Best things to see and do in South Africa
Sponsored Words : Rosie Fitzgerald | 21 August 2019

Nature, culture and adventure: 9 of the best experiences in South Africa

Safari at sunrise to spot the Big Five. Look down at Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain. Taste a bunny chow. Discover culture, history and tradition. Here's the best things to do in South Africa...

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1. Discover the wild side on safari

Into the wild: Safari and sands in South Africa with TUI Tours

Into the wild: Safari and sands in South Africa with TUI Tours

Safari in South Africa with TUI Tours (TUI)

Safari in South Africa with TUI Tours (TUI)

Huge in both variety and size, South Africa’s biggest draw is undoubtedly it's wildlife. Head to Hluhluwe Game Reserve – the country’s oldest safari park and one of the many places you can visit with TUI Tours – to tick off the Big Five. Drive up and down the rolling landscape, while looking out over the vast stretch of green grassland, only broken by the famous mammals grazing through it. Particularly important to this park is the white rhino as huge efforts have been made by the park to conserve this endangered animal.

Another popular place for Big Five-focused safaris is Kruger National Park. Wake early to see the park doused in an orangery red glow from sky to ground. Shortly after dawn, the sought-after residents start to wake, and you’ll likely catch them on their morning prowl. Choose a game drive near the Phalaborwa side of nearly two-million-hectare Kruger to enjoy sightings of wobbly-legged giraffes, zebra and antelope.

Around two hours north of Johannesburg lies untamed and wild Waterberg, a perfect place for an African bush experience that will make you feel like you’re in the Lion King. Drive over diverse landscapes of rocky mountains, thick grasslands, dusty roads and  vast wetlands to see a wide variety of Africa’s life. A visit to Waterberg’s Entabeni Rehabilitation Wildlife Centre will give you an insight into the significant work being done to help care for, and up the numbers of, elusive white lions.

As well as its myriad mammals, South Africa boasts a brilliant birdlife. Turn your eyes to the skies in Dundee’s Ithala Game reserve, where you can visit with TUI Tours, to see some of more than 3,000 species of birds brighten the horizon. The larger of these include black eagles, ostriches and lappet faced and white-backed vultures. 

2. Surround yourself with natural beauty

Blyde River Canyon (Shutterstock)

Blyde River Canyon (Shutterstock)

Aerial view of iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Shutterstock)

Aerial view of iSimangaliso Wetland Park (Shutterstock)

Although people focus on its inhabitants, the landscapes of South Africa’s National Park will make life-lasting memories in and of themselves. iSimangaliso Wetland Park, for instance, is a place of outstanding natural beauty, where green-doused mountains blur into the long stretches of golden sand at their feet, contrasting with electric blue lakes and the ocean. Walk the grasslands, looking out for elephants stomping through before snorkelling in the waters of postcard-perfect Cape Vidal beach.

Take the scenic road to Krueger National Park by following the Panorama Route with TUI Tours which offers up new gawp-worthy natural landscapes at every turn. Look down from Blyde River Canyon – the third largest in the world – to see swirls of cloud seemingly fallen from the sky that cling around the mossy outposts jutting out of the river. Climb even higher to God’s Window, where you can perch precariously on the edge of a one thousand metre drop, craggy mountains and trickling waterfalls sprawling out around your feet.

Nearby lies Bourke’s Luck Potholes, where you can look down the vertical edges of the striped cliffs at the spiral-shaped holes cut into the rock at the bottom, where the convergence of two rivers have been tirelessly eroding the stone for centuries to create the stunning piece of natural art. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the diverse landscapes on display along this extraordinary route.

3. See South Africa from the water

Take a boat to Seal Island off the coast of Cape Town (Shutterstock)

Take a boat to Seal Island off the coast of Cape Town (Shutterstock)

Spot submerged hippos in both St Lucia Lake and the Olifants River (Dreamstime)

Spot submerged hippos in both St Lucia Lake and the Olifants River (Dreamstime)

The Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and thousands of lakes and rivers splashed across the surface of South Africa makes it a great country to explore from the water. For wildlife watching opportunities, head to St Lucia Lake in iSimangaliso Wetland Park. From this 80km long and 23km wide lake, you’ll see pink flamingos skimming the surface of the water, paddling pelicans, sunbathing crocodiles and just the eyes of hippos visible above the depths.

An alternative safari cruise can be enjoyed by bobbing over the mirror-like surface of the Olifants River. Look out for hippos stomping up the banks, crocodiles and elephants dousing themselves in the cooling water.

Boat trips can also be taken from Cape Town to the nearby Seal Island, where you can enjoy the sight of 75,000 Cape fur seals. There’s so many that the entire island looks like its been encrusted with shiny black stones. Visit Seal Island in winter to spot the Great White Sharks who come here to hunt.

4. Visit Cape Town

Cape Town's iconic Table Mountain (Shutterstock)

Cape Town's iconic Table Mountain (Shutterstock)

The Cape of Good Hope is the most South West point of Africa (Shutterstock)

The Cape of Good Hope is the most South West point of Africa (Shutterstock)

Cape Town is a city defined by its rugged wilderness which reaches its peak at the flat top of the 600-million-year-old Table Mountain. Slowly sway 3,000ft up to the top in a cable car and watch out of the window as the city below you is transformed into a toy town and the mountain shifts to eye level. From the top you’ll see the Atlantic Ocean licking the golden beaches and the entire city in miniature below, like a detailed map.

Once back at the bottom, travel the coast-side Chapman’s Peak Drive which will lead you to the Cape of Good Hope - the most South West point of the African continent. From here, watch the drama of the waves smashing into the weather-beaten rock unfold. Another alternative view on the skyline-dominating rock faces can be enjoyed at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Head 13km out of the city centre to walk the park’s canopy walk, pausing to admire the 2,500 species of plant on display.

Visit the District City Museum to appreciate the city’s sad history. This former Methodist church plays homage to the multiracial community of this area that was destroyed during apartheid. More history can be soaked up along the V&A Waterfront. Stop for dinner here at one of the many seafood restaurants and enjoy one last eyeful of the giant lump of rock glowing under the falling sun.

5. Visit Durban

Walk Durban's renovated sea front (Dreamstime)

Walk Durban's renovated sea front (Dreamstime)

Spices on display at  Durban's Victoria Street Market (Dreamstime)

Spices on display at Durban's Victoria Street Market (Dreamstime)

Durban is South Africa at its most hip and cosmopolitan. The largest Indian community outside of India itself lives here, so expect an eclectic culture. The city centre is awash with myriad markets where you can find anything from Indian-inspired jewellery and spices at Victoria Street Market to traditional Zulu food such as slow boiled cow’s head at Bovine Head Market.

Escape the chaotic stools with a breezy walk along the Golden Mile and enjoy views over the long stretches of sands that gave this promenade its name or brave the waves and learn to surf.

Durban’s Botanic Gardens are also worthy of a visit, if only to set eyes on the beehive-like Butterfly Dome which is covered in butterfly-attracting flowers, causing a crowd of the beautiful flying insects.

6. Visit Johannesburg

Johannesburg's skyline (Dreamstime)

Johannesburg's skyline (Dreamstime)

Explore Maboneng (Dreamstime)

Explore Maboneng (Dreamstime)

South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg is home to one of the country’s most important historical sites, Constitutional Hill. This former prison has been transformed into four exhibitions, where you’ll learn the harrowing but important stories from the times when people were incarcerated here. Famous previous inmates include Nelson and Winnie Mandela and Ghandi.

Once the past has been honoured, move into modern, more positive times by exploring Maboneng, a hip neighbourhood east of Downtown that’s turned its turbulent past into a celebration of creativity. Among the café’s, you’ll find displays of local art along with huge murals painted on the sides of the buildings. Don’t miss Pretoria, South Africa’s capital, just north of Johannesburg where you can visit the Union Buildings, where Nelson Mandela was inaugurated.

7. Learn about community projects 

Visit South Africa with TUI Tours

Visit South Africa with TUI Tours

Visit South Africa with TUI Tours

Visit South Africa with TUI Tours

Be a part of and learn about some of the positive projects that have been created to help local communities. TUI Tours can take you to visit the Ecokidz project, which takes hundreds of children who live near Krueger National Park but can’t afford to visit, on a two-day trip to the park on their doorstep. The children can study the flora as well as enjoy sightings of the Big Five and Africa’s other incredible wildlife.  As well as this, the programme visits many local schools to teach vital and interactive lessons on nature and conservation.

Head to Sedgefield, on the Garden Route to see the Vukani Bead Project in action. The project was set up by a group of women as a way of funding their own families. Watch as members transform the colourful beads into various unique and intricate gifts. With the design often reflecting their African culture, these keyrings and items of jewellery make for great souvenirs and allows you to contribute to the project.

8. Meet the locals 

Visit a Zulu village (Shutterstock)

Visit a Zulu village (Shutterstock)

Travel to South Africa with TUI Tours

Travel to South Africa with TUI Tours

South Africa is often referred to as the ‘Rainbow Nation’ because of its huge cultural diversity. Boasting eleven official languages, there’s a lot of different customs, traditions and ways of life to learn about here. Meet Zulu people by heading to a village in the Lebommbo Mountains, in the northern part of the KwaZulu-Natal. Be welcomed into their community, learn about their way of life and listen to their fascinating stories about their history and culture.

Another way of understanding and seeing a more authentic side of South Africa is by choosing local guides. Whether going on a safari walk, hiking up many of the mountains or taking a tour of one of the cities, try and find a guide who grew up in the area. They will be able to show you places and tell you stories you’d struggle to find out for yourself.

9. Eat like a local

Enjoy a South African Braai (Shutterstock)

Enjoy a South African Braai (Shutterstock)

Discover south Africa with Tui Tours

Discover south Africa with Tui Tours

South Africa’s cuisine has been heavily influenced by other cultures. Boerewor, for instance, is an intestine-like curl of pork and beef combined sausage that was first introduced to the nation when migrants from the Netherlands came over. Enjoy Boerewor barbequed on an authentic braai. In Phalaborwa, you can pull up a chair at the campfire and tuck into a Braai at sunset while discussing the top wildlife spots of the day, an experience TUI Tours can take you on. Alternatively, try a traditional boma in the mountain village of Mzuke, where barbeque is combined with evening entertainment from storytellers and singers under the stars.

Bunny chow is the country’s go-to takeaway option. The seaside town of Scottburgh is a good place to sample your first bowl of this Indian-inspired curry, served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread. You won’t be able to resist tearing off sides of the edible bowl to mop up the last of the spicy sauce.

Wash all of this down with a glass of world-famous wine. If you’re in Cape Town, head to Groot Constantina – the oldest wine-producing farm in all of South Africa. Here, you can sip wine while pairing it with chocolate and head inside the cellar to learn about the wine that’s been produced here since 1685.

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