From snow-capped mountains to the Bushveld, and from sub-tropical beaches to the Kalahari, South Africa is a mind-bogglingly diverse country. Showcasing the best of its stunning landscapes, its parks and reserves are great places to experience African wilderness and see the continent’s famous wildlife.
The following gems offer distinct experiences, and are malaria-free apart from Kruger National Park, Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve and iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
Kruger National Park: best for wildlife watching
This 20,000-sq-km stretch of bush bordering Mozambique and Zimbabwe has the Big Five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) and impressive statistics in abundance. In an area roughly the size of Wales, 145 mammal species, including the world’s largest rhino population, hunt and graze in grasslands and riverine forests. Conveniently, you can see Kruger scenes like the famous lion-buffalo-crocodile battle within about five hours’ drive of Johannesburg. Tarred roads crisscross the park and intrepid visitors can go on a guided walk, accompanied by gun-toting rangers. The best time to visit is winter (June to September), when sparse vegetation aids visibility, animals gather at waterholes, and the risk of malaria is lower.
Royal Natal National Park: Best for mountains
The Drakensberg is one of Africa’s greatest mountain ranges, its mystical moniker (which means Dragon Mountains in Afrikaans) befitting its spiny ridges, green slopes and knobbly rock formations. The Royal Natal National Park covers a relative slither of the 2500-sq-km uKhahlamba-Drakensberg World Heritage Site, but packs in some of the range’s best-known peaks. Towering above its gushing mountain streams and baboon-inhabited forests is the Amphitheatre, a 5km-long wall of cliffs rising over 3000m. The best time to visit the park, which is about 280km northwest of Durban, is April to July, when the weather is mild for hiking.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park: best for sunsets
In these dreamy foothills of the Maluti Mountains, 300km northeast of the city of Bloemfontein, antelopes bound across shimmering grasslands beneath sandstone bluffs. The park’s name comes from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock, which overlooks the main rest camp. The best time to appreciate Golden Gate’s open spaces and wide horizons is at sunset, when the cotton-wool clouds become pink flecks and you might spot a lone silhouetted kudu. Visit in summer (December to March) to escape the heat in lower-lying areas.
Read More: lonelyplanet.com