Top Highlights of South Africa

1. Go on safari in Kruger National Park. There are a number of safaris geared for budget travelers where travelers on any budget can find some tour geared towards their needs. While Kruger may be more built-up with dazzling campsites and resorts than other safari parks on the continent it's for good reason; the amount of wildlife in the area raises your chances of seeing the Big 5 (lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhino), as well as other animals that are even harder to spot (such as cheetah, hyenas, or African wild dogs). I always recommend at least two full days on safari, but even on a time-constrained trip, a simple day in Kruger gives you a good chance to see some extraordinary animals.

2. Go backpacking, hiking, and rock climbing in the Drakensberg Mountains in the North and the Fynbos on the Western Cape. The Drakensberg ("Dragon Mountains" in Afrikaans) are famous for their glorious peaks, thick pine forests, trails that snake along riversides, and of course, world-class rock climbing. Down in the Fynbos, you'll be mesmerized by the flora that's unique to only that region of the world, with nearly 6,500 plant species here being endemic (not found anywhere else except for this small corner of South Africa). Known for its exceptional beauty and rolling hills painted with wildflowers, it's a backpacker's heaven.

3. Go surfing along the coast. Jeffreys Bay is the most popular spot for surfing, as it hosts some of the world's most renowned surfing competitions, but it’s pretty packed with tourists and noise; often times in JBay I felt like I was walking through downtown Jersey Shore. However, just up the coast to the East from JBay is the hidden gem Tshani, where there is a small backpackers hostel/campsite called Mdumbi. Mdumbi is serene, isolated, really breathtakingly beautiful, and probably my favorite spot in all of South Africa. It's a homey spot to pitch a tent, have a braai, and go surfing without bumping elbows with partiers, tourists, and a thousand other surfers competing for the same wave. Also, Mdumbi often has massive campfires on the beach, which hey, that's pretty fun. (PS- I accidentally lost my glasses in a fire there once, so if you happen to find a blue pair of glasses in the sands, you may just be my hero).

4. Visit Cape Town. Marvel at how colorful it is, how friendly and proud the locals are, how big the music and food scene is (especially along Long Street, which has so many artisanal coffee roasters and thrift shops you’ll think you’re in San Francisco). Enjoy the sidewalk cafes on the harbor, the sweeping view from the summit of Table Mountain, and the lively nightlife.

DSC_1076.JPG

5. Road trip along the Garden Route and Western Cape. You’ll feel like you’re driving along California’s Big Sur as you snake along roads that hug the dropping cliffs that form the Cape, leading to hidden beaches, rolling vineyard, and charming wine towns adorned with stone churches, pastel-painted houses, and cobblestone lanes. (And if you’re more of an adrenaline junky, here's your chance to go cage diving with great white sharks in Mossel Bay.)

6. Kayak (or raft) down the Orange River as it snakes along the Namibian Border. Of course it’s a haul to get up there, but you’ll feel like you’re in another world as you drop into orange canyons, topaz rapids, and camp underneath the stars in an amphitheater of red desert walls. It’s spectacular. It’s uncomfortable. It’s weird. It’s like Mars. It’s isolated. It’s something else.