Stunning South Africa
South Africa is one of the most culturally and geographically diverse destinations and it’s no surprise it has gained a worldwide reputation. It offers incredible experiences for a range of personalities, including nature & wildlife lovers, culture enthusiasts and adventurers.
It is the southernmost country in Africa and exposed to almost 2800km of striking coastline, blending into the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast and the Indian Ocean on the east coast. To understand the sheer size of the country, in comparison, South Africa is close to 5 times the size of Britain and provides a home to ‘only’ 57 million people. There are 11 official languages, which is one of the reasons it was dubbed ‘The Rainbow Nation’, due to numerous cultures living alongside one another. The most prominent are Afrikaans, English, Xhosa and Zulu, but you will find it easy to communicate in English in the majority of regions.
Due to the weakening effect the economy has had on the South African Rand, it makes it one of the more affordable travel destinations in Africa at present.
What to see and do
The Western Cape is likely the most visited of all regions during summer and Cape Town is a great start or end point if you plan a trip along the Garden Route. The city is located in a beautiful setting, next to the Atlantic Ocean and offers plenty of opportunities for day trips around the Cape Peninsula, absorbing the amazing sights on the Chapman’s Peak drive or looking down from Table Mountain.
Take in the dramatic scenery of the Cape Winelands while tasting some award-winning wines, before continuing your journey on the Garden Route towards Port Elizabeth. If you have an interest in marine life, include a stopover in Hermanus for a good chance of seeing the Southern Right Whales between July and November. If you prefer to get hands-on, take part in a Two-Week Great White Shark Conservation Project in Kleinbaai.
KwaZulu-Natal is most famed for its impressive mountain ranges in the Drakensberg, which form the border to Lesotho. This region is not only popular amongst hikers; adventurers also have a range of activities to choose from including quad biking, paragliding, river rafting and zip lining. Additionally, some of the most beautiful beaches are based along KwaZulu-Natal’s coastline and include Cape Vidal, Sodwana Bay, and Kosi Bay.
The most popular places to watch wildlife include the Addo National Park in the Eastern Cape, Hluhluwe in KwaZulu-Natal, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape, and Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga, the latter being the most renowned. If you are particularly interested in wildlife we recommend combining a visit to Kruger National Park with the Animal Tracking Course on the Selati Game Reserve, giving you the opportunity to learn the ancient skill of tracking wildlife.
My favourite recipe for travelling to South Africa is combining nature with wildlife and culture. South Africa has an incredibly rich history which can be studied through photographers such as Peter Magubane, who documented his photographs in his book ‘Soweto’, and Sam Nzima, whose image of the young boy Hector Pieterson reached international fame. Museums such as The Liliesleaf Farm and the Apartheid Museum offer a glimpse into the story behind Apartheid and bicycle tours of Soweto or a boat cruise to Robben Island will take you to have a closer look at where history was made.
Best time to travel
Before you start planning your trip, be conscious of the time of year you are travelling. For the sunniest beach weather, Cape Town and the Garden Route are best visited during summer, between November-March. The opposite is said for the Kruger National Park and the Drakensberg, where the first choice would be to travel during April-October, when it’s driest.
How to get there
Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo Airport and Cape Town International Airport are the two major gateways connecting South Africa with flights to all continents. You will find that Johannesburg has more regular connections and offers more choice, especially if you plan to continue your journey by plane locally, or to one of the neighbouring countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
UK and Irish citizens currently qualify for a visa free stay for up to 90 days, which may differ for other countries. The official regulation states your passport should be valid a minimum of 30 days upon exiting the country, some officials however still ask for the passport to have a minimum 6 months validity, which is recommended. You are required to have 2 or more free pages in your passport when entering.
If you are travelling with children under the age of 18, ensure you meet the demands of South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs. Additional documentation is necessary and requires advance preparation.
You will be asked to provide a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, when transiting or staying over in a country with risk of infection, previous to your arrival in South Africa. Malaria prophylaxis may also be necessary dependent on the area you visit, although this isn’t required by law.
Despite being one of the largest producers of diamonds, gold and platinum in the world, over 1/3 of South Africa’s population lives below the poverty line. Consequently, you will find theft to be common across the entire country and I would suggest keeping a watchful eye on your valuables. Passports and credit cards are better kept on your person than in a handbag. Stick to the more touristy sections of town and ask for advice before deciding to head to an unfamiliar area. Bicycle tours and visits to townships are best enjoyed in a group tour, booked with a reputable operator.