South Africa is famous for its game reserves and safari experiences, and rightly so. From the awe-inspiring Great Migration to seeing the Big Five, wildlife opportunities abound. But don’t be fooled into thinking that your only reason to visit South Africa is to go on a safari. The region is bursting with many other activities, and here are some of our favourite things to do in South Africa!
1. Visit Cape Town
Cape Town is one of those cities where you step in and find yourself wishing that you could live here. It’s beautiful with a colourful culture, urban edge and modern amenities. Fondly known as the Mother City, its buzzing streets house lively bars, art galleries, boutiques and storefronts. Set against the iconic Table Mountain plateau and sapphire blue Table Bay, its beaches and mountainous surroundings are burst with life. Whether it’s checking out a weekend market, hiking, attending a live concert or spotting some wildlife, you’ll never run out of things to do in Cape Town.
2. See great white sharks up close
Experience the sharks of South Africa — including great whites — up close and personal from inside a metal cage. Cage diving does not require scuba gear or any certifications, though you do need some guts and bravery! While there are many shark viewing and diving opportunities in South Africa, Gansbaai and Shark Alley in particular, is one of the best areas to encounter these ocean predators. It is also possible to go snorkelling with other shark species, as well as scuba diving for certified divers.
3. Do a road trip
One of the best things to do in South Africa outside of the safaris is to do a road trip. South Africa’s rugged terrain is home to majestic cliffs, sprawling ocean vistas, thick jungles, dramatic deserts, lively cities and everything in between. Connecting them are sprawling roads that make a road-tripper’s dream. The Garden Route is by far South Africa’s most famous stretch of road. The 300-kilometre road between Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay takes drivers through scenic twists and turns. Expect to see steep coastal cliffs, indigenous forests, mountain ranges, and every kind of adventure activity possible; scuba diving, abseiling, fishing and many more.
4. Go wine tasting
South Africa’s climate is perfect for growing grapes and the country produces award-winning wines. There’s no better way to taste them than straight at the source. In the Cape Winelands region, Stellenbosch boasts of the country’s oldest wine route with nearly 150 wine farms. Franschhoek has over 50 vineyards and also some of South Africa’s best restaurants. Hop on the Wine Tram, a scenic hop-on, hop-off tram that makes its way through the valley’s vineyards. You’re free to alight at the wineries you wanna visit for some tasting, and perhaps a gourmet lunch.
5. Learn about South Africa’s history
Much of South Africa’s history is characterized by clashes of culture, violent territorial disputes, dispossession, repression, and racial and political tensions. From the Dutch settlement in the 17th century, the English annexation throughout the 1900s, to the horror of apartheid which swept through the country from the 1940s all the way into the 1990s. South Africa has seen a lot of ups and downs. Although dark at times, it is fascinating and sobering to learn about the history behind this unique and diverse nation. Places of interest include Robben Island, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and District Six Museum in Cape Town.
6. Catch some waves
Much of South Africa is blessed with excellent surf along the southern and eastern coasts. From Cape Town to Durban, surfers can score world-class waves every day. Although some spots like Dungeons Beach and J-Bay should only be attempted by the advanced and experienced, there are suitable spots in South Africa for surfers at every level. There are waves all year-round, but if what you’re after are the big waves, come between April to August.
7. See African penguins
Outside of Antarctica, the next best place to spot penguins is South Africa! The Boulders Penguin Colony is home to several thousand African penguins. Unfortunately, they’re endangered due to pollution, oil spills, and habitat destruction. You cannot walk on the beach where they breed, but you can watch them from the nearby viewing platforms. There is also a raised boardwalk from the Boulders Visitor Centre which will let you get up close to the penguins.
8. Go whale watching
Apart from penguins, South Africa is also one of the best places on earth to go whale watching. One of the most impressive things to do in South Africa, Hermanus is the whale-watching capital of the world. You can spot migrating Southern right whales right from the stunning clifftops framing Walker Bay! Other species to catch include Bryde’s whales and orcas. The best time and chance of seeing these gentle giants is between June and November.