SOUTH AFRICA TRAVEL GUIDE
Located on the Southern tip of the African continent, South Africa is a multi-ethnic country with many cultures, languages and religions. There are more than 11 languages spoken across the country, the top two being English and Africaans. There is also a vast diversity in the things there are for visitors to do and see in the South Africa. There are major cosmopolitan cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg, top National Game Parks like Kruger National Park, where the coveted Big 5 can be seen on safari, beautiful countryside like God’s Window, and incredible wine regions in Stellenbosch and Franschoek to explore.
WHEN TO go
As a rough guide, in South Africa the summer months are December to March, fall is April to May, winter is June to August, and spring is from September to November. Since South Africa is so large, where you want to go will likely determine when you go. The best time to visit Kruger and most wildlife parks is from May to September. This is the dry season when animals congregate around waterholes and rivers. It is also low season for tourism. South African school holidays, mostly in December, should be avoided.
May and September are wonderful because it’s not as cold and, especially in September, the wildlife viewing is excellent. The summer months are often crowded in the city, but by April, the weather has cooled and tourism has slowed. There are some benefits to visiting in the winter (May-August), as the city gets a lot of winter rainfall and is alive with beautiful greenery.
WHERE TO GO
You’ll find there are endless options for places to go in South Africa. It is a vast country with many different regions, all worth exploring.Check out this month-long road trip, which will take you around to most of the top sights in South Africa. Some of the best options include Capetown, the Garden Route south of Johannesburg, Kruger National Park, the wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschoek and the coastal town of Durbin.
Once you’ve explored these top options, there are many more local gems to discover. Although most flights go through Johannesburg, due to safety concerns, many visitors opt to fly through to Capetown. It’s a vibrant city with many things to and the picturesque Table Mountain is not to be missed. Just 60km south of Cape Town is Cape Point, a nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park, where there are beaches, panoramic vistas and wildlife to see.
Do remember that safaris can be quite costly and will likely take up a large chunk of your budget for a South Africa trip. If you’d like to see what other prices and costs you can expect, read South Africa budgeting guide.
Where to stay
There are a lot of great accommodations throughout South Africa. In Cape Town, a good choice is The Westin Cape Town. There is a Hop On, Hop Off bus stop out front, which is a great way to see the city and surrounding areas. It’s one of the best HOHO bus routes I’ve seen in a city before. Very worth it. They also have a free shuttle to take you to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, where you’ll find great drinking and dining options as well as a mall, a bunch of little shops, waterway cruises and the gateway to Robbin Island. The waterfront is a great location as well, so any of the hotels nearby would be a good choice. Try Radisson Blu Waterfront, Table Bay Hotel or splurge on Cape Grace.
Kruger National Park has many different accommodation options, including four-star all-inclusive resorts that take care of your entire safari needs, to bush camps with small rooms or tents. South Africa is also known for their B&Bs, and there are quite a few in which to stay as you’re driving along the Garden Route towards Kruger. One of the premier resorts and private game parks is Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve. It’s a great option for an all-inclusive experience. There are some game reserves nearby that cost less but are still a great experience, such as Kapama River Lodge. Throughout Kruger, there are dozens of budget options. Check out Kruger’s website for details.
In wine country, there are dozens of palatial wine estates where you can stay the night and get the real feel for the vineyards. We stayed in the middle of town at the Stellenbosch Hotel. It’s not our usual “affordable luxury” hotel, but the location can’t be beat and it’s a clean and friendly place to stay, plus it includes free parking. I would also recommend Asara Wine Estate & Hotel, for a more luxury stay.
What to Eat
In Cape Town, there are great chefs and cutting-edge cuisine. The V&A Waterfront has dozens of choices. Wine country is a foodie paradise and shouldn’t be missed. Just be sure to make reservations many months in advance for top places like Rust en Vedre. Don’t miss out on Sundowners – a late afternoon drink — which is an almost required pre-dinner activity.South Africans are also very fond of Braai’s (BBQs) and most self-catering apartments come with Braai’s so you can partake in the tradition. Make sure you try Biltong, a dry, tough meat in bite size pieces, much like jerky. You may see Babotie on a menu. It’s a mince meat pie topped with egg. And there are some sweets that are uiniquely South African.
What to drink
South African wine is becoming very mainstream these days. You’ll definitely want to visit the wine country, but even if you don’t get a chance, you can try the local wine during dinner or at a wine bar in town. The best part is they charge the regular sales price for bottles of wine in restaurants, so it’s extremely affordable. Try the unique South Africa varietal, Pinotage. Beer is quite popular in South African , There are a few brands that can be found everywhere, like Castle Lager and Carling Black Label. Amarula Cream liquor is made from the fruit of the marula tree and is often drank after dinner.
If you want to make planning a trip to South Africa easy, check out this 2-week Itinerary for First-Timers, from Where in the World is Nina? Also, check out this list of 50 unique things to do in South Africa by Journalist on the Run.