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South Africa: Off the Beaten Path

For the true adventurer, South Africa is a gold mine. As a longtime tourist destination, it’s easy enough to find an affordable sightseeing trip to hop on. They’ll hit all your standard spots: the majestic Table Mountain, the penguins of Simon’s Town, the lighthouse at Cape Point.

south africa penguin

However, if a standard, hotspot-hitting tour isn’t what you’re looking for, it can be difficult to know where to start. We’ve already covered 15 Things to do in Cape Town and we gave you A Guide to the Winelands, but perhaps you’re looking for something different.

Here are a few tried and true detours you might include on your next trip.

Highgate Ostrich Farm

While riding an ostrich may not be on your bucket list, let us assure you that it should be. Located in the town of Oudtshoorn, renowned for its ostriches, Highgate Ostrich Show Farm is a hilarious and heart-pumping stop, just north of the Garden Route.

Riding an ostrich is sort of like riding a bike–if the handlebars were wings and your butt was hanging off the back, I mean. While your center of balance might be missing in action, the ostrich keepers are right there for when, not if, you go tumbling off. For the less adventurous, you can opt to simply sit on one of the birds to get your picture in before the famous Highgate Ostrich Derby. The staff are highly skilled ostrich riders, and to watch those massive birds race one another is an absolute treat.

south africa ostrich

Highgate also has The Pepper Tree restaurant where you can try ostrich egg and meat and a gift shop where you can buy all sorts of ostrich-related knick knacks, from ornate ostrich eggs to ostrich feather dusters. They also have highly informational tours where you can learn about the incubation process and ostrich anatomy. Neat stuff.

Cango Caves

Not all that far from Highgate, you’ll find one of the most magnificent places in South Africa. The Cango Caves were discovered in the modern age by Jacobus van Zyl, a very lucky farmer, but research has shown that people have used the Caves for more than 80,000 years. The Caves are a scientific gift that keeps giving as guides and scientists continue to discover that they go deeper. The place is full of mysteries and a whole lot of history.

south africa cavern

First protected by environmental legislation nearly the end of the 18th century, the Cango Caves are the oldest tourist attraction in South Africa. For good reason, too, because they’re breathtaking. Stalactites cluster to create ancient chandeliers, and huge columns made by the meeting of stalagmites and stalactites loom like gnarled tree trunks. The Organ Pipes are the centerpiece, a dripstone formation, but Cleopatra’s Needle is a close second. At an estimate 150,000 years old, the Needle is still growing. The first cavern Ol’ Van Zyl discovered, appropriately named van Zyl’s Hall, and at one point it played host to classical music concerts before too patrons started breaking off parts of formations as souvenirs.

Now, you can visit van Zyl’s Hall to see the amazing structures, or you could opt for the Adventure Tour where you descend deeper into the caves. It requires a little crawling, climbing, and sliding on your belly–so they recommend you sit out if you suffer from claustrophobia, high blood pressure, or muscular ailments–but you get to see even more formations and experience the caves in all their glory. From the slightly awkward shimmy up the Devil’s Chimney to the slip through the Devil’s Post Box, you’re sure to have a sinfully good time.

Cape Agulhas

While the Cape of Good Hope tricked many a young student into thinking it was the southernmost tip of Africa, that particular award actually belongs to Cape Agulhas. Less than a mile west of Cape Point, Cape Agulhas is significantly more peaceful than it’s bustling neighbor. In the nearby town of Agulhas, you can grab some great seafood before hiking up to the light house or the shipwreck.

south africa site

Besides being the closest you can possibly get to Antarctica while still in Africa, Cape Agulhas is also the official dividing line between the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, so you can get the thrill of sticking your feet in different oceans at the same time. The mixing of the currents there has historically made the area into a nightmare for ships due to enormous swells of up to 30 meters and the intense storms that brew there in the winter. While 150 is the generally agreed upon number of how many ships have succumbed to the rough waters, no one knows just how many boats have met their end there.

The picturesque red and white lighthouse rests on a rocky coastline, perfect for a nice afternoon. Snap your picture with the official marker of the ocean division and take in that fresh, ocean air. Try not to think too hard about all the sailor ghosts that might be hanging around, and it’s sure to be a brilliant time.

The Spice Route Destination

If indulgence is more of what you’re looking for then The Spice Route will fit the bill nicely. A “destination,” the Spice Route is a collection of amazing artisans all in one beautiful spot at the foot of the Paarl Mountains, a short drive from Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. Pull up and you can immediately start with a wine and charcuterie tasting–it’s right at the entrance–and take in the Paarl winelands. After that, you can wander through a community like no other, a sort of hamlet of artisans.

south africa wine

Wander by the Wilderer Distillery to see what they’ve got to raise your spirits, or if craft beer is more your thing, then the Cape Brewing Company is just across the lawn. You might just stumble across the ice cream stand or find yourself in a chocolate tasting at De Villiers Chocolates, or perhaps before you let your sweet tooth take over, you’ll grab a meal at one of the many restaurants that encircle the park-like community. Red Hot Glass and The Trading Company provide plenty of choices for that perfect souvenir to bring home, and Richard Bosman’s Quality Cured Meats provides the snack on the way home. Once you stop feeling so full, you’re bound to start planning your return.