South Africa Travel and Vacations

A traveler's world of breathtaking scenery, pristine coastlines, vibrant cities, strange deserts, unique wildlife, rich culture and so much more await those who travel to South Africa. A wealth of vacation options that include 'Big Five' safaris and tours exploring the country's natural, cultural and historical attractions makes South Africa a very diverse travel destination with an adventure that is sure to appeal to your specific interests and budgetary constraints.

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South Africa

Top Travel Destinations in South Africa

South Africa's top travel destinations are amongst the world's most alluring attractions. The fact that they are famous does not mean that they will always take you to areas with large numbers of tourists, but rather that they are interesting, exciting, and well worth visiting on your vacation.

South African Travel Overview

Those who travel to South Africa will find that the world in one country offers a great diversity of destinations and a vacation package to suit every budget.

When traveling in South Africa, visitors will encounter many different landscapes across the country, from sub-tropical rain forests and semi-desert stretches to snow-capped mountains, sugar-fine beaches, and grassland game reserves. Cape Town, the Cape Winelands, the Kruger National Park, Sabi Sand, Timbavati, and the Garden Route are the most popular South African travel destinations.

Capital City
Pretoria
Size
1 219 090 sq km / 470 693 sq mi
Coastline
2 798 km / 1 739 miles
Provinces
9
Official Languages
11
Population
54 300 704
Currency
South African Rand (ZAR)

Other Destinations, Attractions & Activities

In addition to the most popular travel destinations, South Africa is blessed with a wide variety of lesser-known destinations and attractions. Available activities include adventure, cultural, historical, and leisure activities.

The Olifants River as seen from Olifants Rest Camp.
National Parks

South Africa is home to more than twenty treasured national parks, each conserving a unique collection of fauna, flora, and awe-inspiring natural scenery within their protected boundaries. From the Big Five in the Kruger National Park to the West Coast's delicate coastal ecosystem, you'll find something special in every wild corner.

Guests on a game drive observe an elephant cow and her calf.
Private Reserves

The private game reserves in South Africa are ideal for luxury safari vacations. They also offer remarkable variety, ranging from Phinda's lush sub-tropical wilderness with its seven distinct ecosystems, to Madikwe's dry transitional zone between the bushveld and Kalahari. Malaria-free reserves are also available for family safaris.

The sun rises over South Africa's Mpumalanga province.
Provinces

South Africa has nine individual provinces that are hallmarks of South Africa's inherent diversity. Read more about Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, the Northern Cape, the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, the Free State, and KwaZulu-Natal.

Girls at a cultural village dressed in beaded outfits.
Attractions

Our South African travel packages include a wide range of enthralling attractions. From the historic wine routes in the Western Cape to Mpumalanga's wet world of waterfalls, you'll find yourself captivated by the natural and cultural spoils of this beautiful country on the tip of the continent.

A traveler hikes in the Cape Fold Mountains.
Activities

Traveling to South Africa means you are spoiled for choice regarding the array of activities available. Adventurous souls will relish the opportunity to push themselves to the limit, while the leisurely at heart may repose on the country's fine beaches or explore sites of historical intrigue.

Stunning view of Leopard Creek golf course.
Golf Courses

South Africa is a country with incredible weather where the game of golf is loved and enjoyed by a significant number of people. As a result, South Africa is home to many exceptional golf courses with grand natural settings.

South African Vacation Options and Travel Tips

African Sky specializes in conducting private tours, safaris, and tailor-made journeys to Southern Africa. We also offer expert advice and several other vacation packages to international visitors traveling to South Africa.

Best Private Tours and Safari Packages

21 Days From: ZAR 69,270 pp 4-Star & National park Camps Code: T11

An in-depth exploration of South Africa's most famous destinations in combination with lesser known but equally impressive attractions. The tour is private and guided.

16 Days From: ZAR 69,270 pp Luxury 5-Star Code: T06

Explore the finest South Africa has to offer in the company of one of our experienced guides. Hand-picked luxury accommodations are sure to enhance your experience.

10 Days From: ZAR 69,270 pp 4-Star & National park Camps Code: T17

A private tour that explores Cape Town before traveling on the Garden Route. The trip ends with a safari in the Addo Elephant National Park, not far from Port Elizabeth.

Reasons to Visit South Africa

1

Diversity

South Africa's diversity is what makes it such a good travel destination. Within a single country, visitors can experience cosmopolitan cities, fine sweeps of beaches, safaris in authentically wild settings, and more. Even the most seasoned travelers will agree that you would be hard-pressed to find such variety elsewhere and within such proximity.

2

Accessibility

South Africa's safari areas and top destinations are more accessible than many other African countries, and its excellent primary infrastructure ensures that even overland travel is easy and convenient. South Africa also caters better to travelers on a budget than, for example, Botswana and Zambia.

3

Family-friendly

For families traveling with small children, South Africa is the best choice for a safari, as visitors can enjoy safaris in malaria-free areas like Pilanesberg, Madikwe, Shamwari, and Addo. The lodges in the private game reserves offer fantastic programs for young nature lovers.

4

Special Interests

The country is a fine choice for visitors with special interests like history, culture, fine dining, birding, golf, star-gazing, rock art, and the like. South Africa truly has something for everyone, whether you seek the ultimate adventure, an informative discovery, or a leisurely getaway.

Experiences to be Savored when Traveling in South Africa

The wealth of unique experiences available in South Africa makes it difficult to select a standout few. Still, the adventures below are easily some of the most rewarding pursuits available in travel today.

Hiking in the Drakensberg

South Africa's famous Drakensberg escarpment stretches for over 1000km (600 miles) through three provinces and even another country (Lesotho). Breathtaking hiking trails abound through these mountains, which include ancient rock art sites at Kamberg and Giant's Castle.

Meeting the Big Five in Kruger Park

The Kruger Park offers Southern Africa's ultimate Big 5 experience. It is a two-million-hectare wilderness utopia that overflows with wildlife, including the famous Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo). A wide variety of accommodation options are available..

Cosmopolitan Cape Town

South Africa's 'Mother City' is a must-visit destination. The country's oldest settlement is inherently cosmopolitan yet rich in culture, history, and natural beauty. Dining is typically both an innovative and world-class experience, yet still unique to the city and its surroundings.

A World of Travel in One Country

Many seasoned travelers view South Africa as a "World in one Country." South Africa's unparalleled beauty is evident in diverse destinations such as coastal beaches and forests, national parks, private safari game reserves, mountain ranges, deserts, and awe-inspiring panoramic landscapes.

I requested information very last minute – four days before I wanted to leave for my safari in Kruger – and I had a quick response and was able to book. My tour guide (Mary-Anne) picked me up on time. She is very knowledgeable and passionate about her work. Very attentive to the client's needs. She made me feel comfortable and at ease.

Celine Beauparlant, Canada
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Accommodation

Accommodation options range from luxury hotels to remote lodges in unspoiled wilderness areas. Each area of South Africa boasts various accommodation options, including Hotels, Lodges, and Guest Houses. In all cases, these establishments cater to a range of budget options, one of which is sure to appeal to you.

View Camps & Lodges

Hotels

World-class hotels provide an opulent accommodation and dining experience for travelers who prefer to travel light and stay in luxury.

Guest Houses

Small, intimate, budget-friendly, and perfect for short stays en route to more prominent attractions and destinations in and around South Africa.

Safari Lodges

Lodges inside and close to Private Game Reserves and National Parks are unique to Africa. These establishments are known for luxurious service and incredible game viewing experiences.

National Park Camps

These basic but comfortable camps are within the boundaries of South Africa's National Parks, providing a close encounter with wildlife and cozy chalets with en-suite bathrooms and air conditioning.

Transport

When enjoying a guided tour of South Africa with African Sky Safaris & Tours, transport is in a private, comfortable, closed, air-conditioned vehicle. This applies to the Western Cape (when visiting Cape Town, the Winelands, the West Coast, and the Garden Route) and any overland safaris that include accommodation in standard rest camps rather than private safari lodges.

At private game reserves, game drives are conducted on purpose-fitted open 4x4 vehicles designed to enhance your safari experience.

Most regional flights are commercial flights on reputable airlines (we regularly use Fly Safair and SA Airlink). We will occasionally make use of light aircraft charter flights for more exclusive safaris or lodges in far-flung destinations.

Alternative transportation options include luxury and scenic train journeys on the Blue Train or the Rovos Rail.

Foods to try in South Africa

South Africa's cuisine is rich in heritage and diverse in culture. Most common dishes are available in South Africa, but those who want to explore the local flavors will find a rich buffet worth exploring.

Rooibos

One of South Africa's most beloved local products, rooibos (red bush), is typically consumed as herbal tea. Naturally caffeine-free and flush with health benefits, enjoy it black, with milk, a 'red' cappuccino, or even iced tea.

Boerewors

Boerewors ('farmer sausage') is a local specialty that makes for popular braai fare. The sausage comprises coarse-minced beef and pork fat, and you will find that most local butchers have their unique recipe of added spices.

Mealiepap

Known as 'sadza' in Zimbabwe and 'nsima' in Zambia, 'mealiepap' is a porridge made from ground maize. It is a popular dish across most of Southern Africa - served in various ways, from stiff and thick to dry and crumbly.

Sweet Treats

Favorites deserts include malva pudding (sticky brown sponge pudding, served with homemade custard); melktert ('milk tart,' a crusted custard-like pudding with cinnamon), and koeksisters ('cake sisters,' a syrupy snack).

FAQ

Where will I be met?
On the day you arrive in South Africa, you’ll be met by our guide or representative at the airport, or alternatively at a prearranged location of your choice.
Which electricity supply standard is used?
Establishments in South Africa will make use of a three-pronged wall socket with an on/off switch very similar to that in use in India (i.e. the old British standard). The wall socket is compatible with plugs which have three rounded (not square) pins in a triangle formation.
Will I have Internet access and mobile reception?
All major centers in South Africa will have access to the Internet. Cell phone coverage is better than average, but obviously isn’t available in every corner of the country, and is particularly unreliable at remote safari lodges.
Are credit cards accepted?
Visa and MasterCard credit cards are widely accepted, while about 80% of establishments will also accept American Express. Most safari lodges in South Africa have credit card facilities.
Will I have access to an ATM?
ATMs are readily available in South Africa. Most Visa and MasterCard credit cards will work, while debit/bank cards or any other private bank cards are not likely to. Making local cash withdrawals at an ATM is the most cost-effective way of obtaining local currency.
Where is the best place to go on safari?
While South Africa boasts numerous fine safari areas, we will always recommend the Greater Kruger National Park for first-time visitors.
Will safe drinking water be available?
Yes - while South Africa's tap water is of a high standard, bottled mineral water remains readily available wherever you will travel to.
What about crime?
While crime remains an issue in major cities - like elsewhere in the world - none of our guests have ever come to harm. Remain vigilant, and heed the advice of your guide.
How long in advance should I plan my visit?
Should you plan to visit in peak season - particularly over December, or the Greater Kruger area in July or August - we recommend planning your trip at least six months or more ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
Are all tours guided?
Yes - all our tours are privately guided. However, honeymoon couples often prefer more alone time, and our flexibility means that you can decide when you would like to enjoy a tour and when you would like to unwind on your own.

Useful Travel Info

Getting There

When traveling to South Africa, most visitors arrive either via OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg or Cape Town International in Cape Town. Many international flights to Cape Town route via Johannesburg. Johannesburg is the largest and most populous city in South Africa and the starting and ending point for most of our safaris and tours. Cape Town is the starting point for all our tours in the Western Cape, which, in addition to the city itself, includes the Cape Winelands, the West Coast, and the Garden Route region.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

South Africa's weather varies from corner to corner. The Southern Cape has a weather pattern that is different from anywhere else in Africa – and this explains why the Cape's flora is so unique, and the Winelands flourish. From around November to March, while it rains in the rest of Southern Africa, the Cape is hot, sunny, dry, and generally perfect for a holiday. Christmas and New Year are lovely in the Cape, although it gets exceedingly busy with South Africans spending their holidays here.

It cools down from around April to August, and there's some rain. It can be beautiful and dry during these months but windy and wet the next. Rainfall peaks around June and July, but the Cape's weather is notoriously changeable; locals say you can have four seasons in one day. Despite this, the Cape is still pleasant to visit, just as long as you aren't expecting to sunbathe all day. By September and October, the rain becomes less common; the sun comes out more, and the temperatures rise again. September is the start of the Cape's 'spring', when vast swathes of the open fynbos burst into flower in Namaqualand (north of Cape Town).

The rest of the country experiences much of the same rainfall pattern as the rest of Southern Africa. Rain falls in the summer months between October and March, with winters being cool and dry. Cool, dry weather is why winter is the best time to visit wilderness areas like the Kruger National Park, as the lack of rainfall means better visibility. These areas can be unpleasantly hot in peak summer periods like December.

Passport & Visa Info

Most European countries are exempt from acquiring visas to enter South Africa. It is also the case for the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, and a handful of South American countries.

Naturally, requirements for visitor visas differ from country to country, and the conditions are subject to change. As each application is treated as an individual case, you should make inquiries with your nearest South African mission or consulate abroad or any Department of Home Affairs office to see whether you are required to apply for a visa.

Visas are not issued at South African ports of entry; airline officials must insist on viewing them before allowing passengers to board. If you arrive without a visa, immigration officials will put you on a flight back to your home country.

Medical Considerations

Generally speaking, most travelers to South Africa are only required to be up to date on their routine vaccinations (MMR, DTP, varicella, and polio). Anti-malarial medication is necessary for those enjoying safaris in the Greater Kruger National Park and the northern low-lying wilderness areas of KwaZulu-Natal like Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, Phinda, and the St. Lucia Wetlands. The rest of the country does not carry malaria risk.

South Africa's tap water is safe to drink, but bottled water is available everywhere. The food is of a very high standard and wonderfully fresh. We also have world-class hospitals and medical care. Be sure to bring along any prescription medication that you are taking.

Health & Safety
We pride ourselves on the fact that no one of our guests has ever been involved in a crime or dangerous situation while traveling in our care. Our professional guides will always ensure your safety and will be sure to inform you if a potentially unsafe situation arises while on a safari or tour. Their vigilance might not be evident at all times but rest assured that you will be well taken care of by us.

The People

Popularly referred to as the rainbow nation, South Africa boasts a melting pot of cultures with unique customs and traditions. Eleven official languages are enshrined in the constitution. The majority (around 80%) of South Africa's population consists of black Africans. Although numerous tribes and subdivisions exist – Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Venda, Ndebele, and Tswana, to name a few of the most prominent – these groups can all connect their heritage to the Bantu speakers who migrated to Southern Africa in the early part of the first millennium.

Zulus and Xhosas maintain the highest-profile ethnic identity, with 23% of South Africans speaking Zulu as a first language (including ex-president Jacob Zuma) and 16% speaking Xhosa as a first language (including former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Both groups consider themselves 'warrior nations', with remarkable histories of brave resistance against and victory over early colonialists and legendary figures like Shaka Zulu, Dingane, and Cetshwayo.

Although 'colored' was initially used as a broad term for anyone who did not fit neatly into the 'black,' 'white,' or 'Indian' racial categories of the apartheid era, a distinct colored identity exists throughout South Africa. The coloreds' diversity stretches from the descendants of European colonialists raping their black slaves, political prisoners, and exiles from the Dutch East Indies. In some cases, the mixed descendants of South Africa's oldest inhabitants – the Khoi-San – today are known as the Griquas. A significant subgroup is the Cape Muslims, or Cape Malays, which can trace their origins to India, Indonesia, and parts of East Africa. These influences are prevalent in traditional Cape cuisine. 80% of coloreds are Afrikaans speakers.

Despite their disproportionate influence on the country's history, South African whites make up a mere 9% of its population. They are typically either Afrikaans-speaking descendants of early European settlers or English speakers, whose roots date back to the British colonialists of the 1800s. Regardless of their European origins, Afrikaners have a stout and unique local identity and history, including significant events like the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape and the Voortrekkers' plight as they crossed the treacherous Drakensberg Mountains and the devastating Anglo-Boer War.

The smallest population group belongs to the Asians, which consist primarily of Indians. Their origins can be traced to indentured laborers brought to KwaZulu-Natal in the 19th century, which is why most South African Indians still reside in Durban and other urban areas of the province.

A Brief History

The 17th and 18th centuries in South Africa brought about an extension of the economic world order. Traveling from the Cape of Good Hope to the interior, the European settlers met with the indigenous peoples, who brought an African tradition from the north. At the time, this area was sparsely inhabited. The 19th century saw the beginning of British colonialism, resulting in the Dutch settlers' Great Trek to the north of the Orange River. This migration brought Western civilization to the interior of South Africa. Dutch, French, and German music and songs are still characteristic and part of the Afrikaner culture.

Unfortunately, African tradition clashed with Western civilization, and on many occasions, warfare was the result between European authorities and the various African peoples. English, as well as Afrikaans literature, gave different viewpoints. Wars took place between the Xhosas and the Cape Colony, boundary wars between the British and Afrikaners against the Basotho. There was inter-tribal warfare amongst the Zulus, the Tswanas, and the Matebele under the leadership of Mzilikazi.

It is not a myth that large areas of the interior of South Africa were emptied by the difaqane, allowing Europeans to settle there after the intertribal wars were ended by the Battles of Blood River (1838) and Mosega (1837). The discovery of diamonds and gold during the latter half of the 19th century marked the beginning of the influx of large numbers of foreigners, capital, and Western amenities. Urban development in specific islands of prosperity laid the basis for the economic upliftment of all peoples in this part of the world.

Notwithstanding the desire for peace, cultural differences among the different population groups prohibited forming a unitary state in Southern Africa. However, British rule intended such a country under the British flag. The 20th century was marked by World Wars I and II and, as an aftermath of these wars, a struggle between the two language groups, Afrikaans and English, which resulted in a whites-only government in the Union of South Africa from 1910 and the Republic of South Africa from 1961.

Under white Afrikaner majority rule, recognizing the vast cultural differences amongst the population groups gave rise to the idea of separate development, duly discredited worldwide as apartheid. The struggle enabled the African National Congress (ANC) to come to power in 1994, uniting South Africa for the first time as a democratic nation. The 30 years following our first democratic elections have seen significant improvements in various areas, such as social development and economic prosperity. South Africa has once again taken its rightful position on the world stage.

Cities & Towns

South Africa is a well-developed country with a few cities and a large number of towns that provide the economic, cultural, and social infrastructure in the areas in which they are located. African Sky offers safaris and tours, which include visits to some of the most notable cities and towns of South Africa.

Western Cape

You will find the Western Cape province in the southern part of South Africa. This province is home to the oldest and most historically preserved towns in South Africa. Especially notable cities and towns include Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swellendam, Knysna, and George.

Gauteng & KwaZulu-Natal

In the northern part of South Africa, you will find the city of Johannesburg in the Gauteng province. It is the economic heart of the country and the African continent. Gauteng is also home to the capital city of Pretoria, which houses the administrative functions of our government and offers a few unique experiences of its own. The cities and towns of KwaZulu-Natal most frequently visited by tourists include Durban and the coastal towns of Umhlanga and Ballito. The dense indigenous vegetation and magnificent sandy beaches which line the shores of the Indian Ocean endow the towns of KwaZulu-Natal with a unique character.

Mpumalanga

Mpumalanga is a holidaymaker's paradise. The hot, steamy climate and the excellent soil make the capital city of Nelspruit, a top citrus fruit producer. There are many accommodation establishments in Nelspruit, as it is the gateway to the Kruger National Park. There is an airport in Nelspruit as well as daily train services. White River, a farming and tourism center, lies about 20km north of Nelspruit, and travelers love the variety of curio stores. White River is also a good base for visiting the Kruger National Park.

Free-State

In the Free State, Bloemfontein is a popular stopover city for those traveling from Gauteng to Cape Town. The city has plenty of museums and monuments for those interested in culture. Its botanical garden is home to many Karoo plants, interesting birds, and reptiles. Clarens is a fabulous weekend getaway, lying in the magnificent Maluti Mountains of the eastern Free State. The village is an artist's haven, but the exquisite countryside draws adventurers to it.

Limpopo

The province of Limpopo is regarded as an adventure destination, offering many 4x4 and wilderness trails. The Kruger National Park also forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Tzaneen, the second largest town in Limpopo, has a subtropical climate and has made the area significant as a fruit- and vegetable-producing place. The Letaba River offers magnificent views of Magoebaskloof, George's Valley, and Wolkberg.

North West

Rustenburg and the Magaliesberg are essential towns in the North West. Several establishments and places of interest, like the Magalies Meander, offer city dwellers the chance to experience genuine country hospitality.

Countries

View of the Drakensberg in South Africa. South Africa
Elephants in the sunset in Botswana. Botswana
A desert landscape in Namibia. Namibia
People swimming in the clear waters of Mozambique. Mozambique
View of the Victoria Falls in Zambia. Zambia
Antelope standing on a river bank in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe