For a country that’s twice the size of Texas, South Africa is incredibly diverse. From bush plains and exotic wildlife to craggy cliffs and lush ravines, the continent’s southernmost tip is rife with awe-inspiring views. Here are ten places where you’re sure to steal an epic shot.
The Blyde River Canyon
Standing over Blyde River Canyon is like looking at a mirage. With 16 miles of subtropical foliage, plunging 2,500-ish feet into a riverbed and some of the deepest precipitous cliffs on the planet, it is believed to be the world’s largest green canyon. Hikers, mind your snacks: All five of South Africa’s primates, including the somango monkey and chacma baboons, inhabit the area.
Formed over centuries of erosion, these green-and-orange rock formations resemble traditional African beehive huts, known as rondavels. The three rocks were once known as The Chief and his Three Wives, after the legendary Bapedi chief Maripi Mashile defeated the invading Swazis in a great battle here. The dramatic domes tower 2,300 feet over the surrounding countryside, which borders Blyde River Canyon and — along with God’s Window — forms the aptly named Panorama Route.
Here, two tiny platforms provide a window to 155 miles of sheer cliffs, which drop nearly 3,000 feet into a lush indigenous forest. Beneath the vegetation lies 2 billion-year-old rock. For the best photo op, bypass the crowds and hike up the steep (yet well-maintained) trail to the Rainforest viewpoint. If you visit early in the morning, you’re more likely to encounter haze, but if it is clear, you can see out to what feels like the end of the earth.
Kruger National Park
Kruger became South Africa’s first national park in 1926 and remains one of the largest national parks in the world. Comprising 7,523 square miles, it is home to more species of large mammals than any other African game reserve. All of the Big Five — the rhino, lion, leopard, elephant, and buffalo — reside here, as do giraffes and packs of the endangered African wild dog. There are a number of ways to tour the park, but nearly all guarantee at least one surreal wildlife encounter.
The Namaqualand Flower Route
Namaqualand, located in the Northern Cape, boasts some of the most diverse succulent flora on earth. Every year, from July to October, wild flowers bloom along the route from Springbok’s Goegap Nature Reserve to Kamieskroon’s Skilpad Wild Flower Reserve. The electric landscape, and the little remote towns along the way, create a Wonderland-like setting for a hike, cycle, or drive.
Bourke’s Luck Potholes
Where the Blyde River (river of joy) and the Treur River (river of sorrow) collide, the two bodies of water create a swirling motion that — over thousands of years — has shaped the surrounding rock into smooth reddish cylinders that look like they’d be more at home on Mars. The suspension bridges connecting the potholes are especially picturesque. After exploring, settle down on a flat rock and dip your toes in the pools to cool off from the ascent.
Mac Mac Falls
Regarded as one of the most striking waterfalls in southern Africa, the Mac Mac twin falls run 230 feet into a gorge below. However, the falls were not always split in two. Gold miners who invaded the area blasted the waterfall to try to reach the gold-bearing reef over which it drops. During dry season, the falls still revert back to a single stream.
At 3,560 feet tall, Table Mountain is an imposing backdrop to the city of Cape Town. More than 30,000 years old, the mountain was considered sacred by the native Khoi and San people, who believed their god resided at the top. Take a cable car or hike to the summit for a panoramic view of the city. Stick around to explore the 2,200 species of plants and 1,470 flowers in the surrounding park.
The vast grassland, dotted with red farmhouses, and massive craggy cliffs that line False Bay are Insta-worthy on their own. But the real draw to Boulders Beach is the penguin colony that takes up residence here. In addition to watching some 3,000 birds waddle around and bath in the sun, take note of the granite boulders that circle the area, which are 540 million years old.
St. Lucia Wetlands
St. Lucia Wetlands Park, which stretches along South Africa’s eastern coast, is the continent’s largest estuarine system and habitat to approximately 1,200 crocodiles and 800 hippopotami. The best way to explore the more than 50 miles of blue waters is by boat. Keep an eye out for hippos bobbing across the horizon and lounging on the banks. You may even spot a few wandering the streets of the nearby village.