While the metropolis of Johannesburg has plenty to keep even the most enthusiastic tourist busy, just a little outside its city limits, there’s a plethora of unique and compelling offerings that should not be missed.
Whether you drive yourself or book a professional tour, including a day trip or two in your itinerary will undoubtedly elevate your experience and understanding of this remarkable region of South Africa.
Lesedi Cultural Village
A visit to South Africa would be incomplete without experiencing a traditional African tribe’s village. Though it’s designed primarily for tourists, Lesedi still retains outstanding authenticity and is definitely worth a visit.
At Lesedi, visitors get a chance to meet five South African tribes — Xhosa, Zulu, Pedi, Basotho and Ndebele — and explore their different foods, traditional music and dress and dance forms.
Guests can even arrange to stay overnight in a traditional homestead. To get the most out of the visit, it’s often advisable to go with a professional guide who can help make arrangements. Two of the best operations are Felleng Tours and Moafrika Tours.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site, which lies just an hour outside of Johannesburg, spans 181 square miles and features more than 300 caves. Visitors can see the excavation sites where paleontologists discovered thousands of hominids and animal fossils dating as far back as 4 million years.
“Mrs. Ples,” a 2-million-year-old skull, and “Little Foot,” a 3-million-year-old skeleton, are the most famous artifacts. While older humanoid fossils have since been found elsewhere in Africa, the Cradle continues to have the most numerous collection and is considered one of the most accurate records of human fossil evolution in the world.
A visit to the Cradle is one of those rare, special experiences that will leave you feeling infinitesimally small and yet connected to the whole of humankind in a remarkable way.
A great way to complement a visit to a traditional African village is with a one-of-a-kind immersive lesson on South Africa’s medicinal plants and healing traditions. Jean-Francois Sobiecki, a leading ethnobotanist and traditional herbalist healer, takes participants on a full-day excursion to explore the fascinating use of herbs and plants in daily traditional African life.
The tour begins at Johannesburg Muti (medicinal plant) market and then brings participants to the lovely Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, where Sobiecki teaches you how to identify plants as you learn which were used in traditional healing practices and which are still used today by many South African families.
Let’s be honest. Rare is the tourist who does not come to Africa in hopes of at least getting one look at a lion. Drive an hour out of the city and you’ll definitely get your fill of lion sightings and more at this 600-hectare park.
This acclaimed attraction offers a kind of “safari-light” experience of two- or three-hour drives through a park that’s home to some of the country’s most iconic creatures, including lions, cheetahs and the endangered African wild dog, as well as zebras, giraffes and more.
The truly daring can sign up to go on a guided walk with a cheetah, interact with a lion cub or feed a giraffe. It’s an ideal day trip for those traveling with kids.
While the Lion and Safari Park is a wonderful way to get a taste of Africa’s wild kingdom, a much more authentic safari experience lies two hours outside of Johannesburg at Pilanesberg National Park.
Though tours are available by guides at the park, one of the best ways to see the Pilanesberg and experience a safari as locals do is by renting a car and doing a self-drive through the park. Pilanesberg is one of the country’s Big 5 game parks where visitors have the rare chance to see Africa’s most coveted wildlife: lions, rhinoceroses, leopards, elephants and Cape buffalo.
If you don’t catch sight of enough animals on your drive, you can always elect to take a hot air balloon ride over Pilanesberg for an unforgettable way to view the South African landscape from above.