10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa

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    Cape Town, Western Cape

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• Table Mountain, Cape Town. Jessica Macdonald

    Known for its cultural diversity and social tolerance, Cape Town is a trip highlight for many visitors to South Africa. The Mother City is blessed with breathtaking scenery, from the white-sand beaches of the Cape Peninsula to the iconic cliffs of Table Mountain. The restaurants are world-class, and so are the wines. Spend leisurely mornings browsing beachside farmer's markets or shopping at the V&A Waterfront; and afternoons hiking, surfing, scuba diving or making friends with the penguins at Boulders Beach. Cape Town is also full of important cultural sites, including Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years), and the apartheid-era ghettoes of Bo-Kaap and District Six.

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    The Cape Winelands, Western Cape

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• Vineyard, Cape Winelands. Hougaard Malan Photography/ Getty Images

    To the east of Cape Town lies the Cape Winelands, a spectacular region full of verdant mountains and fertile valleys. Visitors love the area for its astounding scenic beauty, for its culture (best represented by the stunning Cape Dutch architecture of its towns and outlying farms) and for its world-famous vineyards. There are several distinct viticultural regions, the most popular of which include Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Wellington and Paarl.  Each one offers wine-tasting tours and an array of superb restaurants, most of which showcase the Western Cape's finest local produce. Rent a car in Cape Town to explore the vineyards independently, book a stay at a local B&B or hop aboard the Franschhoek wine tram.

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  • 03 of 10

    Hermanus, Western Cape

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• View of the bay, Hermanus. Jessica Macdonald

    Located 120 kilometers southeast of Cape Town, the seaside town of Hermanus has earned itself a reputation as the whale-watching capital of South Africa. Every year, migrating southern right whales pass within a few hundred feet of the Hermanus shoreline, with many of them stopping to breed and calve in the town's own Walker Bay. You can book a tour with one of Hermanus' many whale-watching boats; or you can enjoy the whales' antics for free from any of the lookout points along the Cliff Path. In the center of town, the restaurants that line scenic Gearing's Point are a great place to sample gourmet cuisine while keeping an eye out for passing cetaceans. Whale-watching season lasts from July to November. 

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  • 04 of 10

    Knysna, Western Cape

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• Leisure Isle, Knysna. MATTES RenŽ/ hemis.fr/ Getty Images

    South Africa's Garden Route is world-famous for its plethora of enchanting coastal towns, and Knysna is arguably the most beautiful of them all. Nested between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean, Knysna offers a wide range of charismatic guesthouses and B&Bs, in addition to art galleries, boutiques and craft centers. It's especially well known for its seafood restaurants, which feature oysters freshly harvested from the town's picturesque lagoon. Take a hike to the top of twin cliffs the Knysna Heads; spend idyllic days on the golden beaches of Leisure Isle and nearby Brenton-on-Sea; or encounter the world's largest terrestrial animal at the Knysna Elephant Park

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    Hogsback, Eastern Cape

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• The Edge, Hogsback. Jessica Macdonald

    Situated high in the misty Amathole Mountains, Hogsback is a quaint town said to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien (who was born in South Africa) when he wrote Lord of the Rings. The surrounding landscape is lush, green and dotted with hiking trails that take you through the forest to a series of hidden waterfalls and streams. The dense indigenous woodland also plays host to an array of endemic birdlife, including the highly endangered Cape parrot. The town itself is steeped in fairy folklore. Here, you'll find a bohemian collection of backpacker lodges, guesthouses, art galleries and New Age boutiques. Perhaps most magical of all, however, is the view from the cliffs at The Edge Mountain Retreat.

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  • 06 of 10

    The Transkei, Eastern Cape

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• Ntlonyana Beach, Transkei. Jessica Macdonald

    Designated as a black homeland under apartheid, the Transkei region was once considered separate from South Africa. Now, it is a wild, unspoiled area of incredible natural beauty that extends from the Great Kei River to the Umtamvuna River in the Eastern Cape. As the birthplace of anti-apartheid leaders including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, it has a proud cultural heritage. The traditional Xhosa way of life is still observed in its remote rural villages, and its rolling landscapes are dotted by simple rondavel huts and herds of indigenous Nguni cattle. With its abandoned beaches and pounding surf, the Transkei is also a haven for fishermen, hikers, surfers and nature lovers. 

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  • 07 of 10

    Durban, KwaZulu-Natal

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• The Golden Mile, Durban. Roger de la Harpe/ Getty Images

    The cosmopolitan center of KwaZulu-Natal province, Durban is known for its golden beaches, its tropical climate and its rich Indian culture. Flavorful curry restaurants dominate the city's culinary scene; and after dark, an impressive array of bars and nightclubs await (for the best view with your cocktail, head to Moyo at the end of uShaka Pier). During the day, visitors embrace the perennial vacation atmosphere of Durban's Golden Mile, home to some of the most famous surf spots in South Africa. Shopping is another favorite pastime - whether you choose to explore the colorful stalls of Victoria Street Market, or to spend your money in upscale malls like the Gateway Theatre of Shopping in Umhlanga.

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  • 08 of 10

    The Drakensberg Mountains, KwaZulu-Natal

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• View from the Summit, Drakensberg Mountains. Karl Beath/ Getty Images

    The uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountain range stretches along the border of South Africa and Lesotho, and includes the country's highest peak. It's an impressive playground full of soaring summits and plunging valleys, and is the ideal destination for those with a love of hiking, climbing, horse-riding, whitewater-rafting and mountain fly-fishing. A series of trails cater to all abilities, with options ranging from hour-long hikes to multi-day expeditions. However you choose to explore, keep an eye out for rare regional wildlife, including 300 different bird species and altitude-adapted mammals like the klipspringer and the mountain reedbuck. The mountains are also home to fine examples of ancient San rock art. 

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  • 09 of 10

    Soweto Township, Gauteng

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• Street Scene, Soweto. James Strachan/ Getty Images

    Soweto may not be the most beautiful destination in South Africa, but it certainly ranks as one of the most culturally important sights the country has to offer. A sprawling township located in Johannesburg, it is home to over 1.3 million people. Much of the struggle against apartheid played out in the slums of Soweto, and the township was in a virtual state of war during the 1970s and 80s. Nowadays, Soweto is still subject to crippling poverty and a high crime rate. However, it is also home to some of the most vibrant music and theater South Africa has to offer. Join a township tour to explore the area's incredible history and culture in safety. You can even stay overnight at a local B&B. 

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  • 10 of 10

    Kruger National Park, Limpopo & Mpumalanga

    10 of the Best Places to Visit in South Africa
    ••• On Safari, Kruger National Park. moodboard/ Getty Images

    South Africa's first national park is also its most famous, offering one of the best safari experiences on the continent. Located in the far northeast of the country, the Kruger offers an incredible variety of flora and fauna - including Africa's Big Five and the lesser-known Little Five. The birdlife is exceptional, too, with over 500 species recorded within the park. There are countless different ways to explore. You can hire a car and self-drive along the park's well-maintained roads; or sign up for a private game drive and benefit from the knowledge of an experienced guide. Night drives and walking safaris are also well worthwhile. In terms of accommodation, your options range from rustic campsites to 5-star lodges. 

    This article was updated and re-written in part by Jessica Macdonald on January 8th 2018.