South Africa Overview

With its stylish cities, fantastic roads, enticing cuisine and accessible national parks, a South Africa vacation is a superb choice for those who just want to dip their toes into the continent. You can explore its varied wildlife, fascinating culture and gorgeous landscapes without leaving your creature comforts behind – and it remains rough enough around the edges to give a real sense of adventure. This all reinforces the country’s motto – “Unity in Diversity” – and visitors will find that South Africa extends far beyond the traditional African clichés, into something much more complex, fascinating and enriching. Find out more in our South Africa travel guide.

Our top South Africa vacations

South Africa safari vacation, 14 days

From £4120
14 days ex flights
Award winning safari in South Africa
Small group2021: 21 Mar, 11 Apr, 25 Apr, 9 May, 23 May, 13 Jun, 27 Jun, 11 Jul, 25 Jul, 8 Aug, 22 Aug, 5 Sep, 19 Sep, 3 Oct, 17 Oct, 31 Oct, 14 Nov, 28 Nov

Luxury Kruger and Mauritius Vacation

From £2900
12 days ex flights
South Africa's Kruger National Park, plus time in Mauritius

Best time to go to South Africa

The best time to visit South Africa really depends on your own interests. Game is easier to spot in Kruger National Park during the dry winter months of July through to September, when cooler temperatures also make hiking and cycling more pleasant. Sunseekers heading for the south coast should aim for summer – as should keen birders in the north. October and November draw photographers to the wildflower-carpeted Northern Cape, while fans of supersized wildlife should visit from July to December, when whales can be seen near Hermanus. Read more about the best time to visit South Africa.
South Africa temperature and rainfall chart

Map & highlights

South Africa’s national parks are well-known, and the largest and most famous is Kruger National Park in the north. In the south, Addo Elephant National Park is particularly good for seeing elephant herds. South Africa has many great cities, but Cape Town has the most impressive location, sitting under the shadow of Table Mountain with its face to the vast ocean. KwaZulu-Natal is where you can find the Battlefields of the Anglo Zulu Wars; nearby, the inspiring peaks of the Drakensburg Mountains make for fantastic hiking terrain. Swaziland – the landlocked country within South Africa – has great game reserves.
Addo Elephant National Park

1. Addo Elephant National Park

Just a short hop from Port Elizabeth, Addo Elephant National Park offers all the adventure of an African safari – without the long drives, the remoteness or the malaria. Now a sanctuary for more than just elephants, Addo is home to the Big Five, and its family-friendly activities include horse riding, short hikes, and whale watching off the coast.
Battlefields of Anglo Zulu Wars

2. Battlefields of Anglo Zulu Wars

In 1879, the British army invaded Zululand and found themselves face to face with thousands of Zulu warriors. Today, the battlefields at Rorke’s Drift (where 140 British troops held off up to 4,000 Zulus) and Isandwana (where 1800 British solders were killed) set the stage for mesmerising tours, led by knowledgeable storytellers who bring the scenes to life.
Cape Town

3. Cape Town

Cape Town’s spectacular setting, gentle climate and wonderful fusion of the urban and natural make it an easily lovable city. Away from the crowded Waterfront, there is a thriving culture – photograph rainbow-coloured Cape Malay houses, discover the dark past of District 6 and Robben Island, cycle through the township of Khayelitsha, relax on wave-battered beaches and enjoy the laid-back vibe of the Mother City.
Drakensberg Mountains

4. Drakensberg Mountains

An epic, 1,000km-long mountain chain, the Drakensberg’s jagged peaks give it its Zulu name: uKhahlamba, ‘Barrier of Spears.’ Almost 300 bird species live here, and it has fantastic hiking and scenic drives along hairpin passes, rivers and forests and rivers. Part of the range is protected by the Royal Natal National Park, including a 5km-long, 1.2km-high “amphitheatre”, and the Tugela Falls – at 948m, the second highest waterfall in the world.
Kruger National Park

5. Kruger National Park

Kruger is the most famous gem in South Africa’s heavy tourism crown – and deservedly so. This 19,485km² park encompasses a vast array of habitats, over 500 species of birds, and more mammals than any other African game reserve – including, of course, the Big Five. Options ranging from luxury lodges and top-end safaris to campsites and self-drive tours mean that Kruger really is open to all.
Swaziland

6. Swaziland

Though not part of South Africa, many tours pass through Swaziland, and with good reason. Squashed up against the Mozambique border, the attractions in this tiny, mountainous kingdom far outweigh its diminutive size. This is one of the world’s last absolute monarchies, so there is a fantastic culture to discover, as well as national parks, game reserves and hiking trails.

Why visit South Africa?

South Africa is a great introduction to Africa. It’s accessible, with good roads and infrastructure, and there’s a hugely diverse sweep of sights. Kruger National Park could be the poster boy for safari vacations, whilst Cape Town and its surrounding Winelands know how to wine and dine visitors. In a country this large, don’t just visit one place. Road trips in the country are popular for a reason. Add Johannesburg after Kruger National Park or combine KwaZulu-Natal with the Elephant Coast. It’s South Africa’s variety that makes it so compelling.

Kruger National Park

Tell people you’re going to South Africa on safari, and they’ll probably think you’re going to Kruger National Park. This huge game reserve is four hours’ drive or a flight from Johannesburg, and is home to black and white rhino, big cats and African wild dogs. Most people visit the wildlife-rich south and it can be a busy place; if you spot a lion, you won’t be the only ones watching. However, the park is ringed by private game reserves that offer more secluded excursions, and the north of Kruger is quieter, too.

Self drive vacations

Driving along South Africa’s coast, you might be distracted by a whale spout out to sea or do a double-take at the sight of penguins on the beach. Head inland and there are ostriches running alongside the road in the Karoo and warthogs trotting ahead in the game parks. The country’s good roads and big scenery is perfect for self drive vacations, and there are some well-known routes to follow. The best known is the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, enjoying the green corridor of land that lines the coast – less a garden and more an adventure playground.

More vacation ideas

South Africa vacation

From £2300 to £4500
15 days inc UK flights
Explore Cape Town, the Winelands and the Garden Route

Ten day wildlife safari, South Africa

From £2695 to £2995
10 days ex flights
Award winning wildlife safaris in South Africa
Small group2021: 25 Aug, 31 Aug, 9 Sep, 17 Sep, 27 Sep, 4 Oct, 11 Oct, 18 Oct, 25 Oct, 1 Nov, 8 Nov, 15 Nov, 22 Nov

South Africa safari and Mauritius beach vacation

From £3340 to £5100
13 days inc UK flights
This luxury itinerary combines a wildlife safari with relaxation time on the beach

Cape Town to Vic Falls vacation in Southern Africa

From US $3579 to US $3749
20 days ex flights
A spectacular and diverse African journey
Small group2021: 27 Feb, 17 Jul, 28 Aug, 6 Nov

Cape Town and the Garden Route tour

From US $2749 to US $2949
12 days ex flights
Travel along the dramatic coastline at the bottom of South Africa
Small group2021: 13 Feb, 20 Feb, 7 Aug, 28 Aug, 4 Sep, 11 Sep, 18 Sep, 25 Sep, 2 Oct, 16 Oct, 18 Oct, 23 Oct, 6 Nov, 13 Nov, 20 Nov, 4 Dec, 18 Dec, 2022: 8 Jan, 15 Jan, 22 Jan, 29 Jan, 12 Feb, 19 Feb, 26 Feb, 12 Mar, 19 Mar, 26 Mar, 6 Aug, 27 Aug, 3 Sep, 10 Sep, 17 Sep, 24 Sep, 1 Oct, 8 Oct, 15 Oct, 22 Oct, 5 Nov, 12 Nov, 19 Nov

South Africa & Mauritius vacation

From £3795
16 days inc UK flights
Africa and the Indian Ocean. Cape Town, Safari and Mauritius
Quote. The secret to a great holiday is that it's great for everyone - you, local communities and nature.
Tourist and Masai

More about South Africa

Traveling in South Africa with kids

Whilst family vacations to South Africa are both safe and wonderful, to get the most out of safari – which can often involve long drives and patient waiting – it’s best if your children are over the age of eight. Older children and teenagers can start to learn about South Africa’s challenging history and multifaceted culture, too, by visiting Johannesburg and having a guided tour of Soweto. If you’re traveling with younger children, you might even want to consider a volunteering vacation. Young children can work with orphaned primates; age is no barrier to having a monkey cuddle.

Types of vacations

From Addo to Hluhluwe, you’ve got your pick of parks and private reserves on a safari vacation in South Africa. It goes without saying that this is a marvellous wildlife vacation destination. And think beyond big cats: you could visit the coast to see dolphins and whales chasing the annual sardine run instead. Joining a small group vacation can be a really fun way to drink your way through the Winelands. Feeling intrepid? Consider an adventure vacation – you could get up close to great white sharks or stick to dry land on an overland tour.

Going beyond South Africa

From here, the only way is up: South Africa is a gateway into the whole continent of Africa and a great starting point for an overland tour. The most popular route from Cape Town to Victoria Falls goes via Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia, and takes around three weeks. If you have less time, you could just nip into Namibia – where its vast deserts provide a contrast to the Cape Winelands. Alternatively, combine safari with a beach break by visiting South Africa and Mauritius – the island is the perfect place to wind down after all those lion encounters.
[Why visit South Africa?: Marcelo Novais] [Kruger National Park: Juanma Clemente-Alloza] [Self drive vacations: South African Tourism] [Traveling in South Africa with kids: Tim Williamson] [Types of vacations: South African Tourism] [Going beyond South Africa: Sunway Safaris]
Photo credits: [Page banner: bikeriderlondon] [Why visit South Africa?: Marcelo Novais] [Kruger National Park: Juanma Clemente-Alloza] [Self drive vacations: South African Tourism] [Traveling in South Africa with kids: Tim Williamson] [Types of vacations: South African Tourism] [Going beyond South Africa: Sunway Safaris]
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