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Things to Do in South Africa

One of the largest countries in Africa by area and population, South Africa entices travelers with stunning landscapes, incredible diversity, unique cuisine, and unforgettable experiences. Johannesburg is one of the main international gateways and home to the acclaimed Apartheid Museum, which is not far from Soweto township. You can visit both on guided tours, which include transportation and provide insider information from a guide. Cape Town on the western coast of the country is one of the oldest cities in South Africa. The iconic Table Mountain looms over the city, and the famous winemaking towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are in the nearby Cape Winelands. Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, sits just off the coast from Cape Town and is reachable by ferry. Durban, on the eastern coast, offers another look at South African life with its Zulu and Indian influences. Garden Route tours during the spring give visitors a chance to see a profusion of local flora in bloom. And safari tours are one of the most popular activities in South Africa, from the enormous Kruger National Park to smaller game reserves all over the country. Choose to visit on a day trip or opt for longer multi-day tours to enjoy game drives in search of Africa's “Big Five.” South Africa is also a common starting point for tours that visit other nearby countries, such as Zimbabwe or Zambia to see the mighty Victoria Falls, or Botswana to explore Chobe National Park or the Okavango Delta.
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Delaire Graff Estate
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The Delaire Graff Wine Estate, near Stellenbosch, is a beautiful winery destination in the Cape Winelands region

Laurence Graff, a diamond dealer of many years, bought the Delaire Estate in the early 2000s. The estate was re-opened as Delaire Graff in 2009, and now features not only the winery but also world-class dining, luxury lodges, a spa, an excellent art collection, a diamond boutique, and picturesque botanic gardens.

Delaire Graff Estate is a luxury destination where you're tempted to stay for a few days, but you can also visit for a day to sample the estate's wines. Sip Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, rose and sparkling wines, and both white and red blends.

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Kragga Kamma Game Park
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The forests and grasslands of Kragga Kamma Game Park on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth provide a place for white rhino, giraffe, buffalo, and other South African wildlife to roam freely. Get the classic safari experience as you enjoy the park’s game drives, picnic areas, restaurant, and overnight accommodations.

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Union Buildings
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South Africa's national government is split between three cities, and in Pretoria, the government is housed in the Union Buildings, which were built in the early 1900s after Pretoria became the administrative capital of the newly united Union of South Africa. The two wings of the structure represent English and Afrikaans, with the court between the two representing the Union of South Africa.

The offices of the president of South Africa is still in the Union Buildings, and the country's flag flies over the left wing if the president is there. The amphitheatre was renamed in 2013 as the Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre, and a 29.5-foot-tall statue of Mandela stands in front of the Union Buildings now.

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Soweto
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For most, Soweto (short for South West Townships) is synonymous with resistance to apartheid, South Africa’s former policy of racial segregation. The township’s complex past is visible in Soweto’s moving museums, historical monuments, and strong traditions.

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Robben Island
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In 1964, an anti-apartheid revolutionary named Nelson Mandela was arrested and brought to South Africa’s Robben Island, just west of Cape Town. He would spend the next 18 years imprisoned in an 8x7-foot cell, forced to do hard labor, and permitted only one visitor a year. Even so, Mandela went on to become his country’s first black president, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and known globally for his significant contributions to human rights and social justice.

Robben Island—where most of Mandela’s 27-year prison sentence was served—was a place of isolation for nearly 300 years, housing many political prisoners and serving as both a lunatic asylum and leper colony. Today, the island remains a tangible symbol of political freedom and a reminder of the difficult road to South African democracy. Read on to learn more about how to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Durban Botanic Gardens
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Cape Town's Kirstenbosch gardens may be more famous, but Durban's Botanic Gardens hold the title of Africa's oldest surviving botanical gardens.

Founded in 1851, Durban's Botanic Gardens were a response to Kew Gardens' challenge of creating botanic gardens around the world. The goal was not only to furnish Kew with new plants, but also to help raise global awareness of potentially valuable plants. The first garden in Durban was established in 1849 in a different location – it has been at its current location, closer to the city, since 1851.

The gardens cover more than 37 acres and are known for their collection of cycads, ferns, and orchids. There are also several events held in the gardens throughout the year, including concerts, tea parties, and an indigenous plant fair in September.

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Nelson Mandela Capture Site
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On August 5 1962, on a stretch of the R103 just outside Howick in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, armed police flagged down a car and arrested the driver, Nelson Mandela. The former president had been on the run from the South African apartheid government for 17 months and his capture marked the beginning of his 27-year imprisonment and what he called “the long walk to freedom.”

Until quite recently, this unassuming spot was marked only by a simple bricked zone with a plaque, but in 2012, on the 50th anniversary of this historic event, the significance of the area was marked with an impressive steel sculpture and a newly created visitor center.

Designed by artist Marco Cianfanelli in collaboration with the architect Jeremy Rose, the sculpture is the centerpiece of the new memorial site. It is made from 50 steel columns of varying heights. At first glance, the poles appear to be randomly suspended, but on approaching the sculpture, they merge to form an image of Mandela’s face.

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Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
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The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve holds the third-largest canyon in the world, which boasts cliffs that rise nearly 2625 feet (800 meters) from the river bed below. Adventurous travelers can explore the canyon’s lush green scenery, waterfalls, and wildlife on hikes, boat excursions, and rock climbing adventures.

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Cape Agulhas
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Plenty of Cape Town visitors head for the Cape of Good Hope thinking it's the southernmost point of South Africa, but that distinction belongs to Cape Agulhas. It isn't quite as dramatic as the Cape of Good Hope, nor as picturesque, with more of a gently curving coastline rather than a point, but there is a small rocky beach, and a geographical marker in Agulhas National Park indicating its status as South Africa's southern tip.

A shipwreck is still visible on Cape Agulhas, but many ships were lost in the difficult seas off the coast. The lighthouse in the national park was built in 1848 to help cut down on the number of wrecks. In addition to being the country's southern point, it's also off Cape Agulhas that the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.

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Voortrekker Monument
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The granite Voortrekker Monument towers 200 feet (60 meters) above Pretoria. The monument was built to honor the Great Trek—a 19th-century exodus from the then British-ruled Cape Colony to central South Africa. The monument depicts the treacherous journey in the Hall of Heroes, and an empty tomb represents the lives lost on the trek.

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More Things to Do in South Africa

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park

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One of South Africa’s premier attractions, Kruger National Park is famous for the extent and diversity of its wildlife. The “Big Five” of game are all there—lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard—and a world-class conservation program means you’ll also encounter wildebeest, giraffes, zebra, big cats of all stripes, and diverse bird species.

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Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve

Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve

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With its huge sea cliffs, bays, beaches, and valleys, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve is one of the most scenic spots in South Africa. A trip to Cape Point and the reserve, part of Table Mountain National Park, is an easy must-do when visiting Cape Town.

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Knysna

Knysna

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Surrounded by warm-water lagoons, sandstone cliffs, and dense forests, Knysna is one of the most popular towns along South Africa’s renowned Garden Route. The coastal town welcomes tourists with a blend of natural beauty, quaint accommodations, seafood restaurants, and outdoor adventures. Plus, the estuary’s oyster farms provide the chance to indulge in fresh oysters while cruising the lagoon.

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Apartheid Museum

Apartheid Museum

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The Apartheid Museum details the injustice, cruelty, and absurdities of white minority rule in South Africa. Apartheid, meaning “separateness” in Afrikaans, was officially in effect from 1948 to 1994, though segregation had been a cornerstone of South African politics since the country’s inception. The museum is dedicated to helping South Africa overcome its oppressive past and look toward the future.

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Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach

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With pristine white sands and calm turquoise waters hemmed in by gigantic granite boulders, Boulders Beach is one of the Cape Peninsula’s most magnificent beaches. Located just outside Simon’s Town, the beach is protected as part of the Table Mountain National Park and renowned for its African penguin colony.

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Moses Mabhida Stadium

Moses Mabhida Stadium

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The Moses Mabhida Stadium, built to host the 2010 World Cup games, is one of the country’s top sport and concert venues. Its modern architecture and massive arch set it apart on the Durban waterfront. Overlook the city from a viewing platform at the top of the arch and push your limits on the world’s largest stadium swing.

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Howick Falls

Howick Falls

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Howick Falls is a waterfall in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, some 63 miles from Durban. It falls roughly 310 feet from the river into a pool before the river continues on.

The Zulu name for the falls is KwaNogqaza, and legend is that a huge serpent lives in the pool beneath the falls. Sangomas, or fortune tellers, are said to be the only ones who can go near the waterfall safely.

Whether you believe the stories or not, the truth is that many people have died attempting to cross the Umgeni River just above the falls. Howick Falls remains a popular tourist destination, perhaps as much due to the legends as to its natural beauty.

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Phansi Museum

Phansi Museum

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Durban's Phansi Museum is a treasure of South African artifacts, both historic and contemporary, and is known as one of the world’s largest collections of South African arts and crafts. Originally located in the basement of a private home, the museum’s name Phansi translates to “below” or “beneath” and serves as a nod to that meager beginning. Today, the collection occupies three floors of a converted Victorian house.

Among the exhibits at the Phansi Museum are examples of beadwork, baskets woven from telephone wire, wooden serving platters, snuff boxes and pipes, carved statues, blankets and fertility dolls. The top floor has a display of life-sized marionettes wearing ceremonial costumes.

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Franschhoek Motor Museum

Franschhoek Motor Museum

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On the grounds of the L'Ormarins farm in Franschhoek, home to Antonij Rupert Wines, is the Franschhoek Motor Museum. This collection of more than 200 cars is the personal collection of Johann Rupert, who runs the wine estate. The cars span more than 100 years of car-making history, and the models on display (a selection that rotates periodically) are in impeccable condition.

In addition to the cars, the Franschhoek Motor Museum also showcases some historical motorcycles and bicycles, as well as motoring memorabilia. There are four buildings on the estate which hold cars, each grouped by its make.

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Harties Aerial Cableway

Harties Aerial Cableway

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The Harties Aerial Cableway transports visitors to a mountaintop viewing platform and activity area and offers panoramic views of the Magaliesberg mountains and Hartebeespoort Dam. Located just 50 miles (80 kilometers) outside of Johannesburg, the gondola offers an experience similar to a trip to Cape Town’s Table Mountain.

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Malay Quarter (Bo-Kaap)

Malay Quarter (Bo-Kaap)

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Lined with brightly colored houses and lively streets, the Malay Quarter (Bo-Kaap) is as vibrant as it is culturally rich. The historic nighborhood, set just outside central Cape Town on the flanks of Signal Hill, is a dynamic melting pot that was one of the first South African settlements of freed slaves and Muslim immigrants.

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Donkin Reserve

Donkin Reserve

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The Donkin Reserve introduces visitors to the early history of Port Elizabeth by way of a small park, stone pyramid, and lighthouse overlooking the South African coastline. Built as a touching memorial to Elizabeth Donkin—wife of 19th-century Cape Colony Governor Rufane Donkin—the hilltop memorial commemorates the woman for whom the city is named, with an inscription that reads: “In the memory of one the most perfect of human beings who has given her name to the town below.”

While you won’t likely spot much wildlife in this reserve, you will find excellent views from atop the lighthouse, as well as walking trails and the terminus of the larger Route 67 Art Trail—a walking tour of 67 pieces of public art representing Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of service to end apartheid in South Africa.

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Cape Point

Cape Point

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Panoramic ocean views, towering cliffs, and 100-year-old lighthouses define Cape Point, located at the tip of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula. Set within the Cape Floral Region (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Table Mountain National Park, the reserve is a haven for hiking, wildlife viewing, and photography.

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Chapman’s Peak Drive

Chapman’s Peak Drive

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Chapman's Peak is a mountain on the Cape Peninsula with a 5.5-mile (8.8 kilometers) road, said to be one of the world’s most scenic drives. The road winds from Hout Bay to Noordhoek, clinging to the side of the steep mountain almost the whole way. Traveling this road’s 114 turns is a must-do in Cape Town.

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