South Africa is home to a multitude of activities and stunning scenery, making it an enjoyable place for many travellers looking to enjoy some African culture and cuisine with the added benefit of having quite literally hundreds of options for things to do. South Africa is a natural historic wonder, and it is home to numerous types of wildlife that can be encountered in parks, on farms and even along the roadside. National parks are a favourite destination for anyone coming to South Africa, and Kruger National Park in the north-east along the border with Mozambique is considered to be one of the best. Catch yourself a safari and take in the animals of the park in their own natural habitats and learn about migratory patterns and experience the thrill of following animals through the wild African bush. Check out the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Kalahari desert as well for other wildlife viewing options.
Add to this the fantastic scenery of the coastal regions, some beautiful golf courses, the impressive mountains around Cape Town and the wide swathes of vineyards in the Cape wine region mean that there is something for everyone in South Africa. Wine tastings are particularly enjoyable and you can even book to stay at the vineyards overnight as a romantic get away from the city. Ride the cable car up to Table Mountain in Cape Town for impressive views and make sure to check out the penguins catching some rays on the rocky outcroppings of the south coast.
South Africa is fortunate to possess a wonderful climate year round and many of the winter months (between April to August/September) still see daily highs in the mid to high twenties Celsius meaning that it’s a fantastic time to go to even in winter. Summer average temperatures hover around 30, perhaps a bit more, so there is no real dramatic change in temperatures in the year during the day, however night time lows can be as low as just two or three degrees in winter and still as high as 21-23 in summer. That being said, some areas can experience hotter temperatures in the summer as a result of their individual climates such as the sub-tropical east coast.
The regions of South Africa also have slightly differing climates – the north west part of the country is arid and desert to semi desert while the eastern side of the country is sub-tropical, as mentioned. The rains in the Western Cape region come in the winter months and most of the rest of the country has their rains in the summer months. Eastern Cape rainfall occurs evenly year round, so it’s a good idea to check forecasts ahead of time to plan accordingly.
Travel throughout South Africa can be an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding experience. For those who are looking to take advantage of the entire country (or at least most of it), renting a car is the best way to get around and make sure you fit everything into your time here. There are a number of car rental companies throughout the country and they do both short term and long term rentals. Motorhomes are also available for rent, and with the multitude of caravan and camping parks throughout the country, this can be a more luxury minded way to get out into the bush, but always exercise caution with wild animals you may encounter and certainly don’t stop to feed them.
South Africa’s visa situation is fairly strict and doesn’t lend itself to performing visa runs in the case of wanting to stay for long, extended periods of time. If you’re hoping to work in South Africa or even stay as a longer term tourist, you might do better to check into what visa is best for your needs.
South Africa is well serviced by both intercity buses and trains. The Train network extends from Cape Town all the way through the major centres of South Africa including Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth and all the way to the borders as well with Mozambique and Botswana. When in doubt, trains are the best – often more speedy than buses and more comfortable as well, although South Africa’s buses are comfortable as far as buses go. Hitch hiking is not generally practised and indeed you may put yourself out as being a target for potential criminals by doing so. It’s generally a better idea to not hitch hike, or if you really have to, travel in groups or pairs.
ATM’s are widely available in South Africa, but it’s always suggested to use the machines that are physically within banks or shopping malls as Bank card fraud and crime is prevalent, and so take all the necessary precautions to keep yourself and your cards safe.
Tipping is customary especially in any service industry such as restaurants and even gas stations which are all full service. 10% is the usual level of tipping, so be prepared to leave a bit extra behind.
The Koi and San peoples had lived in the area of South Africa for millennia before any other groups came and settled the region. It’s thought that the Bantu tribes began slowly pushing their way into South Africa around 2500 years ago and by 500AD there were a plethora of different cultural groups along the east side of South Africa as well as in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Bantu people were primarily agricultural and migrated with their herds of cattle and so stuck mainly to the more lush regions of South Africa, leaving the desert regions of the northern cape, parts of the western and eastern capes uninhabited because the arid climate was not good for nomadic peoples and herds of cattle.
The first Europeans to reach South Africa were the Portuguese who named the cape region the Cape of Good Hope in the late 1400s when they first managed to navigate its infamously choppy waters and make it safely to India. The Dutch were the first to colonise the area with the creation of Cape Town and soon the Boers – Dutch for farmers – began to migrate eastward into the interior and by 1795 the British had shown up to take control of the area. Boers that were dissatisfied with the British rule decided to embark on the Great Migration and managed to set up successful independent regions in the interior such as Transvaal, which was home of the future leader Paul Kruger. These Boers were sometimes able to live amicably alongside the bush peoples they came across, but many had severe clashes with the native people of the area, such as the Zulus, which resulted in the eventual Zulu-Boer War where thousands of Zulus were slaughtered. The British eventually took control of many Boer lands and placed many of the Boers in concentration camps where many perished.
South Africa saw much political and racial upheaval in the 60s and 70s with the advent of apartheid which saw many black residents of the country stripped of land ownership rights amongst other atrocities including violence. Some of the simmering racial tensions of apartheid remain to this day.