In this article, I’m going to cover the very best tours you can go on in South Africa. How do I know they’re so good? Because I’ve traveled the length and breadth of South Africa and know the ins and outs as well as a local.
There are few places that combine such a mix of natural beauty and fascinating history as South Africa does. Arguably the country’s most popular attraction, Kruger National Park is one of the continent’s most visited game reserves. Its 7,800 square mile area is full of iconic African animals, including the Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffaloes.
In fact, Kruger National Park is the best place to see the Big Five in South Africa. Elsewhere, Cape Town’s Table Mountain is just one of South Africa’s range of stunning landscapes. Additionally, the country is packed full of historic sites. These include the prison island of Nelson Mandela, one of the 20th century’s most celebrated men due to his long fight for racial equality.
With all there is to see and do, filling your schedule won’t be an issue in South Africa.
1. Cape Point and Penguin Full-Day Tour
The panoramic ocean views from Cape Town’s peninsula are some of the most majestic you’ll see anywhere. This full-day tour departs from Cape Town in the morning and includes stops at Boulders Beach, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Boulders Beach is home to Africa’s only mainland penguin colony, while Cape Point marks Africa’s south westernmost point.
If you’re an animal and nature lover, this tour is a great choice. Visitors to the reserve have a good chance of spotting animals including ostriches and gazelles. If you’re there between July and November, you may even see whales. You’ll have time to stop for lunch along the way, but it’s not included in the cost, so plan accordingly.
2. 4-Day Camping Trip in Kruger National Park
Few places in Africa are as full of wild animals as South Africa’s Kruger National Park. And it’s well worth taking your time when visiting. This extensive tour kicks-off at the airport, or at your Johannesburg or Pretoria hotel if you’re already in the country. Once you’ve made yourself at home at the tour’s compound, the majority of your time will be spent out in the bush, viewing the animals from an open-air vehicle.
Spending the night under the African stars and viewing lions, hyenas, and elephants up close will be something you’ll never forget. These tours fill up fast, so plan ahead.
3. Addo Elephant National Park Full-Day Tour from Port Elizabeth
Though Addo Elephant National Park isn’t a household name like Kruger, it is one of the largest reserves in South Africa. Created first and foremost with elephants in mind, it’s undoubtedly the best place to guarantee close encounters with the world’s largest land mammal.
From your hotel in Port Elizabeth, you’ll travel to the park, which was established in the early 1930s. At that time, elephants were dangerously close to extinction. Thankfully, since then they’ve made a remarkable comeback.
This all-inclusive tour gives visitors the chance to see other African legends, like leopards, rhinos, and Cape buffaloes too. The latter is one of the most dangerous large animals in Africa. A side-trip to Algoa Bay, reached by Portugese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, may also be included depending on time.
4. Skip-the-Line Entrance Ticket at Two Oceans Aquarium
With millions of gallons of habitat and more than 3,000 creatures on display, it’s no wonder that the Two Oceans Aquarium is such a popular place. At peak times, this Cape Town institution can get downright crowded. So this skip-the-line ticket will ensure that even on a busy day you and your travel companions will zip right through.
The majority of the aquarium’s species are from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. But there are exhibits with animals from around the globe. Some species aren’t found in any other aquarium in the world. There are lots of interactive activities to keep kids entertained, as well as a gift shop and café on-site.
5. Robben Island Ticket with Hotel Pick-Up
Source: Anton_Ivanov / shutterstock
Robben Island is one of the most historically significant sites that you’ll visit during your time in South Africa. It’s the former prison-island for black enemies of the state during the long apartheid years. Largely staffed by former prisoners, it’s full of fascinating exhibits, photographs, artifacts, and first-hand accounts, all of which are a little macabre.
Highlights include the cell where the island’s most famous resident, Nelson Mandela, spent nearly two decades incarcerated for demanding democracy and majority rule. Since the great man’s death in 2013, the site has only grown in importance.
Robben Island is less than an hour from Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront from Nelson Mandela Gateway ferry terminal. After the tour, you’ll be dropped back at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. From here, there are almost endless views of Table Mountain, and great shopping too.
6. Sailing Trip around Cape Town Waterfront and Bay
This sailboat sightseeing tour will follow the prevailing winds and may include Table Bay, Milnerton Lighthouse and Robben Island. Regardless of which way the captain takes you, your tour will be full of majestic views and will provide many once-in-a-lifetime photo ops. Make sure your camera is fully-charged or bring plenty of film as the boat’s crew will point out significant landmarks along the way.
Just remember to pack a few extra layers and bring sunglasses and a hat, as the weather out on the water can change quickly. The tours last an hour and launch from Quay 5 of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
7. Cape Town: Sunset Catamaran Cruise
The sunsets along the South African coast are some of the most magical you’ll find anywhere in the world. Experiencing one from the gently rolling deck of a catamaran is one of the best ways to enjoy it. From the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, this tour cruises down the Atlantic coast toward the base of the Cape Peninsula. Along the way you’ll get unobstructed views of Table Mountain, looming large over the surrounding landscape.
What’s more, you’ll get views of Robben Island thrown in. The shadows playing off these structures give the landscape a dramatic and lunar feel you won’t forget. The tour lasts 90 minutes and has the chance to encounter dolphins, Cape fur seals, and plenty of birdlife as extra incentives to sign up.
8. Champagne Sunset and 3-Course Dinner Cruise from Cape Town
For most of us, trips to exotic locales like Cape Town are things we’ll only ever get to experience once. If you’d like to spare no expense and see the city like few others will, then this dinner sunset cruise deserves a spot on your itinerary.
You won’t take much convincing that Cape Peninsula and Table Mountain are the perfect backdrops for this sunset cruise. Depending on conditions, you may get glimpses of Granger Bay and Milnerton Lighthouse too.
You’ll sip South African wine from the deck, then head back to shore after sunset to enjoy your gourmet 3-course meal prepared with locally sourced ingredients. Delish!
9. Pilanesberg Full-Day Safari Tour from Johannesburg
Even if you’ve already scheduled a 4-day tour of Kruger National Park in your itinerary, it’s worth including this full-day tour of Pilanesberg National Park too.
Starting from Johannesburg, the tour includes round-trip transportation and at least 2 ½ hours spent in the park. That’s ample time to search for the park’s big game aboard an open-air vehicle.
Led by an experienced guide, you’re sure to get close to many of the park’s main animal attractions, like lions, zebras, hyenas, and hippos. With a little luck, you may even see an elusive leopard, alongside crocodiles and giraffes.
What’s more, the cost of the tour includes both park entrance fees and lunch. From beginning to end, this safari lasts about 12 hours. So it may not be the best bet for young children with short attention spans. Whether you take this tour or another I highly recommend visiting the Pilanesbert National Park as it is a great place to spot wildlife.
10. Museum of Contemporary African Art Fast-Track
The Zeitz MOCAA is South Africa’s preeminent modern art museum and is conveniently located on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. It’s the largest of its kind in the world and includes tens of thousands of square feet dedicated to preserving and promoting contemporary African art from all corners of the continent.
The museum has galleries featuring works in every medium, plus plenty of hands-on activities for children. A top-floor restaurant makes great use of the incredible views, while the gift shop is perfect for souvenir hunters. This fast-track ticket enables visitors to skip the long lines which can form on busy days. And if you fancy discovering even more, audio guides are available in many languages.
11. Marine Wildlife Kayak Tour from the V&A Waterfront
The waters around South Africa are known as one of the world’s great white shark hotspots. Given this fact, a kayak tour may seem like a strange way of sightseeing. But this two-hour tour is perfectly safe, and gets you up close to some of the area’s less dangerous wildlife.
Dolphins, seals, penguins, and seabirds are in abundance. You may even catch a glimpse of a whale or two if you’re there in the right season. From your ocean vantage point, you’ll also get glimpses of Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, and the Twelve Apostles Mountains, together some of the area’s most recognizable natural icons.
12. African Dinner and Drumming Experience
Traditional African drums create some of the most dramatic and recognizable beats you’re ever likely to hear. This dinner and drumming experience takes place in one of the city’s most unique restaurants. It includes a drum lesson taught by locals, after which you’ll get to see how the experts do it.
The accompanying multi-course set menu boasts a wide array of foods. Many incorporate ingredients hinting at the expansive international influences forming parts of South Africa’s past. Come hungry, and be prepared for a truly distinctive experience which may just be one of the highlights of your trip.
13. 1-Day Soweto, Apartheid Museum & City Tour from Johannesburg
Apartheid was a reality in the lives of all South Africans for decades. In 1976, an uprising in the black township of Soweto set things in motion that would ultimately lead to apartheid’s end. This tour includes a brief stop at Nelson Mandela’s home before visiting the place where two school boys aged 12 and 15 were shot dead by the police. The recovery of their bodies became a symbol of the uprising.
As you might imagine, this is not the only graphic site on the tour, so be warned. Lasting eight hours, guides give you the option of visiting several museums along the way – or if you’d rather not, that’s okay too. If you visit just one, make sure it’s the Apartheid Museum. I highly recommend it.
14. South African Full-Day Wine Tour
In recent years, South Africa has garnered international acclaim for its wine industry. On this tour, you’ll be exposed to some beautiful countryside, the area’s history, and the process by which grapes get turned into wine. The tour lasts 8 ½ hours and includes visits to some of the region’s most celebrated wineries in the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschoek.
Just a short drive from Cape Town, you’ll spend most of your time learning about and sampling wines created with varieties including shiraz and pinotage. A dry yet refreshing sparkling champagne-like wine is also usually available to try. Put simply, this tour is essential for wine lovers.
15. Franschhoek Wine Tram Hop-on Hop-off
The hop-on hop-off tram and bus tour offers an excellent opportunity to explore the beautiful Franschhoek Valley from Cape Town. The tour departs from Cape Town at 8:30 AM and 9 AM, depending on the chosen tram line. You can choose from different tram lines, such as the Navy and Burgundy Line, or the Pink and Grey Line (from December 26th – January 2nd), and visit any of the eight wine estates on the circular routes. Each line offers a unique perspective on the Franschhoek wine experience, from boutique to marquee estates.
The tram or tram bus passes every 60 minutes, and you can hop-on-hop-off at your preferred wine estates. However, wine-tasting fees are not included and payable on the day. At 4:45 PM, the tour ends, and you will return to Cape Town by bus. Overall, the hop-on hop-off tram and bus tour is a great way to experience the lush beauty of the Franschhoek Valley and enjoy some of South Africa’s finest wines.