Study reveals the best hikes in South Africa and the world

Following a long period of unsatisfied wanderlust and a surge in outdoor sports and activities, new research has revealed the best hiking destinations around the world. It’s no surprise that South Africa is right up there. People travel far and wide to sit proudly on Cape Town’s iconic Lion’s Head.

The study, conducted by, analyzed Google searches for over 500 hiking routes, along with walking and hiking holidays in over 100 countries, before combining this with the number of Instagram hashtags for each, to create an index that unveils the best destinations for a hiking adventure.

Offering shimmering coastal paths, rugged mountain ranges and an ideal climate for hiking, Spain tops the list as the best hiking holiday destination, with an impressive 170,830 annual searches and 3,100 hashtags associated with a hiking adventure there. Japan follows closely behind, likely due to its stunning range of snow-topped mountain climbs, lush green forest paths and cultural offering.

Tibidabo Amusement Park, Barcelona, ​​Spain. Picture: Thomas Nozina / Unsplash

In third place is England, boasting over 124,000 searches and 1,600 hashtags for hiking holidays, followed by Scotland. On the other side of the globe, Australia comes in fifth place, with over 20,000 searches and a massive 54,155 hashtags. Germany is sixth and the top 10 is rounded off by Northern Ireland.

Isle of Skye, Scotland. Picture: Bjorn Snelders / Unsplash

We’re pretty sure that people are so in awe of the Mother City’s mountains that they didn’t get round to snapping pictures. As for hashtags, Capetonians must have been too busy on the mountain move. Still, our beloved country made a solid feature.

Cape Town, South Africa. Picture: Jaman Asad / Unsplash

For those eager to explore what South Africa has to offer before venturing abroad, the study analyzed over 50 South African hiking routes to find out which are most popular. Here are the results:

The Best South African hikes:

1. Rustig Hiking Trail

A mere 1.5 hours from Johannesburg is the lush family farm of Rustig. With hikes of varying difficulty, there’s an option for walkers of all abilities, and the views of the magnificent Magaliesberg mountain range are sure to leave speechless hikers. For anyone participating in the multi-day hikes, there’s multiple lodges that offer water, electricity and braai.

2. Except River Trail

Cape Town offers up one of South Africa’s most stunning hikes, by way of the rock pools and waterfalls that make up the Krom River Trail. The hike can be done in under a day, requires a permit and boasts spectacular views, flora and fauna along the way.

3. Phaladingwe Hiking Trail

A 6.9-kilometer loop trail near to Madibeng is one of South Africa’s best walks. Clearly signposted, but tricky in some areas – this hike is definitely worth the effort. Walkers who want to explore the trail can take their dogs as long as they remain on leash, and swimwear is recommended for a quick dip in the pool at the end!

4. Fanie Botha Hiking Trail

Commonly referred to as one of the best trails in all of South Africa, the walks in this area may require some hard work, but the rewards are well worth it. There’s a range of options available, from a two night (17.4-kilometer) hike to a five-night (58.8-kilometer) hike, and they were originally designed to be part of a network of walks known as the National Hiking Way System.

5. The Otter Trail

Commonly referred to as one of the best trails in all of South Africa, the walks in this area may require some hard work, but the rewards are well worth it. There’s a range of options available, from a two night (17.4-kilometer) hike to a five-night (58.8-kilometer) hike, and they were originally designed to be part of a network of walks known as the National Hiking Way System.

6. Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail

One of Africa’s most well-known and also oldest hikes is the Otter Trail. Hugging the coastline between the Storms River mouth and Nature’s Valley, the walk takes explorers around five days – and includes 45km of stunning beaches and epic cliff views.

7. Kloof Corner Ridge

8. Tugela Falls Hike

Tugela Falls is a complex of seasonal waterfalls located in the Drakensberg of Royal Natal National Park in KwaZulu-Natal Province. It’s about 13 kilometers in distance and an absolute lung-buster with an elevation of 2,972 meters.

9. Leopard’s Kloof

A permit obtained at the garden entrance is required to access this trail which winds up through forest, crossing the stream several times and ending at a lovely waterfall. This stunning trail is located in Betty’s Bay, Western Cape, and is just under three kilometers away.

10. Outeniqua Trail

The Outeniqua Hiking Trail in Knysna, Western Cape, is a seven day trail with eight overnight huts. Hikers do not have to hike the full seven days – two or three days is a cool adventure too. The total distance is 108 kilometers – a trek that calls for some training and preparation.

Google search and Instagram hashtag data for over 500 hiking routes were also analyzed to reveal the world’s best trails to explore. Camino de Santiago in Spain is officially the best hike to experience worldwide, followed by Welsh mountain Snowdon and Italian lakeside circular route Lago di Braies.

Looking to leg it out the country? These countries feature some of the studies’ favorite trails:

  1. Camino de Santiago, Spain
  2. Snowdon, Wales
  3. Lake Braies, Italy
  4. Camino Frances, France
  5. Ben Nevis, Scotland
  6. Caminito del Rey, Spain
  7. Manali, India
  8. Tre Cime de Lavaredo, Italy
  9. South West Coast Path, England
  10. Via Francigena, Italy

Here’s a closer look at the Top Five locations mentioned above:

1. The best hikes in Spain

According to the index, Sacred pilgrimage Camino de Santiago is the best hiking route in Spain. The full route takes over a month to complete and has been traversed for hundreds of years by travelers from all over the world. Caminito del Rey is the second most popular Spanish hike, and although much shorter than Camino de Santiago, coming in at just 7km, this steep trek is a bucket list item for adrenaline seeking hikers. The third best Spanish hike is the Cami de Ronda, a trail which hugs the rugged Costa Brava coastline, and offers different sections for those of any hiking level.

2. The best hikes in Japan

UNESCO World Heritage Site Yakushima comes in as the best hiking destination in the Land of the Rising Sun, surrounded by lush tropical forests. For those keen to take in architecture during their climb, the Daibutsu Hike, which comes in second, allows hikers to explore atmospheric temples and beautiful shrines along the way. Coming in third, The Seven Waterfalls of Kawazu can be viewed on a stunning trail which winds its way through the forest for about 1 kilometer, and offers a hot spring resort at the base for travelers to relax and unwind post-hike.

3. The best hikes in England

The index ranks the South West Coast Path, the UK’s longest National Trail, as the best hiking route for those holidaying in England. With breathtaking nature and wildlife, its sheer length makes it suitable for hikers of all levels, depending on where you hike from. Up next is Scafell Pike, with sweeping views of the Lake District and the country’s highest war memorial, this is one not to miss. Helvellyn, also in the Lake District, is a far easier climb and comes in as the third best English place to hike.

4. The best hikes in Scotland:

With its shimmering lochs, muddy terrain and changeable weather, Scotland is perfect for anyone looking to get stuck in and immerse themselves in nature. Ben Nevis, a bucket-list hike for many avid climbers, is the best hike in Scotland, according to the index data. Hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the highlands – including Loch Lomond – on Scotland’s next best hike, the West Highland Way, which stretches to 154 kilometers long. Followed by a trip to The Quiraing on the Isle of Skye, which is the third best hike for those traveling in the country.

5. The best hikes in Australia:

Walking and hiking are embedded in Australia’s history, with their first inhabitants going “walkabout”, and it’s the 80km bushwalk, ‘The Overland Track’, that is ranked as the country’s best hike. The route offers views of Tasmania’s waterfalls, forests and alpine peaks, while the next hiking option, the Larapinta Trail, snakes its way across the Northern Territory, allowing hikers to discover red deserts, beaches and wetlands. The Great Ocean Walk, a stunning coastal option, comes in third, starting in a seaside village and ending at national landmark 12 Apostles.

It’s so often the case that the best adventures start in your very own backyard. Cape Town is our playground and its filled with truly epic hikes. Lucky us! Let’s get trekking, Cape {town} Etc family…

Also read:

Bainskloof hike: A 3-day scenic adventure to add to your 2022 wish list

Picture: Unsplash

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