Top 5 Must-Sees in South Africa

By: Grace Bain

Go on a safari 

Wherever you are in Africa if there is an option to do a safari there, do it. There is nothing more exciting, humbling, and mystifying than seeing wild animals in their natural habitat. I went to two different game reserves when I went, Mount Camdeboo and Jaci’s Lodge on Madikwe Reserve. I highly recommend both, as I got to see an endless amount of species, including but not limited to giraffes (my favorite animal), lions, elephants, wildebeests, cheetah, kudu, zebras, rhinos, warthogs, and jackals. I watched an elephant herd approach a watering hole and hydrate or splash one another. I watched a male and female lion take a nap together. I watched a baby giraffe reach for the leaves off of trees. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I got to go on two during my time there. I also highly recommend doing experiences where you can interact with the animals, but make sure to conduct research that clarifies appropriate treatment of the animals within the facility. I got to walk and pet an elephant, and it will be one of my favorite memories for the rest of my life. I got to walk a few feet away from a cheetah. I got to cage dive with great white sharks. I got to feed some giraffes. If you happen to find yourself in South Africa, you absolutely cannot leave without doing at least a few of these things. 

Visit a shanty town

South Africa is a few decades behind the United States in regards to segregation. When you go, you will possibly notice how racially and culturally divided it is. I especially noticed this in Johannesburg, where every large house had huge walls built up around them, due to “high crime rates within the city.” Also, within the city, though, exist shanty towns, where (mostly black) people live in poverty, with shelters made out of pieces of wood and metal. These towns provide tours to visitors, and while the concept may seem messed up, it is a great opportunity for the people living in these situations to make money and raise awareness. For the most part, I saw that many of the people living in the shanty town I visited were happy. They helped one another. They produced art. They sang beautiful songs. They found entertainment and joy in the little things, despite living in a situation many privileged people around the world would never fully understand. It is a heart touching experience, and I think a visit to South Africa without one of these tours would be a waste. 

(A piece of art I got from the shanty town, depicting a shanty town) 

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Visit the Nelson Mandela Museum and Mandela’s House 

Another cultural immersive experience includes a tour of Nelson Mandela’s museum and house in Johannesburg. As one of South Africa’s greatest leaders in ending segregation, Nelson Mandela was more than just your average icon. He was a history changer. He was a hope instiller. He is an everlasting soul that paved the way for many others in South Africa and the rest of the world. You must visit either his museum and/or old house when traveling to South Africa. It provides a fantastic taste of history that is unparalleled to and more educational than other experiences. 

Table Mountain in Cape Town 

In Cape Town, you must visit the top of Table Mountain. Take the rotating gondola up for some great views. If you get weak in the knees from heights, stay away from the windows! Trust me, on this one. If you are into hiking, you can take a trail up. I’m sure that would be a great activity to brag about, but be careful, as several people have died from hiking Table Mountain. Once you get to the top, you can run through the cafe or gift shop while simultaneously enjoying breathtaking views of everything around and under you – the city of Cape Town reaching into the ocean. It’s very peaceful and very recommended.

Penguin Beach in Cape Town 

Another bucket list item you must check off while in Cape Town? Visit Boulders Beach and see the penguins! Some of them, referred to as ‘jackass’ penguins, make a sort of laughing noise. Some of them squeal. Some of them build nests, while others steal from or fight with each other. It’s very entertaining to view, and I could have probably sat there all day. There’s a certain unique joy that comes from watching wild penguins waddle from the sand right into the ocean, where they dive and swim amongst their little penguin friends.  

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