The best beaches of South Africa and where to stay

With nearly 2,000 miles of windswept coastline bordering two vast oceans, South Africa boasts some of the best beaches on the continent, and the world is starting to notice. Some beautiful beaches are replete with golden sands and partygoing beach bodies to match, while others attract wildlife ranging from whales to penguins. Along the Western Cape shore of South Africa, you can watch beautiful sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean and take a dip if you dare brave the cold waters. For a more comfortable swim, head east to bask in the Indian Ocean by secluded beaches that are often only accessible to off-road vehicles. Whether you want to mingle with South Africans at the city beaches of Cape Town and Durban or escape to the secluded bays in the Eastern Cape or along the Wild Coast, the vast coastline of South Africa has the perfect beach for you. Here’s our pick of South Africa’s most beautiful beaches to help you find your slice of paradise.

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1. Boulders Beach, Cape Town

While Boulders Beach of South Africa boasts fabulous looks, it’s the local inhabitants rather than the picturesque views that attract visitors in their masses. This serene series of beautiful beaches separated by huge boulders is home to around 3,000 African penguins, up from just a few breeding pairs back in the 80s. Petting these adorable wild penguins is ill-advised, but you can mingle with them, swim alongside them and watch them from purpose-built viewing platforms.

Because Boulders Beach is a designated South African National Park, you will have to pay a small entry fee to view the animals, but there’s no experience quite like it. Head to the Boulders Visitor Centre, and you’ll see three wheelchair-accessible boardwalks running along Roxy Beach that offer unobstructed views of the penguin colony and the dramatic scenery. For a closer look at these waddling wonders, follow the Willis Walk down to the sand. The ocean here is often warmer than at most beaches in South Africa, making it a pleasurable paddle for penguins and people alike.

Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa | Photo: Kym Ellis

Where to stay

Boulders Beach can be seen as part of a day trip from Cape Town along the Cape Town Drive, one of the most stunning routes in South Africa. If you want more time with the penguins, we recommend staying in a hotel in the charming village of Simon’s Town, where you’ll find restaurants, cafés and activity options including diving, whale watching, kayaking and water-biking. Tintswalo at Boulders is a stunning boutique villa overlooking Boulders Beach, boasting private boardwalk access, an outdoor pool and amenities such as satellite TV and free Wi-Fi. If you’d prefer a room closer to town, try A Boat House, where guest rooms feature en-suites and private balconies. A delicious breakfast is served on the Upper Deck, which offers sprawling views of False Bay and the Yacht Basin.

Boulders Beach, Cape Town | Photo: Quaid Lagan

2. Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town

Stretching parallel to a strip of restaurants, bars and cafés along Victoria Road, Camps Bay Beach is one of South Africa’s most beautiful beaches for watching the sunset over the Atlantic with a creative cocktail. Adding to the picturesque view is the Twelve Apostles mountain range, home to rewarding hiking trails. Throughout the day, Camps Bay Beach is popular with families playing on the soft white sand or splashing in the Camps Bay tidal pool. The icy and choppy ocean is usually only suitable for experienced swimmers, but surfers relish the challenge. You can also sit down for a picnic on a large boulder with unobstructed seascape views. After sundown, you’ll be joined by a crowd of leisure seekers that dig into freshly caught seafood and colourful cocktails at beachside restaurants.

Just north of Camps Bay, in the town of Clifton, you’ll find four connected beautiful beaches conveniently named 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, all with fine sand sheltered from strong winds. The 4th Beach – the only Blue Flag Beach – is the most popular, overlooked by stylish villas facing the Atlantic Ocean from a rocky perch. The 1st and 2nd Beaches offer more seclusion, while the 3rd Beach is one of Cape Town’s best gay beaches.

Cape Town | Photo: Kylefromthenorth

Photo: Ian Badenhorst

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Throughout the day, Camps Bay Beach is popular with families playing on the soft white sand or splashing in the Camps Bay tidal pool

Where to stay

You could easily spend a few days to a week in a reasonably priced luxury hotel or stylish villa near the picturesque Camps Bay Beach. Located just one minute from the beach, POD Camps Bay is a luxe, contemporary boutique with rooms that feature heated floors, slate or pale wood walls, and a host of modern gadgetry. Atlanticview Cape Town Boutique Hotel is a little further from the beach but closer to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. Its rooms boast terraces or balconies with views of mountains and the Atlantic, while the hotel itself is home to two solar-heated infinity pools. Camps Bay Villa is one of the area’s finest suites, offering exceptional views, a peaceful garden and spacious living areas. The villa features an open-plan kitchen, two maple-floored bedrooms with balconies, en-suites, and gadgets including AC, an outdoor shower, Wi-Fi, integrated audio systems and an intercom.

Camps Bay Beach, Cape Town | Photo Besir OZ

3. Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town

With its row of multi-coloured Victorian beach huts lining the shore, Muizenberg Beach is one of the most iconic beaches in South Africa and another Cape Town jewel. Popular with novice and seasoned surfers – both South Africans and globetrotters – Muizenberg Beach is an ocean playground with manageable waves, beachfront cafés, and surf stores along Beach Road catering to adventure and sun seekers. On top of thrilling water sports activities, this beach offers incredible views extending out to False Bay, with Kalk Bay and the quaint Simon’s Town in the distance. Over summer, sea temperatures can reach a comfortable 23ºC (73ºF), though do pay attention to the beach’s shark spotters before taking to the ocean.

 

Where to stay

Not far from Muizenberg Beach at the marina’s tip is Marina Views, a beautiful resort of well-appointed self-catering units with private patios, en-suite bathrooms and kitchenettes, plus a balcony overlooking the river and a garden complete with barbecue facilities. The Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve – also worth visiting – is only 2.3 kilometres away.

Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town | Photo: Arno Smit

4. Bloubergstrand, Cape Town

Before moving away from Cape Town, we need to mention Bloubergstrand, where stark white sand, bright blue water and clear Table Mountain views create a postcard-perfect setting. On most days, you can see Robben Island in the distance with kite surfers and windsurfers exploiting the gentle waves in the foreground, though the most dazzling views are witnessed at sunset, when hues of pink and orange illuminate the long beach and geological features like Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak. In the evening, you can unwind with a sundowner and a plate of fresh seafood at a nearby bar or restaurant.

 

Where to stay

Offering panoramic views of Table Bay, Table Mountain and Robben Island, the guest rooms at Gull on the Bay Boutique Guest House promise a comfortable stay. Rooms feature balconies, bathrooms with bathtubs, modern gadgetry and extras such as free toiletries and a complimentary minibar. When you want to unwind, you can use hotel facilities including a steam room, sauna and outdoor infinity pool. You can also hire bicycles for free to visit the beach. Just a nine-minute walk from the beach is the upscale Bentley’s Guesthouse, which has five guest rooms featuring four-poster beds and en-suite bathrooms, with balconies and free-standing baths available in upgraded rooms. Hotel facilities include an outdoor pool, breakfast and a spacious garden.

Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa | Photo: Brent Ninaber

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5. Kraalbaai, West Coast National Park

Located in the serene West Coast National Park, Kraalbaai lies on the edge of the Langebaan Lagoon. With clear azure waters, an idyllic jetty, a white sand beach and a few traditional houseboats floating in the shallow waters of the bay, Kraalbaai is a paradisiacal beach destination, particularly for those looking for a quieter spot than the nearby Langebaan Beach. Calm, warm waters make swimming a treat. Activities also include fishing, kayaking, boating, water-skiing and birdwatching (look out for flamingos in September). You can soak up the picture-perfect scenery by walking along the wooden boardwalk or jetty, and the surrounding fynbos have plenty of trails for hiking. When you need to refuel, you can rustle up grilled delights in the beach’s barbecue area or at a local restaurant. To end the day, watch the stunning sunset over the nearby Saldanha Bay. We also recommend visiting the Postberg Flower Reserve during your stay. The houseboats in the blue lagoon provide unique accommodation experiences.

Photo: Stephan Louis

South Africa | Photo: Kyle from the north

6. Buffels Bay, Knysna

Located just a stone’s throw from the bustling town of Knysna, Buffels Bay features a white soft sand beach that stretches for five kilometres, gently lapped by the calm turquoise waters of the ocean. This long beach sits between the settlements of Brenton on Sea and Buffels Bay, forming part of the gorgeous Goukamma Nature Reserve. During winter and late spring – the best time for an invigorating shore hike – you can spot dolphins and southern right whales riding the surf. Besides being a playground for majestic sea creatures, Buffels Bay is a hotbed for swimmers and paddleboarders, who fill up on delicious bites from the charming cafés lining the shore. It’s also a popular stopping point for those following the Garden Route, and it’s usually free from the large crowds that flock to the nearby Plettenberg Bay.

 

Where to stay

Situated in Brenton on Sea, Alkira Lodge is a 12-minute walk from Buffels Bay, set in the lush green surrounds of the Bushland Place Retirement Village, which boasts modern facilities such as a memory care unit for residents with dementia. Guests of the village’s 4-star hotel can enjoy stylish accommodation with private parking, a restaurant, a bar, landscaped gardens, and an outdoor swimming pool. Bollard Bay Beach, another beautiful stretch of sand, is just 1.6 kilometres away, and Plettenberg Bay is easy to reach.

Photo: kylefromthenorth

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Buffels Bay is a hotbed for swimmers and paddleboarders, who fill up on delicious bites from the charming cafés lining the shore

7. Hobie Beach, Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth)

With picnic tables, lifeguards and a playground for children, Hobie Beach is a popular oceanside spot with families in Port Elizabeth (now called Gqeberha), but it also attracts sun-seekers looking for a calm haven on the sand as well as sailing, windsurfing and jet-skiing enthusiasts. This beautiful beach comprises the western edge of the Sunshine Coast, an ideal starting point for those driving along the Garden Route. The best views of the shore can be seen from the Shark Rock Pier. At high tide, rock pools provide a home for octopus and starfish. After a day of relaxing on the sandy stretch, you can order food and drinks at nearby bars and cafés or roll the dice at the casino. Don’t forget to check out the Splash Festival if visiting during March or April.

 

Where to stay

One of our favourite places to stay on the Garden Route near Hobie Beach, Port Elizabeth, is the informal Wagtails Guest House, which is about 17 minutes away on foot. The guest rooms feature mini fridges, microwaves, kettles, en-suites, verandas and free Wi-Fi, while shared facilities include an outdoor pool, a beautiful garden and a delicious breakfast service. Besides Hobie Beach, nearby attractions include Denville Beach, Splash Waterworld Port Elizabeth and the Nelson Mandela University.

Port Elizabeth | Photo: Sincerely Media

8. Coffee Bay, Wild Coast

Located in the heart of the Wild Coast, Coffee Bay is famous for its stretch of golden sand and dramatic scenic surrounds of rolling green hills, rocky cliffs, and geological features like the Hole in the Wall archway. The beach itself attracts sunbathers, surfers and horseback riders, while the village of Coffee Bay – though quiet – has become a base for backpackers and local hippies exploring the Wild Coast. The village may be a tad sleepy, but it’s home to charming restaurants, cafés and plenty of guesthouses, and its position by the N2 highway makes it easy to reach by car. Coffee Bay’s mainstay accommodation option is the 3-star Ocean View hotel, though nearby caravanning and camping sites make for comfortable stays.

Photo: Sebastian Staines

Photo: Jean Baptiste

9. Umhlanga Beach, Durban

Marked by the historical red and white Umhlanga Lighthouse, Umhlanga Beach is a golden stretch of sand connected to a series of stunning beaches by a bustling promenade to the north of Durban. Besides attracting crowds of local and visiting sunbathers, Umhlanga Beach entices swimmers with its warm Indian Ocean temperatures and off-shore shark nets. When you want to dry off, you can enjoy long walks along the warm sand or on the grassy cliffs while admiring sweeping views of the Indian Ocean. Running parallel to this picturesque South Africa beach, you’ll find a selection of coffee stalls, restaurants and ice cream shacks. Nearby, the affluent neighbourhood of Umhlanga Rocks boasts the largest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere. There are also plenty of upscale shopping and dining venues in the holiday town of Ballito to the north.

 

Where to stay

Overlooking the beach, the colonial-style Oyster Box Hotel offers elegant, antique-filled guest rooms with private balconies and amenities including Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, and tea and coffeemaking facilities. Suites feature private plunge pools and separate lounges. On offer for all guests are luxuries including an oceanfront pool, a gym, a 24-seat cinema, and a spa with a hammam. If you’d prefer a hotel with a modernist style, you might enjoy a stay in the Ocean Vista Boutique Guest House, where seven stylish rooms feature ocean views from a balcony or patio plus TVs, Wi-Fi and en-suite bathrooms. The guesthouse itself boasts an outdoor pool, a garden, a deck, and barbecue facilities.

Durban, South Africa | Photo: Weyland Swart

10. Sodwana Bay, KwaZulu-Natal

Situated inside the iSimangaliso Wetland Park by the Mozambique border, Sodwana Bay is a nature-lover’s paradise and one of the top coral reef snorkelling and scuba diving spots in South Africa. Behind the sub-tropical forested dunes, you’ll find a diverse world of marine life, including reef fish, black marlin, potato bass, ragged tooth sharks and even humpback whales. Between November and February, Sodwana Bay’s copper silica sands are occupied by sea turtles laying eggs, which hatch from winter to late spring. Besides amazing wildlife watching, popular activities include off-roading and fishing, though the beach’s secluded location makes it attractive to anybody looking to escape the bustle of KwaZulu-Natal’s city lights. For an even more deserted beach, we recommend heading to the nearby Mabibi Beach, which is only accessible by 4×4.

Special Mentions

South Africa has far too many amazing beaches to discuss in one article, but before we finish, we want to give a quick mention to a few of the best beaches that didn’t quite make it onto our list. The first is De Hoop Nature Reserve along the Wild Coast, about a three-hour drive from Cape Town. This marine protected area features a fabulous strip of rolling dunes with white sand and frothy surf that attracts whales, dolphins, octopus, starfish, and birds such as African black oystercatchers and Cape cormorants. If you’d prefer to browse two breathtaking beaches full of students and bronzed bodies, grab a spot in Gordon’s Bay. Not to be missed is Paternoster Beach along the West Coast, which is a popular weekend holiday destination with Cape Town residents. Quaint whitewashed homes overlook a long white sandy beach, where local fishers sell the catch of the day to local sunbathers and water sports enthusiasts. Last but not least is Mossel Bay, home to a tram, a Victorian pavilion and a rock-free stretch of sand at Santos Beach and a huge crowd of local holidaymakers at Diaz Beach.

De Hoop Nature Reserve, South Africa | Photo: Marlin Clark

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