4 Things to Do When Traveling to South Africa

by Ray Kua
Elephant sighting during a self-drive in Kruger National Park, South Africa

When people speak of traveling to South Africa, what comes to your mind first? Safaris in Jeeps, with pictures of lions, elephants, and giraffe is a safe bet.

Yet traveling in South Africa is definitely more than that! With natural safaris nestled beside the infamous Johannesburg and European-like Capetown, traveling to South Africa is suited for every taste.

You could be a wildlife enthusiast or a scenic sightseer. Or you could even be a thrill seeker looking to explore one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Better yet, you are someone who wants a little of everything. Traveling to South Africa would give you all that, and even more!

Traveling to South Africa in 2 Weeks

With such a myriad of options to choose from, you may find it tough while planning for your dream trip. Deciding the amount of time to spend in each adventure is a tough choice.

After traveling to South Africa numerous times, I have been able to come up with a tried-and-tested 2 week guides. This guide would enable everyone to experience the 4 best things to do when you are traveling to South Africa.

  • 3 Nights in Johannesburg
  • 1 Night in Hazyview
  • 3 Nights in Kruger National Park
  • 1 Night in St Lucia
  • 1 Night in Durban
  • 4 Nights in Capetown

This blog post is an overlook of the 4 best things to do when traveling to South Africa. For more in-depth planning, do take a look at the individual blog posts such as “8 Marine Safaris To Do In South Africa” or “Beginner’s Guide On How To Safari In South Africa“.


1. Wildlife Safaris on Land

Lion sighting in the middle of the road in Kruger National Park
Lion sighting while driving
Zebras in Kruger National Park
Zebra sightings
Giraffe Sightings during self-guided walk in Kruger National Park
Giraffe Sightings during self-guided walk in Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park roads
Safari park roads

Perhaps the most must-do experience when traveling to South Africa is the experience of a wildlife safari. And most tourists would rate a super successful safari as one where they can spot The Big 5.

The Big 5 consists of the Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhinoceros, and Buffalo. South Africa safaris do not disappoint in this. Impressing with its organization and well-built infrastructures, most tourists are able to sight the Big 5 in South Africa.

Ranging from self-drive safaris to luxury lodges, or guided drives, South Africa has 21 safari parks managed by SANSpark. A typical Safari park, for instance, Kruger National Park is even bigger than my own home country, Singapore! These parks are mostly self-sustainable with their own accommodations, restaurants, and shops.

A) Self-Drive Safaris

Chasing lions on our self-drive in Kruger National Park
Chasing lions on our self-drive
Elephant sightings on our self-drive in Kruger National Park
Elephant sightings

Have you played Pokemon or heard about it? Well, self-drive safaris are akin to a real-life Pokemon adventure. You rent a vehicle, and drive anywhere in a park to find animals that are interested to see!

Where to go, when to go, and what to find is all up to your own discretion. Traveling to a South Africa safari allows your sense of adventure to roam free.

You would have to pick a SANpark. Then proceed on to choose campsites that you want to stop over for the night. In these campsites would be different accommodation options. This can range from self-sufficient tents to basic rooms with shared toilets, to big apartments with pools. Different campsites have a different range of amenities such as restaurants and swimming pools (etc Skuzuka Camp). While some may be completely self-sufficient without any amenities at all.

A self-drive safari is also the cheapest way to enjoy a safari adventure. It does not compromise on the adventure experience, rather it adds to it.

The only drawback to this form of safari is that you may not always get to see the Big 5. For instance, I did not manage to sight a Leopard during my first trip. This is because your search would rely on your gut feeling and informational sightings from other tourists.

You could also arrange for guided drives or guided walks in the park. These tours are especially using during times where self-drive is typically not allowed (before 5am and after 6pm).

B) Luxury Lodges

Sunset in Sabi Sands Game Reserve
A view from Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Luxury lodges like that of Sabi Sands Game Reserve are a section of a national part (for this instance Kruger National Park) that is cordoned off for private travel. One would enjoy exclusive safaris and accommodation available if you stay in the lodge.

In such lodges, accommodation is top class, with views overlooking the safaris. From mealtimes to guided drives by your private ranger, the program every day would be planned for you. It would be a fuss-free experience.

The ranger would also be able to accommodate to finding particular wildlife you are keen to see. With the ranger’s experience, you would more or less be able to see the Big 5 easily. Though luxury lodges are expensive and are more suited for those with a higher budget.

The drawback is that not many such lodges allow self-drive. In my personal opinion, traveling to South Africa to enjoy a safari is all about self-driving. The feeling of adventure is unreplicable. Thus, my suggestion for those looking for premium accommodation could be to do a self-drive while booking accommodation such as guest cottages with pools.

C) Guided Tours

Safari jeep used for our safari guided drive in Kruger National Park
A typical safari jeep used for guided drives

As the name suggests, you would be booking tours with either your local service provider or a South African service provider.

One popular option is Heritage Tours and Safari in Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park. Much like the option in Safari lodges, everything can be planned for you. Unlike the lodge though, the accommodation and meals may not be that top-notch.

Depending on your budget, the experience can range from plenty of safari drives and luxury accommodation to only a couple of drives with basic accommodation. Meals may or may not be catered. This option is for those with a medium budget, and are looking for a fuss-free experience while not minding the lack of luxury in their trip. The rangers employed may also not be comparable to that of luxury lodges, hence you may not see the Big 5.

Do check out the in-depth planning in my post “Beginner’s Guide On How To Safari In South Africa”.

2. Marine Safaris

Shark Snorkeling in Aliwal Shoal, Durban
With the sharks in their natural habitat

Many overlook that a safari South Africa can also refer to one in the sea! Unlike land-based safari where animals can be seen throughout the year, marine safaris depend on the seasons. Depending on your luck, you may be able to catch the Big 5 Marine animals in action, namely the Great White sharks, dolphins, penguins, whales, and Cape Fur Seals.

Marine safaris can be experienced in three types of manner, through adventure sports, sailing by sea, or traveling along the coastline.

A) Adventure Sports such as Snorkeling

Preparing for our shark snorkeling with Blue Wilderness at Aliwal Shoal, South Africa
With our Blue Wilderness guide
Preparing to snorkel into shark-infested waters at Aliwal Shoal, South Africa
Preparing for our jump into shark-infested waters
Snorkeling with sharks when traveling to South Africa
Snorkeling with sharks!

The best way to see marine animals would be to swim with them! Traveling to South Africa allows you to be right next to the coastline of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean. These create various options of marine safaris such as:

Pick what you are comfortable with, bring your swimming suit, and jump into the sea! Do prepare your underwater camera to capture these beautiful memories.

B) Sailing By Cruise

Hippo and Croc Boat Cruise at St Lucia Estuary, South Africa
On board the Hippo and Croc Boat cruise
Hippo sighting at St Lucia estuary, South Africa
Hippo sighting at St Lucia estuary, South Africa
Hippo sighting
Crocodile sighting at St Lucia estuary, South Africa
Crocodile sighting

For those who want something more relaxed and are not confident with swimming, one could opt to travel with cruises.

These can range from big 5 focused cruises such as Grootbos, or to a single-animal focus cruise such as African Sky to see dolphins. If you fancy more dangerous animals, you could try the Hippo and Crocodile Boat Cruise which takes you right up close to these massive animals.

Such cruises will set sail to the hot spots to view the big marine animals. More often they not, they provide a comprehensive drinks and snacks package on board too. All you would need to do is sit back, relax the sea breeze, and prepare your camera to take photos of these marine animals up close.

C) Traveling Along the Coastline

If you are not keen on sailing or getting wet, you could also take up the option of exploring the beautiful coastlines of South Africa.

Many such coastlines such as Boulder Beach (for penguins) and Plettenburg Bay (for dolphins) are famous for sightings of different marine animals. Though personally, I would advise you to be more adventurous and try option A or B. To swim next to these marine animals in their natural habitat is an experience unlike any other, and is definitely worth the plunge.

For a detailed read into planning your marine safari in South Africa, take a look at my blog post “8 Marine Safaris To Do In South Africa”.

3. Johannesburg- One of the most dangerous cities in the world

View from Hillbrow Tower of Johannesburg, South Africa
Grim city of Johannesburg

The home to Nelson Mandela’s home, Johannesburg is a city that many tourists do not explore enough of due to its infamous reputation. Many tourists use the airport as a stopover when traveling to South Africa, without even entering the city.

Synonymous with high crimes and murders, Johannesburg is definitely an off-the-beaten-path kind of travel that would appeal to the most adventurous of travelers.

Hillbrow walking tours in Johannesburg, South Africa

What is traveling to South Africa without experiencing the streets that gives it its infamous impression? Hillbrow is regularly ranked as one of the most crime-ridden areas in South Africa and is widely avoided by locals.

A definite must-see, one should participate in the This Is Hillbrow Walking Tour. This thriller of a tour takes you on a guided tour on one of the most dangerous areas to live in our modern world. The tour guides would safely take you on a journey to learn about the life one undergoes in Hillbrow, sharing with you the struggles of their citizens while grasping with daily life.

You could check out this article by Phil Maloney, Hillbrow isn’t For Sissies. It is an extremely detailed write up of the This Is Hillbrow Walking Tour that ultimately inspired me to sign up for mine.

Traveling to South Africa to experience the township of Soweto through the Soweto Walking Tours

Despite South Africa being one of the more developed cities in the South Africa continent, many areas are still vastly undeveloped. Traveling to South Africa should also include a trip to their Townships.

In these Townships, extreme poverty is a reality, and residents live in slum-like conditions. Guided tours like Soweto Walking Tours would take you on a safe and educational walk through the townships, where stories of life in these conditions are shared with you.

A worn down liquor store in Soweto, South Africa
A worn down liquor store in Soweto
Our tour guide for Soweto Walking Tours with Lebo's Soweto
Soweto Walking Tours
Soweto tower in Johannesburg, South Africa
Soweto Tower

As a traveler who has a passion for off-the-beaten-path experiences, I highly recommend spending time in Johannesburg.

Though do take note that Johannesburg is NOT a walking city, and tours must be arranged to visit the areas I have mentioned. Traveling to Johannesburg is unlike traveling to the rest of South Africa. Thus it is not a place you could just plan a free-and-easy trip at the get-go. It may cost a bit more, but it is worth the thrill and safety in visiting Johannesburg

4. Beautiful Capetown

V&A Waterfront at Capetown, South Africa
V&A Waterfront at Capetown, South Africa

Capetown is where natural African landscapes make a home to European architecture. After traveling to other parts of South Africa, you would notice the vast difference in the vibe of Capetown.

Probably the only walking city in South Africa, Cape Town exudes its class through its architecture and high quality of life compared to the rest of South Africa. Staying in V&A Waterfront is also a sought-after luxury that appeals to the mega-rich around the world such as David Beckham.

Tipped as the city at the most southern part of the Africa continent, natural landscapes such as the Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope make for Instagram-worthy pictures easily.

The colorful Bo-Kaap is situated right in front of Table Mountain
The colorful Bo-Kaap is situated right in front of Table Mountain
Robben Island Museum in Capetown, South Africa
Robben Island Museum in Capetown, South Africa

With much sightseeing to do, Capetown is a checklist kind of destination where a tourist would find himself pack to the brim. Examples are like the Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, Table Mountain hike or Robben Island Museum, which can take a least half a day each. 4 nights in Capetown would be the minimum to enjoy all that is has to offer.

A simple solution could be to engage Cape Town Free Walking Tour. The tour would take you to the gems of the city, introducing you to the must-see of the city. This is done while also learning about the Apartheid regime in South Africa and how it has grown from the past.

With a disappropriation number of whites staying in Cape Town compared to the rest of the cities in South Africa, one could definitely learn a lot from the evolvement of the city from the days of Apartheid.

Cape of Good Hope in Capetown, South Africa
Cape of Good Hope

Coastal beaches like Boulder Beach is aplenty in Capetown. A self-drive around the cape peninsula would provide you with the most splendid of coastal views.

Culminating in the Cape of Good Hope, one would end his drive at a viewpoint of where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. If one is not keen to drive, the Baz Bus tour experience can be your other option. Covering all the hot spots of the Cape Peninsula with its flexible itinerary, it is a go-to for those not driving.

Of course, a trip to Cape Town would not be complete without a hike on Table Mountain. Visible almost anywhere in Capetown, you could take a cable car up the mountain, or even be a little more adventurous with hiking and abseiling. For more information on traveling in Capetown, do look for more details on our blog post on “XXXXX”

Table Mountain in Capetown, South Africa
Table Mountain


Beautiful South Africa
Beautiful South Africa

Traveling to South Africa can provide one with an itinerary with diverse experiences. From wildlife safaris to off-the-beaten path traveling in Johannesburg, to scenic sightseeing in Capetown, you would be awed in all senses.

Many may feel overwhelmed by the choices of itineraries possible when traveling to South Africa. Or may avoid certain places due to safety concerns. Yet with proper planning, you would not have to miss out on any of these highlights when traveling to South Africa.

What do you feel about the diverse experiences possible when traveling to South Africa? Do comment and suggest anything that I am missing out as I am in the midst of planning for my next trip in 2020!

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