Want adventure, delicious food, and out-of-this-world scenery? Travel to South Africa and experience one of the top travel destinations on the continent.
Catch glimpses of the Big 5 inside the world-renowned Kruger National Park. Venture off the beaten track and explore the arid, vast plains of the Karoo. Hike to the top of Africa’s highest waterfall or soak up the sweeping mountain vistas of the Western Cape with a glass of award-winning wine. With its unique diversity of spaces to discover, it’s a bucket-list item.
How to Get to South Africa
The fastest way to travel to South Africa is by plane. Fly direct to O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg or Cape Town International Airport.
You can find nonstop flights into South Africa from New York City (JFK), Atlanta, Washington, Sydney, Perth, London, Frankfurt, Munich, Amsterdam, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tel Aviv, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Buenos Aires, and São Paulo.
For other destinations, you’ll have a layover in the U.S.A, Middle East, Europe, or Asia.
Best Time to Visit South Africa
Summer in South Africa
Summer (November to February) is the best time to visit South Africa. The weather is incredible with highs up to 81°F (28°C), little rain to ruin outdoor adventures, and a jam-packed events calendar in Cape Town.
The only downside? It’s high season in South Africa. You’ll pay more for flights, accommodation, and activities. If you have your heart set on exploring South Africa in the summer, book everything well in advance. With an influx of international travelers and locals going on holiday from December, accommodation and flights fill up fast.
Winter in South Africa
The winter months (June to August) are the best time to book a self-drive or guided safari in South Africa. It’s the dry season in Kruger National Park, making it easier to spot the Big 5 as animals flock to the watering holes.
While Kruger is also at its busiest in the winter, the other parts of South Africa are quiet. You can snap up incredible deals on flights, accommodation, and winter deals from the wineries in the Cape Winelands.
July to November is the best time to visit the coastal town of Hermanus. This unique place is home to one of the most amazing natural spectacles: Hundreds of whales congregate in the bay with their newborns, making it one of the top whale-watching destinations in the world.
Spring in South Africa
As South Africa warms up from a chilly winter, it kicks off the country’s music festival season. Plan your South Africa trip around Oppikoppi, Rocking The Daisies, and massive EDM events like Vortex, One Festival, and Alien Safari.
The beginning of spring (September) is the start of the wildflower season in South Africa. Go on a road trip up to West Coast National Park, the Cederberg, and Namaqualand to see the flowers transform landscapes into a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors.
For avid birders, there is no better time to book a guided safari for Kruger National Park. The rains bring back the migrating birds, and you’ll see plenty of baby animals running around the plains.
Autumn in South Africa
Autumn is a great time of year for budget travelers planning a trip to South Africa. As the summer crowds leave the country, you’ll find good deals on flights and accommodation – as long as you avoid the Easter school holidays.
The weather is perfect for hiking the Drakensberg. The cooler temperatures make outdoor activities more bearable and the summer rains are starting to dry up.
If you’re looking to go to a festival while in South Africa, plan your visit around Afrikaburn. It’s South Africa’s version of Burning Man set in desolate Tankwa Karoo National Park.
South Africa Travel Tips
Is South Africa Safe?
Yes, South Africa is safe as long as you are vigilant and aware of your surroundings. While some travelers stay away from the country because of the crime rates, most tourists visit without incident.
The high levels of crime are disproportionally concentrated in the townships (settlements established during the Apartheid regime).
You can protect yourself by following these essential safety tips for South Africa:
- Avoid wearing expensive jewelry and watches in public.
- Don’t flash expensive camera gear around. Please keep it in your bag until you need it.
- Don’t leave valuables in your car.
- Don’t leave your car unlocked while driving or parked.
- Don’t put your wallet in a pocket that’s easy access for pick-pockets.
- Don’t walk around at night. Get an Uber.
- Avoid carrying excessive amounts of money. Only take what you need for the day or outing.
Travel Visa Requirements for South Africa
All travelers to South Africa need:
- A valid passport with two blank pages
- Proof of a return ticket or onward travel documents
- A bank statement as proof of funds
- An unabridged birth certificate for minors
- A notarized document with both parent’s permission for the child to travel
Travelers from the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Argentina, Brazil and most European countries get a 90-day visa on arrival.
Other nationalities and specifically, citizens from Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia will need to apply for a visa for South Africa from their home country.
Always check with the South African consulate in your country for up to date visa requirements for your nationality.
What Vaccinations Do You Need for South Africa?
There are no required vaccinations for South Africa.
The only mandatory vaccine is Yellow Fever for travelers arriving from a high-risk country or are in transit from one for more than 12-hours.
Other precautionary vaccinations are optional. Always consult your doctor regarding Malaria prophylaxis, Typhoid, Hepatitis A and B, and Tetanus shots before boarding your flight.
How to Get Around South Africa
Uber: The best way to get around South Africa’s major cities (Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban) is with Uber. It’s a safer option to the normal metered taxis as you can see who your driver is and share your trip with a friend or family member.
MyCiti Bus: For a cheap way to get around Cape Town, hop on board the MyCiti bus. Buy a card at one of the kiosks, load it up with credit and pay as you go.
Gautrain: For travelers flying into O.R. Tambo International Airport, you can take the high-speed Gautrain train to destinations like Sandton and Rosebank. Local taxi drivers aren’t always too happy with Uber drivers picking up passengers at the stations, so you might have trouble requesting a ride.
Self-Drive Safaris: One of the best ways to explore the country is to go on a road trip through South Africa. Tour operators can tailor a South Africa self-drive safari itinerary to your budget and interests. You’ll get up-to-date advice from travel experts on what to see, where to stay, and what to pack. With a local guide planning your trip, you’ll have peace of mind and if anything does go awry – support is only a phone call away.
Guided Safaris: Whether it’s your first or 10th time visiting South Africa, there’s no better way to explore the bush than with a guided safari. The guides know all the best spots and can help you track down even elusive animals. It increases sightings and your chances of seeing the Big 5, while you learn interesting facts about Africa’s iconic wildlife along the way.
Fly-in Safaris: The appeal of fly-in safaris is for travellers who want to get the most out of their holiday in South Africa. Fly straight into Kruger National Park and spot South Africa’s iconic wildlife from above. It takes the hassle out of travelling, reduces your time enroute to a destination and gives you more time where you want to be – in the bush.
Domestic Flights: There are regular domestic flights to all of South Africa’s major cities. You can fly to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, George and Bloemfontein. There are smaller airports across the country as well as private airstrips for luxury safari lodges.
Organised Tours: Book a South Africa tour which includes transportation. It’s an excellent option for travellers who want to avoid the stress of navigating unfamiliar roads and car insurance. You can join an organised tour with other travellers or hire a private guide and create your own itinerary.
Top South Africa Travel Destinations
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is the best place to see the Big 5 in South Africa. It’s one of the oldest reserves in the country and deserves a spot on your South Africa itinerary. The reserve is only a 4-hour drive or a 50-minute flight from Johannesburg. Stay at one of the basic campsites inside the park or splurge on a five-star stay at a luxury lodge and book a game drive. It’s an incredible way to explore the bush as you sit back, relax and track down the Big 5.
Cape Town is a beautiful city and one of the most exciting places to visit in South Africa. Nestled at the foothills of Table Mountain National Park, it has something for every kind of traveler. Go hiking up Lion’s Head, watch a sunset concert inside Kirstenbosch National Park, dine at award-winning five-star restaurants, or take a drive down to Chapman’s Peak and Cape Point. Based on your interests, tour operators can craft an itinerary to help you see the best of what the city has to offer and plan day trips from Cape Town.
For a spectacular road trip up the East Coast, add the iconic Garden Route to your South Africa itinerary. It winds past some of the country’s most breathtaking coastal scenery stretching from Mossel Bay to Stormsriver. Highlights of the Garden Route include Robberg Nature Reserve, Garden Route National Park, Tsitsikamma National Park, the Cango Caves, as well as the charming towns of Knysna, Wilderness, and Nature’s Valley. You can spend a few days to weeks exploring the Garden Route. Ask your tour operator for help planning the perfect itinerary for the time you have in the country.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the largest reserves in the world. Established in 2000, it’s the first transfrontier park in Africa with its borders overlapping South Africa and Botswana.
Located in South Africa’s remote Northern Cape province, it’s the perfect choice for travelers who want to see a part of the country most people miss out on.
Besides the incredible diversity of wildlife, the park is home to the famous black-maned Kalahari lion.
With Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park being a more remote part of South Africa, hiring a guide is recommended for first-time travelers or those interested in a photographic safari. You’ll have all the support you need throughout the trip and don’t need to worry about navigating the wilderness.
While in Cape Town, take a drive out to the Cape Winelands. The picturesque towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch have incredible world-famous wine routes and exploring them is not to be missed in South Africa.
Hop on the Wine Tram and sample the award-winning South Africa vintages which have made the country one of the top wine destinations in the world.
If you have the time, stay in town and explore nearby nature reserves like Jonkershoek and Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve.
For hikers visiting South Africa, the spectacular Drakensberg mountain range is worth the drive.
It’s home to South Africa’s highest peaks, the highest waterfall in Africa, Tugela Falls – and offers spellbinding day and multi-day hikes.
Camp inside the beautiful Royal Natal National Park, take a tour to see San rock art, and welcome the New Year at the annual Smoking Dragon Festival.
For first-time Drakennsberg hikers, it’s best to hire a guide, especially for the more challenging multi-day trails.
Johannesburg, also known as Jozi or Joburg, is the largest city in South Africa. Add it to your itinerary if you want a deep dive into the country’s past.
Visit the haunting Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill, or go on a tour to Soweto to visit the Nelson Mandela House.
If you don’t have the time to drive all the way to Kruger, visit Pilanesberg National Park. It’s less than three hours from the City of Gold and is home to the Big 5. Book a guided safari or spend the day exploring the self-drive loops.
Durban is a coastal city on the east coast of South Africa. Its legendary tourist attraction is the Golden Mile waterfront promenade.
High-rise hotels, shops, and restaurants flank the coastline as well as top attractions in South Africa such as uShaka Marine World, the Moses Mabhida Stadium, and Mini Town.
Durban is an excellent holiday destination in South Africa to use as a base to explore the North Coast. Drive up to iSimangaliso Wetlands Park and go scuba diving in Sodwana Bay, one of the top diving spots in Africa.