Choosing where to go in South Africa is a bit like selecting which countries to visit on a global tour – each region is that different. From the sparkling city of Cape Town and the bottle-green hills of the Cape Winelands to the wild reserves of Kruger, Madikwe and the fantasyland that is Sun City, we’ve selected our favourite places of interest in this highly diverse country.
An unbeatable blend of stunning natural beauty and year-round fun makes Cape Town an easy city to fall in love with. For starters there are the beaches - so many you’ll struggle to single out a favourite - and then there’s hiking on iconic Table Mountain, the penguins of Boulders Beach, the ever-popular V&A Waterfront, the nearby Cape Winelands and picnics and concerts at Kirstenbosch Gardens.
Add to this a superb selection of accommodation, award-winning food and wine experiences plus a colourful collection of friendly locals and you’ll soon see why this captivating city was recently voted the “World’s #1 Travel Destination” (Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, 2011).
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South Africa’s largest and best known reserve, the Kruger National Park is home to the country's greatest diversity of wildlife and includes the super-celebrities of the safari circuit: Africa’s Big 5.
Why pick Kruger for your South Africa safari? It's where to go in South Africa for guaranteed big game sightings, there’s accommodation to suit every style and budget, and being so well connected by air, you can easily round off your Big 5 safari with a few days on Cape Town’s beautiful beaches or even a tropical island off the Mozambique coast.
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South Africa’s Garden Route is a natural playground of soft sand, warm sea, shady indigenous forest and laid-back little towns. Families will love the safe swimming beaches around Plettenberg Bay; adventurers can go hiking, horse riding or dolphin spotting; romantics can dine at restaurants overlooking Knysna’s peaceful lagoon (ask for the oysters!) and the wide selection of accommodation caters for everyone.
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The green valleys and Alpine-style mountains of the Cape Winelands are a treat for both eye and palate: sip, swirl and sample award-winning wines, indulge in gourmet cuisine, or wander down oak-lined streets to local art galleries, all to a stunningly scenic backdrop. Although only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, we guarantee that a night or two in this peaceful patchwork of vineyards and mountains will dissolve any lingering city stress.
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Under three hours from Johannesburg lies South Africa’s undisputed ‘Kingdom of Pleasure’ - Sun City. If you’re looking for true escapism and non-stop entertainment then this is without question where to go - there are championship golf courses and world-class casinos, a slide-filled water park plus nightclubs, shops, restaurants … they’ve even built their own beach! And if that’s not enough, Sun City is right next to the Pilanesberg Big 5 Game Reserve.
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For an exciting and stress-free family safari the Eastern Cape is hard to beat: a combination of child-friendly lodges in malaria-free reserves within driving distance of the Garden Route means an unforgettable family holiday. But it’s not just families who get to have all the fun in the Eastern Cape: these Big 5 reserves also have a handful of secluded, luxurious lodges that are among our favourites for a romantic safari away from crowds and kids.
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It’s often said that locals know best, and when South Africans go on holiday their top choice is often the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). From the broad beaches of the sunny KwaZulu-Natal subtropical coast and the luxury accommodation of its big game reserves to its soaring mountain peaks and historic battlefields – KZN is where to go in South Africa for game viewing, bird watching, adventure, history and on-the-beach relaxation.
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Once a volcanic crater, the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is one of South Africa's best wildlife destinations and is centred around a large hippo and croc-filled lake. Although conveniently close to Sun City, these two top destinations feel words apart: some visitors choose to stay in Sun City and pop across for a half-day safari, but with such great Big 5 game viewing on offer plus a wide choice of excellent safari lodges, we’d highly recommend a night or two in this beautiful piece of African wilderness.
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About a 3-hour drive or short charter flight from Johannesburg lies one of South Africa’s least known large reserves: Madikwe Private Game Reserve. Its Kalahari grasslands and woodlands are surprisingly full of animals and one of the best places to see the highly endangered African wild dog plus the Big 5. What’s more, if you’re looking for a family safari, the great news is that Madikwe lies outside the malarial belt and offers excellent family-friendly lodges as well as romantic retreats and honeymoon suites.
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Until recently most visitors to South Africa would whiz through Johannesburg, stopping just long enough to catch their connecting flight. Nowadays, however, Johannesburg (or Jozi as it’s known to the locals) is undergoing a revival and has become a destination in its own right with a fantastic selection of hotels and guest houses, a thriving café culture and thrumming night life. Catch the ultra-modern Gautrain straight from the airport to the heart of Sandton with its shining shopping centres filled with high-end boutiques, and give your credit card a good workout. Finally, for greater insight into South Africa’s recent past we’d highly recommend a visit to the Apartheid Museum - it’s a highly informative and moving experience.
Read more about a Johannesburg holiday.
Africa Safari Expert