Ica have undergone a vast change in the last three decades and nowhere can you see that difference more than in the places to visit in South Africa. Once a nation struggling under the weight of apartheid and social injustice, it is now one of the most popular tourist destinations on the continent – for good reason. The world has taken notice of its vast number of modern cities and magnificent natural splendor, meaning the number of visitors is likely to explode over the next several years. Wondering where you ought to go? Read through these city profiles as you make your itinerary:
Though you might expect this huge metropolis to be South Africa’s capital, it is not one of the country’s three governmental centers. It is, instead, the cultural heart – it is here that the battle against apartheid was fought most fiercely, a struggle detailed in the Apartheid Museum. Even today, as the city center grows as a commercial hub, widespread poverty still chokes the residents of Soweto Township. That said, it is still a lovely slice of “Joburg” – the slums and shanties are home to a thriving music and arts scene despite the trying economic conditions. If you are in the mood for more traditional fare, stop at the Civic Theater and Newtown Cultural Project closer to downtown.
Few cities in the world can boast the surroundings of the country’s “Mother City.” Much like Johannesburg, the area is home to much of South African pre-liberation history. Robben Island, which famously housed the imprisoned Nelson Mandela, lies offshore in Table Bay within sight of Victoria and Alfred Waterfront – the shopping and sailing heart of this beautiful city. In search of a place to clear your head? Take a quiet hike up Table Mountain and look out over the city. The view of the sparkling blue waters will take your breath away.
Despite being one of the largest cities in South Africa, Port Elizabeth is still considered to be largely ignored by the tourism industry. Situated on the Indian Ocean with plenty of great beaches, many of its attractions have a somewhat eccentric flair: graveyard and ghost tours are offered in several locations. The cell of Steve Biko, a martyr of the Black Consciousness movement, hearkens back to the Apartheid era, but there is still quite a bit of glamour here. The Boardwalk, a fashionable stretch of shops and restaurants along Algoa Bay, attracts clotheshorses and surfers in search of the next great wave. Nature fanatics will find a lot of attractive options, too: Addo Elephant National Park is a great place for a hike or, if you’d like to see what’s under the sea, there are several incredible spots for scuba diving further off the coast.
A brief stroll down this city’s Jacaranda-lined streets will immediately help you understand why it’s home to the president. The purple flowers of South Africa’s most famous tree provide a bright splash of color in the museum-filled executive capital. (Each branch of government is in a different city – Cape Town has the legislative branch and Bloemfontein has the judiciary.) Some of the fiercest fightings of the Boer War took place here, a fact that has led residents to honor the fallen with some of the best monuments and history museums you will find. The Transvaal and the Smuts are favorites, but you can also find outdoor activities to fill up your time. The Cullinan Diamond Mine, just outside of town, was home to the world’s largest diamond and is adjacent to the spectacular Premier Game Reserve.
Named “spring of flowers” by the Boers, the city is highly regarded for its thousands of rose bushes. Officials spend countless hours ensuring every specimen is as healthy as possible so drivers on its streets are greeted with vibrant colors on either side. Take some time to visit the small private game reserve within its borders, Naval Hill, as it is one of only a handful of maintained habitats for animals inside a major city in the world. Much like Pretoria, you will find its historic museums a major draw – the Women’s Monument is most-visited, as it honors those mothers and children who did not survive British concentration camps during the Boer Wars.
Are you the type that enjoys fun in the sun? This will be your preferred destination. The beaches along the Golden Mile are ideal for swimmers and surfers – you’ll find Protea Banks and Aliwal Shoal enticing if you brought your scuba gear. If you tire of the soft sands and abundant sunshine, enjoy the local music scene at The Bat Centre or weave your way through Umgeni River Bird Park, a manmade aviary that is home to more than 3,000 birds. Want to go shopping instead? The Promenade is a beachfront property home to a handful of native merchants and several excellent restaurants. If you have energy, a stop at the superb uShaka Marine World is a combination aquarium and water park is great for families.
When to visit South Africa
Winter from June to September is the best time to visit this temperate country. Winters being dry attract the wild animals to stay near water sources. This season is also perfect for hiking and other outdoor activities. Spring from mid-September to November and autumn from April to May are also conducive for a South Africa tour.
- Location: Southernmost country of Africa with the Indian Ocean to its east and south, the Atlantic Ocean to its west, Namibia to its northwest, Botswana to its north, and Zimbabwe and Mozambique to its northeast
- Capital Cities: Pretoria (executive). Cape Town (legislative), Bloemfontein (judicial)
- Language/s: English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Sotho, Tsonga, Venda, Swazi, and Xhosa
- Currency: Rand
- Time Zone: UTC + 2
- ISD Code: 27
- Best Time to Visit: June to September
- International Airports: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Mpumalanga