Top 7 Holiday Destinations in South Africa

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A trip to South Africa is perfect for anyone who enjoys glorious sunshine, has a knack for adventure, and wishes to explore diverse cultures. The country has so much to offer — from big five safaris, scenic road trips, rewarding multi-day hikes and treks, to whale watching and magnificent golfing opportunities. Hence, it doesn’t come as a surprise that it has been listed as one of the top 10 holiday destinations for 2018. For those who are already planning a trip to the country and wondering where to go in South Africa, here is a guide to some of the South African holiday destinations (in no particular order) that you should not miss.

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Kruger National Park is one of the most popular South African national parks. With an almost unrivaled wealth of animal species, including significant populations of elephants and white rhinos as well as the rest of the 'big five’ and more, a safari in Kruger offers the chance to see some of southern Africa’s most distinct animals in their natural habitat. This is one of the top tourist attractions in South Africa.

Best time to visit Kruger National Park in South Africa
A tourist photographs a couple of elephants in Kruger National Park.

The park boasts many accommodation options, from simple campsites where you can pitch a tent, to luxury accommodation in private lodges. There are also many other activities available other than just the classic car-based safari, to keep you busy for up to a week. A year-round destination, a visit to Kruger National Park is a definite must-do when in South Africa.

2. The Wine Region

It is criminal not to go for a wine-tasting session when in South Africa. Located in the Western Cape, the traditional winemaking region, Cape Winelands, is listed as one of the top wine regions in the world and rightfully so. The region is responsible for some of South Africa’s finest wines.

Cape Winelands is a popular destination in South Africa
Cape Winelands is responsible for some of South Africa’s finest wines and is a must-visit destination.

Nestled in a rustic setting with stunning mountains as the backdrop, Cape Winelands is more than just a wine-tasting tour, it is an unorthodox vacation suited for everyone. If you are looking for nice places to visit in the country, this is one of them. A year-round destination, the region has something to offer in each season. Relish in the flavors of a sauvignon blanc or a glass of red pinotage while you bask in the summer sunshine or pair wines with scrumptious culinary delights that the region has to offer. Go on short hikes in the mountains, bike through the vineyards or ride a horse through wine estates. During chilly winter evenings, sip a glass of wine next to a crackling fire.

It is unfair to stuff it in a packed itinerary when a Cape Winelands tour has the potential to become the itinerary. With plenty of luxurious manor houses and boutique hotels available for accommodation, you can choose to spend at least a week in the region. Cheers!

3. Jeffreys Bay

Rough sea and golden sand at the rugged coast in Jeffreys bay, South Africa
Jeffreys bay is rated among the top ten best-surfing destinations in the world.

If you love adventure and planning what to do in South Africa, head to Jeffreys Bay. It is located in the Eastern Cape province around 75km southwest of Port Elizabeth, and is one of South Africa’s top beach destinations.  Considered the best spot in the country for surfing, the right-hand point break here is among the best in the world. Admittedly, the peak season for surfing is from May to September but with luck, it is still possible to catch good waves throughout the year. 

Even when you are not surfing, there is still plenty to occupy your time at Jeffreys Bay — or J-Bay as it is commonly known. The beach is known for its fine white sand, and the many restaurants in town are famous for their excellent seafood. There are also ample opportunities for other watersports. For those who grow tired of the sea, there is also good hiking and excellent birdwatching in the area.

Hermanus in Garden Route
A southern right whale jumps out of the water - a possible sight in Hermanus.

A stay in Jeffreys Bay could easily be combined with whale-watching nearby Hermanus. The town is a world-renowned location for spotting migratory southern right whales. Every year, these graceful giants converge in the waters around the sleepy fishing town of Hermanus to mate and calve, and this provides one of the best opportunities anywhere to spot these whales. Thus, making Hermanus one of the best places to visit in South Africa.

Along the 12km cliff path, there are many vantage points from where it is possible to see whales breaching and playing near the shore. In fact, there is more than just one way to witness these mammals. For a chance to observe the whales at close quarters, visitors can also sign up with one of the several boat tours offered.

Gansbaai is a South African Holiday Destination
Cage diving offers a chance to witness a shark in close proximity.

For those looking for something guaranteed to provide more of an adrenaline rush, a trip to the infamous Shark Alley near the town of Gansbaai might just be the answer. This narrow stretch of sea between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock is home to one of the world’s densest populations of great white sharks, due to the large numbers of Cape fur seals who make their home on the island. For the most courageous of travelers, it is possible to be lowered into the water in a metal cage to observe these giant sharks from below the waves in what must rate as one of the most intense wildlife encounters possible.

To catch sight of the sharks would definitely make a memorable addition to a trip that includes surfing at Jeffreys Bay and whale watching at Hermanus.

One of the most popular things to do in South Africa is to drive the Garden Route, a particularly attractive 300km stretch of road in the southern part of the country that offers plenty of intriguing places to stop along the way. This trip can take anything from three days to two weeks and could make the perfect holiday option as you will find plenty of things to do in the Garden Route.

Recommended Transportation for Garden Route
A couple laying in the car trunk, enjoying the view the road trip has to offer.

Some of the highlights along the way include beaches and hiking at Keurboomstrand, a boat cruise on the beautiful waters of Knysna Bay, the Cango Caves and limestone cliffs near the Swartberg mountains, and wine tasting in the Mossel Bay area. Although of course, there is so much more to discover in a self-drive exploration of the area.

7. uKhahlamba National Park in Drakensberg

Drakensberg Mountain in South Africa
Drakensberg Mountain in South Africa is popular for its hiking trails that are suitable for all abilities.

For those less interested in sea and beach holidays, perhaps a trip to the uKhahlamba National Park might be a better option among other places in South Africa. This UNESCO World Heritage site is located in the Drakensberg mountains and is known as one of South Africa’s top hiking destinations. The most famous hike is a 68 km route known as the Giant’s Cup Trail that can be walked in four or five days. If you prefer something shorter, Drakensberg mountain offers plenty of one-day hikes of varying duration and difficulty in the area — so there is something for everyone. The landscape is rugged and dramatic, and the area also boasts many examples of San rock paintings dating back millennia. For those hoping for a more active holiday in South Africa, this park is a destination well worth considering.

With so many holiday destinations to choose from, and with such diverse offerings, a trip to South Africa is extremely appealing. Whether you prefer sunbathing on a beach, spotting iconic large animals on safari, gambling in a casino or perhaps something more original like diving with great white sharks, the country truly has it all.

Go through our travel guide on how long to spend in South Africa to choose an itinerary that suits you. You can also contact our travel experts for a customized tour of South Africa.

For a seasonal overview, see our article on the best time to visit South Africa.

Published by Marie Storm, updated on May 4, 2022

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