- Ekaterina A.
A World in one country - this is how South Africa is often described. Indeed, a vast territory offers various types of holidays, all are easily combinable with each other. Its amazing mixture of cultures and natural beauty is not to be missed. Being one of the most affordable country to travel in Africa, nonetheless, South Africa offers one of the highest level of comfort and service even in its most remote regions.
Here are our TOP 10 REASONS to visit South Africa
ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD - THE CITY OF CAPE TOWN
Cape Town is definitely a very special place in the World. A home to Table Mountain National Park, an iconic natural site on the footsteps of Cape Town to fully enjoy the city view, discover wildlife species and take a nice easy hike. 'A place where two oceans meet' or Cape of Good Hope, a place MUST SEE once in a lifetime. Take a hike to award yourself with a stunning view of Atlantic and Indian oceans, cliffs and pristine beaches. Not too far away visit Simons Town where African Penguins nesting freely on Boulders Beach, their current colony settlement. The city itself offers modern & vibrant lifestyle, numerous museums, festivals, arts and shopping.
TWO OCEANS & EXCEPTIONAL DIVING
Atlantic ocean sometimes can be mean, it is rather cold to swim, but perfect to enjoy storm-watching. Indian ocean, on the other hand, is a lot more welcoming and warmer, but still can surprise you with its violence. Personally, I love both. Diving-wise, Indian ocean's Aliwal Shoal (TOP 10 Best Dive Sites in the World by J.E.Cousteau) is absolutely a MUST if you are looking for sharks, sharks, and even more sharks, add to your dives turtles, rays, dolphins, micro marine life, topography and wrecks...and so much more! On the surface (if you are diving during the right season) you have very high chances to enjoy the whale-watching! Protea Banks is another exceptional dive site to see hammerheads in large schools hence you must be a confident diver obtaining minimum Advanced Level of certification. Sodwana Bay National Park must be mentioned as diving there is much less challenging, water is warmer, marine life and topography is very different from previously mentioned dive sites, and it is also a home of coelacanth. Sodwana Bay is a popular diving & recreational destination for locals and international travelers.
TIDAL POLLS & WORLD CLASS SURFING
Tidal pools in South Africa are absolutely stunning! They are safe to swim and 100% free. As the oceans can be somewhat wild to swim, the tidal pools allow you to enjoy swimming in salted water next to the ocean providing you with excellent view. Cape Town's coast is famous for its pools, as well as the coast of Kwazulu-Natal province, specifically Dolphins Coast. Even well-traveled visitor will be astonished by the beauty of the pools, their clear water and accessibility.
South African coasts are rich for the World-class surfing spots, it is one of the most consistent surfing destinations due to the variety of itineraries, surfing conditions and infrastructure. Jeffrey's Bay, Wild Coast, Kwazulu-Natal coast, Muizenberg, Eland's Bay are not to be missed. Beware of the river mouths to avoid encountering with sharks! And if you don't have a surf board, South Africa offers some of the most inexpensive yet high quality equipment.
SARDINE RUN EXPEDITION OPPORTUNITY
Sardine Run or so-called 'Marine Life Festival' is a natural event one of a kind! Annual sardine migration typically begins in June when the shoals of sardines reach the Wild Coast of South Africa travelling with the cool current, called Agulhas. Depending on the year, the sardines can be seen for kilometres long, forming the 'greatest shoal on Earth'. It attracts various predators (numerous species of dolphins, birds, whales, Cape Fur Seals and sharks) that follow the sardines to have a 'fest of the year'. The experience itself is an expedition, can be challenging but always rewarding. It is both scuba divers/freedivers and snorkelers friendly. Even families who are in-love with adventures can attend the expedition. This natural phenomenon has been little understood from the scientific point of view hence can be compared with the rival East Africa's great wildebeest migration, but this is another story :)
SAFARI PARKS WILDLIFE EXPERIENCE
South African safaris, without a doubt, are some of the World's best spoken. Numerous parks and natural reserves proudly offer Big 5 wildlife experience, malaria-free safari and family friendly holiday package options. In most of the lodges your stay includes safari drives which are not exhausting, compared to a full-day safari park drives which is quite common in East Africa. Normally, you have one morning drive and one in the afternoon, and in-between you may enjoy the rest the lodge and the park has to offer. Some of the TOP safari parks (in our opinion) are, obviously, Kruger National Park - a century old iconic vast safari destination for any 'pocket'. Kwazulu-Natal's iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the biggest rhino conservation park in Africa, Big 5 safari destination, home of Sodwana Bay's reefs, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We do love private Big 5 Natural Reserves too as they allow you (if you are lucky) to see the Big 5 wildlife sometimes in one or two days despite vast territories of the reserves. Some of our favorite onces are Nambhiti and Mkuze Falls. And even if safari wasn't on your essential to-do list in South Africa, you may travel to the nearest park or natural reserve to have just a single drive. Some of them offer other cool activities like zip-line or guided trekking right in the park which are so amusing, as it isn't every day you zip-line above giraffes or wildebeests.
FUSION OF CULTURES
Being a country that holds 11 official languages already gives you an idea of a cultural diversity within its border. While country's vast lands are populated by Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Afrikaans, English and other ethnic groups, the cities of South Africa are buzzing in its fusion of cultures. In other words, you can get a taste of both depending on your holiday itinerary. We highly recommend not to miss a chance to visit townships. Best is to take an organized guided tour and discover a vibrant life of South African communities, it is safe and fun! Visiting rural areas will give you more taste of culturally reach villages, if you are lucky and brave you might get a change to see sangoma - an African traditional healer, who may or may not introduce you to some of her rituals.
THE MOUNTAINS OF DRAGON AND PREHISTORIC ART
Drakensberg or the 'Mountains of Dragons' is World Heritage site stretched between Kwazulu-Natal and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, which is settled withing inland South African territory. It is the only place in Africa where you can ski in winter, visit highest bar in Africa, take numerous hikes and trails, mountain biking and climbing. The mountains are truly magical. Whether you discover the valleys or hike on top, your efforts will be awarded with stunning views, freshest air and lack of civilization. Drakensberg is a home of the second highest waterfall in the World - Tugela Falls, as well as the prehistoric bushmen rock paintings (UNESCO World Heritage Site) some of them are around 100 000 years old! The archaeological sites are accessible to travelers in many locations of the mountain chain so cannot be missed. Personally, Drakensberg is one of my favorite places in South Africa, and of course one of the most beautiful hikes I have ever done - on the top of Tugela Falls in Royal Natal National Park, 3000m
TWO COUNTRIES WITHIN
Travelling throughout South Africa gives another unique opportunity - to get some extra stamps in your passport by visiting two countries that are situated withing the borders of its 'Big Sister'. The kingdom of Lesotho and the kingdom of Eswatini (Swaziland). Both countries in the past were British colonies and in the XX-th century became independent. The simplest way to visit Lesotho is via Sani Pass tour starting from Drakensberg, the country offers multiple hikes, 4x4 drive tours, pony trekking and Afri-skiing. Swaziland, recently renamed to Eswatini, is located close to the border of Mozambique, famous for its rich culture, stunning scenery of mountains and valleys, safari, and traditional events.
GASTRONOMY & WINES
If there is one thing that brings all diverse South African cultures together it is THE FOOD. The love for Braai (that's how locals call BBQ) high quality steaks and boerewors sausages that unites everyone. Needless to say that it is delicious, served in huge portions with Braai corn, cabbage with cheese, pap (maize porridge) and many more goodies. Try Bunny Chow - Durban specialty which is basically a curry in a bun/bread. Famous dry meat Biltong is an aperitive snack, can be smoked, spiced, prepared in various ways. And finally, the wines. The winelands of Constantia, Durbanville, Darling, Stellenbosch, Helderberg, Paarl, Franschhoek, Wellington and Walker Bay, are within an hour or less easy driving distance from Cape Town. The other honarable mentions are Breedekloof, Worcester, Robertson, the Little Karoo, Tulbagh, the Swartland, Olifants River and the Northern Cape. During wine-tasting you may discover such noble blends as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as Pinotage - a blend that made South African wines worldwide famous.
Good planning of a holiday budget is essential. With South Africa there will be no surprises like hidden costs, services etc. Surprises will await you only when you check into your room, for example, and it is even better than you though; or going to a lovely restaurant and having a wonderful meal for a great value! Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of extra luxury places and activities offered, but my point is that that you won't need to spend a significant sum of money to enjoy very comfortable stay, great food, safe transport and plenty of leisure activities.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW
WHEN TO VISIT
The good news is that South Africa has so much offer all year-round! So whenever you are able to take a holiday South Africa should be on your list
South African Rand is the official whole currency unit. Currency exchange is possible only in the banks or licenced CE bureau, make sure you have your passport with you! ATM machines are common in bigger cities but if you travel to remote locations, we advise to travel with some cash.
We advise to be aware of your surroundings, take the same precautions as you would have been travelling in any large city. Covid-19 travel-related situation update is here. To stay up to date with the travel health information also check World Nomads, our reliable travel insurance partners