the awesomeness to the 10 most unforgettable experiences the Rainbow Nation has to offer. From safaris and hot-air balloon rides to hiking and bungee jumping, here’s how to spend a vacation in South Africa.
No trip to South Africa is complete without getting up close and personal with nature’s most rawr-some animals. Luckily, you’re never far from a really wild experience as South Africa is safari central. Take your pick from visiting reserves and lodges near Cape Town and Johannesburg, where the Big 5 (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalo) roam freely. Be sure to keep your camera to hand as you’re more than likely to spot other fearsome and fabulous animals like cheetahs, hippos, and giraffes.
2. Put your best foot forward on renowned hiking trails
South Africa’s diverse landscapes provide the setting for a whole host of spectacular hikes. I mean, what hiker hasn’t dreamed of walking to the top of Table Mountain via the Skeleton Gorge? Elsewhere, the awesomely named Whale Trail guides hikers along an incredibly scenic five-day, 45 miles (56 km) coastal route in the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Head there between June and December when large numbers of whales can be spotted off the coast. Keep an eagle-eye out for vultures as the reserve is home to one of the last groups in South Africa.
3. Glide over the savannah in a hot-air balloon
You’re forgiven for thinking that zooming around in a 4×4 is the best way to see the famous five. However, South Africa knows a thing or two about upping the ante when it comes to unforgettable experiences. At the Pilanesberg Nature Reserve, you can hop into a hot-air balloon and soar over the savannah as the sun rises. From this aerial perspective, you’ll spot the likes of rhinos, lions, leopards, giraffes, and more going about their daily business.
4. Treat yourself in the Winelands
You’re in for a real treat if you like a glass of wine or two as South Africa’s home to some of the most popular and awarded vineyards in the world. The top-class wineries of Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, and Constantia are easy to reach from Cape Town, and they’ve become a popular destination for daytrippers. You’ll find private and group tours that pick you up from the Mother City and take you around the Winelands for a day of true indulgence.
5. Take the plunge with Great Whites
It’s not just on dry land where you can get face to face with big ol’ predators. The brave (or crazy) among you can take a dip with great white sharks in Gansbaai. It’s a whole lot safer than it sounds, as you float underwater in a reinforced cage. The experience also comes with stops at two wineries in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The perfect tonic after a day of high adrenaline.
6. Get to know South Africa’s indigenous cultures
Take a trip to the Lesedi Cultural Village and dive into the Rainbow Nation’s rich heritage. You’ll learn about various tribes and indigenous cultures during this half-day tour that starts in Johannesburg. You can also visit a Basotho village on a day trip from Underberg. Not only will you meet welcoming locals, but you’ll also get to drive the Sani Pass. This mountain road climbs over 4,265 feet (1300 m) at gradients that sometimes defy belief. The views over the Drakensberg mountain range are simply breathtaking.
7. Enjoy an underground adventure like no other
The Garden Route is one of the world’s ultimate coastal road trips. Stretching for nearly 186 miles (300 km) from Mossel Bay to Storms River, the drive takes you past some of South Africa’s must-visit sights, including Cape Town, Addo Elephant National Park, and the Cango Caves. The latter is an unmissable network of caves that runs for 2.5 miles (4 km) under the foothills of the Swartberg mountains. Those in laid-back vacay mode can explore the caves at a leisurely pace while the adrenaline junkies will love the adventure tour. It requires you to squeeze, twist, and wiggle your way through a truly unique underground route.
8. Feed your inner adrenaline junkie
South Africa’s packed with a whole host of scream-inducing things to do. If you’ve always wanted to bungee, then Bloukrans Bridge is the place for you. The 708 foot (216 m) tall bridge is home to the highest bungee jump in Africa as well as a zip line and skywalk. The Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve is also a haven for adrenaline junkies. Here, you can sign up for the Wild Gorge Swing — a heart-pounding experience that involves jumping off the edge of a waterfall and swinging through the Oribi Gorge.
9. Join a turtle conservation project
South Africa is a real paradise for nature lovers. The country is home to everything from big cats and giant whales to cute penguins and tiny turtles. As well as joining ethically run tours to marvel at them in the wild, you can also join a conservation project. Those who visit in summer have the opportunity to assist in the turtle nesting season. In January and February, tiny loggerhead and leatherback turtles break out of their eggs and waddle towards the ocean. Head to Bhanga Neck and St Lucia Wetland Park to see this unmissable spectacle.
10. Learn about Apartheid in Johannesburg
Apartheid defined life in South Africa for almost 50 years — it tore communities apart through institutionalized racism. Today, visitors are encouraged to learn more about the repressive segregation by visiting the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. Trips to Soweto with knowledgeable, local guides offer an insightful look at past, present, and future of the Rainbow Nation.
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