The gorgeous beaches, spectacular wildlife, award-winning wineries, and cosmopolitan cities of Südafrica are renowned for their magnificent scenery. I was twice in the country to quit wanting more. I still leave. This place is something profoundly unique.
You could spend months and still not see anything, extending over 2,800 kilometers and home to over 56 million people. Heck, it will take several days to travel from one end of the country to the other.
While in South Africa you can see and do hundreds of things, here's the list of the things that I believe must be seen and done as long as you are:
1. Take a safari
Most people come to South Africa for a safari – and rightly so. It is home to some of the world's best game drives, and you want to be in one of the centuries of national parks for at least a matter of nights. Nothing like that actually happens.
Kruger National Park, which offers a great variety of species and a host of wonderful wildlife like "Big Five," is the most popular safari destination (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses, and Cape buffalo).
2. Cape Town Visit
Cape Town is South Africa's most famous destination—and rightly so. This is a vibrant, multicultural town with lively bars, delicious food, good weather, nature, and walks in the vicinity. Besides the beautiful beaches of the area, the waterfront is also full of things to do.
3. Go browse
Unique surfing offers world-class surfing on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. Jeffrey's Bay offers massive waves and numerous breaks, near Port Elizabeth's South African most popular surfing destination.
There are also many good surfing places near Cape Town, including Hout Bay dogs and several more on the Western Cape, such as Long Beach, further south.
4. Apartheid schooling
You can't go to South Africa without hearing the tragedy of apartheid, which spread its shade over the world from the 1940s to the 1990s, and the institutionalized racial segregation regime. The Johannesburg Apartheid Museum opened in 2001 and highlights the past and heritage of Apartheid.
Be visiting the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg. You will visit some of the prison ruins and find out more about the numerous political inmates who have been unlawfully held here.
5. Walk the mountains of Drakensberg
The highest mountain range in the Drakensberg region on the east coast is home to rough, green peaks, sandstone cliffs, and deep valleys. Many paths range from casual walks to difficult climbs and plenty of options for both day walks and hiking for several days.
6. See Penguins of Africa
The Boulders Penguin Colony is part of the Table Mountain National Park and a shorter drive away from Cape Town. (Fun fact: the sounds of the noise they make a sound like a donkey breaking are also known as jackass-penguins.)
7. Visit the island of Robben.
You would also want to schedule a trip to Robben Island while learning about apartheid. Robben Island was a maximum-security prison just four miles off the coast of Cape Town until 1996. Many political prisoners were sent to Robben Island during the apartheid era. Nelson Mandela, who has lived on Robben Island for 18 years, is one of those. Now it's a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the country's most significant cultural sites.
8. Take a ride
South Africa is a great destination for road trips. The Garden Path is the most popular route along the coastal cliffs and across forests and mountains. The Garden route is just 200 km (125 miles) long and is full of beaches, lakes, and lagoons along the south-central shore of Mossel Bay to the west to the Storms River to the east.
9. Go-Wine Probe
The climate in South Africa is ideal for grape production and the country is producing award-winning white, red, and sparkling wines. The viticulture dates back to the 17th century and hundreds of wineries can be found here (and sampled of course).
10. Discover the nature reserve of the Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon is the third biggest canyon in the world and is a popular stop on the way to or from Kruger. Compared to the Grand Canyon, it's particularly lush and green and also has very deep cliffs. This UNESCO reserve has many natural rock formations, including Pinnacle Rock, God's Window, and the Luck Potholes of Bourke. In the Echo Caves, there is also ancient rock art.
11. Watching whales
In general, South Africa is one of the best watching spots in the world. If you come to Southern Right Whales, Bryde's Whales, and Orcas between June and November, you will have a fair chance of seeing them.
The town of Hermanus is a hub for many of the country's best whale-watching companies 120 km southeast of Cape Town.
12. Take a dive!
Go to Cape Town if you enjoy diving (or wish to learn). The combination of warm and cold ocean currents is world-class diving. Rocky coastlines, many reefs, and kelp forestry are found here. On both sides of the peninsula, there are also plenty of wrecks.