After growing up on his family’s private game reserve in South Africa, Boyd Varty now lives and works at the sanctuary as a conservationist and an advocate for his native country. His latest book Cathedral of the Wild is a memoir of his time at Londolozi Game Reserve, which included a visit from Nelson Mandela after the South African president was released from prison. Here, Varty—also a recent TED Talk speaker—shares his eight top places to visit in South Africa.

1.    Live safari at Londolozi Game Reserve

Let me welcome you into my home, Londolozi Game Reserve. I’m the fourth-generation custodian of this incredible cathedral of the wild, whose name comes from the Zulu word for “protector of all living things.” My father and Uncle John restored the land over several decades, bringing it back to life and encouraging wildlife—including the famous Big 5—to return. Come look into the eyes of the lions and leopards featured in Uncle John’s documentaries, watch elephants grazing along the Sand River, and enjoy photo safaris of cheetahs, giraffes, and zebras on twice-daily game drives. Of course you’ll savor the five-star cuisine, wines, and luxury accommodations, but more importantly, you’ll reconnect to the natural world and learn the ancient art of tracking wild animals—and, I hope, your own wild nature.

The Majingilane coalition opposite Varty Camp - Photo by James Tyrrell

The Majingilane coalition opposite Varty Camp – Photo by James Tyrrell

Find out more: Boyd’s book Cathedral of the Wild has recently been released and is for sale online. Cathedral of the Wild is an intimate look at the inside world of growing up on one of Africa’s most beautiful wildlife sanctuaries.

2.Hike up Lion’s Head at full moon

This hike is a firm favorite of many travelers and locals who make the hour-long walk to the top of Cape Town’s iconic mountain peak. A full moon hike is one of the most popular ways to revel in the view and energy of Cape Town’s bustling cityscape. Situated between Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, the walk is easygoing and well worth the trip at any time of day, although nighttime offers the most romantic view of the sea of lights below.

Lions Head Signal Hill

Lions Head, Signal Hill

Other suggestions: Cape Town is home to many incredible hikes. Explore the rugged terrain of Silvermine or one of the many paths along Table Mountain.

3. Walk in the wild in the Kruger National Park

South Africa’s flagship park offers a number of walking trails where guides take visitors into the heart of the wild. Set aside five days and four nights to explore the Mphongolo and Lonely Bull backpack trails, two of Kruger National Park‘s most recently opened trails. You’ll immerse yourself in a true wilderness experience, sleeping in a tent and carrying your own provisions. You’re also bound to encounter some of Africa’s most famous animals along the hike and learn about birds, trees, and wildlife from knowledgeable guides.

A walk in the wild in the Kruger National Park. Photograph by Elsa Young.

Warning: Not recommended for anyone who isn’t willing to rough it for a few days.

4. Capture the wildflowers of the West Coast

West Coast Flowers

Carpets of striking orange and white in the West Coast National Park. Photograph by Kate Collins

South Africa’s West Coast puts on a special show in the spring months of August and September. Masses of flowers in every shade—from fire orange to canary yellow, amethyst purple, and snow-white—carpet the area from the West Coast National Park to Namaqualand. Namaqualand’s famous bright orange daisies signal the beginning of spring in nature’s most beautiful way.

Remember: Check the weather report before making a day trip to these areas.  The flowers shut up tight on days when it’s overcast and rainy. The best months for flower spotting are during August and September.

5. Visit the winelands

No trip to South Africa is complete without visiting one of the Cape’s famous vineyards. The Waterford Estate, situated in Stellenbosch, is a personal favorite. This family-run wine estate produces some of the finest wines that the Cape has to offer, along with a wine experience that is hard to match. For a unique taste sensation, try the chocolate and wine pairing. While you’re in the neighborhood, hop on a safari Land Rover for the two-hour drive along the slopes of the Helderberg mountain range.

Other suggestions: Delaire Graff Estate, Constantia Uitsig, Steenberg,Beaumont Wines, and Vergelegen are also fabulous wineries worth a look and a sip.

6. Experience great white sharks

Great White

Great white shark cage diving

It’s the top experience of South Africa’s most popular adventures—the chance to meet one of nature’s most feared apex predators: the great white shark. Cape Town is known as the “shark capital of the world,” and here you have the opportunity to experience shark cave diving with a number of professional operators. This adrenaline-fueled experience is one to add to your bucket list.

For more adrenaline activities: Try the world’s highest commercial bungee jump off the Bloukrans Bridge along the Garden Route, or descend Table Mountain by abseil—what locals call rappelling—at 1,000 meters above sea level with Abseil Africa.

7. Explore the Blyde River Canyon

Blyde River Canyon

The famous Blyde River Canyon. Photograph by Rich Laburn

South Africa has an impressive record for being host to some of the highest and largest natural wonders. One of these is the Blyde (Dutch for “happy”) River Canyon, located in Mpumalanga, which forms part of the northern Drakensberg escarpment. It’s not only one of the largest canyons in the world, but also one of the greenest. Among Blyde River Canyon‘s verdant landscape and unearthly rock formations you’ll find antelope, hippos, monkeys, bush babies, and even crocodiles. Its falcons and eagles are a birdwatcher’s dream.

Other attractions near the canyon: God’s Window, Bourke’s Luck Potholes and the Pinnacle.

8. Visit the Mother City

Cape Town is unarguably one of South Africa’s most beautiful cities. It’s the “city with the mountain” (Table Mountain), blue-flag beaches, a world-renowned harbor, fabulous Relais & Châteaux hotels, and some of the best restaurants around. Every part of this city wows, from the historic District Six Museum to the night and day markets, the electric-vibe nightclubs on Long and Bree streets, and celebrity spotting in Camps Bay. There’s Chapman’s Peak Drive, the big surf spots of Muizenberg and Dunes, and the small seaside towns of Simon’s Town and Fish Hoek that each hold their own attraction. This is a city with a buzz.

Cape Town Table Mountain

Cape Town, Table Mountain

Activities and places to visit:

Robben Island (where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison), the V & A Waterfront, the penguin colony at Boulders Beach, Cape Point, Simon’s Town, Camps Bay, Lion’s Head, Table Mountain Cableway, and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

Boyd Varty was raised on Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. He currently lives and works at the reserve, and his most recent projects include advocating for the restoration of an ancient elephant corridor, helping the Good Work Foundation create more learning centers in South Africa, and adventuring across the African continent on his motorbike.

Originally published on: Fodors Travel:

What are some of your favourite activities to do in South Africa?  

About the Author

Boyd Varty


Boyd completed his basic schooling by studying the curriculum of a typical Western educational system while traveling the African bush to restore ecosystems, living in India and Europe to deepen his understanding of language and culture, and reading broadly to absorb a standard ...

View Boyd's profile


on 8 Reasons to visit South Africa

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Jill Grady

Thank you Boyd, for the great blog. South Africa is such a beautiful country, with so many wonderful things to see and do. The highlight of our time there was definitely staying at Londolozi. It is just the most beautiful place on Earth and we can’t wait to return! I also want to congratulate you on your book ‘Cathedral of the Wild’. It is, without a doubt, the best book I have had the pleasure of reading in many years….I laughed (out loud on the chapter of the royal visit), I cried, and in the end came away with a feeling of complete joy. What a well written, beautiful story.

Arden Zalman

I agree.

Evette Hartig

Boyd, I just finished your book “Cathedral of the Wild”, it was wonderful! I couldn’t put it down. I look forward to reading more about your adventures so please don’t stop writing, your humor and view on life is enchanting.

So far I haven’t found anything in South Africa that I haven’t loved, but Londolozi is still #1. We will be back in August and can’t wait.

Kate Collins

Wonderful! See you in August 🙂

Kimim Davel

Sounds wonderful Boyd!

Susan Nethery

Am reading Cathedral of the Wild at the moment. Between Boyd and the Blog, my need for an African fix is satisfied each day!!! Thanks for all of it!

Jenifer Westphal

Congratulations on your book Boyd, I look forward to reading it soon! Also, a beautiful blog, and while we’ve enjoyed so much of what you list here, reading it leaves me wanting more, and more, and more! Thank you for a great blog!

Roxanne Reid

Great choices here, Boyd, from a country filled with choice. I’m especially pleased that you featured Cape Town, Lion’s Head, the Winelands and great whites – all from my neck of the woods. I’m a huge Kruger and Kgalagadi enthusiast and would love to get a chance to visit Londolozi one day, but for now Londolozi’s YouTube channel keeps me fuelled.

Kate Collins

Hi Roxanne, we look forward to welcoming you here sometime! It would be wonderful to see you again. Please keep reading our blogs and watching the YouTube channel.

Mark Humphreys

Absolutely wonderful blog! Very impressive! I am more than excited to make the trip to Cape Town, South Africa, and hopefully visit Londolozi during my trip!

Paula da Silva

Just finished reading your book “Cathedral of the Wild”. I really enjoyed it.
We usually visit Kruger every two years, but maybe a side trip to Londolozi would be great.
We live in Vancouver, Canada (I’m originally from Finland) and we’ll gladly put up with the long flights to come to your beautiful country.

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