Hidden Gems of South Africa


South Africa, “Mzansi”, is home to big cities, picturesque mountain views, vineyards and beautiful beaches, with a tradition and cultural infused character, and a country best appreciated through its many hidden villages and small towns. Well-known destinations like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Sabie River, the Garden Route, and Durban continue to attract families and adventurous backpackers but South Africa actually has so much more to offer. As the country marks International Tourist Guide Day on February 21, we take a look at some of the least known and talked about charming small towns, that are the real treasures to the country’s heartbeat.

Sedgefield, Western Cape

According to Travel Ground, Sedgefield is dubbed Africa’s first Slow Town due to the fact that its square features a statue of a tortoise, echoing its motto: ‘the tortoise sets the pace’. As one can envision and judging by its name, this small town exudes the aura of slowing down and exploring everything the town has to offer.

The main attraction is the Lake District between the Goukamma Nature Reserve and the Wilderness National Park, but makes it even more breath taking is the Indian Ocean on one side and Groenvlei Lake on the other side. Those who are in love with nature will have the time of their lives in the great outdoors with various beaches, sand dunes and hiking trails. It is also a hotspot for adrenaline junkies with activities such as paragliding. The town is widely regarded as the secret jewel of the Garden Route where one can have a picnic by the lagoon, ski on the Swartvlei or visit the Saturday markets.

Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape

Founded in 1786, Graaff-Reinet often referred to as the “Gem of the Karoo” by Jeani from the Hello Smart Blog, is the oldest town in the Eastern Cape and the fourth oldest town in the country. It earns a place on this article because it is packed with architectural history and has a farming village known for its Merino sheep, Angora goats, and ostriches. Over 200 of the buildings in the town have been marked as National Monuments as noted by the South African History Online with much of the town being restored to keep the historical value which has given its now famous 19th century personality. The Dutch Reformed Church, built in the late 19th century, towers above everything in the town and is a remarkable sight.

While there is plenty architecture to marvel at, there are many places to explore such as the Camdeboo National Park, home to the well-known and iconic Valley of Desolation cliffs. These cliffs are a creation of the forces of nature in over 100 million years and is the perfect setting for beautiful sunset Instagram pictures on the top of the majestic mountain that one would otherwise only see on a YouTube channel.

Augrabies, Northern Cape

Augrabies is a small town situated on the banks of the Orange River in the Northern Cape and is about 100km from Upington. It is the perfect getaway for hiking and camping, but the biggest highlight of this town has to be the Orange River’s outstanding Augrabies Falls. Standing strong 60 meters high, and are ‘beyond amazing’ according to the Makana Tourism blog site, the original Khoi San residents named them Ankoerebis meaning “place of big noises”; referring to the Orange River thundering its way downwards in a spectacular waterfall. Other attractions in the area include Moon Rock, where one can stride up to enjoy amazing views. It is also recommended to go on a hike in search of the plentiful local birds and plants. In this area one may not come across the wildlife found in game reserves, but with the variety available, one will certainly be spoilt for choice. The area provides an incredible opportunity to walk the trails at one’s own leisure.

Napier, Western Cape

One other scenic small town in South Africa, is Napier which is located at the foot of the Soetmuisberg, between Caledon and Bredasdorp and surrounded by bright yellow canola fields, barley and wheat. The quiet town offers a relaxing hideaway from the hectic city life, that when you aren’t relaxing on a garden with a thirst quenching drink you can keep busy with a number of activities such as visiting farm stalls, go for wine-tasting, ride a  bike, go hiking and visit a  museum. The town is a shopper’s heaven when it comes to collecting unique items and mementos. The tranquil, country environment with a spirit of connection to the locals and understanding guarantees you a chance to revive your spirit before heading back to hustling part of one’s life.

South Africa is incredibly captivating filled with a large array of hidden gems that are alluring to potential globe-trotters and locals alike. If anyone is looking for a reason to break out of the “Covid Cabin Fever” do yourself a favour and go on a trip of discovery. Whether you want a break away from the city rush to appreciate the peace and quiet, or experience something that will give you a high, South Africa is the place for you. But don’t just take our word for it, book your flight and experience the different Mzansi flavours for yourself!