South Africa isn’t somewhere I’d ever considered visiting. When we learned out friends were getting married in Cape Town, we definitely wanted to be there to celebrate and so found ourselves planning the ultimate SA trip.
As our first time in South Africa, we’d received tons of recommendations of things to do and places to see. But with only 2 weeks and a wedding to go to, we were definitely short on time – is 2 weeks ever enough?!
So here it is, my must-do tourist activities for your SA trip.
1. Table Mountain
Let’s face it; you can’t go to Cape Town and then not visit Table Mountain. It’s one of the New7Wonders of Nature after receiving more than 100 million votes, beating other globally-recognised landmarks such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Grand Canyon in the US and the Matterhorn in Switzerland.
Almost everywhere you go in the city, there’s the phenomenal background of Table Mountain which has become such an iconic part of the city’s identity.
Tickets are around £15-£18pp depending on whether you want to go up in the morning or the afternoon – the morning slot is generally busier (therefore, more expensive).
You can hike to the top if you feel adventurous, or take one of the cable cars. The cars are huge, carrying up to 65 people. And to ensure you get a great view, they slowly rotate as they ascend/descend so you can have an uninterrupted view of Cape Town. What’s more, with no fresh water supply on top of the mountain, the cable cars are used to transport 3,000 litres of water (per car), which also help to hold them steady when it gets windy.
Once at the top, you can enjoy free guided tours, embark on an audio tour, enjoy a meal in the restaurant or if you’re particularly daring, abseil over the side of the mountain. There are also a few different walking routes you can take, ranging from 15 to 45 minutes in length.
And when you’re at the top, the view is spectacular. You can see the whole of Cape Town spread out below you, and the sea beyond.
2. Sightseeing city tour
As cheesy as it sounds, a sightseeing tour has fast become one of our favourite activities when we’re in a new city. Not only do we get to learn more about the city we’re visiting, it also gives us a good idea of where things are, and always provides a few additional recommendations for things to do and places to eat.
On our first day in Cape Town, we boarded one of the open-top City Sightseeing buses and explored the city in more detail, learning about it’s history and origins. And because you can hop-on and hop-off the buses, it’s a really inexpensive way of getting round the city.
Tickets are about £11+
3. Cheetah experience
I’ve wanted to take part in a cheetah experience for as long as I can remember. It’s something I knew you could do in South Africa and so we’d spent time researching cheetah rehabilitation centres to find one near Cape Town.
The Cheetah Outreach Trust help to protect free-roaming cheetahs through education and their Livestock Guard Dog Programme, where they place dogs on South African farms to provide a non-lethal form of protection and minimise cheetah-human conflict.
It’s an amazing charity and as part of their awareness and education programme, you can meet their cheetahs face to face.
After an induction where they explained more about the work they do, and how to behave in the enclosure, we got to meet Tinashe.
I would highly recommend this experience, and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s fastest mammal. It’s something I won’t ever forget.
4. Maiden’s Cove
Cape Town has a lot to offer when it comes to spectacular views. One of my favourites was Maiden’s Cove at sunset.
You get an incredible view of Camp’s Bay Beach and the mountains in the background which is simply breath taking. It’s the perfect place to take a picnic, soak in the last of the sun’s rays and just enjoy the view.
5. Cape of Good Hope
Part of Table Mountain National Park, the Cape of Good Hope is a beautiful nature reserve, and there are a few different points of interest when you enter the park. You can climb the steps to visit the lighthouse at Cape Point, learn about the local flora and fauna at the Buffelsfontein Visitor Centre, and visit the most south-western point of the African continent at the Cape of Good Hope.
There are a number of different hikes you can do, and we saw a few people surfing too. And if you’re really lucky, you might catch a few glimpses of some of the local wildlife; we saw a few baboons and a mother ostrich with her babies.
Entry to the park is circa £15pp
6. Robben Island
Famous for imprisoning Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years behind bars, Robben Island is a fortified prison, where many of its prisoners were political.
You can tour the island almost daily – weather dependant – where you first experience a bus tour around the island, and get the chance to see a colony of African penguins, before experiencing a guided tour through the prison with one of its former inmates.
Our guide was brilliant, incredibly knowledgeable and also very honest when someone – inevitably – asked about why he’d been imprisoned there.
The whole experience costs about £28 and is definitely worth it.
7. Simons Town
And if you’re wanting to see more penguins, then a trip to Boulders Penguin Colony is a must. You can get pretty close to the penguins – except during breeding season – for a photo.
PLEASE: don’t disturb the penguins and keep a reasonable distance. A lot of people think they can get as close as they like but these animals are endangered and should be treated with respect.
The beach itself is amazing; nestled in a bay made up of inlets between huge granite boulders. And there are just these huge boulders everywhere you look.
It wouldn’t be a trip to South Africa without a safari.
There are a couple of different options within a few hours’ drive of Cape Town. And we chose to visit the Aquila Private Game Reserve where you can spot the Big Five on a good day.
I was a little surprised by the price of the safari experiences, considering everything else was so cheap. But it seemed to be a little pricey no matter where you went, and Aquila definitely went above and beyond to deliver an incredible, luxury experience.
We went with some friends and decided to try out two of the experiences on offer; 2 of us took the traditional safari bus, while the other 4 did it on quad bikes. The reserve itself was huge, and the animals were just incredible to see up close and personal – by up close, I mean from a respectful distance, just without the usual fence in the way.
Honestly, it was an experience like no other, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
9. V&A Waterfront
If you like shopping, food and live music, then the V&A Waterfront is a great spot to wine and dine and relax. I loved exploring the Waterfront; there was always something new to see and do.
Once you step outside the mall, there’s a whole host of restaurants and bars sitting on the water. It’s also where you can board the ferry to visit Robben Island, visit the renowned, luxury, 5-star Silo Hotel (converted from an old grain silo), or sit in The Cape Wheel for some incredible views of Table Mountain.
10. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
It would be so easy to spend the whole day here, and I can imagine it’s an amazing place to visit when they’re hosting live events.
The garden is 1,300 acres and contains over 7,000 species of plants from southern Africa. You can enjoy a number of different hiking trails, including the tree canopy walkway which takes you through the tree tops, 12m above the ground and gives you incredible panoramic views of mountains, the Garden and Cape Flats.
11. Chapman’s Peak Drive
Last, but certainly not least, is Chapman’s Peak Drive. I tell you now, this is not for the faint-hearted. The road hugs the cliff face and offers incredible views. But it’s full of twists and turns that generally feel like you might fall off the edge.
We actually did this drive a couple of times – partly because it’s often the best route from A to B but partly because it was just so breath taking. There’s a £2.50 toll on the road to help maintain it, but it’s definitely worth every penny.
I know if we ever decide to go back to South Africa, there are so many of these activities I’d want to do again. And there are so many more I wish we could have experienced.