South Africa has long been a jumping off point for travelers in search of a safari experience where they see the 'Big Five:' the African elephant, black rhino, cape buffalo, lion, and leopard. For many decades, this was the main -- and at times only -- reason travelers visited South Africa, but the tides of tourism have turned to favor many other reasons to visit this southern country.
In addition to safaris, travelers in South Africa can see a variety of other wildlife, surf and scuba in two oceans on the same day, and sample local wine and delicious ethnic foods from the unique (and at times tumultuous) blend of cultures in South Africa. This makes for an incredibly dynamic tour itinerary no matter your travel preferences. Whether you hop between cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg or head out into the oceans or onto the savannah in search of wildlife, South Africa pretty much has it all.
Wildlife Tours & Safaris
It's impossible to deny South Africa is a destination for wildlife lovers. Whether you seek the Big Five in famous Kruger National Park, go cage-diving to see Great White Sharks south of the African continent, or book a tour that includes a few stops to see penguins in the wild, the biodiversity in South Africa makes it a great destination.
South Africa's wine tourism industry has been on the rise over the past few years, for many delicious reasons. Now, it's relatively easy to book a tour that will take you to different wine regions and popular wineries. Pair this with culinary tourism in South Africa's big cities and you've got a tasty itinerary lined up.
Guided and self-guided cycling tours have also risen in popularity over the past decade. The dynamic terrain makes South Africa a compelling destination to see by bicycle, and several tour operators have moved in to meet demand. Whether you cycle in a group with a guide or opt to go it on your own with the help of a self-guided itinerary and someone to transport your bag, you've got options.
Planning Your Trip
Planning adventure travel in South Africa can be challenging because you won't know which incredible region to visit first. The country is relatively large, and most adventurous activities tend to be grouped in either the northeast region (Kruger National Park) or the Cape of the country in the southwest. Either plan to spend a few days in each different region you want to visit, or pick one and explore every nook and cranny of it while having the time of your life.
Best Time to Visit South Africa
The high tourist season in South Africa is between October and March, which coincides with the country's summer season. Higher temperatures and sunny weather are perfect for adventures along the sea, but if your primary goal is to go on a Kruger safari, the dry season of May through September is best for wildlife viewing.
What to Look for in a Tour
South Africa has a good reputation for touring, but it's always worth checking reviews left by past guests from whatever tour you plan to book. Additionally, look for tour companies that have longevity; even if they have not been operating in South Africa for many years, if they have experience operating tours in other countries, this can be a good sign.
As always, review any itinerary and tour details to understand exactly what is included in your tour (and what is not). Review accommodation types and quality, as well as which meals you can expect to be provided.
Average Tour Costs
The cost of a tour in South Africa is highly dependent on the activities you want to do on that tour. A luxury glamping safari is obviously going to cost you more than a self-guided cycle tour with hostel accommodations included in the total.
Even a single day activity like cage diving or a helicopter tour can increase your price significantly, so consider how these shorter activities affect the tour you want to have -- and the price you're willing to pay.
That all said, tours in South Africa can be quite reasonable within a wide range of quality and length. Tours will typically run anywhere from $75-$250 per day or $500-$1500 per week. Given South Africa is quite far from most international destinations not on the African continent, you probably need a tour of no less than five days to get acclimated and really experience the destination.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
In terms of packing, South Africa has a temperate climate for the most part with sunny days and cool nights, so pack a good selection of clothes and layers. For the adventurous activities listed above, you will rent or be provided with all the gear you need on site, so don't worry about having to bring anything from home. Be sure to pack:
- Layered, lightweight clothing
- Hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen
- Bug spray
- Athletic shoes
- First aid kit
- Camera (for the incredible views)
- Power adapters for 230 V (UK and US residents will need them)
Health & Safety
No vaccines are required for travel to South Africa, but if you are going to visit the northeastern part of the country, you may want to take preventative malaria medication. Most travelers will also use insect spray and long layers at night to protect themselves from mosquito bites and avoid the disease that way, though this method is less reliable.
Though South Africa is a beautiful country with friendly people, it also has a high crime rate, especially in urban areas. Avoid venturing into townships on your own or at night, and try to take reliable taxis back to your hotel if you are out late at night, no matter how short the distance is. If you're driving around a lot, make sure to keep your doors locked as car break-ins are another common occurrence.
Other than that, most neighborhoods you would want to visit and rural areas where you can find adventurous activities are relatively safe.
If you are planning on going on wildlife adventures such as safaris through lion country, listen carefully to your tour guides and follow their rules when you are close to the animals. They know best when it comes to interacting with wildlife, and on driving safaris they will tell you to stay in the car and roll up the windows if any animals approach.