7 Fun Things to Do in South Africa on the Coast

Going to South Africa was the single most life-changing event that I have ever experienced. As an 18-year-old with only one chaperoned trip abroad under my belt, I had no idea what to expect. The experience was wild, scary, and exciting all at once. 

After spending only a few months along the cape, I can hardly call myself an expert. However, I did experience some of the best things to do in South Africa, including taking in the Garden Route during my stay. 

How did I get to South Africa you ask? Well, a lifelong obsession with Great White Sharks and a few significant life changes led me to apply for a cage diving internship with a company called White Shark Africa. Yes, you read that correctly. 

Though my beloved internship was shut down due to COVID, a friend has created his own program, Go Dive Mossel Bay, and has a deal with the company with which I interned. I invite you to read about his incredible company, which offers 1-3 month-long internships, scuba courses, shark dives, and more.

After my time in the country, I can confidently say that I personally know a couple of the best spots for visitors along South Africa’s southern coastline. Here are 7 fun things to do in South Africa’s coastal areas. 

1. Explore Cape Town

Cape Town is the capital of South Africa. It is a bustling metropolitan area of around 4.6 million people with stunning tourist attractions. You can explore both the city of Cape Town. Plus, check out the accessible natural areas surrounding it, like its two most famous peaks: Lion’s Head and Table Mountain. Table Mountain has been named one of the seven natural wonders of the world (for good reason). Its top is completely flat and offers a beautiful view of the city and surrounding natural areas. 

When I hiked Table Mountain, it took approximately three hours. It progressively gets steeper as you approach the top, but the reward for expending your energy is worth it. On the “table,” there is a lovely cafe, gift shop, and an aerial cableway to take you back down. Lion’s Head is a smaller peak but better for the avid adventurer. There are points where you must hold onto a chain to climb, and the top feels less stable than Table Mountain’s flat head.

After these two great sites, I recommend exploring the Cape of Good Hope and Robben Island. The Cape of Good Hope requires a small drive but has an incredible view of the expansive Atlantic Ocean. It’s a great place to catch the sunset. 

Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 out of 27 years. Previous prisoners conduct tours of the island and offer personal perspectives of the dark history surrounding South Africa’s inequality. 

Finally, you can check out the V&A Waterfront for food, shopping, and good views. For delicious food and budget accommodation near the waterfront, you can check out Giovanni’s Deli and the never@home hostel.

2. Try Some of the Most Underrated Wine in the World at a Nearby Vineyard

When I visited South Africa, I went to a vineyard called ReedValley just outside of my home base of Mossel Bay. Though I had a wonderful experience at this vineyard (maybe a bit too good), Stellenbosch is specifically known for its vineyards and is a quick drive from Cape Town.

Visiting Stellenbosch is one of the best things to do in South Africa. The Stellenbosch region boasts more than 150 wineries and a beautiful backdrop to your wine tasting experience. 

South Africa has three famous varieties of wine: Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, and Shiraz/Syrah (though they produce many other types too). I remember a particular wine from my trip called Rose Espumante, though this may be a ReedValley specialty. 

Serenity at the Reed Valley Winery

I highly recommend South African wine. Its flavor is excellent, sporting many unique varieties. Not only that, but the economy surrounding it is enough for anyone to buy into it. Supporting South Africa’s tourism and wine industries are some of the best ways to help bring money back into the country and create jobs for locals. 

3. Go to Boulders Beach and Simon’s Town

I am a wildlife enthusiast. So, I admit that the sight of a snake, shark, bird, or virtually any other animal is enough to brighten my week. Boulders Beach is home to one of my favorite animals in the world: the African or “Jackass” Penguin.

Penguins in Africa, you might ask? Oh yes, and these little guys are loud and proud of their African heritage. They are lovingly called the Jackass Penguins. Their distinct call sounds similar to a donkey, and perhaps earn their namesake because of their attitude. 

These little guys need all the help they can get. The AZA lists this endangered species as having only 25,000 breeding pairs left. Boulders Beach is making an extraordinary conservation effort to help boost the penguin population. If you want to help the African Penguin population, they will definitely appreciate your support.

A section of Boulders Beach allows visitors to walk on the beach and thus with the penguins. Unsurprisingly not many of the animals hang out here. However, there are areas where a boardwalk allows you to observe the colony in their natural habitat and leave them undisturbed. 

This is one of my top three things to do in South Africa. I love these little guys, the beach itself, and the fantastic efforts that the staff is making to keep the African penguin alive. You might even see the odd Dassie here, a famous and adorable rodent well-known throughout South Africa. 

A Dassie at Boulders Beach, one of the best things to do in South Africa

Boulders Beach is right next to Simon’s Town, a lovely coastal village with excellent shopping and tasty seafood. After spending your morning with the penguins, you should look around the local shops for some souvenirs and get a nice meal on the waterfront. 

4. Visit the Southernmost Tip of Africa

Next on our journey along South Africa’s Southern coast is Cape Agulhas, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Cape Agulhas is also the southernmost tip of the continent of Africa. This is a fantastic place for a photo op and a relaxed day at the beach. 

Cape Agulhas is surrounded by rocky cliffs and an incredible view of the ocean. You can either stroll along the boardwalk or go for a small adventure hopping between the rocks that make up the coastline. I recommend checking out the small tidal pools here as well. They are filled with beautiful South African sea life such as the sea urchin, anemone, starfish, and even the odd octopus.

As for your photo op, there are about a million beautiful views. You must also take a picture with the stone plaque that marks the official meeting point between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. If you’re wondering why Cape Agulhas is the official meeting point between these two bodies of water, it was confirmed by the International Hydrographic Organization. Though currents do change year-round, Cape Agulhas is definitely where the two oceans meet. 

There is another tiny town next to Cape Agulhas called Struisbaai, where you can see stingrays if you’re lucky. A small restaurant called Catch Cook, next to the Struisbaai harbor, is where stingrays wait for the fishermen to come back from their daily catch. One particular stingray has gained so much fame that he has a name! Locals call him Parrie the Stingray, and he often hangs out in the harbor. If you go to Cape Agulhas, it may be worth seeing if Parrie is willing to come out and say hi. 

5. Walk with Elephants at Indalu Game Reserve

A lesser-known fact of South Africa is that a significant amount of wildlife is actually owned and maintained by ranchers. Thus, these animals live, hunt, and breed the same way they would in the wild, but with minor interference from their owners. 

Just northwest of Mossel Bay, on the Garden Route, is the Indalu Game Reserve. Though there are much bigger wildlife parks throughout South Africa, such as Kruger, this is one of the best. Indalu offers the same standard game drives as many other parks, but their best experience is an elephant walk.

Because the Indalu elephants are well-treated and used to humans, you can take an hour to an hour-and-a-half walk next to one of the biggest animals on Earth and feed them. The experience is truly magical. These elephants are entirely free to roam the safari park. Indalu does not endorse riding their (or any) elephants either, as this is a very inhumane practice that typically involves a great deal of animal abuse. 

Walking next to a three-ton (or more!) animal, you would expect them to shake the ground with every step they take. However, elephants are one of the quietest animals I’ve been around, and their steps are very delicate. 

Indalu and cage diving complete my list of the top three things to do in South Africa. Elephants usually are pretty dangerous due to their sheer size and sometimes aggressive behaviors (check out this insane elephant encounter!), meaning a walk with these guys is an unforgettable opportunity. Indalu also offers accommodation if you want to stay the night. 

6. Go Cage Diving in Mossel Bay

South Africa has 11 official languages, one of which is Afrikaans. In Afrikaans, “mossel” means “mussel,” as Mossel Bay is full of them! It is a beautiful town home to a very active population of juvenile White Sharks. 

First, let’s clear up the mythology surrounding Great Whites. Only about six shark attacks per year are fatal, meaning selfies, which take an average of 17 lives a year, are more deadly. Many Great White attacks occur due to mistaken identity. A human on a surfboard looks a lot like a seal (their typical prey). Sharks are the doctors of the sea, cleaning up diseased animals. They are vital to the ocean’s ecosystem, and many species are endangered. 

White Shark Africa is one of the best places in the world to see sharks. After taking a short 20-minute boat ride to Seal Island, you will be surrounded. You are almost guaranteed to see them, but they are wild animals working on their own schedule. 

You cannot go to South Africa and miss out on these guys. Seeing a four-meter animal jump out of the water or swim just centimeters from your face is the most humbling yet incredible experience I’ve ever had. 

If you want to stay in Mossel Bay for a couple of days, you can follow the St. Blaize Trail for a beautiful hike or take a dip at Diaz Beach. You can also go whale/dolphin watching on the Romonza Boat, or rent some scuba/snorkel gear and admire the smaller Mossel Bay natives in Kaai 4. 

For great Mossel Bay eats, check out Café Gannet for amazing sushi or ostrich. Kaai 4 also serves delicious traditional South African food cooked over a wood fire (what they call a braai in Afrikaans).

7. Take a Joint Safari at Schotia and Addo Elephant Park

Last but not least, if you are taking a trip through the Garden Route, you must do a proper safari. Though Indalu offers game drives, Schotia Safaris Private Game Reserve offers an incredible adventure. 

At Schotia, you can see four out of the “big five” African game animals, namely elephants, lions, rhinos, and buffalo. Unfortunately, they do not have leopards, though this is a highly elusive animal, and you would be lucky to see one. 

The park rangers at Schotia are not only highly knowledgeable but also very personable. They will make you feel completely comfortable as you gaze at some of the most dangerous animals on Earth. 

Besides the big five, you can also see Nile crocodiles, warthogs, ostriches, the elusive secretary bird, and more. A rite of passage that the rangers may offer you is to eat a live termite as well, which surprisingly tastes like mint. 

After a long day looking for animals, you might spend the night by the fire listening to someone play the guitar and drinking my favorite South African cider, Savanna. The drivers may take you on a night ride as well to look at the Milky Way. 

Schotia offers two options for accommodation: bush camp or traditional lodges. Bush camp is located in the middle of the lions’ section of the park, meaning you can sometimes hear them outside (it’s safe though, don’t worry). 

Though the traditional lodges are a more comfortable way to spend your time, as they include private bathrooms and are located outside the safari bit, they aren’t as cool as the bush camp. 

The great thing about Schotia is that you can buy a joint package and spend some time at Addo Elephant National Park. This is the best place to see large elephant herds behaving naturally.

Thinking about Taking a Trip to South Africa?

South Africa is by far my favorite country I’ve ever traveled to. Its nature is wild and untouched by the modern world, offering some of the most beautiful views and incredible wildlife experiences I’ve ever had. 

However, after writing such a glowing review of the country, I must give you some safety tips. Due to its recent history and the poverty that can be found in the townships that surround many cities and towns, you must be careful as you travel. 

Never flash your money, even if you are in a safe area. Always travel with at least one other person or, even better, with a group. If you are out at night, try to avoid dark corners and walk in the street if possible to avoid sidewalks. Please do not participate in what I often hear referred to as poverty tourism or tours that take you into the townships. These are highly exploitative and a very poor way to economically support the country. And always respect the wildlife. 

Every country has its problems, which should not discourage you from traveling. The Garden Route, for example, is relatively safe due to its high volume of tourists. Simply be careful and take proper safety precautions as you go. 

If you’re looking for the best things to do in South Africa, I highly recommend exploring its southern coastline. Traveling along the coast is an experience that you will never forget. When you go, tell the Great Whites that I miss them!

Interested in learning more about visiting Africa? Check out one traveler’s experience studying in Cameroon.

Volunteering in Eswatini with the Peace Corps

 

It is no secret that an increasing number of young adults have pondered the idea of living and working abroad. It’s exciting. It’s something new. And above all, it’s rewarding. Countries in Europe, South America, and Asia tend to get the most attention, especially for those wishing to teach English. However, there are many small, developing nations all around the world where one’s hard work could have a great and lasting impact on families and communities, especially if you join the Peace Corps.

Rachel Albright chose the Peace Corps. A mental health counselor from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Rachel felt a calling in her mid-20s to go abroad and make a difference. Through the United States Peace Corps, she found herself in the southern African nation of Swaziland (now Eswatini) in 2015, unaware of what a life-changing experience it would turn out to be. I sat down with Rachel to learn more about her time abroad and what it was really like to be a member of the Peace Corps.

What inspired you to join the Peace Corps?”

Growing up, I remember being so curious about the world. I felt this intrinsic need to explore it, even in its most remote areas. Other cultures, particularly those in less-developed regions, intrigued me. I always wondered what it would be like to immerse myself in a completely foreign culture and society. Hailing from a predominantly white, conservative, small town in central Pennsylvania, few shared my longing to be elsewhere — somewhere more exciting, more interesting, more diverse, and more open-minded. 

While in high school, I met someone who had served in the Peace Corps and was mesmerized by his stories. At that time in my life, a goal of serving seemed so unachievable and unheard of. I didn’t feel like I’d have the support and understanding from my family. Plus, I was still discovering who I was as an individual. 

Other Avenues

So, I put this dream on hold and instead chose to explore the Dominican Republic during my freshman year of college. And that only served to spark my passion for international development. What I felt after the plane landed in Puerta Plata, and what I observed through the window as our group rode through the impoverished countryside to our luxury resort, has stuck with me to this day. 

Dominican Republic
A beautiful view of the Dominican Republic

The disconnect between the rural, developing areas and the upscale resorts shocked me. I could not understand how that level of poverty could exist while multi-star hotels lined the coast. How many vacationers have driven past these struggling communities and quickly forgotten about them once they reached their destination? When we got to our gated “Americanized” resort, I couldn’t help thinking how much I wanted to be on the other side, exploring the real Dominican Republic. Once home in Pennsylvania, I began to explore opportunities to travel to more developing countries. I returned again to the Peace Corps.

Why did you choose to work in Swaziland?”

When I applied for the Peace Corps, applicants could not choose their post. I spent a whole year applying, interviewing, and obtaining clearances and vaccinations. Finally, someone at the organization contacted me about a potential post in El Salvador. Shortly after, the Peace Corps ended up closing this post due to high levels of crime and gang activity in the capital, San Salvador. 

They then offered me a position in Cameroon. After about three months of preparing for Cameroon — giving up my apartment, selling my car, and quitting both my jobs, I received a call informing me that the Peace Corps was also closing its post in Cameroon and I would need to reapply if I wanted to serve. I felt absolutely devastated. Luckily, a few days later they offered me a post in Swaziland. I accepted it without really knowing much about the country aside from its location and the fact any foreign-language skills I had obtained (Spanish, French) would not be helpful there.

Ezulwini Valley In Swaziland Eswatini With Beautiful Mountains and Trees

What work experience did you have to take before traveling there?”

There are six sectors within the Peace Corps: agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth in development. In Swaziland at the time, there were only two of those sectors in operation: health and youth in development. They assigned me a youth-in-development posting based on my educational and professional background. By 2015 when I joined, I had obtained a master’s degree in developmental psychology and had five years of experience working with teens as a mentor and counselor within various mental health settings.

What language do they speak in Swaziland? Did the Peace Corps offer classes to give you a basic understanding of the language?”

In Swaziland, both English and Swati are national languages. However, the majority of Swazis speak Swati and only very limited English. So, during pre-service training (the first two months spent in the country), I took intensive daily Swati courses.  They assigned me a language and cultural facilitator. After three-and-a-half years, two of which were spent in a rural village, I tested intermediate-advanced in the Swati language.

Rachel with community leaders during her time with the Peace Corps
Community matters in Eswatini

What was it like to live in a small village? How would you describe your accommodation?”

Living in a small village with a host family was the part of service I was most nervous about beforehand. I wish I knew then that becoming a part of that host family and part of my host community would be the most rewarding, incredible aspect of my time in Swaziland. In Swaziland, I stayed in a village called Msengeni. There were 78 families and it was located in the northeast corner, about five miles from the border of Mozambique.

Life in the rural village took time to get used to. My accommodation was located on my host family’s homestead (a group of dwellings belonging to individuals within my immediate and extended host family). They gave me my own stand-alone house. Essentially, this was a tiny room made of rocks and concrete. A corrugated iron roof and burglar-proof bars on the door and windows prevented rain and intruders from getting in. 

African living quarters
Home sweet home Eswatini style

I was lucky enough to have electricity wired in with an outlet and light. There was no running water in Msengeni. To gather water, we harvested rain running off the slanted roofing into buckets. We also walked and fetched water from the river, about half a mile from my home. 

After gathering water, I would treat it with bleach or boil it before drinking, cooking, and bathing. My bathroom facilities? Well, my family had an enclosed pit latrine, which is essentially a long-drop hole in the ground. In terms of life in the community, it was simple. 

Day-to-Day Life

Most of my host community members were farmers. They worked in the fields and cared for livestock early in the morning when the sun was weaker. During the day, women would sell homemade goods on the main road. The road received a decent amount of traffic from travelers coming back and forth from Mozambique. 

The children whose families could afford their school fees went to classes during the day and then studied, helped with the cooking and laundry, and played in the evenings. The other children would attend the Neighborhood Care Point, which my host mother helped run. There they received a hot meal and occasional education.  Men typically stayed indoors during the day, resting. Homestead life was full of chickens, goats, donkeys, and cows, free-range at all times. It was not uncommon for the animals to wander in and out of my house on a daily basis. 

A free-range chicken

How did you adapt to the local diet?”

The Swazi diet is pretty bland. The staple food is maize which is ground up into mealie-meal and used to make lipolishi or pap. Pap really does not have much flavor and is close to the consistency of grits. 

They typically pair pap or rice with beans or some sort of stew. On Sundays, and when it was available, we would have meat — usually chicken. During celebratory events, beef, goat, or pork would accompany the occasional salad (beetroot, cabbage, or lettuce and tomato). I adapted to this diet pretty quickly. The food was natural and for the most part, it was grown in the village. My stomach handled it pretty well.

What was the hottest temperature reached during your time there?”

In 2015 on Christmas Eve, I remember the temperature reaching 108 degrees Fahrenheit. During the summers it usually ranged from 85-95 degrees. What a lot of people do not realize though is that it can actually get pretty cold in the winters. During a Swazi winter, you can wake up to frost on the ground. Because we had no heaters or fireplaces indoors, the inside felt just as cold as outdoors.

A campfire in Swaziland

What were your responsibilities as a member of the Peace Corps?

The Peace Corps has three main goals volunteers work towards during and after their service: 1) to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; 2) to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and 3) to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. In Swaziland, the main mission was to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Swaziland had one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the entire world. In working to address the epidemic, my role as a youth in development volunteer in Msengeni included teaching daily at the local high school. Alongside my counterpart, I designed a course for life skills, sexual reproductive health, and career guidance. 

Every day, I would walk about half a mile to the high school to teach. Within the high school, my counterpart and I built a library and started a variety of youth clubs. Outside of the high school, I helped to develop the Neighborhood Care Point and to establish a pre-school. In addition, I was involved in a variety of other projects such as building playgrounds, income-generating activities, handwashing awareness, and condom distribution, among others.

What were your expectations prior to moving abroad? To what extent were they met after you arrived?”

I am glad I went into the Peace Corps with limited expectations. My recruiter told me to go into service with this mindset. Initially, I expected service to be tough and a huge adjustment, which it absolutely was. I expected to form bonds with the people in my community, which I definitely did. I think all Peace Corps volunteers want to “change the world” and they find out quickly after arriving at their post that Peace Corps service will not accomplish this. 

Instead, I feel I made impacts on a tiny scale — on the individual lives of my students, host family, and community members. While I can only hope the projects I worked on were sustained, what I honestly hope for more is that my community remembers me for being me. I definitely feel my host community members made a far larger impact on my life than I ever could on theirs.

What was the biggest challenge you faced as you acclimatized to your new life?”

The most difficult thing to get used to was the gender differential. Men are viewed as above women in society and this was difficult to process coming into service as a female and a feminist. During community meetings, only men could stand or sit on chairs while women were on the ground. In addition, women were rarely given a chance to voice their opinions on matters within the community. 

There is also an overwhelming level of gender-based violence in Swaziland. Many of the cultural celebrations can be viewed as degrading to women. Learning to accept this was the most difficult aspect of service.

Umhlanga, the Reed Dance, a National Ceremony that Rachel observed during her time with the Peace Corps
Ceremonial Swaziland

Which special relationships did you form while living and working in Swaziland?”

I formed so many incredible relationships during my three-and-half years in Swaziland. The bond between myself and my entire host family, which included many brothers, sisters, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, was extremely close. The most significant would have to be the bond I formed with my host mother, Sibongile Magagula or Make (mother) for short. 

Make is undoubtedly the strongest person I know. She taught me the ropes — how to speak the Swati language, cook over an open fire, wash my clothes by hand, wax my floor, slaughter chickens, herd cattle, and carry a 25-liter bucket of water on my head. Make also taught me a lot about what it means to truly be part of a community. 

Rachel and Make during her time with the Peace Corps
Rachel with Make, her host mother

We could talk about anything and she went from knowing very little English to being completely fluent during the time I spent with her. Make kept me safe, healthy, and always entertained. For that, I am forever grateful.

How much were you able to use Swaziland as a base to explore the wider area in your free time?”

During service, I traveled to South Africa quite a bit — KwaZulu Natal, Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kruger, and many areas in between. I was also able to visit Mozambique during my service. Peace Corps volunteers receive leave time and can travel a decent amount on their Peace Corps issued passport. The Peace Corps only requests that volunteers report their whereabouts for safety reasons. I mostly explored within Swaziland, which is tiny but incredibly diverse. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in joining the Peace Corps?”

Although I am definitely grateful to the Peace Corps for allowing me the opportunity to see so many amazing things and meet so many remarkable people, I cannot say I completely agree with its mission — something I learned gradually during my time serving. I feel the idea of the Peace Corps perpetuates “white saviorism.” This promotes the idea that white people, or people from a more developed area, know best and can solve the developing world’s problems. Since returning to the States, I have struggled with how I feel being associated with such ideas. 

I have learned to accept it and learn from it. The good news is that the Peace Corps is currently discussing a reform to become more diverse in itself and to rethink its framework of sustainability. So, my advice to anyone interested in service is to do it, but be open to learning. Be open to the fact that you do not have the answers and you are not going to “change the world”, but you may change someone’s life, and that could very well be worth it.

Antelope in Swaziland National Park

How has it helped you since returning to the States?”

My time in the Peace Corps and simply immersing myself in a foreign culture has definitely changed my perspective on many things. Now I am more mindful than ever of other peoples’ adverse experiences, diversity, and politics in general. These days I am more aware of how change needs to happen from the grassroots up if it is to be sustainable and that we should be putting more focus on preserving culture in that process, by celebrating differences within each other. 

I think the biggest takeaway that I have found from traveling anywhere is that people are the same intrinsically, no matter where they’re from. We all laugh and cry at the same things. We all are striving towards happiness and the only real difference is that we may speak a different language or look different from each other. I feel being mindful of this has only strengthened my ability to form relationships and relate to others.

Finding Clarity

Rachel remains in contact to this day with her host family and many of the friends she made in the Peace Corps. She continues to utilize everything she has learned abroad in her professional and personal life, striving to make the world a better place one person at a time. Her feeling of wanderlust has never been stronger, and she hopes to travel as often as she can when it is safe to do so. 

No matter what route we take to live and work abroad, one thing is abundantly clear: we see the world more transparently. Moving abroad doesn’t have to be a pipe dream, and joining the Peace Corps is one of many viable options to be able to expand your mind and gain international experience within a developing nation. In today’s climate, experiencing life from a different lens may be more important than we realize.

*The content of this article belongs to Dreams Abroad and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Eswatini Government.