South Africa has an incredible number of national parks, nature reserves, beaches and other amazing destinations that are hard to match. If you want to take a once in a lifetime excursion to a land where you can find lots of unspoiled nature and wildlife, you can’t do better than South Africa. Here are four of the top destinations to explore if you’re fortunate enough to visit this majestic land.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park, about four hours from Johannesburg, is one of South Africa’s largest and best-known game reserves. Many people who plan African safaris are set on seeing the “Big Five,” which are lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos. While you can certainly see these in Kruger National Park, there’s so much more as well such as birds, primates, wildebeest and countless other species. Here are some guidelines to help you plan the best possible journey.
Choose the right tour
If you prefer a guided tour, make sure you select carefully. Consider factors such as the length of the tour, quality of accommodations, how many people are on the tour, and the cost. Always check out the reputation of the tour company. There are definite benefits to being led by a knowledgeable guide. You don’t have to worry about getting lost and the guide will know when and where to find the animals.
Consider a self-guided tour
If you like to be independent and want a more intimate journey with your companion (s), you can take a self-drive tour of Kruger National Park. This, of course, requires more planning than a guided tour. Make sure you have a reliable off-road vehicle as the terrain is often rough.
Decide when to come
One of the best times to visit Kruger National Park (or any game reserve in Africa) is winter when visibility is best. If you visit in summer you can expect quite a bit of rain. It’s also more challenging to see animals because of thicker vegetation. Another factor to note is that in summer you may need medication to prevent malaria. In winter this isn’t usually an issue as mosquitoes aren’t active. However, you always have to check with your doctor and health advisories for the region before visiting Africa.
North or South?
Kruger National Park is very large and is divided between north and south. The southern part has a higher density of wildlife while the north is less crowded (in terms of human visitors as well as animals). If you have time, both are worth exploring. If you’re set on seeing predators such as lions, the south is your best bet. However, the north has plenty of animals as well, including elephants.
Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park often called simply the Drakensberg, is one of South Africa’s most dramatic landscapes. Drakensberg means Dragon Mountain and the Zulu name Ukhahlamba means barrier of spears. Both of these names were inspired by the unique appearance of this mountain range. This is a vast area encompassing three provinces. Here are some sights and activities that are available in this breathtaking region.
Giant’s Castle Game Reserve
This game reserve is best known for its large eland herds. Another protected species, bearded vultures, are also prevalent here. You can also see some fantastic cave painting dating back thousands of years. You can even spend a night in a cave. Accommodations range from camping to luxury lodges.
The Drakensberg is a must-see for nature lovers, as it’s one of Africa’s most biodiverse regions. It’s especially appealing for bird-watchers, as it has 299 recorded species of birds.
Hang gliding and paragliding
If you’re into adventure sports, the Drakensberg offers some incredible launch sites. There are several companies in the area that offer adventures and instruction in paragliding and hang gliding. Another way to get a birds-eye view of the region is hot air ballooning.
As the name suggests, the Wild Coast is an untamed and pristine area on the Indian Ocean in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. This is the place to come if you enjoy open spaces and scenery that hasn’t changed much in millennia.
Visit the birthplace of Nelson Mandela
The famous leader and activist was born in the small village of Mvezo. You can visit the Nelson Mandela National Museum, which is refreshing for its remoteness compared to your typical tourist museum.
Mkambati Nature Reserve
One of the country’s more secluded nature reserves, this one is only accessible by hiking or boating. Here you can find pristine hiking trails, waterfalls that empty directly into the ocean, and wildlife such as eland, wildebeest, and an incredible variety of birds. Because of its remoteness, you won’t find luxury hotels here. There are, however, quite a few modest lodge and cottages where you can stay.
Haga Haga is one of the relaxing beaches on the Wild Coast where you won’t have to contend with the usual crowds. Another is Coffee Bay Beach. Aside from the opportunities for swimming and sunbathing, you can hike around the surrounding areas.
Explore the Xhosa community
The Xhosa are the traditional people who have lived in this region for many centuries. Visit IKhamanga Cultural Village, where you can stay as a guest among these friendly people and learn about their ways.
Just outside of Cape Town, Table Mountain is one of South Africa’s most recognizable landmarks. Named for its flat top shape, the mountain offers spectacular views of Cape Town as well as a surprising variety of flora. In fact, many of the plants you’ll see here are unique to this mountain.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Among the world’s most beautiful botanical gardens, Kirstenbosch gives you a chance to see the area’s many beautiful plants and flowers. There are free guided tours as well as the Centenary Tree Top Canopy Walkway, which leads you through an incredible forest.
Ride the cable car
The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway provides the best views of Table Mountain, Cape Town, and surrounding areas. This is a popular activity so it’s best to pre-book your tickets.
The mountain provides many hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty. Be careful and make sure you know where you’re going as some of these trails are more difficult and treacherous than they appear. Those in good shape can hike all the way to the top. If you’re less active, you can take the aforementioned cable car.
South Africa is a nature lover’s paradise. You can, of course, also enjoy the cultural attractions and beaches of Cape Town and Johannesburg. However, the above destinations will give you a chance to see some of the landscapes and wildlife that are hard to find anywhere else.