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Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

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Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

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Nov 1, 2018


Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet's South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Fill your days with beaches and wineries in Cape Town, spot wildlife galore in Kruger National Park, and hike past majestic mountains in the Drakensberg region - all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland:

  • Colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sightseeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights provide a richer, more rewarding travel experience - covering history, people, music, landscapes, wildlife, cuisine, politics
  • Covers Cape Town, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Johannesburg & Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Kruger National Park, Limpopo, North West Province, Northern Cape, Lesotho, Swaziland

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet's South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland is our most comprehensive guide to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland, and is perfect for discovering both popular and offbeat experiences.

Looking for wider coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Southern Africa.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, nine international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more.

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Nov 1, 2018

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Lonely Planet has gone on to become the world’s most successful travel publisher, printing over 100 million books. The guides are printed in nine different languages; English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Chinese and Korean. Lonely Planet enables curious travellers to experience the world and get to the heart of a place via guidebooks and eBooks to almost every destination on the planet, an award-winning website and magazine, a range of mobile and digital travel products and a dedicated traveller community.

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Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland - Lonely Planet

South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland


Plan Your Trip

Welcome to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland’s Top 25

Need to Know

First Time South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

What’s New

If You Like

Month by Month



Travel with Children

Regions at a Glance

On The Road





Festivals & Events



Drinking & Nightlife




Getting There & Away

Getting Around









The Overberg

Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Betty’s Bay





Cape Agulhas


De Hoop Nature Reserve


Garden Route

Mossel Bay


Montagu & Outeniqua Passes

Herolds Bay

Victoria Bay


Garden Route National Park (Wilderness Section)

Buffalo Bay


Knysna to Plettenberg Bay

Plettenberg Bay & Around

Route 62





Central Karoo

Prince Albert

Karoo National Park

West Coast & Swartland


West Coast National Park



Elands Bay

Cederberg Wilderness Area

Citrusdal & Around

Clanwilliam & Around


Garden Route East

Garden Route National Park (Tsitsikamma Section)

Storms River

Sunshine Coast

St Francis Bay

Jeffrey’s Bay

Port Elizabeth

Addo Elephant National Park


Port Alfred


East London


The Wild Coast


Morgan Bay & Kei Mouth

Coffee Bay


Mthatha to Port St Johns

Port St Johns


Northeastern Highlands

Lady Grey


Eastern Karoo


Camdeboo National Park

Nieu Bethesda

Mountain Zebra National Park




South Coast

Warner Beach

Umzumbe & Umtentweni

Oribi Gorge

Margate, Ramsgate & Southbroom

North Coast

Umhlanga Rocks & uMdloti Beach







Ithala Game Reserve

The Elephant Coast


Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Tembe Elephant Park

Ndumo Game Reserve

The Midlands


Drakensberg & Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park

Southern Berg

Central Berg

Northern Berg


Spioenkop Nature Reserve



Isandlwana & Rorke’s Drift

Blood River



Northern Free State

Parys & Vredefort Dome Area

Eastern Highlands & Southern Free State


Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve

Golden Gate Highlands National Park






Gariep Dam Nature Reserve






Around Pretoria


Drakensberg Escarpment


Waterval Boven (Emgwenya)


Pilgrim’s Rest


Blyde River Canyon

Eastern Lowveld


Nelspruit (Mbombela)







Sleeping & Eating


Getting There & Around

Private Wildlife Reserves

Sabi Sand Game Reserve

Manyeleti Game Reserve

Timbavati Private Nature Reserve






The Waterberg


Louis Trichardt


Mapungubwe National Park


Valley of the Olifants

Letaba Valley







Sun City

Pilanesberg National Park

Madikwe Game Reserve

Magaliesberg Range



The Upper Karoo

Mokala National Park

Victoria West

The Kalahari


Witsand Nature Reserve


Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Augrabies Falls National Park


Namakwa & the Hantam Karoo


Port Nolloth

|Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park

Namaqua National Park





Around Maseru




Northwestern Lesotho




Ts’ehlanyane National Park

Northeastern Highlands

Liphofung Cave Cultural & Historical Site



Sani Top

Central Highlands

Bokong Nature Reserve

Katse Dam


Mohale Dam


Southern Lesotho


Mohale’s Hoek


Qacha’s Nek

Sehlabathebe National Park



Central Swaziland

Ezulwini Valley


Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary

Malkerns Valley


Northwestern Swaziland


Malolotja Nature Reserve

Komati Valley

Northeastern Swaziland

Hlane Royal National Park

Mlawula Nature Reserve

Mbuluzi Game Reserve

Mkhaya Game Reserve


South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland Today



Wildlife & Habitat


Food & Drink

People & Culture

Survival Guide

Safe Travel

Directory A–Z


Customs Regulations

Discount Cards


Embassies & Consulates


Internet Access

Language Courses

Legal Matters

LGBT Travellers


Opening Hours



Public Holidays




Tourist Information

Travellers with Disabilities



Women Travellers



Getting There & Away

Getting Around



Behind the Scenes

Map Legend

Our Writers

Welcome to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland are a microcosm of the African continent, containing dramatic mountain ranges, golden crescent beaches, wildlife-stalked wildernesses, vibrant cities and centuries of history.

Dramatic Landscapes

The region’s landscapes are stunning, from the burning Karoo and Kalahari semideserts to the misty heights of the Drakensberg range and the massive Blyde River Canyon. Even in urban Cape Town, you need only look up to see the beautiful fynbos (indigenous flora) climbing the slopes of Table Mountain, while nearby, two of the world’s most dramatic coastal roads lead to Cape Point and Hermanus. Add the vineyards carpeting the Cape Winelands, the Garden Route’s old-growth forests, mountain ranges from the Cederberg to the Maluti, Indian Ocean beaches and the Swazi highveld, and there’s a staggering variety to enjoy.


Museums from Jo’burg to Robben Island, many including exhibits on the apartheid era, will help you to understand the fabric of South African society. Continue your history lesson with a township visit to the likes of Soweto (Jo’burg) or Langa (Cape Town), chatting to locals and learning that, despite the heart-wrenching past, there is great pride here and an immense sense of promise for the future. Lesotho and Swaziland’s backstories are intertwined with South Africa; learn more at spots such as the mountain lodges occupying Lesotho’s historic trading posts.

Outdoor Adventure

The three countries’ ever-changing scenery is the perfect canvas on which to paint an activity-packed trip. Try rock climbing in the Cederberg, surfing off the Eastern Cape coast, abseiling from Cape Town’s Table Mountain, bungee jumping from the Garden Route’s Bloukrans Bridge, swinging into Graskop Gorge, or rafting and mountain biking in Swaziland. If adrenaline sports aren’t your thing, opt for a hike: options include multiday treks through wildlife reserves, day walks in the Karoo semidesert, ‘slackpacking’ trails along the Cape coast, and hikes into the Drakensberg and Maluti ranges.


South Africa and Swaziland comprise one of the continent’s best safari destinations, offering the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) and more in accessible parks and reserves. You can drive right into renowned parks such as Kruger, Kgalagadi and Swaziland’s Hlane Royal, or join khaki-clad rangers on guided drives and walks. But it’s not all about big-game sightings – wildlife watching here also teaches you to enjoy the little things: a leopard tortoise ambling alongside the road, a go-away bird chirping its distinctive chant, or a coastal encounter with seals, whales or a great white shark.


Why I Love South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

By James Bainbridge, Writer

Before my first trip to South Africa, I was, despite my travel experience, slightly nervous about visiting this country with a reputation for crime. Then I touched down in Jo’burg and headed into the bushveld, finding all the beauty and wildness of Africa accompanied by excellent lodges, restaurants and wildlife reserves. By the time I caught Shosholoza Meyl’s train across the Karoo to Cape Town, I was hooked. After experiencing the Mother City’s varied lifestyle of gastronomy, culture, mountain walks and beaches, I met my wife here and got to stay.

For more about see our writers

South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland’s Top 25

Cape Town

Overlooked by flat-topped Table Mountain, with its cable car, walking trails and abseiling, Cape Town is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Fill your days here visiting beaches and Constantia wine estates, wandering the V&A Waterfront, catching the ferry to Robben Island and, above all, meeting the easy-going Cape locals. In complement to its considerable natural charms, the city is benefitting from ongoing urban renewal, with world-class restaurants, hip food markets and design-savvy arcades opening in once-industrial neighbourhoods such as Woodstock and the Waterfront’s Silo District.

view from the Table Mountain Cableway | CHIARA SALVADORI / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Kruger National Park

Kruger is one of Africa’s great wilderness experiences and the mightiest of the country’s national parks – a trip here will sear itself in your mind. Its accessibility, quantity and variety of wildlife, and staggering size and range of activities make Kruger unique and compelling. From wilderness trails and bush walks to mountain biking and remote 4WD trails, there are myriad opportunities to enjoy the wild environment and its four-legged inhabitants. Kruger is simply one of the best places to see animals – big and small – in the world.

a leopard perched on a branch | PETER VAN DER BYL / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Drakensberg Region

The mountains and foothills of the World Heritage–listed uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park are among the country’s most awe-inspiring landscapes. Drakensberg means ‘Dragon Mountains’ in Afrikaans, while the Zulu named the range Quathlamba (‘Battlement of Spears’); both convey the area’s backdrop of incredible peaks. With its San rock art, Zulu villages, wilderness areas and wildflowers, the Drakensberg region is the perfect place for photographers, hikers and adventurers.

Amphitheatre in Royal Natal National Park | MORGAN TRIMBLE / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

The Winelands

Whitewashed Cape Dutch architecture dots this endlessly photogenic landscape. The Winelands is the quintessential Cape, where world-class wines are the icing on the viticultural cake. Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, the area’s holy trinity of wine-tasting towns, host some of the southern hemisphere’s oldest and prettiest wine estates. But this is not the only wine region: head to Tulbagh for sparkling wines; the heights of the Cederberg for crisp sauvignon blancs; and Hermanus’ Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven on Earth) valley for boutique wineries.

Stellenbosch vineyards | MICHELE FALZONE / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Wild Coast Walks

With its rugged cliffs plunging into the sea, remote sandy beaches, rural Xhosa villages and history of shipwrecks and stranded sailors, the aptly named Wild Coast is ideally explored on foot. From the Great Kei River to Port St Johns, pathways hug the shoreline, cutting through dense vegetation or snaking across denuded hillsides and gorges, and often overlook southern right whales and dolphins in the turquoise seas. Power down in rustic accommodation, or overnight with families in traditionally designed rondavels (round huts with conical roofs).


Top Experiences

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Kgalagadi covers almost 40,000 sq km of raw Kalahari in the Northern Cape and Botswana, an area roamed by some 2000 predators. But such statistics, albeit impressive, barely scrape the surface of this immense land of sizzling sunsets, velvety night skies and rolling red dunes. The park is one of the world’s best places to spot big cats, and you might spy black-maned lions napping under thorn trees, or cheetahs and leopards purring along the roadside. Best of all, you don’t need a 4WD to access the park.

gazelle | JOHAN SWANEPOEL / 500PX ©

Top Experiences

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso, meaning ‘miracle’ or ‘wonder’ in Zulu, has a fitting name. This Unesco World Heritage site stretches for a glorious 220km, from the Mozambique border to Maphelane, at the southern end of Lake St Lucia. The 3280-sq-km park protects five distinct ecosystems, offering everything from beaches, offshore reefs and coastal forests to lakes, wetlands and woodlands. It’s nature’s playground, which travellers can enjoy on wildlife drives, kayak safaris, cycling and cruises. The animals here include turtles, whales, dolphins, antelope, zebras and hippos galore.

zebras | ROBERT BERINGER / 500PX ©

Top Experiences


The odd international star popping in for a lungful of fresh mountain air gives this well-heeled town celebrity credentials. But with galleries, antiques, classy restaurants, a microbrewery and adventure activities in the surrounding countryside, there’s something to appeal to most visitors. The laid-back town is perfect for an evening stroll after a day exploring the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park. And with plenty of pubs to drop into and a bookshop to browse, Clarens is the best place in the Free State’s Eastern Highlands to simply wind down.


Top Experiences

Blyde River Canyon

This canyon, the third largest in the world and possibly the greenest, is one of South Africa’s great sights. Even the coachloads of domestic and foreign visitors to the canyon, where the Blyde River snakes down from the Drakensberg Escarpment to the lowveld, cannot spoil the majesty of sights such as Bourke’s Luck Potholes. On a clear day, viewpoints including the Three Rondavels and God’s Window will leave you breathless. This vast natural landmark scarring northern Mpumalanga can be appreciated on foot or by car.


Top Experiences

Mapungubwe National Park

A standout among South Africa’s national parks, this transfrontier conservation area in the making has been declared a World Heritage site for its cultural heritage (explained at its interpretative centre). The landscape is riveting, too: arid, ancient terrain that’s twisted and knotted, with rocky bluffs offering majestic views, and mighty rivers that intersect. The climate is harsh, but lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants and rhinos can be found here, as well as smaller species such as caracals. Getting around can be tough but the rewards are sublime.

Klipspringers | UTOPIA_88 / SHUTTERSTOCK

Top Experiences

Addo Elephant National Park

At Addo more than 600 African elephants roam through low bushes, tall grass and distant hills. The land (reclaimed after being decimated by farmers) and the park represent a conservation success story. Also roaming free are hyenas and lions, introduced in 2003 to bring the kudu, ostrich and warthog populations down. Buffaloes, rare Cape mountain zebras and endemic dung beetles can also be seen, but elephants are the showstoppers – particularly when they burst from the undergrowth, flap their ears and dwarf all that is before them.


Top Experiences

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Beneath the open skies of the Free State’s Eastern Highlands, this park enjoys extraordinary sunsets, and hides plenty of antelope, zebras, jackals and birds among its grasslands. It’s great walking territory, but you can also drive short, scenic loops. Either way, views of the Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains loom large and there’s something almost fairy tale about the wind sweeping patterns through the grass. If you don’t have the chance to explore Lesotho, it’s worth visiting the Basotho Cultural Village here.

Basotho Cultural Village | GIL.K / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Garden Route

The enduring popularity of this verdant coastal strip, where woodcutters once dodged elephants in the old-growth forests, lies not only in its undeniable scenic beauty. The Garden Route is also a magnet for those in search of a little outdoor adventure. Whether you’re hiking the Knysna Forests, surfing in Victoria Bay, canoeing on Wilderness Lagoon or getting up close with great whites in a cage in Mossel Bay’s waters, the Garden Route guarantees an adventure for every taste and budget.


Top Experiences

Lesotho Trading Posts

Travel in Lesotho has been arduous since long before the 19th-century, when King Moshoeshoe ruled from atop Thabo-Bosiu. The British established trading posts to maintain commercial (nay, political) links with the Basotho nation and today’s traveller benefits greatly from this spirit of endeavour – the former trading posts afford some spectacular adventures. At Malealea, Semonkong, Ramabanta and Roma, hikers, pony riders, motorbikers and those seeking a village getaway gather at mealtimes to rejoice around the bonfire.

Maletsunyane valley | HANNES THIRION / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Namakwa Wildflowers

Namakwa is one of South Africa’s forgotten corners, stretching up the west coast towards Namibia. Crossing the remote region, and reaching Port Nolloth’s refreshing Atlantic vistas after hundreds of kilometres on empty roads, is wonderful throughout the year. In spring, there’s the added bonus of the wildflower bloom, which turns Namakwa’s rocky expanses into a technicolour carpet. You could spend days travelling around multicoloured patches of the rugged area, stopping at spots such as Namaqua National Park and Goegap Nature Reserve.


Top Experiences

Hiking & Stargazing in the Cederberg

By day the clear blue skies provide an arresting contrast to the Cederberg’s fiery orange peaks; by night the Milky Way shines so brightly you can almost read by its light. But the Cederberg is the promised land for more than just stargazers – its otherworldly landscape is perfect for hikers, rock climbers and those simply in search of silent nights. Tackle the challenging Wolfberg Arch and Maltese Cross Trails, the shorter Wolfberg Cracks hike, or the Wupperthal Trail, visiting remote and forgotten mission villages.


Top Experiences

Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

Sometimes overshadowed by Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi is nonetheless one of the country’s most evocative parks. Stunningly beautiful, it features a variety of landscapes, from open savannah to mountains with wildflowers. It teems with wildlife, including the Big Five and other amazing creatures. The park can be visited at any time because there’s always plenty to see, from elephants munching marula trees to impala, zebras, wildebeest and giraffe babies. Great wildlife drives, accommodation and hiking trails ensure a memorable experience.


Top Experiences

Madikwe Game Reserve

One of the country’s most exclusive reserves on such a large scale, Madikwe occupies 760 sq km of bushveld, savannah grassland and riverine forest. There’s a good chance of spotting iconic African wildlife, and the lodges are experiences in themselves, from an ecolodge to five-star options offering creature comforts in the wilderness. Visits to Madikwe are on an all-inclusive basis, allowing you to relax once you’re through the gates.


Top Experiences

Sani Top

Africa’s highest pub is a hell of a place to get to. From the west it’s an endurance drive through Lesotho’s awesome Central Highlands, past huge dams containing Gauteng’s water supply. From KwaZulu-Natal, it’s a vertiginous drive up the Sani Pass (2874m), which climbs 1300m through uncountable hairpin bends from the South African border post. At the top, raise a beer in the bar of Sani Mountain Lodge and celebrate being in the highest country (that is, the nation with the highest low point) in the world. Bottoms up! Top right: Sani Mountain Lodge


Top Experiences


With a grisly reputation, the City of Gold is a surprisingly vibey and inspiring place thanks to the regeneration uplifting its inner city. The cultural enclaves of Braamfontein, Newtown, 44 Stanley and the Maboneng precinct are dynamic and exciting spots by any city’s standards, with galleries, restaurants, bars and boutiques. Take a walking tour to understand the background of this urban transformation and spot Maboneng’s public art by international muralists. Try to time your visit to coincide with Braamfontein and Maboneng’s weekly markets.

Maboneng precinct | GIL.K / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Mkhaya Game Reserve

You’re more likely to meet rhinos here than anywhere else, thanks to Mkhaya’s rhino protection program. Named after its mkhaya (knobthorn) trees, this private reserve in eastern Swaziland might also be one of Africa’s best-value spots; accommodation rates include wildlife drives, walking safaris, park entry and meals. And as for the accommodation – where else can you sleep in luxurious semi-open stone-and-thatch cottages in a secluded bush zone? All that, plus a loo with a bush view.

oxpecker bird perched on a rhinoceros | HEIN VON HORSTEN / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Venda Region

A lush region steeped in mystique and traditional customs, this is the Africa of mist-clad hills, dusty red tracks and mud huts. Sprinkled with lakes and forests containing enormous spiritual significance, and marking the primeval ties between indigenous culture and the land, the Limpopo province’s former homeland is well worth exploring with a local guide. Stay in Elim or Louis Trichardt (Makhado) and begin with the Venda arts and crafts trail; the area is noted for its fine original artwork, with studios hidden throughout the landscape. Top right: mud huts


Top Experiences

Pilanesberg National Park

Sprawling away from the Sun City casino complex is this underrated park, where the Big Five and day-tripping Jo’burgers roam an extinct volcanic crater. With its tarred roads, Pilanesberg is sometimes dismissed as tame, yet the rhinos lapping at waterholes seem to disagree. To escape the other cars and score an up-close sighting, hit the gravel roads through the bush and stake out a dam. Guided drives and walks are available, as is a range of accommodation, making this a winner for families and those short on time.


Top Experiences

Umhlanga Reed Dance Festival

Africa has many colourful festivals that seem bizarre to outside eyes, but none is more curious than Swaziland’s reed dance, which takes place in late August/early September. The weeklong event is essentially a debutante ball for young Swazi maidens, who collect umhlanga (reeds) to help repair the queen mother’s house. The festivities climax with the debs dancing with tall swaying reeds in hand, hoping to catch King Mswati III’s eye. Up to 40,000 dancers wear beaded skirts and sashes denoting their tribes. A similar event happens in Zululand.


Top Experiences

Cradle of Humankind

As you’ll discover at this palaeontological zone, it began in Africa – Western Gauteng to be precise. The Cradle of Humankind nurses hundreds of square kilometres of beautiful green and brown veld, and an increasing migration of tourists, descended from hominids, who sit with the fossils of their ancestors deep underground, before returning to civilisation at fine restaurants and day spas. There’s a serene sculpture park at the Nirox Foundation and wilderness to be enjoyed. Only 50km northwest of Jo’burg are free-roaming elands, zebras, giraffes and gazelles.


Need to Know

For more information, see Survival Guide


South African rand (R), Lesotho loti (plural maloti, M), Swazi lilangeni (plural emalangeni, E)


Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English, Northern Sotho, Tswana, Southern Sotho (Lesotho), Tsonga, Swati (Swaziland), Venda, Ndebele


Not required for most Western nationals to visit South Africa for up to 90 days, Lesotho for 14 and Swaziland for 30.


ATMs widespread and cards widely accepted in South Africa. ATMs common in Lesotho and Swaziland, but cards rarely accepted outside the capitals.

Mobile Phones

Most foreign phones can be used on roaming. Local SIM cards can be used in most unlocked foreign phones.


South Africa Standard Time (GMT/UTC plus two hours)

When to Go

High Season (Nov–Mar)

A Peak times are around Christmas and Easter.

A Coastal and national-park accommodation books up months ahead.

A In popular spots, accommodation prices can rise by 50%.

Shoulder (Apr–May & Sep–Oct)

A Sunny autumn (Apr–May) and spring (Sep–Oct) weather.

A Optimum wildlife-watching conditions from autumn through winter.

A Whale watching best around spring.

Low Season (Jun–Aug)

A Winter brings snow to the mountains.

A Rainy season in Cape Town and the Western Cape.

A A good time to visit arid areas such as the Karoo.

Useful Websites

Brand South Africa (www.brandsouthafrica.com) News and information.

South African National Parks (www.sanparks.org) Information, bookings and forums.

Visit Lesotho (www.visitlesotho.travel) Tourist information.

Swaziland Tourism (www.thekingdomofswaziland.com) News, info, listings and blog.

BBC (www.bbc.com/africa) News and features.

Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/south-africa) Destination information, hotel bookings, traveller forum and more.

Important Numbers

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than R1000

A Hostel dorm bed: from R160

A Budget main dish (cheaper areas): less than R75

A Two-week hop-on, hop-off Baz Bus pass: R4100

A Free entry to some museums

Midrange: R1000–2500

A Double room: R700–4000

A Midrange main dish: R75–200

A Jo’burg–Cape Town tourist-class train: R690

A Single-room supplements common, usually 30–40%

Top end: More than R2500

A Double room (more expensive areas): over R4000

A Top-end main dish (more expensive areas): over R200

A Pretoria–Cape Town Blue Train: R20,280

A Cape Town–Jo’burg flight: from R1000

A Wildlife drive: from R350

Opening Hours

Banks 9am–3.30pm Monday to Friday, 9am–11am Saturday

Bars noon–midnight

Businesses & shopping 8.30am–5pm Monday to Friday, 8.30am–1pm Saturday; some supermarkets open weekday evenings, and all day Saturday and Sunday; major shopping centres until 9pm daily

Cafes 8am–5pm

Government offices 8am–3pm Monday to Friday

Post offices 8.30am–4pm Monday to Friday, 8.30am–11am Saturday

Restaurants 11.30am–3pm & 6.30pm–10pm (last orders); many open 3pm–6.30pm

Arriving in South Africa

OR Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg) The Gautrain serves central Jo’burg (R162, 28 minutes) and Pretoria (R174, 34 minutes) every 12 to 30 minutes. Shuttles and taxis take about one hour to Jo’burg (about R500) and Pretoria. There are car-hire companies at the airport.

Cape Town International Airport Shuttle (from R220), taxi (around R250) and MyCiTi bus (R100, every 30 minutes) to central Cape Town take about 30 minutes. There are car-hire companies at the airport.

Getting Around

Car A great option, with affordable rental rates, a good road network and the car-based local lifestyle; the drawback is dangerous drivers.

Baz Bus The backpacker shuttle is a convenient and social option between Cape Town, Durban and Jo’burg/Pretoria. Mzansi Experience offers a similar service.

Train Tourist class is an underused secret (with sleeper coaches and dining car), linking Jo’burg to Cape Town, Durban and the coast.

Air An affordable way to cover long distances.

Bus Lines including Greyhound, Intercape and Translux cover South Africa in comfortable vehicles at reasonable rates.

Shared taxi OK for short journeys but less practical over long distances, as there are safety and security issues.

For much more on see Getting Around

First Time South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

For more information, see Survival Guide


A Make sure your passport is valid for at least 30 days (six months for Swaziland) after your visit.

A Organise vaccinations, and malaria prophylatics if visiting northeast South Africa and Swaziland.

A For popular areas, book accommodation well in advance.

A Inform your credit-card company you’re visiting the region.

A Arrange travel insurance.

What to Pack

A Yellow-fever certificate if you’ve recently visited a yellow-fever zone.

A Extra documents for children to clear South African immigration.

A Visa, if required.

A Practical shoes, for safaris and hiking.

A Warm evening wear, even in summer.

A Credit and/or debit card and backup.

A Sunscreen.

Top Tips for Your Trip

A Don’t try to cover the whole region; focus instead on one or two areas, such as Cape Town and Kruger.

A This is a car-driving culture, given the security issues associated with walking and taking shared taxis, so consider renting a vehicle for part of your trip.

A South Africa has a network of domestic flights, plus public-transport options including tourist-class trains and backpacker buses.

A Don’t be paranoid about crime: do as the locals do, take precautions and remain watchful and attuned to your surroundings, and you should have a fantastic time.

A Most travellers will be at most risk on the dangerous roads: drive cautiously and don’t cover too much ground.

A Avoid the peak Christmas and Easter seasons, when accommodation fills up, prices are highest and roads are the most dangerous.

What to Wear

Take a practical wardrobe of shorts and T-shirts, athletic shoes or hiking boots for going on safari, plus warmer layers for the evenings; it can be cold in the bush, and you’ll want to hide your arms and legs from mosquitoes. The same mix of clothing will be useful in mountainous Lesotho, along with jeans or other pants you’ll be comfortable in while riding a horse. Women may want to avoid wearing shorts in Lesotho, as its culture is fairly conservative. You don’t need to worry about fashion in these casual countries, but do pack your favourite outfits for Jo’burg and Cape Town’s smart restaurants and nightspots.


You can often book a few days in advance, or not at all, but if you’re travelling at Christmas or Easter, plan several months ahead. Always book national-park accommodation in advance.

A Lodges Can be uber-luxe or fairly rustic, and boast some of the best locations.

A Guesthouses Often owner-run, offering comfortable rooms, hearty breakfasts and local info.

A Self-catering cottages Usually spacious and excellent value.

A Backpacker hostels Often have a bar, swimming pool and campsites; ideal for budget or solo travellers.

A Hotels Everything from boutique hotels to vast and luxurious chains.


ATMs are common throughout the region, and cards are widely accepted across South Africa and in the capitals of Lesotho and Swaziland. Inform your bank of your travel plans to avoid declined credit-card transactions. For more information, see here.


Haggling is common in African craft markets; in most other instances you’re expected to pay the stated price.


Wages are low here, and tipping is expected.

Restaurants & cafes Tip 10% to 15% of the total in restaurants; 10% in cafes.

Hotels A standard tip of R10 to R20 is welcomed.

Car guards Offer R2, or R5 for longer periods.

Petrol stations Anything from R5 – more if the attendant washes the windscreen and checks the tyres etc.

Taxis Tips not expected but rounding up the fare will be appreciated.


South Africa has 11 official languages and some of these, such as Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu, predominate in parts of the country. However, you will get around easily with English in all three countries – it’s the unofficial language of business, especially in the tourist industry, and the sole language of many locals.


A Informality South Africa is largely informal; behaviour and expectations familiar from Western countries prevail in tourist venues.

A Cultural diversity In this multicultural region, etiquette varies wildly between ethnic and demographic groups, so check with your guide or a local if unsure.

A Religion Christianity is taken more seriously and followed more widely than in secular Western countries; jokes about religion may offend.

A Grace Saying grace before meals, while possibly holding hands, is common in Afrikaner households.

A Greetings Shake hands with men and women when meeting for the first time. Women greet friends and acquaintances with a light hug. In Lesotho and Swaziland, the handshake is a three-part process, best observed before you give it a try.

A Hello Be sure to say hello to everyone in Lesotho; if you don’t, be prepared for people to be offended.

A Conversation It’s possible to discuss most subjects, including race, as long as you maintain a positive and tactful tone.

A Drink driving This is widespread and locals have a relaxed attitude to it, but definitely don’t do it yourself.

A Time In rural areas, being punctual is not a thing; people may arrive an hour or two late.

A Photos Ask before taking photos of people, particularly if they are in traditional dress or at a cultural event.


South Africa’s culinary diversity reflects its multicultural society, ranging from African staples in the townships to seafood and steaks in globally acclaimed restaurants, and eating is an excellent way to the heart of the Rainbow Nation. The dining scene is more limited in Lesotho and Swaziland, but you’ll find good restaurants and cafes in their capital cities and rural lodges.

What’s New


Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA Museum occupies a boldly repurposed 1920s grain silo at the V&A Waterfront. Mthatha’s Nelson Mandela Museum is dedicated to the great man’s life.

Township tourism

New attractions range from the Emjindini tour under development in Barberton, which will be Mpumalanga’s first township tour, to Cape Town’s 18 Gangster Museum, Isivivana Centre, restaurants and cafes.

Mackeurtan Avenue

This strip in Durban North (www.durbanexperience.co.za) is generating a lot of buzz as a bar and restaurant hub, with some calling it the new Florida Road.

Mzsansi Experience

Plying the east coast between Cape Town and Jo’burg, this hop-on, hop-off backpacker bus offers an alternative to the long-running Baz Bus.


This up-and-coming Free State town has attractions including Tiger Canyons, where wild tigers breed and thrive.

South African Hall of Fame

Pay homage to South Africa’s great and good in this impressive exhibition space at Sun City. Sportspeople dominate, but musicians and other luminaries from the arts also receive their due.

Hiking and driving routes

The Crayfish slackpacking trail explores an oft-ignored stretch of the West Coast, between the Western Cape fishing villages of Elands Bay and Doring Bay. The Barberton Makhonjwa Geotrail travels 3.5 billion years into the past on Rte 40.

Urban regenerations

George has seen a culinary awakening, with some excellent restaurants and a decent coffee scene. Likewise, Polokwane is slowly transforming from a stolid bastion of Afrikaans tradition, with great coffee, craft beer and a rising tide of good places to eat and stay.

Cultural centres

There’s a cultural centre atop Graskop Gorge Lift, the glass elevator descending into the Mpumalanga town’s dramatic ravine, and Workshop Ko Kasi adds appeal to Kuruman. Numerous community tourism projects are afoot in Prince Albert, joining the art deco theatre.

KwaZulu-Natal South Coast

Popular with surfers and divers, the stretch of coast south of Durban is promoting its many boutique hotels, unique natural sights and good restaurants to international travellers.


Uber has taken off in Cape Town, Jo’burg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth, and there’s an online database of minibus shared-taxi routes, fares and other info.

Swaziland’s new name

The country’s king announced in April 2018 that Swaziland would become known as the Kingdom of eSwatini.

For more recommendations and reviews, see lonelyplanet.com/south-africa

If You Like…

Dramatic Landscapes

From the Cape’s mix of coastline and mountains to expanses such as Namakwa, the Kalahari and Karoo, South Africa features some of Africa’s most impressive landscapes.

Drakensberg The Dragon Mountains bristle with awesome peaks and formations such as the Amphitheatre.

Cape Peninsula A spine of mountains runs down the peninsula from Table Mountain to Cape Point.

Wild Coast Green hills dotted with pastel rondavels (round, conical-roofed huts), rugged cliffs and empty beaches.

Augrabies Falls National Park The world’s sixth-tallest waterfall, created by the Orange River thundering into a ravine.

Blyde River Canyon Breathtaking viewpoints overlook waterfalls and rock formations where the Drakensberg Escarpment and lowveld meet.



Diverse, accessible and swarming with animals, these parks and reserves are some of Southern Africa’s best destinations to spot wildlife, including the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) in most cases.

Kruger National Park South Africa’s famous park has more than 13,000 elephants alone, in landscapes from woodland to savannah.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park Deep in the Kalahari, this is an unbeatable place to spot big cats, including black-maned lions.

Elephant Coast KwaZulu-Natal’s ecotourism destination offers sightings in tropical settings; highlights include Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park.

Madikwe Game Reserve This exclusive reserve hosts the Big Five in bushveld, savannah grassland and riverine forest.

Addo Elephant National Park South Africa’s third-largest national park offers some of the world’s best elephant viewing.

Cultural Experiences

Escaping the comfortable, Westernised bubble of South Africa’s tourist industry, and having hands-on experiences of the region’s diverse traditions and beliefs, is hugely rewarding.

Townships From Soweto to Khayelitsha, take an interactive, themed tour or spend the night in a homestay.

Wild Coast The former Xhosa homeland’s community-run lodges such as Bulungula offer accommodation, activities and volunteering opportunities.

!Xaus Lodge Learn Khomani San tracking skills at one of a few locations offering culture alongside wildlife.

Venda region Meet the former homeland’s artists and explore a sacred forest above Lake Fundudzi.

Zululand Learn about South Africa’s largest ethnic group on visits to villages and ceremonies.


Numerous sights remember South Africa’s tumultuous history, and a strong sense of the past lingers in rural areas such as the Winelands and Karoo.

Cape Town Walking tours cover sights from the Castle of Good Hope to the District Six Museum.

Kimberley A Victorian diamond-mining settlement, historic pubs, ghost tours and Cecil Rhodes’ club.

Liberation trail Spots from Jo’burg’s Constitution Hill to Robben Island celebrate the anti-apartheid struggle.

Apartheid Museum Entered through racial classification gates, Jo’burg’s museum evokes the era of segregation.

Mapungubwe National Park The Unesco World Heritage site was home to a significant Iron Age civilisation.

Oudtshoorn Mansions built by ostrich-farming ‘feather barons’, and pioneering engineer Thomas Bain’s Swartberg Pass (1886).

Cape Dutch Gabled museum houses in South Africa’s oldest settlements: Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Swellendam and Graaff-Reinet.

Food & Drink

From Cape Dutch wine estates to braais (barbecues) smoking away on township corners, sampling South Africa’s lekker (tasty) produce is the best way to this agricultural country’s heart.

Cooking safari Make Cape Malay curries in Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap, and Xhosa dishes in the townships.

Food markets Try farm-fresh goodies at Cape Town and Jo’burg’s Neighbourgoods Markets and other weekly events.

Wine tour Toast three centuries of local viticulture on stunning estates in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and beyond.

Beer cruise Sample South Africa’s burgeoning beer scene in microbreweries and bars such as Long St’s Beerhouse.

Bunny chow Regional specialities include this creation from Durban: a hollow bread loaf filled with curry.

Wine on the River Quaff by the Breede River, Robertson; one of the Western Cape’s many wine festivals.

Potluck Boskombuis Near Mpumalanga’s Blyde River Canyon, this electricity-free riverside ‘bush kitchen’ is a classic hidden gem.

Altitudinous eats Africa’s highest restaurant, in Lesotho, offers mountain views and novelty value.


Artworks reflecting South Africa’s dramatic landscapes and social issues can be seen in galleries old and new, with vibrant cultural scenes in Jo’burg and Cape Town.

Zeitz MOCAA Museum This contemporary African art gallery is inside a repurposed grain silo at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.

Eastern Karoo Refined Graaff-Reinet has well-preserved architecture, and concrete sculptures populate Nieu Bethesda’s Owl House.

Clarens South Africa’s foremost art town, this Free State gem has a dozen galleries.

Ecoshrine This ecological Stonehenge overlooks the Amathole Mountains in alternative, environmental Hogsback.

Jo’burg Cultural districts such as the Maboneng precinct have galleries, street art and walking tours.

Venda region Down red tracks in Limpopo’s former homeland, studios produce woodcarvings, pottery, batiks and textiles.

William Humphreys Art Gallery Artists in Kimberley’s gallery range from locals to Dutch and Flemish old masters.


Eccentric Corners

Isolated from the outside world while under apartheid, South Africa’s country towns and villages, by turns quirky and refined, have been preserved in all their idiosyncratic glory.

Matjiesfontein The Karoo railway village has a Victorian hotel and three museums on its single street.

Hogsback High in the Amathole Mountains, gardens, forests and waterfalls surround this green village.

Haenertsburg A mountain village in Limpopo’s Letaba Valley, with pine plantations and congenial pubs.

Wild Coast Community-run backpacker hostels mix friendly Xhosa locals with surfers, travellers, sandy beaches and hammocks.

Barberton Mpumalanga’s gold-rush town is rich in history, geology and characterful accommodation.

Roma In one of Lesotho’s most attractive towns, the country’s university nestles among sandstone cliffs.

Open Spaces

Whether you head inland or along the coast, the largely rural countryside offers an invigorating sense of freedom.

Namakwa The rocky hills and plains covering the country’s western quarters fill with spring wildflowers.

Free State Discover golden sunflower and corn fields and, in Golden Gate Highlands Natural Park, simmering grasslands with a mountain backdrop.

Karoo The semi-arid plateau experiences blazing summers and icy winters, as well as stunning sunsets and starscapes.

Beaches Quiet beaches are common on South Africa’s 2500km-plus coastline, from Cape Point upwards.

Kalahari Red dunes ripple away to the horizon, with added greenery by the Orange River.

Southern Lesotho This mountainous area has musk- and orange-coloured valleys, rivers and off-the-beaten-track villages.

Month by Month


Wildlife watching, July

Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts, November

Whale watching, September

Oyster Festival, July

Jo’burg festivals, September


South Africans descend on tourist areas, including the coast and major parks, during summer school holidays (early December to mid-January). Book accommodation and transport well in advance. High season for accommodation is November to March.

z Cape Town Minstrel Carnival (Kaapse Klopse)

The Mother City’s colourful new-year celebration begins with a carnival on 2 January and continues for a month. With satin- and sequin-clad minstrel troupes, ribald song-and-dance routines, floats and general revelry, it’s the Cape’s Mardi Gras.


Summer continues, with smiles on the beaches, half-price cable cars up Table Mountain for sunset, and dramatic lightning storms in Jo’burg. Elephants munch marula trees, and baby antelope, zebras and giraffes cavort in the parks.


Summer rolls towards autumn, although days remain sunny, the lowveld steamy and the landscapes green. Good for walking and beach bumming in the Western Cape. Cultural and music festivals happen in Cape Town and Jo’burg.

2 Cape Town Cycle Tour

This 109km spin around the Cape Peninsula is the world’s largest timed cycling event. More than 30,000 contestants, from serious racers to costumed Capetonians, tackle Table Mountain and Chapman’s Peak Dr. There’s a mountain-biking challenge in the Winelands around the same time.


There’s a two-week school holiday around Easter, generally regarded as the beginning of autumn. Temperatures drop, and wildlife watching in the bushveld starts to look more attractive than beach bumming. Rutting season runs until May.

z AfrikaBurn

Africa’s entry in the global calendar of festivals inspired by the USA’s Burning Man is a subcultural blowout and a survivalist challenge. Art installations and themed camps turn a corner of the Tankwa Karoo into a surreal paradise.


Winter brings rain to the Cape and clouds to Table Mountain. Northern areas experience fresh, sunny days and clear night skies. Low season is June to September, apart from the mid-June to mid-July school holidays.

1 Wildlife Watching

Cooler, drier winter weather is perfect for wildlife watching. Thirsty animals congregate at waterholes and foliage is sparser, making spotting easier. The lower temperatures make toasty northern areas such as the bushveld and Kalahari more enjoyable.

2 Lesotho Ski Season

That’s right, skiing in Southern Africa. Lesotho’s peaks and passes receive snow in winter – particularly around Oxbow, where the season runs from June to August at the modern and well-equipped Afriski resort.

5 Oyster Festival

Knysna’s 10-day oyster orgy is one of a few seafood-oriented events on the South African coastline. Fixtures include oyster-eating and -shucking competitions, wine tastings, a mountain-bike race and the Knysna Marathon.

3 National Arts Festival

Feel Africa’s creative pulse at the continent’s largest arts festival, held over 10 days in early July in studenty Grahamstown. Performers from every conceivable discipline descend on the refined spot, and Fingo Village township holds an associated festival.

2 Open JBay

The winter months bring big waves to the Eastern Cape, and Jeffrey’s Bay holds its international Open JBay surf competition. Part of the 10-day Winter Fest in mid-July, the contest on the town’s famous Supertubes break attracts thousands of spectators; accommodation fills and prices rise.


Winter starts giving way to spring. Cherry trees bloom in the Free State Eastern Highlands in September and October, which are also the last dry months for wildlife viewing. School holidays run from late September to early October.

1 Namakwa Wildflowers

In late August and early September, nature plays a springtime trick and covers this barren area with wildflowers. Namakwa’s parched terrain sprouts meadows of flowers in rainbow hues. The spectacle also happens elsewhere in the Northern and Western Capes.

1 Whale Watching

Watch southern right whales calve in Walker Bay throughout the second half of the year; the best time to spot them is the period around Hermanus Whale Festival in September/October. During this time, Hermanus is the world’s best land-based whale-watching destination.

z Jo’burg Festivals

Jozi’s two-month festival season starts with Arts Alive, the Soweto Festival Expo, featuring music, poetry, food stalls and a lifestyle expo, and Joy of Jazz. There’s more in October, including the monthly First Thursday and First Sunday in the Valley Jozi!


A great month to visit, offering mostly sunny weather without the worst of the summer crowds and prices. There is a 10-day South African school holiday at the beginning of the month.

z South African National Gold Panning Championships

This contest involves hopeful panners from local schoolchildren to semiprofessionals and takes place in a line of watery troughs by the Blyde River.

z Soweto Festivals

Following Jo’burg’s September festival fun, the city’s largest township hosts the Soweto Beer Festival, featuring some 40 different types of beers, including local and traditional African brews, and Soweto Fashion Week.


Spring drifts into summer: wildflowers in the Drakensberg, beach potential before the worst humidity hits KwaZulu-Natal, and all of the above in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Rain in the lowveld. High season begins.

3 Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts

Summer music festivals take place in stunning settings nationwide. In the Western Cape alone, the choice includes the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts in Cape Town’s botanical gardens (November to April), the West Coast’s indie Endless Daze (www.endlessdazefest.com) and numerous trance parties.


Kruger to Cape


This trip combines wildlife watching with the Cape’s scenery and culture.

Head directly east from Jo’burg’s OR Tambo International Airport to Kruger National Park, where more than 20,000 growly members of the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) roam the bushveld. Staying in a bush camp or luxurious private reserve and going on self-drive safaris, guided drives and walks will keep you and your binoculars busy. From Kruger, head back to the bright lights of Jo’burg. Spend a night in the inner-city Maboneng precinct’s art hotel or hostels, experiencing Afro-globalisation and meeting local hipsters in the galleries and bars.

Next, pick up a flight to Cape Town; alternatively, take a scenic overnight train ride in tourist class on Shosholoza Meyl’s trans-Karoo service (or the Blue Train or Rovos Rail from Pretoria). Relax and enjoy one of the world’s most beautiful cities, spending your days exploring the likes of Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, and your nights dining in world-class restaurants and drinking in the ‘Tavern of the Seven Seas’. The Mother City is surrounded by beaches and vineyards; have lunch in winemaking Stellenbosch and wander the refined Cape Dutch student town’s lanes.


Cape Cruise


Beautiful scenery, excellent infrastructure and numerous attractions make this the South Africa of the glossy brochures. The route can be covered on public transport, but is perfect for a road trip in your own car.

After a few days in Cape Town, fitting in historical and cultural sights such as the Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, Zeitz MOCAA Museum and Irma Stern Museum alongside the scenic Cape Peninsula, head out to the Winelands. Spend a night or two wine tasting in the vineyard-clad valleys of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. From Stellenbosch take Rte 44 for one of the world’s most beautiful coastal drives, to Hermanus, where you can watch southern right whales (June to December). Overnight or stop for lunch in the 19th-century village of Stanford, before making your way to Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southernmost point.

Next, head along the Cogmanskloof Pass in the Langeberg range to countrified Montagu. With its whitewashed cottages and rustic accommodation, the quaint town is a great base for rock climbing and the Robertson Wine Valley. Continue along Rte 62 through the Little Karoo, between rolling mountains dotted with farms and charming little towns such as port-making Calitzdorp.

Cross the Swartberg range on the Meiringspoort Pass, from Oudtshoorn to the Great Karoo and Prince Albert. This pretty 18th-century village is green and fertile, with irrigation channels in the streets. The nearby N1 highway leads back to Cape Town; alternatively, backtrack south, possibly via the untarred Swartberg Pass, to Wilderness’ beaches and lagoons. East along the Garden Route, old-growth forests rise into the mountains above Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, both offering water sports and activities.

Finally, descend a windy road to the beach village of Nature’s Valley, where happy hikers finishing the five-day Otter Trail hang their boots in a tree outside the pub. Shorter hikes also lead into the surrounding Garden Route National Park (Tsitsikamma Section).


Safari Special


South Africa is one of the continent’s best safari destinations – in a fortnight it’s possible to cover several parks and reserves, plus a few extra stops such as the dramatic Blyde River Canyon.

From Jo’burg’s OR Tambo International Airport, head east to the country’s safari showpiece, Kruger National Park. The wildlife here and in the adjoining private wildlife reserves will hold you captivated. Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, near Kruger’s southern and central sections, offers views of the river as it snakes from the Drakensberg Escarpment to the lowveld. Stay overnight in nearby Graskop, a good base for outdoor activities and a visit to Pilgrim’s Rest, a 19th-century gold-rush village.

If time is tight, hit the N4 west for wildlife watching on sealed roads in Pilanesberg National Park, within four hours’ drive of OR Tambo International Airport. Stay in the Big Five park or the adjoining Sun City casino complex. A little further, Madikwe Game Reserve is an exclusive destination with accommodation in five-star lodges (and one ecolodge).

If you have a full two weeks, head south from the Kruger area to Swaziland’s Malolotja Nature Reserve, where hiking trails cross grasslands and forests, and along the Ezulwini and Malkerns valleys – stop to admire the woodlands and pick up local craftwork. Swaziland’s highlight is the wildlife-rich Mkhaya Game Reserve, known for its unsurpassed black and white rhino populations. Explore the bushveld thickets and open veld on a guided walking safari.

Leaving Swaziland, hit the N2 to uMkhuze Game Reserve, where animals lap at waterholes in pans surrounded by fever trees. Nearby are the waterways and diverse ecosystems of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, where hiking the wilderness trails is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. From there, continue south along the Indian Ocean to Durban’s well-connected airport and beaches, restaurants and bars.


Grand Circuit


This epic itinerary covers the bottom half of South Africa, including Wild Coast beaches, the Karoo semidesert and mountainous Lesotho.

From Cape Town head along Rte 62 and over the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert. Venture further into the Great Karoo’s open spaces to reach the refined oasis of Graaff-Reinet, nicknamed the ‘jewel of the Karoo’ for its 220-plus national monuments and history stretching back to 1786. Also in this corner of the Karoo are Camdeboo National Park, with Cape buffaloes and the Valley of Desolation’s views over the plains, and arty Nieu Bethesda, home of the sculpture-adorned Owl House. Stop at Mountain Zebra National Park for cheetah tracking and more Karoo panoramas, or continue straight to Addo Elephant National Park, where great white sharks and southern right whales complete the ‘Big Seven’.

Moving east, the Amathole Mountains are worth an inland detour for the eco-backpackers in Hogsback and Elundini. Staying in a rondavel hut by a Wild Coast beach is likely to be a trip highlight when mixed with cultural experiences and community-run activities. Heading north to the jagged green sweep of the iconic Drakensberg, take South Africa’s highest pass, the Sani Pass (2876m), to Lesotho, where Africa’s highest pub awaits.

Hiking and pony trekking in altitudinous Lesotho, you will meet Basotho people clad in conical hats and patterned woollen blankets. Spend at least a few days crossing the mountain kingdom, stopping at beautiful lodges in the likes of Ts’ehlanyane National Park and Malealea. Pass your last Lesothan night among sandstone cliffs in Roma, a 19th-century mission station and now the country’s seat of learning.

Over the international border, zip through the Free State’s shimmering golden fields to the Northern Cape and its capital, Kimberley. The city that witnessed the world’s greatest diamond rush is a great place to get a feel for South African history. From here, Shosholoza Meyl’s trans-Karoo Express will whisk you back to Cape Town (or up to Jo’burg).


Eastern Wander


This eastern jaunt mixes awesome mountain scenery with Xhosa and Zulu culture, and rural calm with urban vibes, giving a good look at the classic South Africa.

After touching down at OR Tambo International Airport, linger a few days in dynamic Jo’burg, seeing how urban regeneration is transforming the inner city and creating hip enclaves of restaurants and bars. Go on a city walking tour or head out to South Africa’s most famous township, Soweto.

Moving on from Jozi, cross the Free State and leave the N3 at Harrismith, to take scenic Rte 712 past Sterkfontein Dam to Clarens. The arty town, with its galleries and microbrewery, has surroundings worthy of an impressionist landscape. Next, stay in a chalet in the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park, with its hiking trails between sandstone outcrops in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains bordering Lesotho.

Just outside the park, the day-long Sentinel Hiking Trail climbs the iconic Amphitheatre to the top of the Drakensberg Escarpment. Next, spend a couple of days enjoying the spectacular Drakensberg day walks, such as Tugela Gorge, in Royal Natal National Park. Declimatise from the Draks on the twee Midlands Meander, with its guesthouses and ceramic studios, before hitting Durban, a city of beaches and Indian cuisine that is slowly being revitalised.

Near the Eastern Cape border, Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve is an oft-overlooked reserve with cliffs and forests above the Umzilkulwana River. From here, detour off the N2 and along the coast through Pondoland to Port St Johns – a laid-back introduction to the Wild Coast’s pristine beaches and friendly Xhosa locals. Pastel rondavel huts dot the green hills overlooking the region’s gravel roads, which lead to some stunning community-run hostels around Coffee Bay.

At the southern end of the Wild Coast, spend a final night by the Indian Ocean in Chintsa, and pick up a plane, train or bus from nearby East London to Jo’burg or Cape Town.


The Wild Northwest


Some of South Africa’s gnarliest terrain is found in the vast Northern Cape province, which this itinerary tours in conjunction with the Western Cape’s wilder corners.

From Cape Town, head north to the mountainous Cederberg Wilderness Area, with its sandstone formations, lodges and campgrounds. Continue to the Hantam Karoo outpost of Calvinia, before hitting the N7 through the Namakwa region, its rocky expanses carpeted with wildflowers in spring. Almost at the end of the region’s straight roads is remote Port Nolloth. If you have a 4WD, continue to the surreal mountain desert of |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park.

Head east to Augrabies Falls National Park for hiking, rafting and canoeing, followed by a sunset cruise in Upington. Continue north through the Kalahari to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, an excellent place to spot big cats, and see more of the thirsty semidesert at Witsand Nature Reserve. Return to Cape Town via the Great Karoo, with stops including Karoo National Park and historic Matjiesfontein.


Alternative Cape


With its mountains, culture and wine, the Western Cape is a justly popular holiday destination. This itinerary suggests a few spots to escape the crowds alongside some old favourites.

From Cape Town, head north to the West Coast National Park, which offers a glimpse of the spring wildflower bloom alongside Langebaan Lagoon. Overnight here or in Paternoster, with its whitewashed cottages and glorious beaches.

Turning inland, mountain ranges surround the wineries of Tulbagh. Further into the Winelands, Franschhoek distils the area’s refined charm, with its Huguenot heritage, vineyards and restaurants. Cross the Franschhoek Pass to the village of Greyton, for thatched cottages, restaurants, mountain views and Genadendal Mission Station. The Boesmanskloof Trail leads hikers to the New Age village of McGregor.

Return to Cape Town via Hermanus, the world’s best land-based whale-watching destination (June to December), and along Rte 44, passing Cape Hangklip and Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.

Plan Your Trip


Thanks to the region’s diverse terrain and pleasant climate, it’s possible to experience almost any outdoor activity here, from abseiling to zip lining. Good facilities and instruction mean that most activities are accessible to all visitors, whatever their experience level.

Best Activities & Adventures

Whether you want to cross vast wildernesses, search for predators in the bushveld or just lounge on the beach, South Africa has it covered.

Garden Route

The holiday strip offers surfing, canoeing, diving, kloofing (canyoning), horse riding, hiking and more.

Bloukrans Bridge Bungee

The world’s third-highest bungee jump is one of many thrills in the Tsitsikamma forests.

Multiday hikes

Carry your equipment or

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