If all you know about South Africa is what you’ve seen in guidebooks and on TV, your sense of what’s possible may be limited to the “usual” touristic stuff. So to broaden your horizons a bit, here’s a list of 15 amazing — and slightly crazy– things you can do, and brag about to your friends later.
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.
1. Hang with a leopard on a beach
At the Isimangaliso Wetland Park in the St. Lucia area of KwaZulu-Natal, you can explore eight different ecosystems. You can drive through dense mangrove forests, or see rhinos and elephants interacting on the dry grassland. All that is great, but the most surreal thing you might spot is a leopard relaxing on the sands of the wild beaches.
2. Ride an Ostrich
The Safari Ostrich Show Farm near Oudtshoorn, in the heart of the Western Cape’s “ostrich country,” is home to over 150 of the massive flightless birds. You can not only ride on the back of one (if you weigh less than 70kg/155lbs), but you can also stand on an egg, tour the farm, and learn how to cook ostrich meat. There are numerous other ostrich farms in the area where you can take similar tours.
3. Swim with Penguins
Even though they have their own designated area of the beach at Boulders Beach, the penguins rarely follow the rules. Here, near one of the biggest penguin colonies in South Africa, you can find penguins sitting on your towel and rummaging through your snacks when you return from a dip in the ocean. You can also swim right next to them.
4. Ride a seriously luxurious train
These are the types of trains you’ve only heard about from your grandparents, or seen in old movies. But a few of these luxurious trains still exist — like the Rovos Rail that runs through South Africa and up to Victoria Falls. Passengers are served five-course meals and pampered with luxury amenities such as full-size bathtubs.
5. Kayak among crocodiles
If you’re feeling really brave, you can go kayaking just a few meters away from crocodiles in St. Lucia by hooking up with a tour outfitter such as St. Lucia Kayak Safaris.
6. Crawl through caves
The Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn offer both relaxed walking tours, as well as “adventure” tours for the daring. This latter will seriously test your agility and comfort, and require you to crawl through extremely narrow passages. Definitely NOT for the claustrophobic!
7. Go sandboarding
Sandboarding is most closely associated with the massive dunes of Namibia, but there are a quite a few places in South Africa where you can do it, too. Most of the sites are in the Western Cape and include the dunes in Atlantis, the Silver Sands in Betty’s Bay, Dragon Dune in Vleesbaai, Lagoon Dunes at Langebaan, Nautilus Bay Dunes, and the Fish Hoek dunes. You can even sandboard on old gold mining sites in Gauteng province, such as Mount Mayhem in Benoni.
8. Hit the slopes
South Africa’s Drakensberg mountains are high enough to get snow each winter — and snow equals skiing! Tiffindell Ski Resort, South Africa’s only one, is located near the town of Barkly East in the southern Drakensberg and offers skiing between June and August (don’t forget this is the Southern Hemisphere’s winter). This isn’t world-class skiing along the lines of Aspen or Chamonix — runs aren’t long and the snow is sometimes machine-made — but it’s good clean fun.
9. Watch sardines turn the ocean silver
Each year, thousands of people gather on the beaches of South Africa’s East Coast to see the annual sardine mass migration. It may not sound glamorous, but the migration is so enormous you can scoop up a handful of the tiny silver fish almost anywhere you stick your hand in the water.
10. Dance with Zulu tribesmen
At Shakaland Zulu Cultural Village in KwaZulu-Natal you can take part in reenactments of traditional Zulu life that are so colorful and authentic, they transport you back in time. You can also drink traditional Zulu wine, visit huts and listen to ancient Zulu folklore.
11. Take a cheetah for a walk
Or rather, let a cheetah take you for a walk. Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre rehabilitates cats both large and small, and twice daily, visitors can take a cheetah for a walk in the nearby mountain setting.
12. Hang with the meerkats
The Kalahari Meerkat Project, as its name suggest, is a research centre dedicated to studying the behaviour of these cute little critters. Visit the project for a half day and watch the meerkats go about their daily routines.
13. Get up close and personal with a shark
But not too close. You’ll be safely suspended in a protective cage underwater, but we reckon this is as close as you would want to get. This definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it’s something to remember for the rest of your days! The South African coastline is home to many different breeds of shark, and you may see tiger sharks, hammerheads or even great white sharks. Many locations in South Africa also offer shark cage diving experiences.
14. Abseil down Table Mountain
Why? Because it’s there. For some folks, just seeing it isn’t enough. Nor is it enough to hike up it, or catch the cable car. If you’re one of these folks, then you’ll want to abseil down Table Mountain as well. As well as getting your heart racing and the adrenaline pumping, you’ll have unrivaled views across the coast.
15. Stand inside a huge crater
Not only is it the oldest crater found so far on Earth, but it is nearly twice as big as the impact that killed the dinosaurs. Vredefort crater is about 300 km wide, and said to be the largest that has ever struck the earth. Estimated to be two billion years old, you’ll be blown away by the impact at this World Heritage Site.