23 beautiful reasons to visit South Africa
Its human history is checkered, but South Africa’s natural wonders have never been less than glorious.
From surf-ravaged beaches to big game-roaming national parks, towering mountains to flooded wetlands, stunning coastal drives and the junction of two oceans — the Atlantic and Pacific — at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa is blessed with treasures.
Then there are the man-made attractions, from vineyards to diamond mines, Robben Island and Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum to Cape Town and Table Mountain as well as buzzing Jo’burg itself.
South Africa celebrated Freedom Day on April 27 — a commemoration of the first post-apartheid elections held on that day in 1994.
To honour the occasion, we’ve put together some of the best places to see in the Rainbow Nation.
The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, Mpumalanga. Claimed to be the world’s largest green canyon, the reserve is home to a 33-kilometre gorge, abundant wildlife as well as dramatic landscapes. God’s Window along the Panorama Route is one of the best viewpoints in the 29, 000-hectare reserve.
Umhlanga, KwaZulu Natal. A resort town north of Durban, Umhlanga boasts a three-kilometre-long promenade with gardens, swimming and surf beaches as well as the famous Umhlanga Lighthouse.
Table Mountain, Cape Town. While other cities have skyscrapers to be lit up for special occasions, Cape Town has Table Mountain. The flat-topped mountain is arguably the most iconic and beloved landmark in the city.
Stellenbosch, the Cape Winelands. Sitting in the heart of the Cape Winelands, Stellenbosch’s vineyards are surrounded by mountains. It claims to have the only new grape variety created outside Europe — a grape variety called Pinotage created by a professor at Stellenbosch University.
Jacaranda season in Pretoria or Johannesburg. In late October to early November every year, there are a few things more beautiful than the purple blossoms falling from the trees across the city.
Kruger National Park, Limpopo. One of the largest game reserves in South Africa spanning 19, 000 square kilometres. The famous safari park is also a great place to have your first encounter with the big-five — elephants, lions, buffalo, rhinos as well as leopards.
Johannesburg during sunsets. No matter how familiar you are with Johannesburg, sunset views over the city are still breathtaking every time — especially from the top of the Ponte, in Delta Park or across the Mandela Bridge.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes, Mpumalanga. A part of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, the potholes are carved out by centuries of river activity. A number of vantage points as well as bridges are built over some of the most beautiful sections.
Hermanus, Western Cape. Between July and November, the waters near Hermanus become the mating and breeding grounds for Southern Right Whales, making it one of the world’s best whale watching spots.
Chapman’s Peak Drive, Cape Town. Affectionately nicknamed “Chappies” by local residents, Chapman’s Peak Drive is a nine-kilometre scenic and curvy — with 114 bends — stretch of road from Hout Bay to Noordhoek.
Tugela River, KwaZulu Natal. Starting in the Drakensberg Mountains, The Tugela River is the largest in the KwaZulu-Natal province. At times a rocky stream and at times a broad river. The Tugela recalls scenes of the American West, except for the hippos.
Robben Island, Western Cape. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the former political and criminal prison island is packed with history. A standard tour around Robben Island takes around four hours. A short ferry ride from Cape Town, the island also offers another viewpoint of the city.
De Hoop Nature Reserve, Overberg. This family-friendly nature reserve is an ideal place for hiking, cycling as well as whale watching. It’s also home to sand dunes that lead to the azure ocean.
Namaqualand, Northern Cape. In September, the desert across Namaqualand is covered with endless fields of colourful blossoms.
Augrabies Falls National Park. The dry Augrabies National park is home to the Orange River Gorge and 56-meter Augrabies Waterfall. It’s especially impressive when it’s in full flood — the local Khoi people called the waterfall Aukoerebes, or Great Noise.
Ampitheatre, Drakensberg, KwaZulu Natal. A near perfect symmetrical rock wall rising 1, 200 metres from the Tugela Valley. The most notable feature among Drakensberg mountains, Amphitheatre also offers challenging hiking trails for experienced hikers.
Constitution Court, Johannesburg. A former prison that once held Mandela and Gandhi is now the nations’s highest court. Surrounded by an art gallery and museum that explores the site’s history and the implications of significant rulings — like the right to housing, and the right to anti-AIDS drugs. The ramparts of the old barracks have some of the best views of Johannesburg.
Silvermine Nature Reserve, Cape Town. Part of the Table Mountain National Park, Silvermine Nature Reserve is a favourite backyard garden for residents of Cape Town. It’s famous for it’s indigenous fynbos species and also has plenty of picnic and braai spots.
Valley of Desolation, Graaff-Reinet. The valley inside the Camdeboo National Park is famous for it’s cliffs as well as natural Dolerite rock columns rising as high as 120 metres above ground.
Mandela Capture Site, KwaZulu Natal. Mandela Capture Site is a sculpture with steel columns up to 9.5 meters tall. Marking the site where the former president was taken into custody. The surrounding landscape is also stunning, too.
Cango Caves, Western Cape. The inside of the Cango Caves is like a palace of stalactite and stalagmite formations. Regular tours to the caves are available daily.
Kalk Bay, Cape Town. White-sand beaches, colourful fishing boats and also houses running up mountain slopes are the must-include elements in your Instagram shots of Cape Town’s picture-perfect suburban fishing town.
Bo-Kaap, Cape Town. Formerly the Malay Quarter, Bo-Kaap’s cobbled stone streets as well as cheerfully colourful houses are the main draw for visitors. It’s also the place for Cape Malay cuisine.