By Robin Silver
South Africa is a vast country with diverse offerings. Whether you are an urban sophisticate, an animal and nature lover, or a copious wine drinker, you will find something in South Africa to suit your tastes.
The best time of year to visit for safari is during the Southern Hemisphere winter, May through October. Days are warm and pleasant, and the nights are crisp and cool (added bonus—no mosquitoes). This is also the best time of year for animal spotting due to the thinner foliage. Since the weather is also drier at this time of year, animals tend to congregate around particular watering holes and dams, so are easier to find in the first place.
Kruger National Park is one of the most famous and best-preserved national parks on the whole continent of Africa. The official South African National Parks agency recommends choosing slower travel to get the best experience. By attempting to cover too much ground in too short a period, you are likely to miss some of the best of the bits.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is another rightfully popular spot, located in the Kalahari desert and crossing over the South African and Botswanan borders. It gets scorchingly hot in the summer months, with temperatures climbing up to 40 degrees. June through August is ideal visiting time—but be sure to pack a sweater, as nights can get quite cold.
The South African Winelands begin only an hour outside of Capetown, so while it is possible to do a day trip, true oenophiles should spend several days in the region. The oldest vineyards are in Constantia, located in Capetown’s southern suburbs. This area is particularly notable for the views and fresh sea breezes that grace the vineyards situated on the slopes of the Constantia Mountain.
Franschhoek (Dutch for “French Corner”) is a Winelands town where travellers could easily spend several indulgent days. Enjoy exploring the traditional French-style wineries, world-class restaurants, and shopping and art galleries. Check out the Huguenot Memorial Museum for insight into the original
French settlers. There is also ample opportunity for outdoor activities such as mountain biking and horseback riding over the town’s rolling hills. Visit the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve for stunning views, diverse flora and fauna, and hiking trails appropriate for every fitness level. Up-and-coming Swartland is also worth a visit, with its multitude of family-run wineries. There you can experience the same quality as the better-known vineyard towns with a more laid-back vibe.
Cape Town is widely recognised as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with Table Mountain visible from everywhere in the city and beautiful beaches right at your fingertips. Boulders Beach is a particular favourite amongst tourists not only for the beautiful rock pools which make for gentle swimming but also for the large colony of adorable African Penguins that live there. Whether you are a surfer, a sunbather, or just keen to watch a beautiful sunset over the water, Cape Town has the perfect beach for you.
A tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners were held during apartheid, will help you understand the recent history of the country. Just off the coast, the tour takes 3.5 hours including the ferry ride.
The year-round temperate weather makes it a great spot to visit at any time of year. The numerous museums and other cultural institutions are chock full of art and history. Of course, you can’t leave Cape Town without a hike or cableway ride up the iconic Table Mountain to indulge in its sweeping views of the city and the sea below.
Many Western countries have travel advisories for visiting the country. South Africa does have a turbulent political climate, repercussions of the relatively recent Apartheid government. Because of this, sometimes political protests break out somewhat spontaneously. These protests occasionally lead to violence between police and protesters; avoid these areas, and if you must pass nearby, exercise extreme caution.
The intense stratification between the richest and most deprived in the country contribute to its high crime rate. However, as long as you stay savvy, you are unlikely to encounter any problems. Solo travellers should remain cautious and try to join groups when going on hikes, try to find a companion for a beach visit and especially when going out after dark. Be vigilant of your valuables, travel documents, and bank cards, especially so when in large crowds, such as at a sporting event.
Whether you crave urban sophistication, immersion in nature, or a combination of the two—what are you waiting for? South Africa is ready for you!