South Africa, officially known as the Republic of South Africa, is a great place to visit for a first-time safari. One of the country's main attractions is the African scenery: golden savannah, great gaping gorges, and hauntingly beautiful deserts, as well as an awe-inspiring cast of African creatures – and, as a bonus – all the creature comforts.
Apart from the big-name game parks of Kruger and the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park, South Africa is home to some of the world's most luxurious game reserves and lodges. Wildlife lovers come here from all corners of the globe in search of the "Big Five": lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino, and elephant, and often they find it, and so much more.
Exploring coral reefs and dragon-backed mountain ranges, white-water rafting, and enjoying golden beaches lapped by legendary surf breaks are some of the most popular things to do in South Africa.
Traveling around this vast land and touring the vibrant cities, you can learn about the nation's turbulent history – in Cape Town, one of the world's most beautiful cities; in Durban, a melting pot of cultures and cuisines; at the poignant museums and galleries in Johannesburg; and in Soweto, birthplace of Nelson Mandela, who helped birth democracy here.
Discover the best places to visit in this diverse nation with our list of the top tourist attractions in South Africa.
1. Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces
Kruger National Park is one of the best game reserve in Africa, and one of the oldest in South Africa. If you're a wildlife lover, this famous park definitely needs to be on your South Africa itinerary.
The park lies about a 3.5- to 4.5-hour drive from Johannesburg and offers visitors the chance to see the "Big Five": lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino, as well as an astounding diversity of other wildlife. It's also home to San (bushman) rock paintings and archaeological sites.
2. Cape Town, Western Cape
Cape Town, South Africa is one of the planet's most breathtaking cities. Nature surrounds this multicultural city, which nuzzles between a rugged range of mountains and the sea.
One of the top things to do in Cape Town is visit Table Mountain, the flat-topped peak presiding over the city. For a spectacular overview, hike to the summit, or glide up on the cableway. The hour-long hike up Lion's Head also provides panoramic city vistas.
On Table Mountain's eastern slopes, the magnificent Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens lie within a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cape Town's coast is also full of natural wonders. Strolling along the waterfront boardwalk, you might see whales spouting from the harbor. Penguins waddle along the golden beaches in False Bay, and south of the city, Cape Point is home to abundant wildlife and diverse botanical beauty.
Cape Town is also known for its beautiful boulder-flanked beaches. Camp's Bay is a favorite, with plenty of chic shops and cafés nearby.
Cape Town residents love their coast so much that at sunset, they stake a spot along spectacular Chapman's Peak Drive to toast the sunset in a dusk ritual known as "sundowners." Celebrating nature's beauty in this way is one of the unique things to do in South Africa, and something you might encounter on your travels at various locations around the country.
Another one of Cape town things to do is visit the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, reminiscent of Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Here, you can shop, dine, and enjoy the many entertainment venues, including Two Ocean's Aquarium.
3. The Garden Route
Along the country's southeast coast, the Garden Route runs for about 200 kilometers through some of South Africa's most breathtaking coastal scenery. The route stretches along the Indian Ocean from Mossel Bay, in the Western cape, to the Storms River, in the Eastern Cape
This popular driving route passes through rolling green hills, pretty coastal towns, lagoons, lakes, and coastal cliffs.Highlight of the garden route include the charming town of Knysna, snuggled between dense forests and a sparkling lagoon; the beautiful Garden Route National Park, with its gorges, tidal pools, and thick forests; Oudtshoorn's ostrich farms and Cango Caves; and the seal colony of the Robberg Nature Reserve in Plettenberg Bay.
Adventures along the way run the gamut, from elephant experiences and whale watching trips to bungee jumping and tree canopy tours.
4. Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
A merger of South Africa's Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana's Gemsbok National Park, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the largest wilderness areas in the world.
Established in 2000, it is Africa's first officially declared transfrontier park and one of the Top place to visit in northern cape. Gnarled camel thorn trees, red sands, golden grasslands, and deep blue skies provide a bold backdrop for photographs and game viewing.
Among the huge diversity of wildlife, this vast conservation area is home to the famous black-maned Kalahari lion; stately gemsbok, with their V-shaped horns; the sprawling nests of sociable weavers; meerkats; and many birds of prey.
Other predators such as leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas are also found here. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for some of the minor rugged roads or for those venturing into Botswana.
5. Stellenbosch, Western Cape
Stellenbosch is one of the most picturesque towns in South Africa. A mosaic of farms, old oak trees, and white-washed Cape Dutch dwellings, it's one of the best preserved towns from the era of the Dutch East India Company.
Today, it's a university town, with a vibrant feel and fantastic scenery. Foodies will love it here. Stellenbosch is home to some of South Africa's best restaurants, as well as many sidewalk cafés.
History buffs can take a walk back in time at The Stellenbosch Village Museum, a group of four restored houses and gardens dating from 1709 to 1850. Rupert Museum displays important works by South African artists, and strolling around the Botanic Garden at the University of Stellenbosch is another top thing to do here.
In the surrounding area, nature buffs can hike and bike on the wilderness trails in the breathtaking Jonkershoek Nature Reserve.