South Africa Beaches

Simons Town beach with penguin, South Africa beaches

Simon’s Town beach penguins on South Africa beaches

Best South Africa Beaches and when to go there

Durban surf beach, South Africa beaches

Durban surf beach

The best season on South Africa beaches is generally November – February (summertime) but as usual beware accommodation problems over the Christmas holidays.

For scenic driving and hiking around the beaches, however – both popular activities with rich rewards – winter (June-August) may be a better bet, as daytime temperatures are T-shirt comfortable, humidity and prices are both down while accommodation is easily available and crowds/traffic limited. This is also the best time for wildlife viewing and the driest season.

The Atlantic waters on the south and west coasts (e. g. around Cape Town, Hermanus and Elands Bay) are always cold, in the region of 12C or 13C, while further east, as the Indian Ocean drift kicks in water temperatures rise to 21C on Nature’s Valley beach and 24C on beaches around Durban and north-east, up to Cape Vidal.

Summer air temperatures range from a low of 22C in Nature’s Valley, to 28C plus in Camp’s Bay (Cape Town), Durban and up to Cape Vidal.

South Africa beaches with warm waters (20C -25C in summer)

Cape Vidal, way up northeast towards Mozambique and part of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park – a World Heritage Site – is the place to combine wildlife walks and great beaches in South Africa. Loggerhead and leatherback turtles lay their eggs around here mid-October to mid-February, humpback whales cruise by about June-July, the bush is alive with wildlife including elephants, hippos and crocs, and sea temperatures hit 25C. Some of the vegetated dunes reach 150m high.

Accommodation is well sorted with cosy log cabins courtesy of KZN Wildlife rest camps or a camp site if you prefer. If you prefer a more lively environment the town of St Lucia Estuary is packed with facilities and activities. Beware malaria in this zone.

Durban, North and South (Blue Flag), KwaZulu-Natal

Durban North beach amusements, South Africa

Durban North beach.

Massive beaches with fine sand, chunky waves that suit surfers, beach showers and masses of family entertainment – including free, pleasant kid’s swimming pools – and feeding places all along the somewhat tacky promenade.
Sea World and the new Ushaka Marine World amusement park, both off Durban South Beach, provide serious fun for kids. Don’t even think about going downtown. . .

Blue Flag South Africa beaches north of Durban

Distant view of Durban from Umhlanga beach, South Africa beaches

Umhlanga Rocks Beach, in winter (July). Durban is visible in the background.


20 minutes and 14kms north of Durban this monster beach with fine sand and solid waves that might deter toddler bathing, though rocks pools offer alternative interest.
Surfing is excellent and shark nets are in place unless fish are so thick that following dolphins are in danger.
There is a narrow ‘promenade’ – more of a path, – that hugs a couple of kilometres of the beach.
The downside of Umhlanga beaches is that they are not set up for casual visitors, more for residents of the endless apartment blocks or hotels that block the shoreline. So, if you’re staying in one of those colossi, no problem, but if you’re passing by you will have a great deal of difficulty finding parking or food and drink services.
Dolphin viewing, deep sea fishing and scuba diving off wrecks and reefs are available.

Willard Beach, Ballito

About an hour north of urban Durban Willard is an excellent family beach with soft golden sand bordered by black rocks, grass and with seafront buildings of the relaxed town set back at just the right distance.
Shark nets and lifeguards ensure that swimmers in the mild surf will survive to enjoy scuba diving, golf, quad biking, microlight flights or a few glasses of South Africa’s fine wines later on.

Blue Flag South Africa beaches south of Durban

Marina Beach

This small has the tropical vegetation of the Empangati Nature Reserve circling behind it. Marina is excellent for kids as the surf is unusually restrained and tidal pools offer hours of kid fiddling activities.

Margate Beach

A kilometre long, and wide with it, Margate is attractively bordered with coconut palms, dunes and rocks. Some apartment blocks are a little over-dominant but the beach is lively, popular with families and students and has two swimming pools.
All the usual Blue Flag facilities of showers, lifeguards etc. are in place, and there’s an attractive coastal walk along to Ramsgate Beach.

Ramsgate Beach

Wide and soft, with the usual moderate surf, Ramsgate has a milkwood forest nearby and a lagoon with canoes and pedaloes. The town behind the beach is discreet and relatively quiet.

Humewood Beach, Port Elizabeth

Although a little too near Beach Road and set in less-then gorgeous surroundings, little Humewood is popular with families as surf is kid’s size, shade is easy to find, nearby Happy Valley provides tropical walks and Port Elizabeth offers plenty of easy entertainment options. Addo Elephant Park is 70kms away.

Good, but not blue flag beaches south of Durban

Mdumbe Beach

On the Wild Coast near Coffee Bay, 18km SW of Umtata Mdumbe is a place for serious, first-footprint beach lovers; hard to reach but you may never leave. This is an extraordinarily beautiful, tranquil and remote kilometre of fine sand, bordered with milkwood trees, grass and contented cows. Limited but varied accommodation is available in Coffee Bay.

Also: Hibberdene, Uvongo, Rocky Bay.

South Africa beaches on the Western Cape coast

Nature’s Valley Beach

Nature's Valley beach, South Africa beaches

Nature’s Valley Beach. The village is hidden behind the dunes and greenery.

Nature by name, naturally nature is everything here. Walking (including the famous five day Otter Trail), surfing, rooting around rock pools and slumping in the sand, this is a marvellous, hidden, urban escape hatch within easy reach of civilisation.
Accommodation is in B&Bs or a restcamp and if you really need a thrill the world’s highest bungee jump is a few kms away at Bloukrans Bridge, or Storms River Village offers long, high, flying fox Canopy Tours.

Just 30kms past busy Plettenberg Bay and embedded in the Tsitsikamma Forest, Nature’s Valley is a tiny village of wooden, unfenced houses hidden behind dunes and between trees and sporting just one shop and restaurant but 2kms of spectacular sand, a lovely lagoon and no artificial entertainment at all.


Lookout Beach, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa beaches

Lookout Beach, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa in winter (July).

Plettenberg’s isolated Lookout Beach, backed by large, well vegetated dunes would be the choice of the beach connoisseur here. This little South African town is something of an activity centre where you can find endless marine possibilities, including sailing or kayaking with dolphinsa and surfing lessons in addition to hiking and horsing around.

South Africa beaches with cold waters (13C – 19C in summer)

Camps Bay

Dog walking on Camps Bay beach, South Africa travel

Camps Bay is the city’s favourite strand of sand, with good access, facilities, and stunning views, though the surf can be tough to handle, the sea is cold and it can get windy. Posh folk might prefer to flash their gilded thongs on neighbouring Clifton Beaches (see below).

One side of Camps Bay provides good surf for wave riders, while attractive and interesting Cape Town is less then ten minutes drive away. Waves are on the chunky side but the east side has rocks that give some protection for toddlers.

Strand Beach

Strand Beach in False Bay, about 40km from Cape Town, is a 2km hunk of sand with a variety of waves to suit all ages, rock pools for kiddie fun, views of Table Mountain and the Hottentots Holland Mountains and plenty of non-sand Strand entertainment options, including Water World and the Helderberg Nature Reserve.

Grotto Beach

Grotto Beach (Blue Flag), attached to pleasant – though middle-age spreading – Hermanus town, is long and white, with dunes, a mountain backdrop, a small playground, a barbeque area (known as a braai in South Africa) and a nearby restaurant, has the unusual attraction of whale watching from the beach July-December (picture above left).

Sandy Bay

Sandy Bay is the nearest nudist beach to Cape Town (can’t help but remind me of a famous nudist camp in UK called Sandy Balls. Really! ) and also popular with gays. It’s a ten minute drive past Camps Bay, near the good surf spot of Llandudno. After parking at Sunset Rocks the pretty beach is a 15 minute walk.

Clifton Beaches

Four Clifton Beaches (a Cape Town suburb) separated by rocks are small, characterful and very fashionable with the glitterati and gays, backed as they are by $multi-million apartments. The beaches are more sheltered than Camps Bay but have limited parking possibilities, require a steep walk down from Victoria Road and offer almost no facilities. Hawkers sell drinks and ice creams but little else is on sale.
First Beach has the best surf, Second and Third the are the places to flash your cash, pecs or thong, and Fourth is for families, with easiest access, parking and least bumpy waters.

Elands Bay

Elands Bay, northwest of Cape Town is a sensational surfer spot with some of the best, consistent left point breaks in the business, lovely dunes, great walks, but generally has too much wind for sunbathing and is too cold for comfortable swimming.

Blue Flag Criteria

Fine water quality (regular testing and pollution control)
Safety (lifeguards, first-aid, security patrols)
Beach management (regular cleaning, building maintenance, beach activities monitoring)
Infrastructure (beach access, drinking water supply, shower facilities, telephones)

Whale watching

Whales are clearly visible just off the coast of Hermanus, including Grotto Beach from July-December and also from many other locations such as Plettenberg Bay, though less clearly.

Shark Diving

Cage diving and close viewing of Great White sharks is popular in South Africa, safe and high adrenalin but there are questions about the behaviour of sharks attracted by chum (meat offal) dumped near humans. Some think that this is training sharks to associate easy meat with humans, thus putting swimmers and surfers in more danger.