Top sites to see in South Africa
When you think of South Africa this summer, soccer matches may come to mind – but there’s more to this beautiful and diverse country than hosting the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It’s a land of rugged peaks and sunny coasts, of safari adventures and urban escapes.
Thinking of a getaway? Here are some top attractions to help with your planning.
Cape Town & Cape Peninsula
The “Mother City” offers something to suit any taste, and we’re not just talking about wining and fine dining. Absorb local heritage of South Africa’s oldest city with a trip to the Houses of Parliament, the Castle of Good Hope — the oldest building — and the Slave Lodge. Indulge with some shopping at Green Market Square or the V&A Waterfront, or take a tour of the local districts.
Another must-do experience: a tour of the scenic Cape Peninsula. These day-long excursions include highlights like seaside views, the markets in Hout Bay, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and a visit to Table Mountain, where you can take a cable car for the ultimate view of the city.
For more ideas, visit the Cape Town Tourism website.
Look beyond the vibrant culture and scenic vistas and South Africa has a lot to teach about struggle and triumph. Apartheid was officially abolished in 1994, but the healing process is ongoing.
A short ferry ride from Cape Town, Robben Island stands as a testament to this painful part of South Africa’s history. In 1999, UNESCO designated the island as a World Heritage Site as a symbol of “the triumph of the human spirit, of freedom, and of democracy over oppression.” Tour the Robben Island Museum — the buildings which once comprised the prison that held activists and political prisoners like Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe.
For more information or to take a virtual tour, visit the Robben Island Museum website.
Stomp it, sip it and yes, bathe in it. Indulge your taste buds with a trip through South Africa’s wine regions. The 16 different wine routes offer a variety of grape experiences that go beyond tours and tastings — like a luxurious outdoor wine bath at Mont Desin in Stellenbosch and a 3-course moonlight harvest dinner at the Twee Jonge Gezellen wine estate.
If you want to get your hands — make that your feet — a little dirty, head to the Robertson Wine Valley Hands-on Harvest Festival for some grape-stomping, or learn how to make verjuice and vinegar. February marks the end of harvest season, and that’s when you’ll find opportunities to savour local cuisine and culture at festivals.
Want to venture beyond wine? Try the Port or Brandy Routes as well. Click here for more information about wine getaways and activities.
The Garden Route
It’s a must-see road trip, and “garden” doesn’t begin to cover the sites and experiences along this highway from Heidelberg to Storms River Village. You’ll discover a mixture of mountains and coast, beaches and mountain hideaways.
Naturally, stops along the way are half the fun — visit the Garden Route National Park’s ancient forests and ecosystems, or watch for whales and dolphins along the coast. Spend a little time in some of the area’s top destinations like Calitzdorp, Sedgefield, The Wilderness and Plettenberg Bay. Try your hand at golf, or indulge your artsy side with the many artistic centres tucked in among the towns. There are also a wide variety of accommodations along the way — including a castle in Noetzie.
For more details, see SouthAfrica.com.
It’s known as “The City of Gold”, but unlike other world-class cities it won’t cost you a fortune. “Jozi” or “Jo’burg” offers everything you’d look for in a city escape — like culture, dining, museums and galleries, shopping and entertainment. There are also some attractions you might not expect, such as the world’s largest man-made forest, wildlife watching opportunities, and a museum dedicated to beer.
It’s also a destination for the history buff. The city’s museums and landmarks — like the Nelson Mandela Bridge and Gandhi Square — preserve the struggles, people and events that shaped the country. If culture is more your style, the theatres, music and galleries are sure to please.
For more information about the city, visit JoburgTourism.com.
Representing struggle and rebirth, this cluster of townships is gaining popularity for travellers. Known the world over for the violent 1976 Soweto Uprisings, the area has since been revitalized but still holds potent reminders of its past. Here you’ll find the country’s Apartheid Museum and the Mandela Family Museum (the family’s former home). Follow the “Struggle Route” and visit Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s house, the Sisulu residence, Regina Mundi Catholic Church and the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum.
Not sure where to go, or how to get there? Book a township tour for a closer look at urban culture. Take a break at a local pub or restaurant, or escape to Ubuntu Kraal, notably one of the most tranquil townships in the area.
For more information, visit Soweto Tourism.
Kruger National Park
For a walk on the wild side, you can’t beat the largest game reserve in Africa for local flora and fauna. This 2 million hectare site is home to numerous species, including 336 different species of trees (including the Baobab and Fever Tree), 49 fish, 34 amphibians, 114 reptiles, over 500 birds and 147 mammals (think elephants, leopards, lions and rhinos). There are nine main gates that open to numerous rest camps offering accommodations from safari tents to luxury lodges.
Even if you can only spare a day or two to visit, there are many ways to experience parts of the park. Take a guided tour, camp out on an Overnight Wilderness Trail (with experienced guides, of course) or hop a 4×4 to hit one of the Adventure Trails.
For more information, visit the South African National Parks website.
Is lazing on the beach by day and living it up at night more your vacation style? Durban offers the perfect mix with its year-round warm weather and holiday atmosphere. An ocean swim is a must, but there are many ways to enjoy the water — like surfing, scuba diving, fishing or taking a sunset cruise. When the sun goes down, head to a trendy nightspot or try your luck at the horse races or the Sibaya Casino.
If you’ve got the kids and grandkids in tow, there are lots of family-friendly attractions as well, like the Ushaka Marine World and Water World. Swing your way through the city’s golf courses, or take a stroll to spy some art deco and Victorian architecture. Want to experience some traditional Zulu culture? The Valley of a Thousand Hills is the place to explore.
For more information, visit the KwalZulu-Natal Tourism Authority website.
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
Get your camera ready — with names like God’s Window and the Pinnacle, it’s not surprising the world’s third largest canyon offers some breathtaking views. In addition to the unusual geological formations, you’ll have the chance to see some of the over 1000 species of plants, many of which you won’t see anywhere else.
While hiking is an ideal way to see the area, other modes of transportation offer a different vantage point. Take to the skies in a hot air balloon, or get a little wet with a white water rafting excursion. If you prefer to stay on terra firma , see the sites on horseback or a bicycle instead.
For more information, visit South Africa Natural Reserves.
Up for an active adventure? Much of this 200 km stretch of untamed coastline isn’t easily accessible — but they’re worth the effort for those travellers eager to hike it, bike it or ride horseback. Many tours, whether they’re day-long activities or week-long adventures, involve these popular activities.
Don’t let the name put you off — while the area isn’t as developed as other tourist spots, you don’t have to rough it. Villages like Coffee Bay, Port St Johns and Cinsta offer accommodations, dining and other attractions as well. While you won’t find tourist crowds, you will find nature reserves, golf courses, light houses, cafes and places to shop.
IF YOU GO…
– Whether it’s in a wildlife park or a city, many areas aren’t safe for travellers. Experts recommend booking a tour with a reputable company if you want to venture off the beaten track.
– Read up on safety and security. Crime is a major concern, so consult a travel guide and check out government travel advice before you go. (Try the Canadian government’s Travel Report or the U.S. State Department’s Country Specific Information.)
For more information about the country, visit the South Africa Tourism website.
Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ jaap-willem kleijwegt