Things to do in South Africa

lions in kruger national park

There’s loads of things to do in South Africa, from the bustling metropolises through to the pristine and wild national parks. If you are struggling for some inspiration before your gap year in South Africa though, we’ve come up with a list of the 15 best things to see and do while you are in the Rainbow Nation…

  • Kruger National Park. This is one of the biggest game reserves in the whole of Africa, and is the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the Big 5, as well as a plethora of other animals, birds and reptiles. A visit to South Africa isn’t complete without getting out into the wild, so a trip to the Kruger National Park should be at the top of every backpacker’s itinerary.
  • Robben Island. About 9 miles off the coast of Cape Town lies Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years before his eventual release. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and, on a completely different note, is a great place to see huge amounts of African Penguins.
  • Table Mountain. Perhaps the most famous natural sight in South Africa, Table Mountain rises majestically above Cape Town and you’ll see it from all over the city. Why just look at it though, when you can take a trip up it and look down on South Africa’s most exciting city instead?
  • Travel the Garden Route. The Garden Route is a favourite among those backpacking in South Africa. Running from the Western Cape to all the way through to the Eastern Cape, it takes in a number of spectacular sights and great experiences. Do it in a few days or a few months, whatever suits your own circumstances.
  • table mountain cape townHit the waves. A gap year in South Africa offers surfing as good as any you’ll find in an Australian gap year, with the bonus of much less crowded surfing spots! Whether you’re a professional or a complete beginner, you’ll find something that’s perfect for you. There are even some gap years completely dedicated to learning to surf!
  • Bungee jump. How’s your head for heights? If it is good, test out your mettle with a dive from the third highest bungee platform in the world? Standing at 216 metres and located on the border of the Eastern Cape and Western Cape, real adrenaline junkies simply can’t pass this amazing opportunity up! Of course, there are smaller jumps available for those wanting something slightly less scary…
  • Mandela House. Mandela House is the place Nelson Mandela lived from 1946 to 1962, in Vilakazi Street, Soweto. The inside contains some of the original furniture, as well as items such as photos and citations. There is also a small museum. If you want a greater knowledge of one of recent history’s greatest people, this is a must visit while in Johannesburg.
  • Whale watching. South Africa is one of the best places on earth to go whale watching. If you visit during summer, you have a great chance of seeing huge amounts of Southern Right Whales, as well as Humpback Whales – not to mention masses of dolphins too! Various companies run trips out on boats, but they can also often be spotted from land as well.
  • cape of good hopeCape of Good Hope. As one of the most southerly points in Africa, the Cape of Good Hope is a popular tourist destination. You’ll be able to see spectacular coastal views and hike through the beautiful landscape, as well as catch glimpses of a huge number of different animals and birds. Go early to avoid the masses of other tourists heading there.
  • Boulders Beach. Found near Simon’s Town, Boulders Beach is renowned for being one of the best places to view penguins, thanks to the wooden walkways created for this purpose. There’s also a great beach for swimming and other water sports close by. Set aside a whole day to relax and take everything in.
  • Cape Town. Although smaller than Johannesburg, Cape Town is renowned for being the most vibrant and exciting city in the country. Here you’ll find great food, fantastic nightlife and plenty of excursions to nearby attractions. The people are incredibly friendly too, making this the perfect base for your South African gap year.
  • Have a braai. A braai is basically a South African barbeque, but you’ll never experience anything like it back home! Various meats are cooked over a wood fire and served with many different accompaniments, while the sun beats down and the scenery around you makes your jaw drop. You can pay for one or, even better, do your own!
  • hippo south africaCruise the river. While the Big 5 are exciting, you shouldn’t forget about the wildlife found in South Africa’s rivers as well! A river cruise along one of the larger rivers, such as the Orange River, will allow you to catch glimpses of hippos, crocodiles and many birds, plus take in some amazing scenery along the way.
  • Cango Caves. The Cango Caves, in the Cango Valley, are seen as some of the best cave systems in the world. You can take a sedate tour around, or opt for the adventure tour, which involves squeezing through gaps and really exploring the nooks and crannies found in the cave system!
  • Cage dive with a Great White Shark. Yes, there are Great Whites in South Africa. And yes, you can jump in a cage and swim with them! Cage dives can be found all along the South African coast and make bungee jumping look like a calm and sensible hobby! Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely something to brag about back at home.
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