A giraffe licking its lips after a delicious meal of leaves at Kruger National Park • South Africa Travel Guide

Finding your own path in South Africa

A very hungry hyena went out on the African plains to hunt for food. He came to a branch in the bush road where the two paths veered off in different directions. He saw two goats caught in the thickets at the far end of the two different paths. With his mouth watering in anticipation, he decided that his left leg would follow the left path and his right leg the right path. As the two paths continued to veer in different directions he tried to follow them both at once. Finally he split in two. As the well-known African proverb says: Two roads overcame the hyena [African folktale].

South Africa is a great country with a proud and rich cultural heritage. It also has a lot to offer when it comes to natural beauty and a diverse animal life. To ensure that you won’t suffer the same fate as the poor hyena in the old African legend, we have compiled a thorough list of highlights, hidden gems and tips for the southern most country of the African continent. Whether you want to explore the craggy cliffs at the Cape of Good Hope, sip a glass of wine at the lush vineyards around Stellenbosch, waddle with penguins on the beaches of the Cape region, or join a safari to spot big game – with our detailed travel guide you will be able to easily find your own path in South Africa and not miss out on any of the fun.

Hyenas feasting on the carcass of a water buffalo at Kruger National Park • South Africa Travel Guide

This is a two-part article about traveling around South Africa. The first part covers the city of Johannesburg, the spectacular Panorama Route (Blyde River Canyon), safari at Kruger National Park, a trip to Swaziland and the KwaZulu Natal.

In the second part, we will head over to Cape Town, explore the Cape Winelands, go on a road trip along mountainous Route 62, ride ostriches in Oudtshoorn and follow the famous Garden Route. If you would like to read the second part of the article please click here:


Top Experiences & Highlights in South Africa

1st leg – Johannesburg: Soweto, Live Jazz & Gandhi’s Satyagraha House

We started our tour of South Africa in Johannesburg and ended it in Cape Town, but, of course, the same route also makes sense if you do it the reverse way (Cape Town to Jo’burg).

Johannesburg is certainly not the most beautiful spot in South Africa and there are plenty of safety issues in certain neighborhoods. Nevertheless, there are quite a few interesting sights and attractions if you have the time to spare. Having said that I would hardly recommend spending more than 1-2 days here.

See & Do

Top experiences:

Soweto Township Tour: No trip to South Africa is complete without visiting one of its many townships, underdeveloped segregated urban areas that often face severe social and infrastructural issues. One of the historically most interesting ones is the Soweto township which borders the mining belt in the southern part of Jo’burg. It is here that in 1976 roughly 20.000 black students rose up against an education reform of the apartheid regime that tried to enforce Afrikaans (instead of their native language or English) as a medium of instruction at schools. Police met the protesters with extreme brutality and hundreds of students were killed.

Township Soweto children playing • South Africa Travel Guide

Children playing in the township of Soweto • South Africa Travel Guide

How to visit?

There are plenty of guides and tour operators who offer tours of Soweto, but many of them are just totally uninspiring. If you can’t book a tour with the guides we recommend (or if you find them too expensive), you will be better off just going on a hop-on/hop-off bus tour.

Recommendable guides:   

Ilan Ossendryver: Offers absolutely outstanding photo-journalistic tours of Soweto, where you can take home stunning professional pictures after the tour. Price: 50$ for 4-6hrs tour.  Also absolutely amazing are Ilan’s street art tours in Jo’burg.

TowStreet Art Johannesburg • South Africa Travel Guide

Go on a colorful street art tour in Johannesburg • South Africa Travel Guide

Nel Redelinghuys: History professor who provides a very personal view upon the history of apartheid. Contact: [email protected]

Simon from Soweto Guided Tours: You want to specifically ask for Simon as he is their best guide! http://sowetoguidedtours.co.za/

For the budget traveler: Hop-on/Hop-off city and township bus tours for 10.70EUR (if you don’t have a good guide like the ones recommended above this is a better choice than going with an overpriced and rather disappointing tour operator!). Website: https://www.citysightseeing.co.za/johannesburg/Soweto-Combo

✓ Apartheid Museum: In our opinion the best museum in South Africa to learn more about the country’s harrowing apartheid past. Tickets: 5.90$; Website: https://www.apartheidmuseum.org/

Apartheid museum Johannesburg • South Africa Travel Guide

Entrance for Whites on the left, entrance for non-Whites on the right – The Apartheid Museum – Mix it up folks! • South Africa Travel Guide

The Orbit – Live Music Bar: If you come to Jo’burg you shouldn’t miss out on listening to excellent live jazz and world music by some of South Africa’s best local talents. Great vibe, outstanding performances, eclectic, lively crowd. Concerts normally start at around 8/8.30pm. Ticket prices are 15$ on average. Make sure to take an Uber to the venue and back as Braamfontein is not necessarily the safest neighborhood to start strolling around at night. http://www.theorbit.co.za/

Listen to live music performances by some of South Africa’s best Jazz musicians • South Africa Travel Guide

✓ Gandhi’s Satyagraha House: This is where Gandhi lived in 1908/1909 and where he started to develop his philosophy of passive resistance (known in sanskrit as satyagraha). The building houses a beautiful little museum and serves delectable vegetarian food in a serene, meditative setting. Opening hours of the museum: 10am-4pm. Better call beforehand to check whether they are open though. Phone: 00 27 11 485 5928; email: [email protected]; Website: http://www.satyagrahahouse.com/en

Gandhi Satyagraha House Johannesburg • South Africa Travel Guide

Follow in the steps of Mahatma Gandhi and visit the Satyagraha House east of Johannesburg • South Africa Travel Guide

✓ Mike’s Kitchen: Located in a beautiful old heritage house, Mike’s Kitchen in Parktown North, Johannesburg serves divine meat dishes, a fine selection of South African craft beer and absolutely insane desserts. Okay, admittedly it is a chain, with several restaurants in Johannesburg and Africa, but food & service are just outstanding and come at a fair price. Make sure you visit the right Mike’s in Parktown North as some of the other branches in Jo’burg are not quite as good as this one. Address: 15 St Andrews Rd, Parktown, Johannesburg, 2193. Website: https://www.mikeskitchenparktown.co.za/

Mike's Kitchen Parktown North Johannesburg • South Africa Travel Guide

Sample springbok carpaccio and juicy sirloin steaks in a beautiful setting at Mike’s Kitchen • South Africa Travel Guide

Additional Things To Do:

✓ Sunday market at Arts on Main (264 Fox St & Berea Road, Maboneng). Make sure to give the Uber driver the exact address!). Every Sunday from 10am-3pm. Website: http://marketonmain.co.za/

✓ Kwa Mai Mai market: A traditional medicine market where South Africans come to search for healers, fortunetellers, ointments and artifacts. Mainstreet Walks offers tours as part of their Maboneng precinct tour: http://www.mainstreetwalks.co.za/tours/maboneng-precinct-tour/; Monday to Friday from 9am-6pm; Saturday from 9am-2pm; address: Corner Anderson Street and Berea Road

Points of interest in Johannesburg. Click on the square symbol at the top left to open the menu • South Africa Travel Guide

Tips & Advice

Learn how to get around Johannesburg (and from Jo’burg airport to the city center) the safe way!

+ Safe areas to stay in Johannesburg!

Click here for the tips:


Tips & Advice

Renting & driving a car in South Africa? Taking buses & trains? Or do you prefer flying?

Make sure to read our tips on transportation options in South Africa


2nd Leg – Panorama Route: Blyde River Canyon, Bourke’s Luck Potholes & The Three Rondavels

Mother Nature has clearly been a magnificent sculptor in this part of the country. Striking rock formations, the third largest canyon in the world, sweeping views and Bourke’s bizarre Luck Potholes truly make the Blyde River Canyon area one of the most panoramic routes in the whole of South Africa.

Blyde River Canyon Mpumalanga • South Africa Travel Guide

Breathtaking Blyde River Canyon in the Mpumalanga region • South Africa Travel Guide

Getting there

Coming from Johannesburg take highway N4 and then road R539 (and eventually R532) towards Sabie and Graskop (there are ample accommodation options in Sabie and Graskop). The drive from Jo’burg to Graskop takes approximately 4,5hrs.

See & Do along the Panorama Route

You can easily spend 3-4 days in the area if you plan to go fishing, tubing, biking, rafting or do other outdoor activities. However, the panoramic drive itself can be easily done in one day. There are scores of beautiful view points and natural wonders along the way, but here are the most important ones (in the order of writing):

 The Pinnacle Rock

God’s Window

Wonder View

Berlin Falls

Bourke’s Luck Potholes

Lowveld View

The Three Rondavels

Marvel at bizarre rock formations at Bourke’s Luck Potholes • South Africa Travel Guide

Three Rondavels Mpumalanga • South Africa Travel Guide

One of the best views along the Panorama Route – The three conical peaks of The Three Rondavels • South Africa Travel Guide

Points of interest along the Panorama Route. Click on the square symbol at the top left to open the menu • South Africa Travel Guide

3rd Leg – Kruger National Park Safari: Spotting Africa’s Big 5

One of the most sought after travel experiences in Africa is to go on a safari at world-famous Kruger National Park with its high concentration of wildlife offering close-range National Geographic photo moments. There is nothing else quite as exhilarating in the world as to set out in the crisp early morning air on top of your safari vehicle, armed with your camera and binoculars and to look out for Africa’s Big 5 game – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, buffalo and elephant – and other animals.

Kruger Cheetah smaller 520

A cheetah on the hunt at Kruger National Park • South Africa Travel Guide

How to visit Kruger National Park?
a) The cheapest option: Self-drive

If you have your own vehicle and you are on a tight budget, you can consider driving yourself. While it is perfectly safe and a lot of people do this, the disadvantages are obvious: You are the driver, which means that you will have less attention to look out for game and, more importantly, you won’t have the benefit of an experienced guide who will help you spot and identify animals, or share interesting stories and bush knowledge with you.

Entrance Fee to Kruger National Park for foreign nationalities is 328Rand (about 23$) per day. When you enter the park at one of the access gates, you will have to provide authorities with your passport, as well as a signed registration and indemnity form (https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/get_there/ pdf link to the form is at the bottom of the webpage).

Kruger National Park Crocodile • South Africa Travel Guide

Crocodile sunbathing on the river bank – picture taken during a self-drive • South Africa Travel Guide

Entrance Gates open early in the morning at around 5.30am (this may vary depending on the season) and close at around 6pm (again depending on the season). For exact, up-to-date information check here: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/get_there/gates.php. Adhering to the park regulations is absolutely essential! That includes not getting out of your car outside of secured camps under any circumstances and to be back at the gate at the indicated time https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/tourism/code.php. Otherwise you will be subject to a hefty fine.

There are numerous gates where you can enter the park. If you come from Graskop your nearest gate will be Phabeni Gate (50km away), not far from Hazyview. If you come from Nelspruit, the best access point will be Malelane Gate (66km away).

Accomodation for overnight stays should be booked online in advance https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/tourism/availability.php (read the disclaimer below!). There are several camps and different types of accommodation available, with some of the cheaper huts starting from as little as 385Rand (27$) per night (per person). Give the accommodation management a call beforehand to inquire at which time you have to check-in and plan your game drives accordingly!

Kruger National Park Hornbill • South Africa Travel Guide

A hornbill spotted during a self-drive • South Africa Travel Guide

Important Disclaimer:

Day visitors are welcome to the Kruger National Park.

However, there is a maximum threshold of visitors that can enter the park daily. If this threshold is reached only visitors with pre-booked overnight accommodation will be permitted access. Such situations tend only to arise in extreme cases such as public holidays and long weekends. Be ready to provide entrance gate officials with a reservation confirmation for your accommodation. Read more here: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger/tourism/day_visitors.php

b) Guided budget safaris

If your budget allows for a little more, hiring a guide for your safari should be your preferred option. Not only will you have your hands and eyes free to take pictures and focus on spotting animals, but a dedicated guide will take you through the intricacies of the bush and explain everything to you, including fascinating facts about animals, geology and fauna.

An experienced guide will help you spot and identify animals more easily – Kudus looking at the camera • South Africa Travel Guide

Here are our favorite budget safari companies:

Africa Spear: One of the best in the business. Prices for a 3days/2nights safari start from as little as 5500Rand per person (382$; includes accommodation, breakfasts, dinners). http://www.africaspear.co.za/index.html

– Kurt Safari: Another really good option. Lowest price for a 3days/2nights safari: 6200Rand per person (431$; includes 1 night safari, accommodation, breakfasts, dinners). https://www.kurtsafari.com/

African Budget Safaris: Offer 3days/2nights safaris for 7295Rand (507$; includes Private Game Reserve viewing). https://www.africanbudgetsafaris.com

Our guide Dave telling us about the school of the bush • South Africa Travel Guide

4th Leg – The Kingdom of Swaziland: Sibebe Rock, Swazi Candles & White Water Rafting

Have you ever even heard of Swaziland before? No? We don’t blame you, although the tiny little monarchy landlocked by Mozambique and South Africa is a fabulous travel destination that boasts a variety of really cool activities. It makes for a nice little stop on your way towards the KwaZulu Natal.

Important Disclaimer:

Bear in mind that Swaziland is not part of South Africa, but an independent country. While many countries (including the United States, all member states of the European Union, and many others) are visa exempt, you might want to check whether you need to apply for a visa in advance!

Official website: http://www.gov.sz
If you don’t want to obtain another visa, you can, of course, easily drive around Swaziland to get from Nelspruit to the KwaZulu Natal using the route R40-R38-R541-R33 towards eManzana-Amsterdam-Piet Retief, and then carrying on towards Saint Lucia on highway N2.

Getting There

Coming from Nelspruit/the southern part of Kruger National Park, you can cross the border at Jeppes Reef. There are, of course, also other crossing points. You can check the list here, including information on the opening hours of each border post: http://www.swazifrontier.co.sz. If you come in a rental car, make sure that the rental company provides you with the necessary papers that allow you to take the car into Swaziland!

Sibebe Rock in Swaziland – The world’s largest granite dome • South Africa Travel Guide

See & Do

✓ Go hiking up colossal Sibebe Rock north of the country’s capital Mbabane, the world’s largest granite dome. It is over 3-billion years old and there is a whole network of trails and paths that lead to waterfalls, caves and other interesting natural wonders.

✓ Get your adrenaline pumping during an Adventure Caving tour or jump on an inflatable boat for some White Water Rafting on the Great Usutu River. A ton of other adventure sports activities are also offered by Swazi Trails Adventure (the only operator for these kinds of outdoor activities in Swaziland). Their office is located at the Mantenga Craft & Lifestyle Center in the Ezulwini Valley. Website: http://www.swazitrails.co.sz/.

✓ Watch how colorful Swazi candles are being made at a candle factory in Malkerns. The candle shop is open 7 days a week from 8am-5pm, however the factory is only open from Monday-Friday 8am-5pm. Best contact management beforehand to arrange for a visit. Email: [email protected]; phone: +268 25184874; Website: http://www.swazicandles.com/

Colorful Swazi candles fresh from the factory in Malkerns • South Africa Travel Guide

Points of interest in Swaziland. Click on the square symbol at the top left to open the menu • South Africa Travel Guide

Leg 5 – KwaZulu Natal: Hippos, Crocodiles & Whale Watching

iSimangaliso Wetland Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – in the KwaZulu Natal is an absolutely gorgeous place to watch wildlife. What makes the park so exceptional is its rich biodiversity and the coexistence of so many different interlinked ecosystems within a comparably small area spanning around 3300km2. You have savannahs, glorious sandy beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, intricate lake systems, forests, swamps and coastal dunes – all right next to each other. The protected area is home to a great range of animals, including Nile crocodiles, hippos, loggerhead and leatherback turtles, dolphins and whales, as well as the usual suspects such as the Big 5 and some spectacular birds.

Hippos fighting with each other at iSimangaliso Wetland Park • South Africa Travel Guide

Getting There

When coming from Swaziland, cross the border back into South Africa at the Golela border crossing (pay attention to the opening hours of the border post http://www.swazifrontier.co.sz). Then follow highway N2 and the R618 until you reach Saint Lucia.

See & Do

✓ Going on a hippopotamus and crocodile boat cruise is a great way to see a different side of South Africa. 800 hippopotami, more than 1000 crocodiles, as well as an abundance of birds that live in the estuary will give you photographs and memories that you will cherish forever. 5 Boats leave daily from the Siyabonga jetty. Cost per person: 240Rand. Website: http://www.stluciasouthafrica.com/hippo-croc-boat-cruise-st-lucia

Hippo boat cruise at iSimangaliso Wetland Park • South Africa Travel Guide

 Whale & Dolphin Watching: Coming face to face with a majestic humpback whale or southern right whale is a once in a lifetime experience. Peak season for whale watching is from July through November. Whale watching trips at nearby Richards Bay can be booked through Advantage Tours http://advantagetours.co.za/. Cost per person: 990Rand; Tip: If you suffer from motion or sea sickness, buy a pack of Dramamine or Bonine and take a tablet before you go on the trip!

Richards Bay Humpback Whale Kwa Zulu Natal • South Africa Travel Guide

A majestic humpback whale leaping out of the water • South Africa Travel Guide

✓ Bird-watching & fishing: Discover over 520 bird species, including pelicans, flamingoes and pygmy geese in the uMkuhze area of iSimangliso Wetland Park or go fishing at Cape Vidal or Sodwana Bay. Bookings can be made through: http://www.kznwildlife.com/travel-information/content/birding.html

iSimangaliso Wetland Park Bird Watching • South Africa Travel Guide

iSimangaliso Wetland Park is home to a wide range of bird species • South Africa Travel Guide

✓ Turtle Tours: Loggerhead and leatherback turtles have their breeding and nesting grounds along the coastline of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It is quite endearing to watch the turtles digging their nest or see them lay their eggs (if you are lucky). Wonderful creatures! Tours only operate from November to March due to the breeding behavior of the animals. Bookings: https://www.heritagetoursandsafaris.com/turtle-tours

iSimangaliso Wetland Park Loggerhead Turtles • South Africa Travel Guide

A cute little baby loggerhead turtle hatching • South Africa Travel Guide

✓ Go Scuba Diving at one of the world’s premier diving spots at Sodwana Bay. Manta rays, tooth sharks, tiger sharks, potato bass and tiger rock cods will be some of the creatures that you will see along the way. Bookings: http://twobar.co.za/

Go diving at beautiful Sodwana Bay • South Africa Travel Guide

Game Drive, Cape Vidal beach & Braai: Enjoy a day trip to Cape Vidal with its beautiful beaches. Watch the waves of the Indian Ocean lap onto the shore, gobble down perfectly cooked roasted meat at a traditional South African braai (South African style BBQ) and go on a game drive to spot zebras, leopards and rhinos. Bookings: https://monzisafaris.activitar.com

A family of rhinos grazing at iSimangaliso Wetland Park • South Africa Travel Guide

Leg 6 – Zulu Village at Shakaland in the KwaZulu Natal

There is the possibility of visiting a traditional Zulu Village at Shakaland, near Mbiza on road R66 (a bit pricey though, not suitable for budget travelers). Stay overnight inside beautiful Zulu huts and learn more about Zulu culture, Zulu beer-making, the art of how to fight like a Zulu warrior with shield and knobkerrie (kind of like a cudgel) and watch authentic tribal dance shows. Website: https://aha.co.za/shakaland/

Shakaland Zulu Village • South Africa Travel Guide

Stay at a traditional Zulu village near Mbiza • South Africa Travel Guide

How to get there: Coming from Saint Lucia take highway N2 towards Richards Bay/Durban, then turn onto R34 towards Empangeni. Follow R34 until the very end, then turn left onto R66 towards Mbiza. After about 10km you have to turn right to the Shakaland property. There are road signs, however it is very easy to miss the turn.

Learn how to fight like a real Zulu warrior with knobkerrie and shield • South Africa Travel Guide

Flights from the KwaZulu Natal to Cape Town

The long coastal stretch from Durban down to Port Elizabeth isn’t really of much interest to travelers. It is therefore advisable to book a flight from Durban airport to Cape Town and continue exploring the Cape region as well as the beautiful Garden route.

Read the second part of the article here to learn more about exploring the Cape region & the Garden route.

Flights from Durban to Cape Town are very affordable. If you book early you may find flights for as little as 50$.

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