10 Must-See Hidden Gems in South Africa That Will Surprise You

Posted on 12 December 2023

Exploring South Africa, a land brimming with diversity and allure, often leads to well-known landmarks and popular tourist destinations. However, nestled within this vast country are hidden gems, lesser-known yet equally captivating. In “10 Must-See Hidden Gems in South Africa That Will Surprise You,” we uncover these secret spots. From awe-inspiring natural wonders to unique cultural experiences, this article invites you on an offbeat journey, revealing the unexpected and extraordinary facets of South Africa’s rich and varied landscape.

1. Mapungubwe National Park

Mapungubwe National Park - Must-See Hidden Gems in South Africa

Source: Facebook / @Mapungubwe National Park

Mapungubwe National Park, located in South Africa’s Limpopo Province, is a blend of breathtaking natural landscapes and profound historical significance. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it sits at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers, offering a unique window into both the natural world and ancient civilizations.

Visitors to the park are treated to sightings of majestic elephants and ancient baobabs, amidst the remnants of South Africa’s first kingdom. It’s a place where rich history meets diverse ecosystems, ensuring every journey through the park is both educational and memorable.

2. Robberg Nature Reserve

Must-See Hidden Gems in South Africa - Robberg in Plettenberg Bay

Robberg in Plettenberg Bay. Photo: Lorraine Kearney

Robberg Nature Reserve, nestled near Plettenberg Bay, is a World Heritage Site that offers a remarkable glimpse into the past. The prehistoric rocks that form part of its landscape date back 120 million years, connecting visitors directly to the time of Gondwanaland’s break-up. This reserve stands as a testament to the rich history of the area, with middle and later Stone Age artefacts discovered in several caves along the peninsula. The Nelson Bay Cave interpretive center provides further insight into this fascinating history.

The reserve presents a variety of hiking trails, each catering to different fitness levels and offering its own unique beauty and scenery. These trails wind through the reserve, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the breathtaking beauty of the peninsula. The rugged terrain, combined with the stunning ocean views, makes for an unforgettable experience. Whether it’s a leisurely walk or a more challenging hike, Robberg Nature Reserve is a must-visit for those exploring the Garden Route.

3. The Cango Caves

The Throne Room in the Cango Caves, which are situated in a limestone ridge parallel to the Swartberg Mountain Range in Oudtshoorn, Klein Karoo, South Africa

The Cango Caves, nestled near Oudtshoorn, are a natural wonder in South Africa’s Western Cape. These caves, set in ancient limestone formations, rank as the nation’s most renowned and visited tourist caves. A journey to these caves is a journey into the past, where visitors can marvel at the stunning subterranean world. Guides lead tours, lasting about an hour, through the most impressive chambers, offering a blend of discovery and education.

Visitors often describe their time in the Cango Caves as breathtaking. The Adventure Tour, particularly popular with families, involves navigating narrow passageways for a full caving experience. It’s not for the faint-hearted but offers an exhilarating challenge. Knowledgeable guides ensure a safe and enjoyable exploration, making the Cango Caves a must-visit destination for those seeking adventure and natural beauty in South Africa.

Also read: Free Things to Do in Cape Town This Festive Season

4. Valley of Desolation

Must-See Hidden Gems in South Africa - Valley of Desolation

View from Valley of Desolation viewpoint

The Valley of Desolation in South Africa’s Eastern Cape offers a stunning geological display. Its sheer cliffs and towering dolerite columns, 120 meters high, are a striking testament to nature’s volcanic and erosive power over millions of years. This majestic landscape, part of the Camdeboo National Park, is just 14 km from Graaff-Reinet, offering visitors a chance to explore diverse wildlife, including the rare Cape Mountain Zebra, Kudu, and the Kori Bustard.

For those visiting the Valley, the experience is more than just sightseeing. The park’s picnic spots and hiking trails cater to all, from leisurely walks to adventurous overnight hikes. The extraordinary rock formations provide a breathtaking backdrop for photography enthusiasts. A visit here, especially during sunrise or sunset, offers dramatic views and a serene connection with nature, making it a cherished spot among nature lovers and photographers alike.

5. Hogsback

The Edge Mountain Retreat, photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Hogsback, nestled in South Africa’s Amatola Mountains, is a quaint village surrounded by enchanting afromontane forests. This magical retreat is ideal for those seeking tranquility and adventure alike. Its numerous hiking trails meander through stunning waterfalls and ancient trees. Home to the rare Cape parrots and vibrant Knysna Loeries, Hogsback captivates with its majestic views, serene sunrises, and sunsets.

Renowned for its three flat-topped mountains, Hogsback’s natural beauty is undeniable. Visitors can immerse themselves in the area’s lush landscapes, encountering diverse wildlife and exploring the myriad of romantic waterfalls. Despite its remote setting, Hogsback draws both local and international travelers, offering a versatile escape into nature. The village experiences a unique climate, with snowfall and ice in winter due to its high altitude, adding to its mystical charm.

6. Sterkfontein Caves

Sterkfontein Caves, Gauteng

Source: Facebook / @ Sterkfontein Caves Research

The Sterkfontein Caves, a mere hour from Johannesburg and Pretoria, are a world-renowned site for their rich fossil history. Visitors marvel at the spectacular caves and informative museum. The experience includes navigating some challenging cave sections, enhancing the adventure. Knowledgeable guides offer insights into the caves’ significance in human history, making it an educational trip for all ages.

These limestone caves, crucial in paleoanthropology, lie in Gauteng province near Johannesburg. They house significant discoveries like Mrs. Ples and Little Foot. After a 2005 renovation, Sterkfontein now offers a top restaurant and conference facilities alongside improved access to the caves. Each tour lasts about 45 minutes to an hour, unfolding a fascinating narrative of human evolution.

7. Sani Pass

Sani Pass

Source: Facebook / @ Sani Pass Tours

Sani Pass, the ultimate South African mountain pass, offers an unmatched driving adventure. Located between KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho, it was built around 1950. This high-altitude pass, reaching 2876m above sea level, is known for its dramatic scenery and challenging conditions. Be prepared for any weather, including snow, even in unexpected months.

8. Big Hole and Open Mine Museum

Must-See Hidden Gems in South Africa

Picture: Getaway Gallery

Kimberley’s Big Hole, once a flat hill, transformed into a massive excavation by diamond seekers. Since 1871, this 17-hectare, 463-meter-wide hole reached depths of 240 meters, becoming a symbol of the diamond rush. Now inactive, it’s a top tourist spot with the adjacent Kimberley Mine Museum, celebrating its diamond-rich history.

At Kimberley’s Big Hole, witness the largest hand-dug hole globally and explore the world’s biggest diamond display. This historical site, known for sparking the 1870s diamond frenzy, showcases mining and diamond facets. The adjacent museum highlights South Africa’s diamond saga, making the Big Hole a must-visit for history buffs.

9. Hole-in-the-Wall

The iconic Hole in the Wall is always worthy of a visit. Image: SA Tourism

Hole in the Wall, located near Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast, is a striking natural formation. Created by relentless waves against sandstone and shale, this site is steeped in Xhosa legends and the rumbling sounds of the sea. It’s an ideal retreat for nature lovers and hikers, offering spectacular views and a sense of tranquility.

This iconic Wild Coast landmark, formed over millions of years, is surrounded by rugged landscapes. The Hole in the Wall stands as a testament to nature’s power, with local lore adding to its mystique. It’s a must-visit for those exploring South Africa’s natural wonders, promising an unforgettable experience amidst the area’s dramatic beauty.

10. Paternoster

Paternoster, Western Cape - Must-See Hidden Gems in South Africa

Source: Facebook / @ Visit Paternoster

Paternoster, a quaint fishing village on South Africa’s West Coast, is a gem worth exploring. Known for its lobster and charming white-washed cottages, the village offers a serene escape. Its rugged coastline, featuring cliffs and pristine beaches, makes it an idyllic retreat for nature lovers.

Visit Paternoster for its peaceful ambiance and natural beauty. Enjoy its beautiful beaches and explore local art galleries, cozy restaurants, and unique shops. The village’s relaxed atmosphere, coupled with its breathtaking sunsets, makes it a perfect destination for those seeking tranquility and a taste of coastal life.

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ALSO READ: 10 unique attractions you never thought to visit in South Africa

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