Why South Africa
Heading out at dawn on a Big 5 safari, soaking up the sun on unspoilt beaches, sampling fine wines in mountain vineyards or living it up in a world-class restaurant after 18 holes on a championship golf course – no matter what’s on your getaway wish list, a South Africa holiday will tick all the right boxes.
Anchored at the base of the African continent, South Africa is perhaps its most diverse country and is home to some of Africa’s most iconic characters, destinations and experiences. Starting in the south with Africa’s favourite city, the incomparable Cape Town, this country encompasses classic holiday destinations such as the coastal towns, forests and lakes of the Garden Route, the long subtropical Indian Ocean coast of KwaZulu-Natal plus dozens of wildlife-packed reserves including the world-famous Kruger National Park.
With a range of accommodation as varied as these magnificent landscapes plus a sophisticated and extensive infrastructure network, getting around South Africa is simple: you can easily self-drive from your beachfront accommodation on the Garden Route to child-friendly lodges in the Eastern Cape’s Big 5 game reserves or fly from a stylish suite in a private Kruger reserve to the exclusive boutique hotels of Cape Town.
Go on safari: South Africa is home to the Big Five – buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion and rhino – and a host of other animal, bird and plant species. To see the Big Five, your best bet is to head for the Kruger National Park and its environs in Mpumalanga or Limpopo, where many five-star lodges are located.
You could also opt for the malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve in the North West, Marekele National Park in Limpopo, or head for any of the private lodges or parks in northern KwaZulu-Natal, which is famous for its rhino population.
Another iconic wildlife experience is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Northern Cape. It’s a photographer’s paradise and home to the Kalahari black-maned lion.
Arm yourself with binoculars, a good field guide, a dedicated bird field guide, and take to the bush. Your encounter with wildlife big and small will count as among the most thrilling and memorable experiences of your life.
Soak up the sun: South Africa has some of the most beautiful, pristine beaches in the world, and Cape Town’s famous beaches, such as Clifton and Muizenberg, along with Durban’s glorious beaches are extremely popular.
If you take yourself off to the Eastern Cape’s aptly named Wild Coast, or northern Zululand’s remote coast, you could well find yourself all alone with just surf, sand and sea to keep you company.
There are Blue Flag beaches, family-friendly beaches, beaches with African penguins, and beaches where you can watch whales breach and blow. And, of course, beaches where you can dive, snorkel, waterski, kayak, canoe or indulge in almost any water-based activity.
Wine country: Cape Town, iconic Table Mountain, Robben Island and the Cape Winelands are a must on any itinerary, and many visitors start their South African trip at the southernmost tip of the country for this reason.
The Cape Winelands offer unexpectedly lush scenery, the opportunity to sample excellent wines and superior dining in well-regarded restaurants, many of which are on wine farms. Don’t miss a visit to the university town of Stellenbosch and nearby Franschhoek. Hikers will also want to lace up their boots and get out into the spectacular mountains of this region.
History and culture: Follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest freedom icons in modern history, such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Mahatma Gandhi, among many others. There are numerous museums and sites of interest located around Johannesburg and in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
While you’re about it, spend time in Soweto or a city township; visit a Zulu cultural village; admire the intricate beadwork, metal neck rings and unique geometric mural art of the Ndebele people; enjoy the hospitality of a South African farm.
South African rock art is among the best in the world and easily accessible, especially in the Drakensberg.
Battlefields: Don’t miss the fascinating battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal, where Brit battled Zulu and Boer battled Brit. Other parts of the country to have an interesting battle history include the Eastern Cape, site of the Frontier Wars (also known as the Wars of Dispossession), and the Northern Cape, where parts of the South African War (also known as Boer War) played out.
Garden Route: This route takes visitors east along the coast from Cape Town, past spectacular coastal scenery and through indigenous forests surrounding the beautiful town of Knysna. End your Garden Route trip with a visit to the Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth, where you are guaranteed good sightings of these lumbering giants.
Adventure: Whether it’s diving with great white sharks, a tandem paraglide flight or backpacking in Big Five territory, there is no shortage of adventure on offer in South Africa. You’ll find the sharks at Gansbaai in the Western Cape, and can book a tandem paraglide from Lion’s Head in Cape Town and hike on foot in the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga or Limpopo with armed guides.
The sardine run (May to June): Aptly described as ‘The Greatest Shoal on Earth’, the sardine run takes place every winter, when millions of small, silvery sardines surge from the cold Cape waters up to the KwaZulu-Natal coast in shoals approximately 15km long, 4km wide and 40m deep. Feeding frenzies of dolphins, sharks, seabirds and other marine life follow in their wake.
Whale watching (August to November): Every year, from late winter through to early summer, southern right whales migrate to mate and calve in sheltered bays off the Cape coast. One of the best places to see these majestic marine animals is from the coastal town of Hermanus, reputed to offer the best shore-based whale watching in the world.
Namaqualand spring flowers (late July to October): This dazzling display of spring flowers in an arid semi-desert area of the Northern Cape is regarded as one of the world’s most dramatic natural spectacles. Stretching 500km north up the Cape coast and 100km inland, carpets of brilliant colour burst into vibrant life. Approximately 4 000 species of plants have been identified here.
The National Arts Festival (July): This festival, which takes place in the Eastern Cape’s cathedral and university city of Grahamstown, has become the biggest annual celebration of the arts in Africa. Expect world-class dance, music, drama, film, jazz, visual arts and a ‘fringe’ that is now said to rival that of its big European brother, the Edinburgh Festival.
The Comrades Marathon (June): This now legendary ultra-marathon between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal started as a tribute to the South African soldiers who lost their lives during World War I. Since then, it has become a South African long-distance running icon and its popularity as an ultra- marathon has spread around the world.
The Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour (March): Billed as the world’s largest timed cycle race, this event attracts a field of around 35 000 cyclists. The vast majority are ordinary people who want to take on the challenge of cycling around one of the most beautiful peninsulas in the world. But over the years the race has also attracted its fair share of celebrities, including former Springbok rugby captain Francois Pienaar, who in turn persuaded American actor Matt Damon (who played him in the film Invictus) to ride.