With annual tourist numbers to South Africa keep spiraling up, more people are taking a trip to South Africa seriously. However, when they do their own research about South Africa Attractions, the results overwhelm them.
It is because, the majority of us think a visit to South Africa is all about watching wildlife only by visiting various game parks, and wildlife sanctuaries.
It is true but only 25%. The rest 75% of South Africa attractions comprise:
- Rugged mountains
- Walking trails
- Beach destinations
- Serene Villages
The advantage of planning a vacation in South Africa is the availability of numerous thematic tours that take you to the top sights in South Africa.
Ultimate South Africa Attractions
In this blog post, I have compiled a list of ultimate South Africa attractions. Some of them are offbeat and are not usually taken to by South Africa tours.
It is also known as Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. It is a huge nature reserve and also the earliest developed game park. Further, it occupies nearly a staggering 1000 sq. km area.
Much of the national park is covered with hills. It is located in the rich geographical province of Kwazulu-Natal province of South Africa. To be more precise, Durban is the nearest city to Hluhluwe park at 180 km away in the north, near the Indian Ocean.
I think in this game park only, the word ‘big five’ pointing to the top five big animals of South Africa.
The Big Five:
- African Bush Elephant
- African Lion
- African Cape Buffalo
- Black Rhinoceros
As of now, this game park is where, you can also spot the white rhinos. Therefore, by visiting the Hluhluwe park at the beginning of your South African tour, you can spot all the top five plus the white rhino.
In addition, just about every African wild animal can be spotted in Hluhluwe. They include:
- The Wildebeest
- Waterbuck ( a species of antelope)
- Several species of monkeys
- Big lizards
- Numerous snake species
You can call the Hluhkuwe-Imfolozi Park, the ultimate wildlife reserve in South Africa. Not only to these dangerous wildlife but it is also a home to over 300 species of beautiful birds.
I mention below a few special and very rare birds. Look them up on the web before you enter the sanctuary.
- Temminck’s Courser
- Orange/pink/yellow throated Longclaws
- Crested Barbet
Places to stay in Hluhluwe Park
Camps are offered with basic facilities on either side of the park. In addition, there are more comfortable jungle lodges made of wood. Staying there will make you feel like John Wayne!
While the jeep safaris arranged by the tour operators last 3 hours, you can drive through the park all day if you take a separate cab.
Strangely but sadly, these gems of the African forests were plundered by the Africans and the Europeans in the past. Now, they are protected in the game reserves.
Howick is the name of a town after which the falls are named. The town is situated at a height 3400 feet.
The waterfall is due to River Umgeni and it falls from a height of 310 feet! That must create a thunderous sound, especially, if the volume is big.
In the pool at the bottom of the waterfall, a legendary eel of mammoth proportions is said to live. The African folklore is full of such stories. I think the American film makers are amazed by such descriptions that encourage them to make movies revolving around such a giant and weird creature.
Because of the height of the falls and this mythological belief, Howick Falls is one of the top sights in South Africa.
uShaka Marine World
We are still in the proximity of Durban, one of the large cities in South Afruca. The uShaka marine world and water theme park is in Durban city.
The water thematic park is creatively named uShaka “wet ‘n wild”.
Beyond the water park lays a bustling beach on the Indian Ocean. The park authorities have created an artificial lagoon for the benefit of beginner snorkelers.
A unique rope-based adventure attracts young people for a walk on a swinging wooden bridge, holding on to rope railings, and zipline game on non-metallic rope.
This adventure alone pushed up the uShaka world in the list of top sights in South Africa.
iSimangaliso Wetland wonder
Situated on the east coast of Kwazuku-Natal province, it is an incredibly large wetland ecosystem comprising a mind-boggling 3280 sq. km.
It begins from the St. Lucia Lakr estuary (where the lake meets the Indian Ocean) and terminates near the Mozambique border. The coastline covering the iSimangaliso Wetland measures 280 km in length.
Wetland ecosystems are extremely important to maintain the ecology. Wetland marshes provide abundant prey to fish species that again fall prey to numerous bird species.
iSimangaliso wetland region includes several natural reserves, St. Lucia Lake, a marine park, two game parks, Sodwana Bay national Park, Lake Sibhayi, dune forests, savannas, and a large wilderness area.
If you are a passionate naturalist, you may want to visit every sq. km of iSimangaliso Wetland and that might demand 10 days of your time. I am sure it will be an forgettable experience. You don’t get to see such a diverse ecosystem in one place anywhere in the world.
Marshes are favorite lounging area for the Cape buffalos and the large hippopotamuses.
This mammal is spotted in iSimangaliso Wetland.
You can spot the big bush elephants also. Even a large number of the dreaded crocodiles are seen lurking in the wetland.
The diverse marine parks and underwater reserve include the rare Octopuses that change their color like chameleon, squids, whales, dolphins, and coral reefs,
iSimangaliso wetland is an important tourist attraction and is included in the list of what to see in South Africa.
Among several scenic South Africa attractions, the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape stands tall. It is also frequented by students who deeply study native Africans’ culture. East London and Buffalo City are the top two cities in Eastern Cape province.
You can visit a few estuaries where a couple of rivers empty their water in the Indian Ocean. Estuaries are beautiful to look at and numerous aquatic birds can be seen waiting to grab large fishes.
Ethnicity and anthropology enthusiasts love to interact with the native Mpondo people and get to know their beliefs, culture, and eating habits.
It is interesting to know Mr. Nelson Mandela hailed from Wild Coast region of Eastern Cape province.
There is a village called Bulungula where you can be a homestay guest in a primitive hut.
Hole in the Wall
You can spot the naturally formed hole in a small stretch of rock. Wait for 1.58 minute of the video for the hole to be seen.
The video depicts the whole area as simply breathtaking. It is a wild beauty of a rocky beach in the Wild Coast.
There is an interesting folklore behind this ‘hole-in-the-wall’. As per the legend, the hole was created by jamming a large fish on the rock. There is a love story behind this belief.
The beach area is deserted, inviting swimmers to enjoy the scenic location from the water. Wild Coast should be rated among the top sights to see in South Afriuca.
Kruger National Park
Why the Kruger NP is the most visited wildlife watching park in South Africa? Because it is very easy to spot the “Big Five” animals that live in large numbers in this game park.
For example, how do you like these figures?
- 27000 Cape Buffalos
- 12000 bush elephants
- Nearly 3000 lions
No tigers in Africa?
I noticed a conspicuous absence of tigers in the African forests. Did you too notice it? There are cheetahs, and leopards, and lions but no tigers!
As a matter of fact, the tigers of India and other Asian countries are said to have originated from Africa. It seems there was a colossal migration of tigers from African to India. It is intriguing why they never returned to their home land.
Coming back to Kruger NP, it comprises a staggering 20,000 sq.km approximately.
Reaching Kruger NP.
It is highly recommended to drive to Kruger NP from Johannesburg. The entire 340 km is picturesque with numerous highway attractions that include a few delicious diners.
Alternatively, a domestic flight from Johannesburg to Skukuza city will be of only 45 minutes duration. The final 14 km can be covered in a cab.
Facts about Kruger NP:
- Its length is 360 km
- 6 rivers are flowing through the game park.
- It covers an area of 2 million hectares
- Similar to the famed ‘big 5’, there is a ‘big 6’ pointing to 6 unique birds that are:
- Martial Eagles
- Lappet-faced Vultures
- Kori Bustards
- Saddle-billed Storks
- Southern Ground Hornbills
- Pel’s Fishing Owls
- As many as 6 different biosphere regions are in the Kruger NP
- You require one full week for a safari in Kruger NP. This is inclusive a few hours of walking in nature trails.
- You can enjoy a stay in one of the luxury forest lodges inside the park.
- Kruger NP has a total of 9 entrances at various locations
The highest point of the Drankensberg Mountains is situated an altitude of 11,400 feet! It is called “Thabana Ntlenyana”.
And, it is one of South Africa attractions. It has long hiking trails, valleys, dense flora and numerous fauna, especially avifauna. 300 species of birds were spotted and documented. In addition, several species of snakes are living here. Some of them are deadly venomous.
Hogs Back is a small town near East London, Eastern Cape. It is not a well-known tourist landmark in South Africa, However, I foresee it is going to be in the list of top 5 attractions in South Africa very soon.
Without any pollution or noise of a city, it is more like am utopia of sorts. There long nature trails, captivating waterfalls, mountains, and valleys.
You can see a few apple orchards, mountain passes, streets lined with beautiful flowering trees and berries-bearing trees.
Hogs Back Village, Eastern cape, South Africa.
The pleasing beauty of Hogs Back is gaining attention. Tourists are visiting the village. Local farmers offer farmstays with organic food.
Monkeyland (a sanctuary of Primates)
Imagine seeing 9 different species of monkey in a small area of just 30 acres of lush green forest that provide the monkeys ample living and sleeping space and plenty of leaves and fruits as food.
Monkeyland is in Western Cape province. It is one of the roadside attractions in Garden Route, the world famous highway. If you drive from Port Elizabeth, you need to cover 200 km to reach the wonderful land of monkeys.
Plettenberg Bay is the nearest city at just 25 km south of the sanctuary of Primates,
It will be a big fun to watch the playful monkeys where they are allowed to do anything they wish in a forest.
The 9 species of monkeys you can watch in Monkeyland, Western Cape are:
- Squirrel Monkey
- Lar Gibbons
- Ring-tailed Lemur
- Howler Monkey
- Spider Monkey
- Black and white Ruffed Lemur
- Vervet Monkey
- Brown-tuffed Capuchin Monkey
- Red-backed Bearded Saki
The monkey safari is by walk only since the area is small. A little more than 1.5 lm walk is sufficient to capture several monkeys in your camera.
I wonder if you can feed them. I think not because once they see something you are carrying, the monkeys will swarm all over you.
Birds of Eden
The Eden is not a free-flying paradise for birds. It is an aviary, a large one. As a matter of fact, this aviary is the largest in the world within which, the birds are allowed to fly freely.
The Birds of Eden is located close to the Monkeyland in Plettenberg Bay which is nearly 600 km from Cape Town.
Apart from plenty of trees for the land birds and bats, there is a lake inside that is maintained for the ducks, flamingoes, storks, and spoonbills.
Watch this video of Birds of Eden. After watching one of the top sights in South Africa, I decided to plan a trip to Western Cape and drive through the Garden Route, just to see the most colorful birds in one place. I am longing to see the stunning pheasants.
There is walkway that goes ups and downs on which you walk leisurely, watching birds and keep smiling in delight.
A waterfall is also created in the aviary to add to the natural beauty of the forest full of birds.
Expect to spot:
- Greater Flamingo and American Flamingo
- Scarlet Ibis (a stunning bird with a unique beak)
- Blue Crane (a graceful bird)
- Channel-billed Toucan
- African Spoonbill
- Asian Fairy-Bluebird
- Several species of breathtaking Pheasants
Folks, please watch the video again and you will be goaded to visit it at the earliest.
There is no need to go to Arctic or Antarctic poles to see the penguins physically. Here they are, in the heart of South Africa.
To see them enjoy the Atlantic Ocean, you have to go to Cape Town. The Boulders Beach is located in Simon’s Town, a suburb of Cape Town, one of the most important cities in South Africa for the tourists.
The African Penguins and the boulders happily co-exist in Cape Point, the south-western tip of South Africa.
I know of a few more nature reserves, an island or two, and wildlife parks in South Africa.
Together with all the above South Africa attractions, I reckon one needs a month-long stay in South Africa. I am afraid it may still not be enough.
South Africa is truly the ultimate tourist destination in the world without any dispute.