Forming the southern most tip of the vast continent that is Africa, South Africa is a veritable melting pot of colour and culture, and this rainbow nation offers some of the most bucket-list worthy travel experiences to be found anywhere on earth.
This is a country where vibrant cosmopolitan cities act as bookends to remarkable wildlife, world-renown wine regions, dramatic coastlines, and a colonial past that is easily accessible.
Flanked by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the magnificent Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Explore the historic V&A waterfront, a pretty working harbour now filled with restaurants and shops. Hike through the Table Mountain National Park, a stunning natural reserve of granite mountains, beaches dotted with vast boulders and the main event, Table Mountain, which is easy to summit via the cableway. Or walk through history with a visit to Robben Island, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a lasting memorial to those incarcerated here.
Johannesburg or Jo’burg is a vibrant, multicultural city unlike any other. Diverse food, music and an eclectic art scene stand shoulder to shoulder with sprawling shanty towns. This is a city where you can dive into it’s past but also explore its very forward-thinking future.
Between June and November, Hermanus becomes something a of whale nursery, where migratory southern right whales come to breed. It is regarded as one of the finest places in the world for land based whale watching experiences and fits perfectly into a self-drive along the Garden Route. If time is limited, however, it is only a 90 minute drive from Cape Town so can be done as a day trip.
An easy drive east from Cape Town brings you to the Winelands region, where vineyard-laden valleys offer a bounty of superb wine, vineyard stays and stunning Cape Dutch architecture. It’s a very pleasurable way to spend a few days. The main towns of Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch are all within striking distance and create the perfect Winelands experience.
For those with a thirst for history, a visit to KwaZulu-Natal is a must. This now peaceful region of mountains and open grassland was the site of several ferocious battles between the British, Boer, and Zulu armies. The Battlefields is best explored with a guide who will bring sites such as Rorke’s Drift and Blood River, vividly to life.
The Garden Route
Highly recommended, particularly for first time visitors to South Africa, is a road trip along the legendary Garden Route. This fabulous drive takes in highlights such as Kynsna a pretty town on the edge of a sheltered lagoon, Oudtshoorn, known as the ‘Ostrich capital of the world’ and Plettenberg Bay, where if you’re travelling between July and November, you might be lucky enough to spot migrating whales.
When it comes to spotting wildlife, South Africa offers a plethora of game reserves to suit all budgets. The Kruger is one of the oldest and possibly best known of the national parks and is one of the few remaining places in Africa where it is still possible to see the Big Five (leopard, lion, elephant, cape buffalo and rhino), add in giraffe, antelope and birdlife and you have everything you need. The park is easily accessible by road or by air and the southern stretches are generally thought to offer the best viewing opportunities. Madikwe lies on the edge of the Kalahari and is another reserve where it’s possible to spot the Big Five. Unlike the Kruger it’s not possible to self-drive but the superb lodges make for a truly luxurious bush experience. Elephant lovers should look to The Addo Elephant National Park, home to a large population of elephants alongside lion, buffalo, rhino, and leopard. There’s also a wide choice of accommodation to choose from.
Travel to South Africa is easy with multiple airlines offering direct flights into Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg and with only a two hour time difference you don’t need to worry about jetlag.
More From The Expert – Catherine Blackburn
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