South Africa’s forests take many forms, although they make up one of the smallest ecosystems in the country. Within classic evergreen forests, usually hugging the southern and eastern coastlines, there is massive diversity. But you’ll also find mangrove forests, quiver tree forests, and most famous of all, the Modjadji Cycad Forest.

Did you know?

South Africa's forests were the first ecosystems to be conserved in the country.

Many forests of South Africa are confined to the coastal provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape and Eastern Cape, although hundreds of smaller forests are tucked into the many valleys and gorges of its mighty mountain ranges.

A large proportion of South Africa's forests are renowned for their incredible biodiversity and beauty, with special emphasis on unique flora and abundant birdlife.

KwaZulu-Natal’s Dlinza Forest boasts an aerial boardwalk, where you have canopy-level access to its gloriously rich birdlife, or you could visit Ndumo Game Reserve to appreciate up close its unique and rare fever forest. Then there’s the equally amazing Mkhuze Fig Forest, set in a World Heritage Site. If cycads interest you, these prehistoric plants proliferate in the Ongoye Forest, in company with the green barbet, a bird found nowhere else in the world.

Other forests found in this province include: Hawaan, Hlatikhulu, Karkloof, Ngome, Weza, each with its own endemic plant and animal species that set it apart from its surrounds.

Along the famed Garden Route in the Western Cape province you’ll discover the 'place of clear water', the Tsitsikamma Forest – truly spectacular and the last rare coastal rainforest in South Africa. The Grootvadersbosch near Swellendam is another one of the forests in South Africa that has enormous cultural and natural value. Its habitat includes rare fynbos vegetation and walking trails that wind around massive trees.

However, the most mysterious of the country’s forests has to be Limpopo province’s Modjadji Cycad Forest. The oldest cycads in the world grow here and are inextricably linked to the magical culture of Modjadji (the rain queen) and her people, the BaLobedu.

The deep gorges and ravines that characterise the rugged Eastern Cape are home to forests such as the indigenous Afro-montane Hogsback, Kologha, Longmore, Plaatbos, Storms River and the fynbos biome of Witelsbos.

Travel tips & Planning info

How to get here

Most of the country's forests are easily accessible by car and on foot. Consult regional tourism offices for detailed maps.

Tours to do

At Storms River Village in the Tsitsikamma forest along the Garden Route, you can take the Woodcutters Journey. Riding slowly along an old elephant road into the forest, you'll be shown the secrets of forest plants, animals, birds and hear the old woodcutters' stories. Or you can do a canopy tour on cables high above.

Get around

Hike, mountain bike, walkways, or even adrenalin-inducing cable slides.

What will it cost

Visitors' permits vary from province to province and depend on the size of the forest, amenities and whether you intend to overnight there.

Length of stay

Consult regional tourism offices for details on amenities such as camping and ablution facilities.

What to pack

Pack sturdy hiking boots, birding books, water, sunscreen, hats, binoculars and cameras, as well as warm clothes for cold nights.

Where to stay

Camp sites, cottages and rondavels (huts) are available for overnight stays in larger forests. Make sure you obtain the requisite permits and book ahead for accommodation.

What's happening

Treetop tours are especially popular in forests such as the Karkloof and Dlinza while excellent hiking and birding are found elsewhere.