Located at the bottom part of the huge continent of Africa, South Africa is considered a land of great diversity and beauty. It comprises of territories that range from vast, fertile plains to the wide open savanna of the Eastern Transvaal. It is bordered with Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe in the western and eastern parts and Mozambique and Swaziland in the northeast.
Geographically, South Africa is composed of three regions: a central plateau, a ring of mountain ranges in the east, west and south and a narrow strip of low-lying land along the coast. Highest peak of the mountainous escarpment is found in the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains also known as the “Dragon’s Back.”
The stunning natural panoramas, like the Table Mountain National Park, the great beating heart of Johannesburg, as well as the vibrant cultures of the country make it a perfect holiday destination. The country also houses two of the world’s most renowned wildlife reserves – the Kruger National Park where tourists can enjoy elephant-spotting and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. Aside from this, South Africa also contains a dozen smaller regional parks and reserves.
Because of the multi-cultured and diverse local people, an Archbishop once created the phrase “the Rainbow Nation” to describe South Africa. Upon visiting the country, one is sure to learn what the country is all about by meeting the friendly locals.
Moreover, aside from the excellent roads, ease of access and the panoramic views of the nation, its top-rated accommodations, abundant vineyards and farmlands, South Africa gives visitors sufficient time to enjoy a comfortable and luxurious adventure coupled with fun and excitement.
When to Travel
South Africa has been favored by nature with one of the best temperate climates in Africa. Because of this, the country has been a year-round destination and the best time to visit depends on where you want to go and what your priorities are.
Winter season starting from June to September is best for hiking and other outdoor activities like wildlife watching. Vegetation is less dense and wildlife tends to gather around water resources. If you are into a beach vacation, the months of November to March would be ideal for travel. This is the summer time where it brings a little rain, mists and some uncomfortable hot days. Places near the Indian Coasts are also sultry and tropical with high humidity.
Another thing to consider when visiting the country is school holidays. From mid-December to January, crowds of South Africans pour out into the cities for vacation. Added to this are visitors from Europe and North America. Hotels and lodges are fully booked during these months so better avoid travelling during this time if you want to keep away from the crowds.
On the other hand, spring (September to November) and autumn (April and May) are ideal months to go just anywhere in South Africa. But one thing to look out for in spring is witnessing the immense fields of Northern Cape carpeted with wildflowers.
Cuisine and Drink
If South Africa’s culture and people are diverse, so is its cuisine with influences of Dutch, German, British, Malay, and Indian as well as its indigenous tribes. One of the most popular foods in South Africa is the Braaivleis. It is meat roasted over an open wood or charcoal fire commonly done at weekend social events. It derived its name from Braii, the act of roasting the meat as well as the social event. There’s also the Pap which is porridge made with corn meal and is often eaten during breakfast. Two kinds of pap are the stywepap which is a stiff porridge and can replace rice and the krummelpap, the crumby version, drier and usually served with saucy tomato relish during braii.
Malay influence is presented in South African’s Bobotie dish. This is meatloaf, seasoned with some spices and curry, then topped with savory custard. Another dish that you wouldn’t want to miss when visiting KwaZulu Natal are the Bunny Chows which is a half loaf bread with lamb or beef curry as stuffings.
Crowding the streets of South Africa are different chains of international fast food outlets. Tourists are likely to see McDonalds, Wimpy and KFC anywhere in the country. There are also local franchises worth mentioning like Nando’s for their best chicken and Black Steer and Steers known for the best burgers in the city. Pizza delivery is also available in most urban areas.
Wine and beer are very well accepted in the country. One of the famous liquors is the Amarula Cream. Made from the Amarula fruit, it is a favorite of the locals because of its similar taste, texture and color to the world famous Bailey’s Irish Cream. This is definitely a must-drink in the country. There is also a well established wine industry in the country. Production is centered along the Orange River in the Northern Cape and Cape Winelands in the Western Cape region.
Visitors are likely to pass by some coffee shops similar in concept to Starbucks like the Seattle Coffee Company. Shopping malls house different local coffee shops that also serve good coffee like the House of Coffees and the Mugg and Bean branches.
On the other hand, avid tea drinkers will surely love the Rooibos tea made from an herb found in the Cederberg Mountains.
Popular Sights of South Africa
Johannesburg - This is the largest city and the center of most commercial trades in South Africa. From a not-so-known town, it became a sophisticated city when gold was first discovered in the country. This is the best place to go when starting to explore the country. Johannesburg will be the first step that will bring you to other tourist destinations in South Africa.
Kruger National Park - Rated as one of the world’s finest game reserves, Kruger is home to many species of wildlife. Most of them cannot be found in any other parks and reserve sanctuary in the continent of Africa. The park is a haven for a few remaining big cats. Thousand of lions, a large population of cheetahs and leopards are freely wandering the park together with some numbers of zebra, giraffe, rhino, hippopotamus, elephant, kudu and impala. Surely, tourists cannot resist visiting this park and taking some shots of African wildlife.
The perimeter fencing has been continually reduced for years to allow migration and the surrounding private reserves also make an easy access and allow more opportunities for a safari visit. As a whole, Kruger is like a small counterpart of South Africa, allowing a magnificent destination for birdwatchers and presenting a hardly believable mixture and abundance of species.
Kalahari Gemsbok National Park - Unlike the Kruger Park, the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park is pretty remote and rugged. The park is located at the southern part of the world’s great desert region – the Kalahari. The absence of fertile vegetation does not deprive the place of its beauty. The park is teeming with wildlife, including remarkably large herds of wildebeest, eland, gemsbok and springbok. These species of wildlife also attract another unexpected visitor, which is the Kalahari lion. Although the place does not offer comfortable accommodations due to its lack of surrounding private reserves, Kalahari Gemsbok Park has a distinct grandeur of its own.
Camel Safaris - Although camel travel is more popular in North Africa, Arabia and Asia, it is also becoming a popular safari alternative in South Africa because of its share of desert regions. There are only two ideal places for camel travel in South Africa: the Bushmanland and the Kalahari. Bushmanland is a semi-desert region while Kalahari offers a more hill-like landscape.
Smaller Parks and Reserves - One should not underestimate South Africa’s smaller parks and reserves for they also offer many attractions and unique games. The Hluhluwe Umfolozi Park in Natal is one interesting destination because of its vast woodlands and forest areas. Though small, it possesses an unbelievable population of big game like big numbers of rhino and nyala. Visitors will also enjoy small parks near the Drakensberg Mountains where climbers, trekkers and birdwatchers are very much welcome to explore the area. Among the best parks to visit are the Natal Drakensberg Park and the Royal Natal National Park.
The currency of South Africa is the rand (R) which is divided into 100 cents. Notes come in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R10, R100, and R200. The coins are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cents and R1, R2, and R5. Note though that some businesses are hesitant to accept the R200 note which was reported to have forgeries.
US dollars, Euros and British pounds are the best currencies to bring to South Africa. You can bring cash, traveler’s checks and credit cards. There are ATMs in all cities in the country and credit cards are already widely accepted especially MasterCard and Visa. Standard Bank is a MasterCard agent and Nedbank is an official Visa Agent – both have branches across South Africa. For travelers checks, you can exchange them at any banks and refunds are given in case they are stolen.