One of the premiere adventure destinations on the African continent, South Africa has the benefit of both a broad inland jammed with majestic creatures and an extensive coastline of surf locales, marine dives, and yes, more majestic creatures (these razor-toothed monsters have a dedicated week on the Discovery Channel). No matter what corner of South Africa you're looking to explore, whether it is the rocky plateaus and marshlands to the east, the deserts of the northwest, or big game preserves dotted throughout the country, you'll want to make sure you have plenty of time to see what this country has to offer.
The Northern Cape, which more accurately makes up the northwest of South Africa, is mostly arid semi-desert, known for distant mountain vistas and canyons; the stomping grounds for your less-than-typical adventurer of extremes. That means that destinations like Richtersveld National Park and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park along the border with Namibia won't be the type of places to accommodate you with five stars and a spa treatment after a day in the hot sun, but there is camping available, lengthy hikes, as well an opportunity to see meerkat, wildebeest, and cheetah in their natural habitat. The Augrabies Falls, near the town of Upington, are also quite a sight at 60 meters (197 feet) tall and owner of a higher annual water volume than Niagara Falls.
The Western Cape is home to Cape Town, where adventure tour operators are more common than mosquitoes in the swamp; which is a good indicator of how much there actually is to do. Whether you are looking to shark cage dive in world-renowned locations like Gansbaii, scale one of the most epic city backdrops on Earth (Table Mountain), or bask in one of the most concentrated areas of unique flora and fauna anywhere (Cape of Good Hope), this is a stellar destination. A lot of superlatives, huh? There is also the Garden Route just east, which encompasses a number of nature reserves and has built a reputation as a very popular self-driven route. Interesting destinations along the route include Mossel Bay, home to the ancient Pinnacle Point Caves, and Oudtshoorn, where the incredible Cango Caves and some quality rock climbing can be had.
The Eastern Cape also marries both the allure of the coast with a plenty of ways to experience the wildlife of the region. Jeffreys Bay has some of the best surfing conditions in South Africa, Addo National Park is a sure-fire way to see elephants up close and personal, the town of Hogsback is a gem in the heart of the natural world (mountains, waterfalls, first-growth forests, etc.), and Tsitsikamma National Park will get you your fix of coastal beauty. The main hub here is Port Elizabeth.
The eastern part of South Africa consists of the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal, which probably represent the most intriguing range of activities in the country. First mention goes to the Cradle of Humankind, named for its basis as a place of hominid origin, although they are a cool collective of caves to explore in their own right. The Golden Gate Highlands and the Drakensberg Mountains are two protected areas that border Lesotho and are home to some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere. From sandstone cliffs and craggy peaks to the impressive Drakensberg Amphitheatre (where the second highest waterfall on Earth, the Tugela Falls, beckons), treks here are the opportunity of a lifetime. For game viewing, particularly rhino, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park is much less crowded than tourist-magnet Kruger and has comparable wildlife. Then again, many would say the coast is the true draw here; sharks abound at Protea Banks, while swimming and surfing at the high end of awesome can be had around Durban. Further up the coast are the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and Sodwana Bay, both of which are a haven for divers and snorkelers, providing some unique and attractive circumstances in which to see marine life.
South Africa's northern region, which includes the provinces of Gauteng, Mpumpalanga, and Limpopo, is where you go when your greatest interest is the safari. There are numerous big-game reserves, including Pilanesberg Nature Reserve and South Afica's most famous, Kruger National Park. The landscapes here are magnificent, providing a backdrop for lions, rhinos, antelopes, buffaloes, and leopards that supports the area's popularity. Another natural area of interest is the Mpumalanga Escarpment, where large-scope landscapes like the Blyde River Canyon (the largest in the country) serves to amplify both the grandeur of nature and the minute nature of your mere human problems.
Lastly, a word for the more extreme adventurers out there. Bungee jumping and skydiving are alive and well in South Africa. For bungee jumpers, the two most intriguing jumps are at Bloukrans Bridge in the Garden Route area (the highest bridge jump anywhere) and the Orlando Towers Jump in Soweto, which occurs on a pair of mural-covered cooling towers. There are also jumps from the Gouritz River Bridge (near Mossel Bay), the Panorama Gorge (near Graskop), and Kings Kloof Bridge (just west of Johannesburg). There are even more skydiving operators, some of which are clubs and others that are run by tour operators. Most frequently you can jump near Cape Town, but there are jumps available anywhere from Johannesburg to a handful of places along the Garden Route (Grahamstown, Oudtshoorn, Plettenberg, etc.). For more information on these operators, follow the included links.
It's plain to see that there's a lot on tap in South Africa. If you want to see massive creatures in their natural habitats, free fall from great heights against the backdrop of the Indian Ocean, or actually hop in that ocean to explore reefs, whale migrations, or just how large Great White shark teeth can be close up, well... you can. So what's stopping you? Consult our activity pages for further information.