South Africa Travel Guide
Back on the tourism trail after years of apartheid, South Africa is a heady mixture of stunning landscapes, bustling cities and a variety of cultures and languages, attracting an increasing number of visitors. Add to this a reputation for good wine and great beaches, and you have a destination that is likely to become a tourism mecca over the coming years as South Africa gears up to host one of the biggest sporting events on the planet, the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Visitors should aim for a two-week holiday if they want to see the best of the country.
Two days in Johannesburg, the city of gold.
Four days in Cape Town and the Cape region
Three days on safari in Kruger National Park.
Two days at Tugela Falls, the world’s second-highest falls.
Three days on the beach in and around Durban.
Extra time A week driving the southeast coast to Knysna
A day visiting the old diamond mining ‘big hole’ of Kimberley
Two days at Tugela Falls, the world’s second-highest falls.
Two days seeing the sites in Pretoria, the administrative capital.
Two days at the Stellenbosch and Franschoek vineyards.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Seeing lions and giraffes up close in Kruger National Park, Sun City, Nelsom Mandela, relaxing or surfing on the east coast, barbeques, trying out the tasty wines at Stellenbosch and Franschoek and looking out over the end of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope.
What’s Not: The high levels of crime and HIV/AIDS, the declining public healthcare system, the legacy of apartheid, the still huge gap between rich and poor, and experiencing the aggressive and haphazard driving firsthand.
When to Go
The Indian and Atlantic oceans have a big impact on the country’s weather, meaning the climate on the west coast is very different to the eastern side. The centre and east remain mostly dry and cool in the winter from May to September, although there is rain on the coast at this time, mostly on the western side of the country. Summers, from October to February, are often hot with rainfall throughout the country.
Getting There & Away
Johannesburg remains the gateway to South Africa and indeed to the rest of the region, so there are plenty of routes into the country. Domestic airlines also fly to major centers including Durban and Cape Town. South Africa is one of the few countries that drives on the left, so many visitors may find driving disorientating at first, but all major roads are very good and feature frequent SOS points. Trains run throughout the country, while there are also commuter train services in major cities including Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban among others but they aren’t recommended. Greyhound buses and other long distance services also ply the main highways throughout the country. Driving can be dangerous on account of speeding mini-buses.
Health & Safety
South Africa’s private hospitals are of a very high standard, but locals complain that government-run clinics are worsening, although remain better-equipped than clinics almost any other country in Africa. Violent crime is a huge problem, it’s the sort of place you don’t stop at red lights after dark and carry mace spray around – stick to the safely guarded tourist spots. Like most of the region, HIV/AIDS is a huge problem in the country and therefore visitors must be extremely careful when engaging in any risky activity, sexual or otherwise. South Africa’s roads are plagued with bad driving and some of the accepted driving practice can differ to that in North America and Europe, so make sure you know the rules of the road before getting behind the wheel. Women in particular should be wary of walking alone at night, while any visitor should be careful to travel with a guide in certain urban areas, especially in Johannesburg.
Food & Hospitality
South African cuisine is influenced by European, Indian and Malay cooking with a particular penchant for Africa-sized steaks, but you can find almost any kind of food here including westerner-friendly fast food chains. Wine lovers will no doubt already recognize the country as a premier producer, while beer is also made locally to a high quality, with SAB Miller being the most popular brewer. South African accommodation is varied, as you would expect, and graded by the five-star system. Top range hotels are available in all major cities. Bed and breakfasts are increasingly popular and campers should find a site in most towns and villages throughout the country.
Cape of Good Hope: stunning views, an iconic mountain and wonderful walks and beaches - a must.
Cape Town: the coolest city in Africa, cosmopolitan, historic, beautiful and some of the best weather in the world. (October – April).
Kruger National Park: see lions, giraffes, leopards and elephants in the world’s most famous game park.
Soweto: see how the other half lived and still lives in this township of Johannesburg which also features the Apartheid Museum.
Durban: one of the biggest ports in Africa and home to clear waters, coral reefs and sandy beaches.
Stellenbosch and Franschoek vineyards: gentle country and great wine along this circuit of vineyards, just inland from Cape Point.
Sun City: a massive man-made playground resort with casinos, water parks and the jaw dropping Palace of the Lost City. Two hours drive from Johannesburg.
Going on safari: see game in the wild at Kruger National Park and other reserves.
Wine tasting: take one of the wine trails inland from the Cape.
Surfing and snorkeling: head to South Africa’s east coast on the Indian Ocean for clear waters, marine life and fun on the beach.
Sightseeing: take in the scenic beauty of Cape Town and look out over the end of the continent.
Trekking: in the Drakensberg mountain range and around Tugela Falls.
Golfing: plenty of courses to choose from in a country that has produced some of the world’s finest golfers.
Festivals & Events
South Africans love a good music and dance festival. Here is a pick of the best:
January: the FNB Dance Umbrella in Johannesburg showcases talent from across the nation.
February/March: enjoy classic South African cuisine at the Prickly Pear Festival in Uitenhage.
April: get wet and listen to great music at the Splashy Fen music festival in Underberg.
September: go whale-watching at the Hermanus Whale Festival on the Southern Cape.
November: paint the town pink at the Nottingham Road Pink Festival, KwaZulu-Natal.