Africa. There’s no continent better matched to those of us who seek sunshine, striking nature and rugged adventure. Jungles, mountains, deserts and beaches lay the backdrop for picture-perfect landscapes; while potholed, dirt road safaris and untamed wildlife present plenteous prospects for wild exploration.
At the southern tip of Africa, bordered by both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, we find a land rich in history, vibrant in culture and extraordinary in natural beauty. Often referred to as “a world in one country,” it’s one of the most diverse countries on the planet: South Africa.
Looking for the ultimate African adventure? Before we explore sunny SA, we’re going to need an outfit change. Slip into a sundress; grab that broad-rimmed sunhat and a pair of over-sized sunglasses — and don’t forget the huge bottle of factor 60 sun block. Welcome to South Africa!
The “Rainbow Nation” is comprised of an observable blend of African and migrant ethnicities, bursting with colourful divergent cultures – and yes — 11 official languages. Although South Africa is the most developed country on the continent, the nation offers tourists a rare infusion of time-honored African culture combined with modern infrastructure and amenities. The big cities are cosmopolitan; but around the corner, we just as easily come across rural communities where the locals still commonly live in traditional tribal villages and huts. South Africans, regardless of their way of life, are friendly and hospitable people.
Visitors are certain to be enthralled by an abundance of wildlife and remarkable biodiversity. Magnificent game viewing reserves like the Kruger National Park present exceptional opportunity to survey the bushveld and bump into African animals of every kind. For many of us, the common sightings of monkeys, baboons, giraffe, zebra and a variety of buck, will be as much of a delight as spotting the famous big five (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo). Beyond the bush, we also find an incredible array of species, unlike any other place in the world: mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, trees and flowers. South Africa even has large colonies of warm water penguins basking on the sandy coast just outside of Cape Town.
Although a safari tops our list of adventures while in SA, when it comes to nature experiences for the outdoor enthusiast, there’s plenty to keep us on the go. Breath-taking scenery is captured while we’re carried in a hot air balloon over the African plains, or when we head to the soaring peaks of the Drakensberg for mountain biking or walking trails, climbing and world-class hiking. There’s an assortment of exhilarating activities, whether we favor mountains, deserts or beaches, including kayaking the coastline or white water river rafting. Thrill-seekers probably already know that South Africa offers some of the best scuba diving in the world, fantastic surfing, world-renowned whale watching and cage diving with Great White sharks!
The long, beautiful coastline and exquisite beachfront also make for first-class relaxation; enjoy the sand in your toes, watch the waves break, and most definitely take a dip in the warm Indian Ocean. It’s worth making the trip just to go to the seashore.
South Africa has a rich heritage, presenting us with fascinating historical sites ranging from the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point (where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic), to the fossil-filled caves at the Cradle of Humankind. Tours also allow us to wander through Soweto, South Africa’s most prevalent township, or drop in on rural cultural villages for an authentic encounter. Most significant are the museums that tell the story of apartheid and South Africa’s fight for freedom. The Robben Island tour is conducted by former inmates of the prison to many ANC leaders, including its most famous prisoner (and eventually, the first democratically elected president) Nelson Mandela.
The country also offers lush vineyards and world-famous wine estates in the Cape, known as the Winelands, and the picturesque Garden Route which is regarded as one of the greatest drives for travelers world-wide. The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve is most legendary for God’s Window, with panoramic viewpoints. Experience the vast red sand of the Kalahari Desert or the natural Wild Coast with dolphins, horseback riding and quaint accommodation. Durban and Johannesburg are both full of opportunity for shopping, entertainment and eating out. But whatever you do, don’t miss out on Cape Town.
We always save the best for last, and a visit to the stunning Mother City, Cape Town is an absolute must! Trust me when I say that we’ll need some time here. Set at the foot of Table Mountain, the laid-back city possesses a vibe of its own. The waterfront in Cape Town is bustling with great restaurants for wining and dining, and browsing charming boutiques. It has exuberant nightlife, marvelous food and wine, and an enchanting atmosphere.
Need any more compelling reasons to visit South Africa? Even in the winter months, the southern hemisphere climate invites us for a fabulous sunny and warm get-away. And the favorable exchange rate makes South Africa an affordable destination. So whether you are captivated by people, culture or nature – perhaps you just want to sport a Pith helmet (safari hat) – South Africa offers an inexhaustible range of marvelous things to do and places to see.
Oh, and a note about the big South African sky: it’s home to the most beautiful sunsets imaginable, orange with pinks, reds and purples. You just have to see it for yourself.
What surprises you most about South Africa? What would you like to do or see there?