Writing a post on the best beaches in South Africa has been one of the more challenging pieces we've had to do. It's no surprise that we are big fans of the beach, and particularly the beaches in South Africa. With over 2500 km of of largely untouched coastline, we are blessed with some of the beast beaches of all shapes and sizes in the world. From long sandy stretches to rocky coves and sheer cliffs, the South African coastline is not short of idyllic settings.
We figured the best way to do this list would be in geographical order starting at the Mozambican border in the east and working our way along South Africa's coastline westwards. That way we could avoid the pesky (and practically impossible!) task of having to name a winner. We've divided the coast into the tourism regions of each province. In some regions the choice of best beach is obvious, but in other instances, where the coastline is very similar for hundreds of kilometres, we've picked one or two spots that in our opinion best represent the entire area.
So, here goes: 40 of our best beaches in South Africa...
The Elephant Coast
1. Kosi Mouth
Kosi Mouth takes our top honours in the far northern reaches of KwaZulu-Natal. The proximity to the Kosi Lakes with their 700-year-old fish traps, as well as the option to snorkel the Aquarium Reef makes it the perfect place to bunker in and spend hours on the coast.
2. Black Rock
Black Rock gets its name from the rocky outcrop that forms the southern border of the bay. It provides some great cover from the south-westerly wind as well as a breakwater that creates a safe haven for swimming. The coastal dune is also covered in strelitzias which gives the beach a very different feel from it's neighboring rivals. We found it best avoided during peak holiday season if you want the feeling of a secluded playground.
3. Lala Nek
As far as snorkeling goes, for us, Lala Nek is as good as it gets. A rocky shelf provides the perfect cover during low tide to explore this aquatic dreamland without being bombarded by waves or carried off in the long-shore drift. Every time we've visited Lala Nek we've been the only people on the beach for miles.
Mabibi is a short drive from the more popular Sodwana Bay, and can be challenging to get to on the soft, sandy roads, but the effort is well worth it. At low tide, the rocky shelf on Hulley Point pokes through the surface of the water creating the most inviting rock pools to swim and explore. We've collected a number of telling sunburns from Mabibi as it's just impossible to get out of that warm, blue water.
5. Sodwana Bay
This one is a bit of a no-brainer. Sodwana Bay is famous for being one of the best beaches in South Africa, so for this list, we're not going to argue with that. It's possibly best known for its world-class scuba diving, however, beach-goers of all persuasions will find something to love about this coastal treasure.
6. Cape Vidal
Cape Vidal is listed as one of the Jewels of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and one look at the place is all that's needed to see why. The Casuarina-fringed coastline is a fantastic place to spend a day, and at low tide, there's a great snorkelling option at the rocky point near the boat launch site.
The KwaZulu-Natal North Coast
7. Christmas Bay
Just a few minutes north of the popular and often crowded beaches of Ballito, we've come to enjoy the quiet charm of the more secluded beach at Christmas Bay. The best of the North Coast without the madding traffic and crowds.
Being a well-known tourist attraction, Umhlanga can get a bit congested in the holiday season, but that said, there is good reason why. The beaches at Umhlanga are among the best beaches in South Africa and a walk along the promenade, past the lighthouse, and the up the pier is one of our favourite things to do. Especially during the winter months when KwaZulu-Natal treats us to its famous sunny and mild weather.
9. The Golden Mile
Having grown up in Durban, the bias here will be fairly obvious, but we really can't think of a city blessed with a better stretch of sandy coast than Durban. The promenade that extends from uShaka Beach in the south all the way to the Umgeni River mouth is the city's pride and joy and is enjoyed by thousands of happy beach-goers every day.
The KwaZulu-Natal South Coast
We really struggled to narrow down our picks for the South Coast because there are just so many, but one of the firm favourites is definitely Scottburgh. It's a great swimming beach, and if the Mpambanyoni River isn't flowing into the sea, there can be a cool little estuary to play in as well. One of our favourite features on the beach is the grassy lawn that overlooks the sea. Nothing hurts more than trying to rid yourself and all your possessions of beach sand after a long day in the sun, so having a sand-free space to relax near the water is a real winner.
Kelso is one of the best beaches on the South Coast to have remained off the beaten track. This quiet town (it you can even call it that) is home to one of our favourite beachfront camping grounds. The water is warm, the beach is lovely and there aren't too many people about - what's not to like?
With Blue Flag status and a protected swimming area, Umzumbe has been a go-to beach for us for years when we've wanted to enjoy some beach downtime. It has all the quaintness and charm you'd expect from the South Coast and is far enough away to feel like you're away from it all, without actually having to go that far.
There are a number of excellent and popular beaches on the far South Coast, but there's something about Trafalgar that feels very secluded and peaceful. It's also just around the corner from the Mpenjati Nature Reserve, which is famous for it's petrified trees and another fantastic stretch of coastline.
The Wild Coast
Msikaba is just south of the Mkhambati Nature Reserve on the Wild Coast and can be quite a mission to get to. The beach at Msikaba presents all the hallmarks of a classic Wild Coast exhibit including miles and miles of empty coastline to explore - there's even a small island just off the beach that is fun to check out at low tide. One of the added attractions of this area is the Msikaba River Gorge, which is the roosting site for hundreds of Cape Vultures. These impressive birds can be seen coming in to land in the late hours of the afternoon.
It took a long time of dedicated searching down dozens of dirt roads in a time before GPS and Google Maps for us to finally arrive at one of our favourite Wild Coast beaches: Lwandile. There are few words that can accurately describe the feeling of freedom you get from this place. Getting to the beach requires a short hike over the hills, which gives you one of the best views of the Wild Coast you can find. The beach itself is completely spellbinding! There's just no other place like it.
Mdumbi, with its wide sandy bay, grassy hills and mangrove-lined estuary is a regular feature on any list of the best beaches in South Africa, and this list will be no exception. Its remote location and idyllic setting makes it one of the more exotic beaches in South Africa and for us, it's the Wild Coast at its best!
17. Coffee Bay
Coffee Bay has one of the best backdrops of any of the beaches we've seen. Ancient hills terminate at sheer cliffs that fall headlong into the clear, blue sea. All that's needed is to find a quiet patch in the shade of a coastal Milkwood tree to watch it all from and you have the everything you could possibly need for the day.
18. Qolora Mouth
Qolora Mouth has become a regular stop for us when travelling to and from Kei Mouth via the river ferry. The coastal scenery here is stunning and there's some great beach hiking with the famous, but quickly deteriorating, Jacaranda shipwreck just east of the river mouth.
19. Morgan Bay
Morgan Bay is simply fantastic! The mix of sandy beaches, rocky points and towering cliffs that provide spectacular views in all directions makes it an easy pick for our list of best beaches in South Africa. Another notable mention accessible from Morgan Bay is Bead Beach in the Double Mouth Nature Reserve where we found 400-year old Carnelian beads and Ming pottery. And all this just a stone's throw away from East London.
20. Cintsa West (and East for that matter)
Around Cintsa, the nature of the coastline starts to change from grassy hills and craggy cliffs to vegetated sand dunes which go on to characterise the rest of the Sunshine Coast. These impressive features trim the edges of the coast, and give way in sections to incredibly beautiful estuaries and river mouths.
21. Glen Eden
Just a little way down the Jikeleza Route and outside of the city of East London lies Glen Eden. Fine white sand dunes, a rocky point and blue water for that refreshing dip after a long walk!
22. Nahoon beach
Of all the beaches around East London, Nahoon is our favourite. The high dunes make for a picturesque backdrop, which is best viewed from the elevated vantage point of the boardwalk that meanders its way through the coastal vegetation of the main headland.
The Sunshine Coast
It's fairly safe to say there's no other stretch of coastline quite like Kenton-on-Sea. The angular sandstone rock formations that litter the shoreline are unique to this town and add to the overall character of its coast. At low tide it is possible to walk all the way along the beach between the Kariega River to the east and the Bushmans River to the west, with plenty of hidden beach coves and rock pools to explore. At high tide, simply wander the coastal path along the top of the vegetated dunes and sandstone clifftops, or explore the picturesque river banks.
24. Cape Recife - Port Elizabeth
Cape Recife lies at the very top of Nelson Mandela Bay and is home to the iconic Cape Recife Lighthouse. It's only a few minutes outside of Port Elizabeth, but visiting Cape Recife feels like you have left city life far behind.
25. Maitland Mouth and Seaview
We've doubled up on these two beaches because half the fun of visiting Maitland Mouth is driving along the coastline through Seaview. The angular rocks that fortify the beaches around Seaview and Beachview are unique to this stretch and make for some very dramatic settings. The coast suddenly changes to wide, sandy beach flanked by high dunes at Maitaland Mouth, which makes for a great place to relax and swim for the day.
26. Supertubes - Jeffrey's Bay
Surfers will need no introduction to Supertubes owing to the fact that it's the home of the best right-hand pointbreak in the world. Waves aren't the only natural phenomenon around here though. The beach at Supertubes is carpeted in shells of all shapes and sizes, which means that there's always something different to expect when taking your walk on the beach.
27. Cape St Francis
Cape St Francis is the perfect little beach village; a handful of cozy beach houses nestled among the fynbos at the tip of a rocky peninsula. The town's coastline consists of a long stretch of white-sand beach, an iconic lighthouse and a wind-brushed wild side which is great to explore.
The Garden Route
28. Nature's Valley
The Garden Route is littered with beautiful beaches, but Natures Valley is something special. Maybe it's the narrow winding road through unspoiled indigenous forest to get to it, or the fact that this tiny tucked-away coastal town is completely surrounded by nature that makes it so enchanting but either way, we love it! For nature lovers this is the perfect destination, and visitors can spend time exploring the scenic beach or hiking the trail through the dunes to the Salt River mouth.
29. Lookout Beach
Plettenberg Bay is one of the icons of the Garden Route. This holiday town couldn't be in a more picturesque setting. Flanked by the Robberg Peninsular to the south and the Keurbooms River to the north, this town has plenty of coastline to explore. Of its beaches, Lookout Beach is our favourite for its spectacular scenery. As well as plenty of daytime beach fun, this is the perfect beach from which to watch the sun set. As the name suggests, the beach overlooks the wide sandy bay, Keurbooms River mouth and the Outeniqua mountains as they stretch their way into the distance.
30. Goukamma Nature Reserve and Sedgefield
For us, the Goukamma Nature Reserve and Sedgefield beaches have some of most unique dune formations along the Garden Route. The fossilized sandstone cliffs that line the beaches create interesting wind- and water-shaped headlands. The dunes are covered in fragrant fynbos and the white sand beaches stretch on for miles. We found it a great place to escape the holiday crowds and set up a quiet picnic spot all to ourselves.
31. Victoria Bay
Victoria Bay, or Vic Bay as it is affectionately known, is a small beach town tucked away at the bottom of some steep coastal cliffs. The beach itself is a delightful stretch of sand between two rocky points that is very popular among holiday makers and surfers alike. It has a wonderful holiday vibe and is the perfect place to while away the day.
32. Kogel Bay
This beach has a lot of wow factor for us! Kogel Bay has one of the most incredible backdrops we've ever seen, not to mention a perfect beach from which to view it all. The route along Clarence Drive to get to the beach is spectacular, no matter which direction you approach from. Kogel Bay also has a special place in our hearts for being the only place in South Africa where we've witnessed glowing bioluminescent plankton. What a spot!
One of the more remote beaches on Cape Town's Atlantic seaboard, Scarborough is the last stop south before the Cape Point Nature Reserve on the Cape Peninsula. For this reason, its beaches are usually very quiet and offer the perfect escape from the Cape Town crowds. It has all the ingredients of a great Cape beach - mountains that lead down into an icy blue ocean and long white sand beaches juxtaposed with dark rocks, blackened by the ocean spray. Definitely one of the best beaches on the Cape Peninsula.
34. Long Beach
Long Beach at Kommetjie has to be one of the prettiest of the Western Cape's beaches, and is one of the most perfect settings for that dream beach lifestyle. Here a white sand beach edges the blue kelp-fringed water, beach paths run down sandy tracks between the whitewashed houses, children and dogs frolic on the beach and, across the water, the mountains of Hout Bay provide a dramatic backdrop for the scene playing out in front.
The beaches at Noordhoek have a wonderful wild quality about them, even though they are smack bang in the middle of suburbia. We found Noordhoek great for long walks on the wide sandy stretches, and the perfect destination to enjoy that refreshing feeling of coastal wilderness near Cape Town.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful setting for a sunset than Llundudno. The amphitheatre of boulders and mountains that surround the beach light up in the evening glow, and provide a sheltered corner even if the wind is blowing.
The West Coast
Yzerfontein, just 90 km up the west coast from Cape Town, is a small harbour town that is home to one of South Africa's longest uninterrupted beaches. Sixteen Mile Beach stretches on for, well we're guessing, 16 miles?! Another epic white sand beach with fynbos-covered dunes, this spot is exceptionally beautiful during the spring months when the wild flowers add splashes of luscious colour to the scenery.
38. Jacobs Bay
There are dozens of exceptional beaches on the West Coast Peninsula, but Jacobs Bay seemed to capture our imagination the most. Still one of the quieter towns in the area, Jacobs Bay offers all of the charm of the West Coast beaches without the crowds and remains a simple and laid-back beach destination. Take a walk on the long white sand beaches and breathe in deeply the scent of salt mixed with fynbos and kelp.
We're not really sure what the name of this beach is, so we've presumptuously named it after the awesome little guesthouse that's situated nearby. This is one of the quietest stretches of beach we came across while exploring the West Coast. There is just miles of white-sand beach with rolling sand dunes extending in either direction for as far as the eye can see. If you're looking for that feeling of seclusion, Draaihoek is it!
The Northern Cape
As with Draaihoek, we've named this beach after the beautiful beach camp that overlooks the bay. Idyllic Noup encompasses all that's right with the Northern Cape coastline. Scrubby Namaqua-style fynbos peppers a spread of rolling sand dunes that meets the cold and moody Atlantic Ocean. Did we mention it also has some of the most dramatic ocean sunsets in the country?
So that's our list - Let us know in the comments which of these beaches you've ticked off your list and which is your best beach in South Africa?