South Africa is characterized by its lively and diverse culture but also by the stunning landscapes and untamed wilderness. There is at least 15 reason why South Africa is so popular with tourists from around the globe. Le Mal D’afrique is a term many seasoned travelers are familiar with because once you visit it, you will realize why it’s so hard to leave.

Cape Town at night

1. Swimming with sharks

You probably know all those popular Instagram videos of random tourists swimming with sharks in the waters of some remote island. The chances are the videos were made in South Africa. This country is famous for this adrenaline sport, praised among animal lovers. The experience is the one that inspires awe and fear at the same time. Once you get into the cage and plunge down, you will have the chance to be face to face with these majestic predators. Although the experience is not for the faint-hearted, the adrenaline-fueled encounter will surely be an unforgettable one. You can swim with Great Whites in Gansbaai, just outside Cape Town after you book a tour with the experienced operators.

2. Sandboarding

Many adventure-seekers who have tried this sport for the first time say that it’s rather easy to learn how to sandboard. The sandboarding tours usually start on the dunes of Atlantis near Cape Town, providing adrenalin junkies with lots of opportunities to get into the thrills and spills as they hurtle down sand dunes on thin wooden planks. The newbies who want to get their thrills for the first time may take sand boarding lessons at the Fish Hoek Sand Dunes where seasoned instructors can show them the moves. The most spectacular dunes are to be found in Bettys Bay so if you want to get the blood rushing through your veins, sandboarding is one of the top reasons to visit South Africa.

Sandboarding on the dunes in South Africa

3. Descending from the Table Mountain

Table Mountain is the highest mountain in the world that has descending tours organized on a regular basis. Thrill-seekers and fans of climbing or biking flock to South Africa to experience the rush of adrenaline as they descend on their bikes or climb down the majestic trails of this formidable giant. Whether it be a glorious two-hour riding excursion downhill or a heart-throbbing rope climb, the thrill is guaranteed. Still, if you prefer a more laid-back experience of the Table Mountain, you may also take The Table Mountain Cableway which rotates 360 degrees giving you the ultimate panoramic view of the city below.

Panoramic view of the Table Mountain

4. Kloofing

One of the reasons for visiting South Africa are the thrilling kamikaze jumps from the steep slopes of South African mountains. Also known as kloofing, this extreme sport challenges even the bravest of adventurers by presenting them with a task of following the watercourse and arriving at a set destination, no matter what it takes. This implies that you can swim, walk, jump, hang, you name it – as long as you arrive at your predetermined location. Among the canyons of South Africa, visitors can see countless little lakes nestled behind huge rocks. It is from these rocks (usually up to 25 meters high) that you can plunge into the crystal-clear waters of these hidden lakes in order to come closer to your final destination. In order to bring the risks to the minimum, reputable operators take interested visitors on guided kloofing excursions. Some of the most famous ones include Kamikaze Canyon, Suicide Gorge, Riviersonderend Trail, Die Hel, and Grootkloof.

Kloofing in South Africa is unforgettable

5. Penguin Colonies

African penguins belong to unique species that can only be seen on the Southern coasts of Africa. These lovely, flightless birds certainly like to flock together and visitors to South Africa, especially those traveling to Cape Town, have the chance to see them in their natural habitat. These cute birds can be spotted gathering around 10 South African islands and two mainland sites. And they can be seen on Western and Eastern Cape coastline alike. Still, bird-watchers will stand significantly greater chances of seeing these animals throughout locations in the Western Cape. Betty’s Bay, Boulders Beach, Stony Point, Gansbaai, and Penguin Rescue & Rehabilitation Center near Seal Point Lighthouse are only some of the locations to witness these adorable creatures.

Penguin colonies on the coasts of South Africa

Read more: Traveling to South Africa with Children

6. A Unique Safari Experience

Kruger National Park is one of the most exciting attractions in South Africa but it’s also the best safari on the entire African continent. The breath-taking scenery spectacularly embodies the mighty wildlife of this beautiful country while the variety of safari tours give visitors the possibility to get up close and personal with some of the rare wild animals that inhabit the reserve. You can spot wild lions resting on the dunes of the Kalahari Desert, watch elephants as they serenely bathe in the scorching Sun, or antelopes as they scud across the savannah. This nature reserve is one of the best family holiday ideas, as it offers tons of activities for adults and youngsters alike. South Africa safari tours are available throughout the country and with the guidance of the experienced operators, you will have the chance to be one with this untamed wilderness.

An antelope scurring across the plain

7. Exotic Cuisine

Let us just say that one word is enough to describe the food in Cape Town – exquisite. Among the best-known specialties are all-things salmon and oysters. Cape Town food tours help visitors wine and dine at some of the best restaurants around the city although anyone can make their own culinary map and get a taste of each. You can take a bite at The Roundhouse, Quay Four Tavern, Mondiall, FORK, or The Company’s Garden Restaurant. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner highlights are equally mouth-watering. Still, it’s always best to listen to the locals’ advice and not miss classic South African snacks and delicacies – biltong (dried, spicy strips of game or beef), droëwors (sausages), bacon maple croissants, boerewors rolls, and waterblommetjie bredie (lamb stew).

South Africa has excellent food

8. Vineyards

If food in South Africa is exquisite, then wine is absolutely best. With 100 000 hectares of land under vine, it comes as no surprise that over 450 million liters of wine are exported from South Africa every year. There are multiple wine regions in South Africa and each of them has its own wine route. The winelands in Cape are some of the best on the globe but Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Northern Cape also boast smaller vineyards of equal quality. If you want to tempt your taste buds to the fullest, embark on some of the most popular wine routes – Breedekloof Wine Route, Cape Agulhas Wine Route, Cape Point Wine Route, or any other of the remaining 15 routes. Along the way, you can savor and relish the taste of these premium wines but don’t forget to buy some, too. Wine here is much cheaper compared to the prices once it’s exported.

Western Cape is home to the best wineyards in the world

9. The Best Beach Restaurants

South Africa is home to some of the most beautiful seafront restaurants and bars. Wolfgat, a restaurant hidden in the seclusion of a cave near the fishing village of Paternoster, was awarded the restaurant of the year at the World’s Best Restaurants award. This charming restaurant sits only 20 people which makes it all the more private and unique. Other restaurants also offer amazing vistas of the ocean and some of them include Die Strandloper overlooking the Langebaan Lagoon, Blue Waters Café with its captivating view of the famous pier at Port Elizabeth, and East Head Café with the hypnotizing views of the Knysna Heads.

Enjoy a meal at some of the best South African restaurants

10. Rich Culture

With eleven official languages, South Africa is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Unlike some other nations, South Africans have preserved their rich cultural heritage and tradition. Just outside some of the major cities in South Africa, one can still see the descendants of the ancient African tribes, such as the Bushmen, Zulus, Xhosa, Ndebele, Sotho, and Venda. These indigenous tribes nurture their individual customs, folklore, and rituals which seem to have survived the modern plague. Complex and intricate dress codes and ensembles, vibrant jewelry and body ornaments, together with their oral history and mythology, make South African native tribes worthy of respect. Trips to cultural villages throughout South Africa enable visitors to catch a glimpse of their way of life, witness their traditional dance, or even participate in their daily activities, such as potting, weaving, and hunting.

Rich African culture is preserved through tribal tradition

11. The Cradle of Humankind

The cradle of humankind is the term denoting 470 square kilometers on the territory of South Africa where 36 paleontological sites can be found. Caves such as Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai have kept the hominid fossils hidden for centuries on end, and some of them helped trace the human race 3,5 millions of years back in history. If you want to see the days of yore evolve before your eyes, you can take a tour of Sterkfontein Caves and see the ancient cave drawings, timeworn tools our ancestors used, and unravel the secrets of their bones.

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12. A Variety of Flora and Fauna

The fact that South Africa is the world’s sixth megadiverse country speaks volumes about the richness of its ecosystems. Hidden in the lushness of Cape Floral Kingdom, 9,000 one-of-a-kind plant species make up for a great botanic experience. Ten National Botanical Gardens are open to visitors who can marvel the tranquility of the lush greenery distinct of these regions. From baobabs and Cape Verdean dragon trees to gorillas and jaguars, South Africa shelters some of the world’s most distinctive creatures.

13. Geological Wonders

Some of South Africa’s distinct geological features seem to defy the ravishes of time. Stretching along 200 kilometers, The Drakensberg Mountains cover the vast spaces between Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga. The snow-capped peaks tower over the stunning backdrops, intertwined with numerous hiking trails. The waterways of South Africa are no less majestic, too. Victoria and Augrabies Falls gush in hundreds-of-feet drops while Blyde River canyon fissures down to 2,400 feet in some places. As the largest impact crater in the world, The Vredefort crater is one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and truly awe-inspiring sight to behold.

The majestic Blyde River Canyon

14. Fantastic Accommodation

Hotels and resorts in South Africa suit every budget and style. It makes no difference if you’re backpacking or just want to splurge on a luxury 5-star hotel, this country has the whole package. Some of the most popular hotels and resorts can be found in Cape Town or Johannesburg where you can also find homestay options and self-catering accommodation. Game lodges are also one of South Africa’s unique lodging options so that you can fully enjoy the therapeutic quality of nature, perched high in a cozy platform.

Read more: Is South Africa a Safe Country?

15. Otherworldly Beaches

Lastly, as if the rest of the fifteen reasons aren’t enough, South Africa is there to give you one last one to visit it. Being every water lover’s paradise, this country brings the finest beaches of the Indian Ocean closer to the visitors. 18-kilometers long Grotto Beach in Hermanus is perfect for a relaxing family vacation with lots of fun activities around. Ballito on the Dolphin Coast is famous for frequent bottlenose dolphins sightings as well as for its peculiar rock formations. If you prefer off-the-beaten-path sandy havens, visit some of the secluded beaches in KwaZulu-Natal region or venture into the unknown at Gonubie Beach in East Cape.