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South Africa

Choosing which time of year to see the Great Wildebeest Migration is made easy with this safari.

South Africa Holiday: A World in One Country

Head out on a Big 5 safari , soak up the sun on unspoilt beaches, sample fine wines in vineyard-clad valleys or revel in a world-class restaurant after playing 18 holes on a championship golf course. No matter what's on your vacation wish list, a South Africa holiday will tick all the right boxes.

Cape Town: Africa’s Most-awarded City

South Africa’s Mother City is consistently voted as one of the top holiday destinations in the world for families, couples and solo travellers. Cape Town boasts spectacular natural beauty, superb accommodation and fantastic weather year-round – and some of the best beaches in the world! The city’s acclaimed food and wine experiences are as alluring as its iconic landmark: Table Mountain, one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. And for some of the best land-based whale watching on the planet, head for Hermanus during whale season (July to September).

Kruger Safari: A Big 5 Capital

One of the major items on any safari goer’s bucket list is to encounter Africa’s iconic Big 5 (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo) in the wild. South Africa is one of the very few places on Earth where you’re able to tick off all five in one day, especially in Kruger’s private reserves like Sabi Sabi, Thornybush, Londolozi and Mala Mala. Most of these exclusive reserves are set alongside the Kruger National Park’s unfenced western boundary and deliver sensational game viewing.

  • Widest diversity of wildlife in South Africa.
  • Outstanding Big 5 game viewing between May and October.
  • Family-friendly lodges with specialised safari programmes for children.
  • Intimate safari camps and romantic lodges, ideal for honeymooners.
  • Luxury accommodation and fewer crowds in private reserves.

The Garden Route: Africa’s Most Gorgeous Coastline

A firm favourite for a family holiday, the world-famous Garden Route is a beautiful stretch of coastline that starts a couple of hours outside Cape Town and culminates just after the seaside town of Plettenberg Bay. The ideal way to explore all the Garden Route’s sandy beaches, rocky shores, quaint towns and indigenous forests is to hire a car and drive yourself, although charter flights are available between destinations if you don’t have the luxury of time.

  • Popular with self-drivers and families.
  • Start with whale watching and wine tasting in Hermanus.
  • Sample fresh oysters and go on sunset boat cruises in picturesque Knysna.
  • Luxury accommodation and pristine beaches in Plettenberg Bay.
  • Extend your route even further: discover the subtropical Indian Ocean coast of KwaZulu-Natal.

The Perfect Place for Family Safaris

If you’re travelling with youngsters or older relatives on their first safari, then South Africa is an excellent choice because it offers so much to see and do. The Kruger area has both public reserves and a massive national park where lodges offer children’s programmes, playgrounds and age-appropriate activities while the adults go out on spectacular Big 5 game drives. South Africa also has smaller but equally rewarding reserves like Madikwe, Pilanesberg just outside Sun City or one of the stunning parks in the Eastern Cape.

Easy to Get Around and Combines Well with Other Destinations

Thanks to a wide range of accommodation and a sophisticated, reliable infrastructure network, it’s very easy to get around in South Africa. The country’s well-maintained roads and highways make it a fantastic destination for a self-drive holiday through the Winelands and along the Garden Route. Daily commercial flights link all South Africa’s cities, and chartered airplanes can get you to the Kruger National Park and safari lodges that have their own private airstrips. OR Tambo International Airport is a major travel hub and the gateway to the rest of Africa, as well as the Indian Ocean islands for an idyllic bush-to-beach finale. Your holiday in South Africa can easily be combined with:

  • Botswana to experience the pristine Okavango Delta, Chobe and Kalahari.
  • Victoria Falls for a soul-stirring encounter with the world’s biggest waterfall.
  • Namibia, Southern Africa’s secret corner and home to our planet’s oldest desert.
  • Zimbabwe and Zambia for superb big game viewing in raw wildernesses.
  • Kenya and Tanzania to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration.

Best Time to Visit South Africa

South Africa is a large and diverse country with a climate that varies from region to region: Cape Townand the Western Cape experiences winter rainfall (June to August) and a largely bone-dry hot summer while much of the rest of the country, including the Kruger Park area, have heavy summer thundershowers (December to March) and a dry winter period from May to October. The Garden Route and Eastern Cape on the other hand can experience rain at any time of year.

Our “when to go” guidelines are based on the best time to visit South Africa’s top attractions:

The drier winter months between May and October is the best time for superb game viewing on a South Africa safari in Kruger, Madikwe, Pilanesberg and KwaZulu-Natal as animals are concentrated around water sources and are easier to spot in the thinned-out bush.

Read more about the best time to visit the Kruger Park

For a Cape Town beach holiday you simply can’t beat the hot summer months between November and March – although book your accommodation early if you want to visit over Christmas or New Year.

Read more about the best time to visit Cape Town

The KwaZulu-Natal coast has year-round sunshine, a beautifully mild winter and warm ocean temperatures so any time is a good time.

If you want to see whales in the south-western Cape on the aptly named Whale Coast then visit between June and November, although numbers are at their peak in September.

Where To Go in South Africa

Choosing where to go in South Africa is a bit like selecting which countries to visit on a global tour – each region is that different. From the sparkling city of Cape Town and the bottle-green hills of the Cape Winelands to the wild reserves of Kruger, Madikwe and the fantasyland that is Sun City, we’ve selected our favourite places of interest in this highly diverse country.

Cape Town: one of the world’s most beautiful cities

An unbeatable blend of stunning natural beauty and year-round fun makes Cape Town an easy city to fall in love with. For starters there are the beaches - so many you’ll struggle to single out a favourite - and then there’s hiking on iconic Table Mountain, the penguins of Boulders Beach, the ever-popular V&A Waterfront, the nearby Cape Winelands and picnics and concerts at Kirstenbosch Gardens.

Add to this a superb selection of accommodation, award-winning food and wine experiences plus a colourful collection of friendly locals and you’ll soon see why this captivating city was recently voted the “World’s #1 Travel Destination” (Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, 2011).

Cape Winelands: vineyard-clad valleys close to Cape Town

The green valleys and Alpine-style mountains of the Cape Winelands are a treat for both eye and palate: sip, swirl and sample award-winning wines, indulge in gourmet cuisine, or wander down oak-lined streets to local art galleries, all to a stunningly scenic backdrop. Although only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, we guarantee that a night or two in this peaceful patchwork of vineyards and mountains will dissolve any lingering city stress.

Kruger Park: phenomenal Big 5 game viewing

South Africa’s largest and best known reserve, the Kruger National Park is home to the country's greatest diversity of wildlife and includes the super-celebrities of the safari circuit: Africa’s Big 5.

Why pick Kruger for your South Africa safari? It's where to go in South Africa for guaranteed big game sightings, there’s accommodation to suit every style and budget, and being so well connected by air, you can easily round off your Big 5 safari with a few days on Cape Town’s beautiful beaches or even a tropical island off the Mozambique coast..

Sun City: Africa's premier holiday resort

Under three hours from Johannesburg lies South Africa’s undisputed ‘Kingdom of Pleasure’ - Sun City. If you’re looking for true escapism and non-stop entertainment then this is without question where to go - there are championship golf courses and world-class casinos, a slide-filled water park plus nightclubs, shops, restaurants … they’ve even built their own beach! And if that’s not enough, Sun City is right next to the Pilanesberg Big 5 Game Reserve.

Eastern Cape: malaria-free Big 5 safaris

For an exciting and stress-free family safari the Eastern Cape is hard to beat: a combination of child-friendly lodges in malaria-free reserves within driving distance of the Garden Route means an unforgettable family holiday. But it’s not just families who get to have all the fun in the Eastern Cape: these Big 5 reserves also have a handful of secluded, luxurious lodges that are among our favourites for a romantic safari away from crowds and kids.

KwaZulu-Natal: beaches, safaris & historic battlefields

It’s often said that locals know best, and when South Africans go on holiday their top choice is often the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). From the broad beaches of the sunny KwaZulu-Natal subtropical coast and the luxury accommodation of its big game reserves to its soaring mountain peaks and historic battlefields – KZN is where to go in South Africa for game viewing, bird watching, adventure, history and on-the-beach relaxation.

Pilanesberg Game Reserve: great game viewing & close to Sun City

Once a volcanic crater, the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is one of South Africa's best wildlife destinations and is centred around a large hippo and croc-filled lake. Although conveniently close to Sun City, these two top destinations feel words apart: some visitors choose to stay in Sun City and pop across for a half-day safari, but with such great Big 5 game viewing on offer plus a wide choice of excellent safari lodges, we’d highly recommend a night or two in this beautiful piece of African wilderness.

Madikwe Game Reserve: Big 5 game viewing away from the crowds

About a 4.5-5 hour drive or short charter flight from Johannesburg lies one of South Africa’s least known large reserves: Madikwe Private Game Reserve. Its Kalahari grasslands and woodlands are surprisingly full of animals and one of the best places to see the highly endangered African wild dog plus the Big 5. What’s more, if you’re looking for a family safari, the great news is that Madikwe lies outside the malarial belt and offers excellent family-friendly lodges as well as romantic retreats and honeymoon suites.

Johannesburg: restaurants, museums & an electric energy

Until recently most visitors to South Africa would whiz through Johannesburg, stopping just long enough to catch their connecting flight. Nowadays, however, Johannesburg (or Jozi as it’s known to the locals) is undergoing a revival and has become a destination in its own right with a fantastic selection of hotels and guest houses, a thriving café culture and thrumming night life. Catch the ultra-modern Gautrain straight from the airport to the heart of Sandton with its shining shopping centres filled with high-end boutiques, and give your credit card a good workout. Finally, for greater insight into South Africa’s recent past we’d highly recommend a visit to the Apartheid Museum - it’s a highly informative and moving experience.

Garden Route: beaches, forests & seaside towns

South Africa’s Garden Route is a natural playground of soft sand, warm sea, shady indigenous forest and laid-back little towns. Families will love the safe swimming beaches around Plettenberg Bay; adventurers can go hiking, horse riding or dolphin spotting; romantics can dine at restaurants overlooking Knysna’s peaceful lagoon (ask for the oysters!) and the wide selection of accommodation caters for everyone.

South Africa Travel Advice

There's nothing like up-to-date, relevant travel information direct from the experts - get True Lion King Safari's essential South Africa travel advice before you go.

Money & Spending

South Africa’s national currency is the South African rand. Foreign currency can be readily exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and many hotels but most travellers simply draw cash at ATMs (cash machines) which you’ll find throughout South Africa’s towns and cities. Not only is this far more convenient but ATMs also tend to offer a better rate of exchange.

We’d advise against carrying large quantities of cash, however, so for big purchases rather use your credit card. Most major credit cards (Amex, Mastercard, Visa and Diners Club International) are widely accepted in shops, restaurants and hotels but are not always accepted at many petrol stations.

You can claim back the VAT (the 14% value-added tax) on products you purchased in South Africa and are taking out the country (provided the total value of purchases exceeds R250) so be sure to keep your tax invoices and claim your cash back at the airport when you leave.

Tipping

Tipping is customary in South Africa, although entirely at your discretion. Hotels and lodges often use an 'envelope system' with your tip distributed amongst staff members; at restaurants the general guideline is 10 to 15% for good to excellent service; and if you’re driving around towns you’ll often find a yellow-bibbed 'car guard' who’ll keep an eye on your vehicle while it’s parked on the street in exchange for a couple of rand on your return.

For in-depth tipping guidelines on your South Africa safari, enquire with one of our Africa Safari Experts - they'd be happy to share their knowledge with you.

What to Pack

What you pack for your South Africa holiday depends on where and when you want to visit. Given the country’s mostly temperate climate, you’ll be comfortable during the summer in lightweight clothes but pack a jacket and closed shoes to be safe – Cape Town in particular is known for its four-seasons-in-a-day weather while Johannesburg and the Kruger Park experience heavy summer rains.

If you’re coming to South Africa for a beach holiday pack plenty of sunscreen, swimming costumes and casual wear for the day, plus a few more dressed-up items for the evenings if you’ll be spending time in the cities of Cape Town or Johannesburg. South Africans are relatively casual dressers but you’ll need a few more formal items if you’ll be staying at the country's exclusive hotels or embarking on a luxury train journey.

If you are visiting South Africa in the winter, pack a few warmer layers, a coat and a pair of boots – it can get surprisingly chilly, especially during the June-August months.

When it comes to packing for a South Africa safari, follow the guidelines in our Africa Safari Guide travel advice section. Stick to lightweight, practical clothing in neutral colours with a warm fleece or jacket for early morning and evening game drives.

And finally, wherever you are travelling in South Africa be sure to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes – from city streets to mountain hikes, there is so much to see and do on foot!

OR Tambo International Airport: Africa's biggest travel hub, Johannesburg's main airport serves as a gateway to all South and Southern African destinations as well as East African ones and the Indian Ocean.

Cape Town International Airport: fly direct to Cape Town or via Johannesburg for South Africa's Cape destinations - Cape Town, the Whale Route, Cape Winelands, Garden Route and the Eastern Cape.

King Shaka International Airport: visitors to KwaZulu-Natal's game reserves, battlefields and Indian Ocean coast will land here via Johannesburg or Cape Town though there are direct flights via Dubai. A direct flight to Mauritius makes for a great KZN safari and beach holiday.

Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport: linking the Kruger National Park and its private reserves with Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, a flight to Vilanculos on the Mozambique coast also means an easy Kruger/Bazaruto Archipelago itinerary.

Hoedspruit Airport: fly into the Kruger's second airport from Johannesburg or Cape Town for easy access to the park's private reserves.

Port Elizabeth Airport: gateway to the Big 5 reserves of the Eastern Cape, PE serves as an ideal finishing point for travellers on a self-drive safari from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape via the Garden Route.

George Airport: get straight into the heart of the Garden Route with a flight to George via Johannesburg or Cape Town.

Getting around South Africa is easy. Daily commercial flights link all its cities while private and chartered aircraft also crisscross the South African skies. Many of our recommended lodges have their own private airstrip.

Road transfers are conducted in modern and comfortable vehicles and, because of its sophisticated infrastructure, South Africa is ideal car-hire country. Suitable destinations for a self-drive holidayinclude Cape Town, the Cape Winelands, the Garden Route, kwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. Many visitors to the Kruger National Park choose to drive there via the scenic Panorama Route but once at their safari accommodation will join other guests on the guided game drives.

Visa & Passport Requirements

All visitors to South Africa require a passport valid for six months from date of departure as well as at least one completely blank page in your passport, excluding the final page.

Visitors from the USA, most Commonwealth countries (including the UK and Australia), most Western European countries and Japan don’t require visas but will be issued a free entry permit on arrival valid for up to 90 days. Visitors of nationalities other than those listed above will need to obtain a visa prior to travel from a South African embassy or consulate.

Please note that children under the age of 18 must be in possession of an unabridged birth certificate that contains both parents' full names, as well as their own passport. Children travelling with guardians must produce relevant documents - such as letters of permission from their parents or custody court orders - that shows they have permission to travel. You may not be allowed to enter or leave South Africa without the relevant documents. Please click here for a full break down of the paperwork required.

History & Economy

Shaped by one of the world's most turbulent histories, South Africa is a country like no other on the continent.

Home to archaeological sites dating back over three million years, South Africa's indigenous people were the Khoikhoi and San Bushmen, long since confined to the margins of history. Iron Age African herders and farmers - predecessors of today's ethnic groups such as the Zulus and Xhosas - were the first settlers to arrive, followed by the Europeans, personified by Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck's 1652 landfall. It was the subsequent arrival of the British however that precipitated 350 years of colonisation and war as settlers, missionaries and empire builders established white rule. The subsequent liberation struggle has largely defined modern South Africa which only became a true democracy in 1994.

Such is South Africa's economic power that it has the same relationship with Africa as the United States has with the world - it's the continent's powerhouse and its GDP alone is a full quarter of that of the entire African continent. A mixed economy with access to abundant resources, South Africa has well developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing, engineering, power-producing and financial industries. Some of its most important exports are gold, platinum, wine, fruit and coal.

People & Culture

The phrase 'Rainbow Nation' was coined by struggle icon Desmond Tutu to describe South African society, and it is a well chosen one. Few countries can match the ethnic mix of this country, perhaps best illustrated by its 11 official languages (though English is the long-established lingua franca). Nearly 80% of South Africa's 50 million people consider themselves part of a black culture with Indians, coloureds and English or Afrikaans-speaking whites making up the rest along with large Jewish and Portuguese communities. In recent years South Africa has become home to many African migrants and refugees.

Like most African countries, South Africa is a deeply religious one: 80% consider themselves Christian and every year a million people attend the country's biggest Easter celebration. Yet despite modern appearances, traditional beliefs still hold sway in much of the country - sangomas ('witch doctors') are regularly consulted by 60% of the population and the use of muti (traditional medicine ) is widespread.

A country of constant debate, challenge and adaptation, culture runs deep. Home to prehistoric rock art and Nobel Prize winners, South Africa has produced world famous statesmen, writers, athletes and musicians. Its food reflects the diversity of its people and visitors can expect a blend of European, Asian and African influences as well as award-winning wines.

Landscape & Wildlife

Set at the bottom of the African continent and with a 2 500km coastline teeming with marine life, South Africa has astonishing natural diversity. Dominated by a flat semi-arid interior - the Karoo - South Africa's landscapes include soaring mountain ranges, sub-tropical beaches, temperate forests, high grasslands and tangled bushveld. The Western Cape is home to the striking fynbos vegetation and a stunning coastline but it's the north and east of the country where most of the large animals remain.

The Kruger National Park is the country's flagship Big 5 reserve but there are big game destinations all across the country and its coastal waters are home to whales and great white sharks, both of which can be seen close up. A conservation powerhouse, South Africa is an important stronghold for elephant, rhino, turtles and predators of all description while its long bird list makes for great bird watching.

South Africa wildlife highlights include Big 5 game viewing in the Kruger Park and its private reserves; whale watching on the Whale Coast between August and October; shark-cage diving in Gansbaai near Cape Townmalaria-free Big 5 game viewing in the Eastern Cape and Madikwe Game Reserve; and game viewing and birding in KwaZulu-Natal.

Best South Africa Tours & Safaris

Tour South Africa and you will soon discover why it's often described as a 'world in one country': encompassing every kind of environment from mountains, forests and savannahs to sunny beaches, echoing deserts and modern cities - a holiday in South Africa can be anything you want it to be.

A South Africa tour or safari is easily one of the most diverse trips on the continent; combine the Garden Route and Cape Winelands for a romantic self-drive holiday; discover the wonders of Cape Town and the luxury of a Kruger on one of our South Africa safari packages; embark on a fun-filled family adventure at Sun City and malaria-free Big 5 game viewing at Madikwe; or a classic beach and safari experience in KwaZulu Natal.

Our selection of top South Africa tours and safaris include those designed for families with childrenhoneymooners and romantics, wildlife enthusiasts and golfers - simply ask one of our Africa Safari Experts to put together a tailor-made South Africa holiday that will exceed all your expectations.


Best South Africa Accommodation

Known as the world in one country, South Africa is as varied as it is scenic and its wide range of accommodation reflects this very diversity. Indeed, South Africa accommodation includes everything from five-star hotels and luxury private villas to family-friendly safari lodges and self-catering guest houses. Both quality and service are comparable to anything you'd find in Europe or North America.

Luxury boutique hotels and guest houses are set in prime positions in the vibrant cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town as well as all along the Garden Route and the country's most famous coastlines. South Africa's top national parks and game reserves such as the Kruger Park and its private reserves have accommodation options ranging from child-friendly lodges to exclusive tented camps while KwaZulu-Natal's scenic countryside has hidden gems well known for their fine cuisine and indulgent service. We've also selected safari accommodation in malaria-free Big 5 reserves - perfect for family getaways.

There's certainly a lot to choose from but we've made your decision a lot easier with our handpicked selection of the very best accommodation in South Africa. If you can't find what you're looking for however, one of our experienced African Safari Experts will happily recommend the ideal hotel, lodge or guest house to suit your requirements.


South Africa Travel articles

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Accomodation

Kruger

Activities travellers enjoyed: Animal tracking experience Beach activities Bird

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$500

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Tours & Safaris

Siwandu

Activities travellers enjoyed: Bird watching Boat excursions Game drives Guided walking safaris Private game-drives

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$8,895

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Destination

Gibb's Farm

Activities travellers enjoyed: Biking Cultural tours Game drives Guided walks Jogging trails Local village visits .

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$8,895

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Destination

Fundu Lagoon

Activities travellers enjoyed: Boat excursions Canoeing Day tours Deep sea fishing Dhow cruises Fishing .

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$8,895

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Accomodation

Mnemba Island Lodge

Activities travellers enjoyed: Beach activities Deep sea fishing Scuba diving Snorkelling Kayaking Animal tracking experience .

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$8,895

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Tours & Safaris

Jabali Ridge

Activities travellers enjoyed: Game drives Guided walking safaris Night drives .

from/

$8,895

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Destination

Rubondo Island Camp

Activities travellers enjoyed: Bird watching Boat excursions Fishing Game drives Hiking Guided walking safaris .

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$8,895

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Destination

Singita Faru Faru River Lodge

Activities travellers enjoyed: Biking Bird watching Game drives Hot air ballooning Specialist guides Tennis .

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$8,895

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Accomodation

Sayari Camp

Activities travellers enjoyed: 4x4 Drives Bird watching Bush dining Fine dining experience Full-day safaris Game drives .

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$1,475

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Tours & Safaris

The Highlands Ngorongoro

Activities travellers enjoyed: Cultural tours Game drives Hiking Guided walking safaris Local village visits .

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$425

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Tours & Safaris

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

Activities travellers enjoyed: Bird watching Game drives Local village visits Picnics Private game-drives Scenic drives .

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$1,115