Spectacular South Africa
The mere mention of 'Africa' might not be met with a must-go attitude for the overly-cautious traveller, but having hosted high profile events such as the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa is rapidly gaining recognition as a world class destination.
The southernmost country of the continent exalts visitors with vast expanses of wilderness governed by the African Big 5 - lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffaloes - while tall buildings rule the skyline in the CBD of Johannesburg.
The history of South African could very well be the history of mankind, with a third of early hominid fossils having been unearthed here, some of which trace back 4 million years.
A former pitstop on the spice route between Netherlands and the Far East, South Africa is now a paragon of a destination, boasting 11 official languages, sprawling game reserves where the untamed run wild, as well as the longest wine route in the world.
Interesting Facts about South Africa:
- Measuring up to 300km at its diameter, multi-ringed Vredefort Crater in South Africa's Free State Province is the largest verified impact structure on earth, the impact forced gold to the surface.
- Cascading a total of 948 meters, 5-tiered Tugela Falls in Royal Nata National Park is the world's 2nd highest, 30 meters short of Venezuelan Angel Falls
- Combined, the 604 or so wine estates in South Africa make up the 7th largest producer in the world
- The world's first successful human heart transplant was performed in 1967 by a South African, Dr. Christiaan N. Barnard
- Vilakazi Street in Soweto prides itself as the only road to have housed 2 Nobel Prize winners - Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the corner with Ngakane street, and Nelson Mandela in house number 8115.
The most populated cities in South Africa are Johannesburg, and the famed seaside Cape Town. The leafy legislative capital, known by its shortened name Jo'burg, is the country's centre of commerce.
Good places to familiarise with the history of the land are the Apartheid Museum, the Lesedi Cultural Village, and the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
For those eager to experience the power of the wild, Johannesburg Zoo houses hundreds of species ranging from antelopes to chimpanzees, as well as numerous reptiles and birds.
Visitors who have a special affinity for big cats shouldn't miss the Lion Park, where around 80 of the regal felines roam.
The abundance of precious metals underground have earned the city its moniker of 'City of Gold', and many of the former mines are open to visitors to learn about the history of gold.
Jo'burg also boasts myriad malls, flea markets, and open air craft markets to satisfy any and every retail craving.
Just outside of town is the Cradle of Mankind, with caves filled with fossils and other very very old objects.
Cape Town Delights
The southernmost city of Cape Town is also South Africa's shining tourism star. Its most recognisable feature is Table Mountain, a popular attraction which can be reached in cable cars, the size of the city diminishing as the the mountain looms closer.
With caves waiting to be explored, rocks to be climbed, and trails to be hiked, Table Mountain and its neighbouring Devil's Peak and Lion's Head provide a day out with nature with the wide Atlantic ocean out of the corner of the eye at every turn. In the city centre, District Six and Bo-Kaap provide a glimpse into the city's historical and colonial past, with Islamic culture and heritage on display in the latter.
Located close to the neoclassical city hall is the Good Hope Castle Fort, a remaining legacy of the British and Dutch occupation. Harbour-front Victoria and Albert Waterfront is a popular spot with shoppers, diners, and sailors alike, also the gateway to Robben Island, a former prison infamous for its most well known inmate Nelson Mandela.
One of the most scenic roads in the world is the 9km long Chapman's Peak Drive, hugging the cliff from Noordhoek to Hout Bay with the ocean coming up at every turn.
Beaches are a main draw in South Africa, with the west Atlantic beaches developed and sexy, while those on the Indian Ocean coastline on the east have a laid back vibe to them.
The stretch of beach from the Cape Town's V&A Waterfront to Hout Bay is known as the Riviera, a glamorous beach destination with world class facilities at visitors' fingertips. Clifton and Camps Bay are frequented by the hip and trendy, while Table Mountain National Park's Boulders is a popular spot for swimmers and penguins alike.
About an hour and a half's drive from Cape Town lies the charming town of Hermanus, a sleepy seaside village touted as the best place in the world for whale sighting.
The Garden Route along the Western Cape is named as such for its proximity to forests, including Plettenberg Bay and Noetzie, the latter with castles on the beach.
Eastern Cape's East London and Port Elizabeth are popular with surfers, the latter also boasting an oceanarium with dolphins. The most well known section of the Kwazulu-Natal coastline is Durban, buzzing with vibrant seaside activities along the Golden Mile, with a sprawling marine theme park at one end.
Whether it's cage diving with crocodiles or sharks, surfing, playing in tide pools, or just soaking up the seaside vibe that beachgoers seek, South Africa has just about a beach to cater to everyone.
Nature & Games Reserves
South Africans are warm and friendly, the cities reflective of a vibrant cultural diversity, and the seascape stunning.
What it offers that nowhere else does is a chance to experience raw nature. The country is home to hundreds of protected national parks, wilderness areas, as well as game and nature reserves, ranging from forests to deserts and vast plains.
Many of the reserves are either semi- or entirely privately owned, and boast facilities including accommodation and restaurants, and wildlife safaris through hectares upon hectares of untamed wilderness.
Game drives can be conducted either during the night or day, or visitors can take a guided bush walk through the rocky hills and vast terrain to spot animals and vegetation in their natural habitat.
Other than big game safaris, the county is home to a host of other tours, such as golfing on unique savannah courses, witnessing the leatherback turtles lay eggs along the Elephant Coast, or a walk to gaze at the stars twinkling their stories from lightyears past.
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve has a reputation to drive awe and inspiration into the heart of visitors, with a 30km long fissure in the sandstone rocks making up the rusty red Blyde River Canyon.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park in Free State provides visitors with a snowy winter wonderland, and The Augrabies Falls National Park in Northern Cape offers stunning vistas of the thundering cascades.
Villa Holidays in South Africa
South Africa is a nation that pulsates with power, from the rolling waves and towering mountains to the roaring wildlife and breathtaking landscapes. Renting a private villa in South Africa will allow visitors to experience nature at its finest while enjoying amenities at their best.
Travel & Transport
Most international arrivals to South Africa touch down in OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg or in Western Cape Town's Cape Town International Airport. There are domestic flights and overnight trains for long distances, and no shortage of activities to explore by car.
South Africa Top 5 Travel Tips [Bucket List]
1. Ribbon 'round the Oak Tree
South Africa is the 7th largest producer of wine in the world, boasting the longest wine route in the world - Route 62. Have your pick to see what all the fuss is about at any of the hundreds of estates from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. One of the most well stained on the vini-trail is 'City of Oaks' Stellenbosch, located just some 50 km from Cape Town.
2. Take me Higher
If you're keen to experience what the vultures see when they're scoping out the terrain below, go paragliding. Visitors can apply for a 3-month license with the local Paragliding Association with launch points all around the country. The conditions in desert-like Karoo in Northern Cape allows gliders to soar high for hours.
3. Roar & Rumble
A visit to a national park or game reserve should be made mandatory for all travellers to South Africa. With parks in every region, there's really no excuse not to. Sprawling over an area of about 19,000 sq km, Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa is one of its biggest and most impressive. Sight the Big 5, but with so many flora and fauna around, make up your own categories of Sexy 6, Amazing 8, or Spectacular 7.
4. Riding with Thomas
A train journey is just about the most romantic way to travel, reminiscent of the years of the explorers. With magnificent scenery broadcasted through the windows, visitors have the chance to sit back and enjoy the show. The Blue Train is luxury on wheels, offering both chartered and scheduled journeys through the most amazing countryside in the world. Bathrooms with gold fittings and marble tiles should appease the traveler who looks down at the retro way to get around.
5. Black or White
Whether or not you know any facts about Nelson Mandela, you'd at least know he was a revered personality of great historical importance. There are many attractions dedicated to him for travellers to appreciate what he has done for the country. Robben Island and its on-site museum was where he was incarcerated, Mvezo and Soweto boast museums of where he was born and later lived, or visit the Mandela Museum in Mthatha to retrace his journey.