South Africa is a country of diversity. Sprawling across the tip of Africa from Cape Town to Durban, the country offers photographers and travellers alike a huge range of wildlife, scenery and terrain to take in. The deserted Kalahari is like a wild parallel universe where everything seems larger than life and the sky is dusted with more stars than you've ever seen before; Table Mountain National Park covers a whole ¾ of South Africa; Kruger National Park stretches across land the same size as Israel and is home to oven Savannah, rushing rivers and more wildlife than you'll ever have set your eyes on before - zebras giving themselves dust baths, a honey badger foraging around for breakfast, lions prowling, scanning the horizon for prey.
Accommodation options in South Africa
Depending on how you want your holiday to South Africa to pan out, you have a variety of accommodation options in the country open to you. Hotels are obviously, more popular in the more populated tourist-y areas, such as Cape Town. If you're after a sunny holiday and looking to soak up the culture, a hotel in an area like this is probably more suited to you - just beware of thieves and criminals that eye up Western travellers as targets.
For an authentic safari adventure, you also have a range of options. Although hospitality options are very basic, you can stay on ranches and game reserves through either cheaper camping sites or more expensive safari lodges or ranches.
Private tented camps are more of a new trend within South African tourism. If the idea of a camping getaway in the South Africa outback appeals to you, you don't have to do it in sleeping bags on the cold, hard floor and scrambling for the communal toilet in the dark. South African 'glamping' involves wooden floors, a real bed, en-suite bathrooms and the earthy smell of canvas from your roof.
What are the easy ways to get around South Africa?
South Africa has a well-established domestic air travel infrastructure with links between all the major cities, so if you plan on fully exploring the country for a period of time, this would be one way of getting the majority of distance out of your way. Use flight comparison sites to compare rates and find a good deal to suit your budget.
Renting a car in South Africa isn't a bad idea - so long as you abide by the rules and have the budget for it, there's no reason why driving can't be your principle form of transport. Costs range from between £8.90 a day to £115, depending on what you're driving, your location and availability. If you want to wander off the beaten path, renting a 4é—4 or other high clearance vehicles might be more suitable. Often, you can rent camping gear along with the vehicle rental, allowing you to combine your transport and accommodation requirements.
There are scheduled bus services between Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and other cities (with smaller stops scheduled in-between).
There are budget train passenger services between major South African cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. There are also commuter trains in the larger cities, such as Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London).
Best South African places to eat
Traditional South African cuisine still involves the same strong European food influences which were bought over when the seventeenth century colonists from Portugal, Germany, the UK, France and the Netherlands bought their cookery styles and methods with them. Native South Africans now have their succulent 'potjiekos', a stew prepared in a small cast-iron pot which was descended from the cooking mechanisms that the Dutch bought over, and 'tomato bredie', another stew which is normally made with mutton and includes cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves. More modern but typical South African dishes include biltong, the famous salty dried meat which is similar to Western jerky but is made from different types of antelope or other tender venison, amasi is sour milk and is used on top of porridge or drunk straight, with a taste similar to cottage cheese. 'Frikkadel' is a traditional Afrikaner dish comprising of usually baked, but sometimes deep-fried meatballs prepared with onion, bread, eggs, vinegar and spices.
If you're stuck on a budget, South Africa has a wide-ranging eating-out culture, so a variety of restaurants are available. Nando's, the exact same Portugese chicken chain as back here in the UK also offers their South African clients things like 'giblets and roll' and other chicken-y extras.
A meal at the Tasting Room comes to a very reasonable £48 for 8 courses. Located in South Africa's Western Cape between the Haweqwa Nature Reserve, the Riviersonderend Nature Reserve, and close to the affluent Cape Town, Franschhoek's Tasting Room restaurant is ideally placed to catch gourmet-loving visitors. Lauded as South Africa's best fine-dining restaurant, courses include Portuguese and African-influenced meats full of flavour and texture.
Alternatively, if you want to immerse yourself into the true culture of South Africa, why not attend a 'braai'? South Africans love a good meat grill, and 'braai' is Afrikaans for 'barbeque'. A social custom throughout the country, meat cooked includes marinated chicken, pork and lamb chops, steaks, sausages of different flavours and thickness and racks of spare ribs. More specific South African meat cooked on the grill includes 'boerewors', a type of authentic sausage that includes not only beef, but lamb, pork and spices too, and 'sosatie' which is lamb or mutton grilled on skewers much like a shish-kebab.
What can I do in South Africa?
South Africa is home to a number of beautiful and unique animals, many of which most of us have only ever seen in zoos or on the TV. When people visit South Africa, the vast majority of them tend to visit the area inside the Kruger National Park. A safari is the very best way to experience the raw diversity and South Africa's wildlife with opportunities like trekking across wild-land and Savannah with expert rangers, animal trackers and viewing vehicles which can handle any off-road challenges. The abundance of national parks and reserves throughout the country allow you to intimately view wildlife unparalleled anywhere else in the world, with incredible close-ups, prolonged sighting, animals sometimes making a kill, or even just snoozing in the morning sun. For experiences like this you'll want to head for places like Kruger National Park, the biggest open nature reserve in the country (it's the same size as the whole of Israel). Unlike other reserves, Kruger is fenced off but there are no borders between the main area and the private game reserves, so animals flow freely in and out.
On the Western Cape, Plettenberg Bay can claim the right to being the whale capital of the world. Huge beasts hang around the shoreline, sometimes as close as a few metres, and there are some fantastic whale-watching points along both the shore and the cliff throughout Robberg and Keurboom. Whale presence in the bay peaks at around mid-May to February, with the southern-right whales around from June to November, the migratory humpback whales arriving with their newly-born calves in early November and staying until the end of February. There are a number of independent tour operators willing to take tourists out into the bay for a closer view of these magnificent animals for a small fee, and it can be well worth the cost.
Knysna Elephant Park has received negative publicity in the past but the park are now fully-dedicated and working harder than ever to provide a home for elephants in need of one, to create for them a control-free environment for them to live without fear of poachers or anything which threatens their conservation programmes. Here, they have designated handlers who allow tourists to meet and greet the elephants, go for an elephant ride or even stay in a lodge on the park's grounds. Visitors to the park are privileged to have a close-up and personal encounter with these beautiful animals, and leave having learnt more about them and their plight in South Africa.
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