South Africa is a vast country, with more than 470,000 square miles of land that encompasses deserts, mountains, and 1,700 miles of beautiful coastline. It's home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites, famous game parks, and culturally diverse cities. Seeing all the country offers could take years, but most people don't have unlimited vacation time. If you only have one week, it's important to make the best use of your time. Adding too much to your trip could see you spending most of your time traveling. Slowing down a little and planning a smart itinerary allows you to truly experience each place you visit.
Most international flights arrive in Johannesburg. Depending on your arrival time, you may be able to explore South Africa's largest city. If you want to stretch your legs after a long haul flight, Melville Koppies is 150 hectares of hiking trails and rocky outcroppings found right in the center of the city. For those visitors wanting to jump straight into the culture, Wits Art Museum has a large collection by African artists. At the end of the day, watch the sunset over Johannesburg from Carlton Tower's viewing platform.
If you're interested in the history of South Africa, Soweto is an essential stop. Start at Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners have lived—Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A guided tour can take you through Soweto and ensure you see other sites of importance in South Africa's past. If you want a break from history, visit the FNB Stadium, the largest stadium in the country, or go bungee jumping high above the city.
It would be a shame to visit South Africa and not see the animals, so a trip to Kruger National Park is essential. The park takes around three days to see properly, including driving time to and from Johannesburg. The Kruger is the country's largest game reserve and is one of the best places to see all the animals on your African bucket list, including lions, giraffes, and leopards. Self-drive safaris are possible if you're independently minded, however, guides are experienced at spotting the animals and tours often include transport from Johannesburg.
To make the most of your time, fly across to Cape Town late on day four or early on day five. Once you arrive, you won't be able to miss Table Mountain, which stands tall above the city. Cable cars are the quickest way to reach the top, as hiking up the mountain takes two hours or more, depending on your fitness level and the route you take. Once at the top, enjoy a high tea or explore the geography and plant life.
Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden is located at the eastern foot of Table Mountain and is considered one of the great botanic gardens of the world. There are 36 hectares of cultivated gardens to explore and almost 500 hectares of protected forest that supports indigenous animals. Make sure to see the conservatory, which houses plants from South Africa's arid regions. If you're visiting in summer, you may want to time your visit to coincide with a sunset concert.
Another option for a Cape Town afternoon is a visit to Robben Island. The island is located in the middle of Table Bay, around 30 minutes by ferry from Cape Town. Tours of the island depart from Nelson Mandela Gateway and take visitors through the prison where Mandela spent 18 years of his life. Tour guides are former political prisoners, so you can get a unique insight into this piece of history. You may also catch sight of the penguins who make their home on the island.
Cape Town's Winelands region is located east of the city. It's not as famous as other wine regions, which means it's not overcrowded. Driving through the Winelands allows you to stop and taste as you wish, although a tour means you don't need a designated driver. Either way, the scenery is stunning. The region also has art, architecture, and antiques to explore. Many wine farms have first-class food, so plan to stop somewhere for lunch.
A drive around the Cape Peninsula is the perfect way to end your visit if you have time before you fly out. At the very end of the peninsula is Cape Point, the south-western tip of the continent, which has spectacular views in all directions. If you'd prefer to see the wildlife, Boulder's Beach Penguin Colony is home to thousands of African penguins ready for you to capture on film.
If you have a couple of extra days or aren't interested in something on the itinerary, you may be interested in other things to do in South Africa. The Cradle of Humankind is a great option for people who extend their stay in Johannesburg. This World Heritage Site allows you to see fossils of the earliest humans and is only 45 minutes outside the city. If you have a spare day in Cape Town, consider a trip to Hermanus, one of the best whale-watching destinations in the world.
While you're traveling around South Africa, make sure you grab some iconic South African food. Braai, or shisa nyama, is the quintessential way of eating in South Africa. Food is cooked over coals and friends gather around an open fire to eat. There are excellent restaurants in Johannesburg and Cape Town to experience this delicacy. Other foods to add to your must-try list include bobotie, biltong, and Cape Malay curry. For dessert, you should try some milk tart.