South Africa is a travel destination on the rise. Travel critics have been heaping praise and awards on the country in recent years, and South Africa is increasingly playing host to international visitors from just about every nation on earth. Its dynamic and vibrant cities offer modern infrastructure and the country is known for its incredible natural beauty. If you haven’t been to South Africa yet, here are 11 compelling reasons why you should book your trip – today!
1. Spectacular Landscapes
From the jaw-dropping views at Cape Point, to the incredible vistas over the Valley of a Thousand Hills…South Africa has some of the very best landscapes in the world. There is the glamorous beachfront strip of Durban’s famed Golden mile and the hidden treasures of the St Lucia wetlands. Be it a sunset over Table Mountain, or the rugged splendor of the Karoo – there is breathtaking beauty all over South Africa.
2. Beach, Desert, Safari or Mountains? No need to settle!
There are very few places on earth where you can enjoy a swim in the refreshing ocean waves one day and go sand-boarding over pristine dunes the next. It’s worth noting that several South African beaches have been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag accreditation which means they meet the most stringent criteria in terms of cleanliness, safety and water quality, amongst others. Whether you prefer the tranquility of the wilderness, the pulsing beat of a cosmopolitan city, or hiking in the mountains – South Africa can make the holiday of your dreams a reality.
3. Culture and Important Sites
About 50 kms northwest of Johannesburg lies the Sterkfontein caves and the Cradle of Humankind. It was here that human evolution fossils – some of the oldest ever found – have been discovered (including the affectionately nicknamed Mrs. Ples) furthering the belief that Africa is the birthplace of humanity. The Cradle of Humankind is one of the eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in South Africa.
An extremely diverse country, South Africans express their culture through music, dance and art – all of which are thriving enterprises in South Africa. A competitive film industry, one of the oldest in the world, continues to grow at an exponential rate. But perhaps one of the most enduring images of South African culture is that of the Zulu people, and a visit to a Zulu village is a highly recommended experience.
From the colonial era to the Anglo-Boer war, the discovery of diamonds to the arrival of Indians by the boatload; South Africa’s history is rich, although tumultuous. The most well known part of the country’s modern history remains the rise and subsequent fall of Apartheid. While all South Africans today enjoy the freedoms of a democratic constitution, it is our history that has shaped the people we are today. The Anglo-Boer war battlefields near Ladysmith are worth a visit; while the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg provides a poignant reminder and a fundamental understanding of this dark era in South African history. A trip to Cape Town will not be complete without a ferry ride to Robben Island, another UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once used for the imprisonment and isolation of political prisoners – including Nelson Mandela. A sobering tour depicting the arduous conditions of the prison and the tiny, damp cell where Mandela spent 18 years of his life often leaves visitors in tears.
5. Wildlife and Biodiversity
There is nothing quite like the African bush, and the world over, people will agree: there is no place that provides better game viewing than South Africa.
Of course the Big 5 (lion, cheetah, buffalo, elephant and rhino) is the drawing card for most, but safaris in South Africa can also provide incredible sightings of giraffe, zebra, antelope and thousands of bird species. Although, you don’t necessarily need to be on safari to cash in on the wildlife action – we were once enjoying dinner at a restaurant in St Lucia when a herd of hippos decided to check out the vegetarian offerings in the shrubs across the town’s busiest street!
Several coasts along the garden route present amazing whale watching opportunities and several spots in South Africa are considered prime diving and snorkelling sites, rich in coral and marine life.
If you’re more flora than fauna, don’t let the vast deserts fool you, South Africa is home to about 10% of the earth’s flowering species and is only country in the world with an entire plant kingdom contained within its borders – the Cape Floral Kingdom.
6. Sports Fanatics
There is still a lingering glow from the impressively successful Soccer World Cup in 2010 which unified South Africa in the most unexpected ways, and proved the naysayers wrong; and so many South Africans still carry golden memories of the historic moment when then newly-elected president Nelson Mandela, in his Springbok jersey, presented the trophy to our rugby captain in what can only be described as a fairytale ending to the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Sports fans will agree: there is definitely no shortage of top notch sporting sports events taking place in South Africa.
The Comrades Marathon and Dusi Canoe marathon are other shining examples of world class events taking place annually on the South African stage. From cycling to surfing, cricket to golf – our country is increasingly showcasing its ability to plan and host successful international sporting events, and inspirational South African athletes in almost every facet of sport are flying the flag high for the Rainbow Nation. And while it may not be the world’s favorite instrument, I think we’re somewhat secretly proud of the vuvuzela!
The South African Rand is relatively weak against major currencies such as the Pound, Euro and Dollar, which makes it a very affordable destination. International visitors are often pleasantly surprised at the relatively low cost of hotels, food and transport. While those looking to splurge on the ultimate luxurious vacation will not be disappointed by the 5-star accommodations and cuisine available all over the country, there are plenty of affordable safari or city breaks that can match any budget.
Increasingly, South Africa is becoming a shopper’s paradise. With large malls dotting the country, and international chain stores and designer boutiques setting up shop; locals and tourists alike are finding everything their hearts desire in terms of fashion, accessories and jewelry. Ever-popular flea markets and craft stalls are still found in the cities and along the beachfronts, offering quirky home décor and ideal souvenirs.
South Africa enjoys a subtropical location, which in weather terms translates to hot, humid summers coupled with afternoon thunderstorms; and cooler, dryer winters that are typically sunny. It is this almost year-round sunshine that is increasingly attracting savvy travelers to South African soil. In my opinion there is honestly no bad time (weather wise) to visit SA, but planning your visit around specific activities and interests is highly recommended. For example, game viewing is normally best during the dry winter months, as the hot summers typically mean animals are seeking respite from the heat in the dense, lush vegetation. However, avid bird watchers will find the summer months the best time to view the migrant bird species. The mild months of autumn or spring can be ideal for mountain hikers, while whale-watching enthusiasts may be rewarded between July to November.
9. Culinary Delights
South Africa may not be the first destination that springs to mind when you think of Michelin starred restaurants, but the culinary scene in South Africa is sophisticated and thriving. As always, the emphasis is on the supply of the freshest possible ingredients of the highest quality, and there is no shortage of that in SA. From incredible seafood to succulent Karoo beef, foodies will find their full amongst restaurants catering for every craving.
The street food trend may be taking off all over Europe, but South Africa (and Durban in particular) is home to the Bunny Chow – what can only be described as the ultimate street food. (If you haven’t tried it, find our more here). From locally brewed beers, to world class coffees, and not to mention one of the most acclaimed, award-winning wine routes in the world; the South African food scene is evolving, one braai at a time.
10. Unique and Oh! So Interesting
South Africa is unique in so many ways. For starters, it has special mention in the Guinness World Book of records as the country with the most official languages – eleven! This just represents of diversity of our beautiful land and why the term “Rainbow Nation” is so apt. Did you also know that Cape Town is the only city in the world to have its coasts in two different oceans? Or that the city which has the most trees in the world is Johannesburg? – Yes you read that correctly! While it may seem unbelievable to many, South Africa even has its own penguin colony at Boulders beach.
Courage, hope and perseverance are just some of the adjectives that come to mind when I think about the people of South Africa. Yes, high crime rates are noted, and the ugly shadow of Apartheid may linger; but South Africans as a whole, are a nation of courageous people filled with an insuppressible hope. Almost every traveler I have encountered on my trips far and wide, who has visited South Africa, has had only positive things to say about the people they met there. Stories of good Samaritans and friendly, smiling faces everywhere they went are the norm. For a country whose people have had to endure so much, I am still astounded by the eternal optimism that surrounds me every time I return. It makes me so very proud to call myself a part of the Rainbow Nation.
You might also like: 21 Reasons why I LOVE South Africa