South Africa is one of the most visited places in Africa and there are more than a few reasons why. This is a country that has been through many trials and tribulations, but the people of South Africa united and fought for freedom and equality. Since the struggles, South Africa has blossomed into a creative and eclectic place. A place where we celebrate freedom and live in an authentic way. South Africans are warm, welcoming people, who are proud of their cultures, their traditions and their country. This recognisable reality certainly surprises but also inspires visitors, especially since there is a distinct mix of different cultures and traditions.
South Africa is not just a colourful, exciting and interesting place because of its history, or because of its people; it’s all of these things because it has substance and depth. Many places around the world are loved for one or two major attractions, or because of a certain element such as its architecture or great food. However, South Africa manages to tick every box when it comes to well rounded experiences and tourism offerings. The history, artistic creativity and worldclass food combined with friendly people, breathtaking views and natural surroundings offering thrilling adventure activities – it has it all. South Africa truly manages to effortlessly offer you a collection of unique sights and encounters across many different spheres.
While we could elaborate on each exciting offering South Africa provides its visitors, there’s one in particular that almost every visitor (no matter what the interests of the traveller), loves to enjoy. That one particular ‘activity’ is spending time in nature and hiking South Africa’s greatest hiking trails (of which there are many).
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Whether you enjoy hiking or not, and whether you’re fit or unfit; you’ll want to get in touch with nature when you visit South Africa. Nature walks are often in the heart of the cities, so you won’t have to venture too far before you find a hiking trail suitable for you – and with views to die for!
Our South Africa Hiking Guide:
Lions Head has to be one of the most popular hikes to do in Cape Town, and it’s become fairly ‘famous’ around the world too. What makes this hike so extraordinary is the spectacular 360 degree views from the top! But, that’s not the only reason why its one of the best hikes in the city. The hike is also not overly strenuous (the first 30 mins are probably the worst – and it’s not even that bad). It takes a mere hour and a half in total from top to bottom and you’ll have 360 degree views as you make your way around.
Lion’s head stands tall next to the famous Table Mountain and overlooks the entire city of Cape Town. By far the best views is that of the vast ocean before you and the string of beaches at its foot. You can access the Lions Head trail from Signal Hill Road on the border of Camps Bay and Tamboerskloof. See what hikers have to say about Lion’s Head here!
The Table Mountain hike is definitely not for the unfit! The mountain is 1085m high and the climb is by no means easy. It will take you around 3 hours to reach the top (depending on your speed and fitness). You’ll be walking up stairs for at least 90% of the hike. This, plus Cape Town’s unforgiving sun belting down on you is not always the most comfortable, which is why we suggest you prepare before embarking on a hike. Consider hiking during a cooler time of year or a cooler time of day. The weather in South Africa sometimes hot and humid during Summer and can be wet during winter, therefore Autumn and Spring a better time for hiking.
It’s essential you take plenty of water, use sunscreen and cover your skin as much as possible. Though the hike may sound a little daunting, it is a great accomplishment once you reach the top, and an absolute treat when you take in those views! For all the info on the routes and rules for mountain safety see the Sanparks info here!
Our South Africa hiking guide would not be complete without Devil’s Peak, which is in the Table Mountain National Park (on the opposite side to Lions Head). It’s a popular trail offering a number of lookout points, allowing you to admire the beautiful city landscape as it extends from the foot of the mountain. The easiest route and the one with the best views is the Saddle Trail. The ‘Saddle’ connects Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain. The route begins on Tafelberg Road and is suitable for beginners and children. We recommend you start early in the morning, or on a day that is not overly warm as there is no shade along this path.
The trail is well marked and takes about three to four hours to reach the top, depending on your level of fitness. There are three common routes to the Saddle. Starting with the easiest trail and ending with the most difficult, there is the Tafelberg Road route; the Mowbray Ridge route, which begins at Rhodes Memorial (this route has a more risky ascent so take extra caution) and lastly the Newlands Ravine which is more of a challenge. Hikers clearly love this Cape Town Gem, read their reviews of the hike here!
The Pipe Track
The Pipe Track is a well known hiking trail amongst locals, but not very obvious to visitors as it’s a little more ‘hidden’. The path stretches from Kloof Nek to Camps Bay, and is one of the best walks in the city. It’s surrounded by vegetation, as well as views of the ocean. It’s also not at all difficult, as it’s fairly flat the entire way. There really is no climbing. The path is around 6 kilometres and will take you around 2.5 hours back and forth. It’s always a good time to hike this route as it’s shaded throughout the day. Read more about what to expect and see pictures of the views along the path here!
Crystal Pools & Steenbras River Gorge
Some consider this trail a hidden gem. Nestled in the Steenbras Nature Reserve, this hiking trail is a popular destination for abseiling and kloof jumping. Yet, if you not looking to enjoy the extremes, you are still in luck. The 8km hike follows the Steenbras river up the valley until it reaches “Crystal Pools”. Offering a refreshing lunch-stop and endless fun as hikers dip in and out the natural pools while others brave a jump from the cliffs above. You will need to get a permit to enter and these are limited daily so that the pools are not overcrowded.
The trail is open sunrise to sunset between November and April and is certainly worth the trip. Read here for more info about this hike and the reserve along with how to pre-book your permit or find info here on walk-in permit options.
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Melville Koppies Nature Reserve
Melville Koppies Nature Reserve is more than just a beautiful place to go hiking. It is also a Heritage Site, and thus a fascinating location with a few historical attractions that will leave you in awe. Remnants from the stone age, dating back 500,000 years shows that early stone age man lived in this area. Preserved stone tools and a late stone age floor are still visible to this day. There are many different routes, but we suggest you join in on a scheduled walk if you don’t want to miss the attractions. Get all the info on this reserve here!
Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve Trail
The Suikerbosrand trail is ideal if you are wanting to make a holiday out of hiking. Due to the number of trails at the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve, it takes a few days to complete the ‘circuit’. There are three looping trails to choose from which all come together and you can do them all in one hike. Together the paths create a 66 km long trail offering the opportunity to explore all the trails over a weekend of hiking, as the reserve offers accommodation too. You will need to get a permoit before you start and these are available from the nature reserves Information Centre.
The Information Centre will help you to plan your route and decide on the hike and accommodation options. There are shorter hiking trails such as the two day trails, as well as 6 overnight huts to choose from. A great advantage of hiking Suikerbosrand is the opportunity to spot a few mammals which live on the reserve – such as zebra. get all the info and trails and opening times here!
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Giba Gorge Nature Reserve
The size of the Giba Gorge Nature Reserve is 72ha, with a number of scenic walks through the reserve as well as horse riding and mountain biking trails. The Giba Gorge Nature reserve also allows camping, giving you the chance to embark on the many different adventures. All of the trails are picturesque, with three beautiful waterfalls with a variety of birdlife. A few of the trails will take you to look out points which have spectacular views of the grasslands and hills. Giba Gorge has loads to offer so have a look here for all the info!
South Africa Hiking Guide Tips
- It’s imperative that you remain vigilant and aware of your surroundings while hiking. Though the above routes are usually safe (due to them being busy routes), there are some routes in the country that can be dangerous. It’s important to hike in areas that are not desolate and preferably in a large group.
- For non-locals it is also recommended you invest in a hiking app. The app will not only advise you on the best hiking routes, but will also give you more information about the various trails. The app will help you find your way during your excursion and alert help should you require it.
- For outdoor activities, the best time to visit South Africa is during the warmer seasons of spring and summer. This is from September to early March. Some cities, such as Durban, however, experience wet summers, although showers are intermittent.
Though the South African winters are comfortable and not overly cold, it can be wet in some regions such as Cape Town, making outdoor activities a little less pleasurable.