South Africa Travel Guide

South Africa Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration

PureTravel Says: "South Africa, aka the Rainbow nation is one of the great travel destinations in the world. Superb game-viewing, excellent facilities and beautiful scenery are all part of the attraction. As are the food, wine and value for money. Many areas are malaria-free, making it a good destination for families with young children. There are great golf-courses, riding, safari and the chance to see whales, sharks, dolphins and penguins."

Holiday Highlights

Safari Holidays - The Kruger National Park is one of the most famous safari destinations in the world. With its network of National Park run guest houses and rest camps, it allows the visitor to self-drive around much of the park in their own cars on an excellent network of tarmac roads. Around the park in private concessions such as Sabi Sands, are many exclusive (and some very expensive) private lodges, that offer an unforgettable safari experience.
For those with children, or just passing through Johannesburg and looking for something a bit closer, there is the Pilanesberg. This National Park still offers the opportunity to see the Big 5 - Lions, leopards, rhino, elephants and Cape Buffalo, but also has the added bonus that it's malaria free.

Another popular option is to stay at one of the Game Reserves located in the Cape Provinces, allowing them to be combined easily with Cape Town. These private reserves are fenced and cover many thousands of hectares, giving a true safari experience and with a high chance of good game-viewing. The Addo National Park in the Cape actually claims to offer the Big 7! – The usual 5 + whales and sharks.

Touring on the Garden Route - The Garden Route is the coastline of the Eastern and Western Cape Provinces, between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Rugged scenery, remote bays and beaches, lush lagoons and quaint towns combine to create a wonderful setting for a touring holiday.

Cape Town - Most people who visit South Africa want to explore the vibrant city of Cape Town. Its location is spectacular, with Table Mountain rising behind it, Dutch-style farmsteads mingling with modern houses on its slopes. A visit to its waterfront can be combined with a day trip to the Cape of Good Hope or the nearby wine estates of the Cape Winelands.
There is a huge choice of accommodation options from small guest-houses to luxury hotels. Wherever you stay, Cape Town is unlikely to disappoint.

Battlefield Tours - It's increasingly popular to visit the Anglo Zulu War and Anglo Boer war battlefields in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. On these tours you will explore locations such as Roukes Drift, Isandlwana and Ladysmith. These can be experienced as either a self-drive adventure or as a guided tour.

When To Go

The climate of South Africa is temperate and generally pleasant. Classified as “semi-arid”, South Africa’s weather tends to be fairly mild, thanks to the influence of its vast ocean borders.

The best time to visit depends more on what you plan to do, rather than the weather. For example, the best time for viewing game is from August to October (spring time). Summer can be very hot in the lowveld and milder at higher altitudes, although rain and mist are likely in the mountains. Be aware that December and January (especially around the holidays) are peak season months and resorts and national parks book up well in advance so reservations are advised.

Top Tips

  • Always keep valuables concealed in pockets or bags in the main cities.
  • Choose a safari destination that is malaria free if travelling with children to avoid the need for Malaria tablets.
  • Get to the Table Mountain cable car early to avoid the main rush. Watch out for weekend and holidays when the locals all go up as well!

Holidays in focus

Kruger National Park - South Africa’s largest game reserve is the Kruger National Park, covering nearly 19,000 sq. kilometers (over 7,300 sq. miles). The park was created in 1898 in order to protect wildlife and today is a world leader in environmentalism.

Entrance to the park is via one of 8 main gates: Paul Kruger, Numbi, Malelane, Crocodile Bridge, Punda Maria, Orpen, Phabeni, Phalaborwa and Pafuri. The park is so large that its land has been classified into 6 different eco-systems! Accommodations within the park include camps with huts, cottages and campsites, bush lodges and luxury private game lodges.

Most people visit the iconic Kruger Park to view the animals up close, but it’s interesting to know that there are almost 2,000 species of plants, over 500 species of birds and over 300 species of trees, as well as varieties of fish, amphibians and reptiles within the park boundaries. As for game, all of the “Big Five” animals can be seen: lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros (both the black and white rhino are considered Big Five). By the way, these animals are considered the Big Five because they are difficult to hunt, and not because of their size! There are more different species of mammals in Kruger Park than any other game reserve on the African continent.

The Garden Route - Touring the famous garden route involves a 200 kilometer itinerary, one which passes some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. The exact starting and ending point of the route depend on whom you ask, but if you drive from Mossel Bay in the west to Plettenberg Bay in the east, you will have experienced, the garden route and its range of topography, vegetation, wildlife and outdoor activity options.

Highlights include the giant trees in the Tstisikamma Forest, the ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn, the mountains and gorges of the Klein Karoo and the limestone caverns and chambers known as the Cango Caves.

The Drakensberg Mountains - The Dutch “voortrekkers” named it the Dragon Mountain, and the Zulu name for the Drakensberg Mountains is uKhahlamba, which means the Barrier of Spears. Forming the boundary between South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho, the majority of the range lies within the KwaZulu-Natal province. Access to the range is via the Sani Pass where you can have a drink at the highest pub in Africa, located at 3,000 meters above sea level.

The region is now a park and has been declared a World Heritage Site, with a bounty of biological diversity, spectacular scenery including the world's second-highest waterfall, the Tugela Falls (Thukela Falls), and tens of thousands of rock paintings depicting the day to day activities of the San people, also called Bushmen. These paintings form the largest collection of its kind in the world.

Activities in the Drakensburg range (other than drinking at the high-altitude bar) include hiking, bird watching rock or ice climbing, abseiling, and white water rafting. Skiing is also available.

Swimming with sharks - Cage diving gives one the unique opportunity to view the incredible great white shark in its natural environment and this is one of the best places in the world to have this experience. A seal colony is one of the great white’s food sources, and tour operators target these areas where sharks are naturally present. A cage is suspended from the side of the boat, and participants are submerged (either breathing through an air hose, or simply taking a deep breath and ducking into the water). The sharks are attracted when the operator 'chums' the waters with a mixture of mashed fish. The most popular areas to cage dive with great white sharks are False Bay, Mossel Bay and Gansbaai and the best time for viewing is during the summer months.

Cape Town and the Western Cape - The second most populous city in South Africa, Cape Town is a major vacation destination for overseas tourists, visitors from within the country and elsewhere in Africa.

An infamous Cape Town features is Robben Island, the island prison where South African presidents Nelson Mandela and Kgalema Motlanthe, among others, were imprisoned during the apartheid era.

Highly recommended is an ascent to the top of Table Mountain, a flat topped mountain that is often enshrouded in a thick cloud layer known as the “tablecloth”. Reach the top either by hiking or by riding the cableway, and don’t forget to send a postcard from the summit!

The Western Cape is becoming quite well-known for its wine growing region, with scenic valleys nestled between mountains producing excellent, export-quality wines. The history of wine making in South Africa dates back to the late 1600’s when French Huguenots arrived in the region and began making wine with the Dutch farmers who had recently settled there and began cultivating the land. Visit Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl and be sure to taste Pinotage, a red wine which is the signature varietal of South Africa.

Classic Itineraries

- Game viewing in Kruger National Park
- Hiking in the Drakensburg Mountains
- Cage diving with the great white sharks
- A drive along the Garden Route
- Climb Table Mountain in Cape Town
- Sample the world-famous local wines

Travel Overview

The Republic of South Africa is located at the southern tip of the African continent and borders Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and the Kingdom of Lesotho which, interestingly, is entirely surrounded by South Africa. The Atlantic Ocean lies to the west, and the Indian Ocean to the east. The southernmost point on the African continent is found here, but contrary to popular belief, this point is not the Cape of Good Hope, but is in fact little known Cape Agulhas.

The history of South Africa is long and varied, with many bloody battles. The country contains some of the world’s oldest archaeological sites with fossils dating back 3 million years. In more modern terms, its colonial history began in 1652 when the Dutch East India Company established a rest-stop where Cape Town lies today. Settlers and colonizers included the British, and a group known as the Boers (the original Dutch, Flemish, German and French settlers) who eventually fought the British when diamonds and gold were discovered. Ultimately, South Africa gained independence and was declared a republic in 1961. Still, a system of apartheid (racial segregation) remained in place until the early 90’s and it was not until 1994 that this African nation elected its first black African president, the famous anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.

The 25th largest country in the world, South Africa covers over 470,000 sq. miles (1.2 million sq. km). Its highest peak is Njesuthi, in the Drakensburg range, at 3,408 meters (11,424 feet) and its coastline is almost 2,800 kilometers (1,700 miles) in length.

Culture - South Africa is truly diverse and has a history of racial diversity starting with the numerous different African ethnic groups such as the Zulu, Xhosa, Bapedi and Venda, to name just a few. In addition to Caucasians, there are also a fair amount of east Indians residing in South Africa. Interestingly, people of mixed race are recognized as a distinct racial group, called “coloureds”. The total population is close to 50 million.
There are eleven official languages, plus 8 more non-official languages, although English has emerged as the language of commerce and science. In fact, a recent census discovered that Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans were the most common languages spoken in the home. With eleven official languages come an equal number of official names for South Africa!
While the United Nations classifies South Africa as a middle-income country, and the per capita income is the 7th highest in Africa, it also has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world, and this disparity between the have’s and the have-not’s classifies the country as a developing nation. While perhaps linked to education (or lack thereof), financial inequality has a direct correlation to race in South Africa, and racial tensions still run high. On a positive note, recent affirmative-action types of efforts have seen the slow emergence of a black middle class.

Know before you go - Visitors must be in possession of a valid passport (with at least two blank pages remaining), sufficient funds to cover the duration of their stay, a return or onward ticket, and possibly yellow fever certificates if travelling through an affected area. Those holding a passport from the United States and many European countries do not require a visa for a short stay in the country, but all tourists should check with the South African embassy or consulate before travelling, to ensure that a visa or other documentation is not required.
The monetary unit is the South African Rand (ZAR) which equals 100 cents. The rand replaced the South African Pound when independence was declared in 1961, and the currency takes its name from Witwatersrand, the white water’s ridge” where the city of Johannesburg lies and where the majority of the country’s gold is found.

Tourists should be mindful when travelling throughout the country as much of the population, including the immigrant populations, live in poverty and some rely on crime to survive. The best way to avoid street crime is to stay away from the townships (slum-like suburbs), or only visit these areas on a guided tour. In addition to the usual big city precautions (don’t go anywhere alone after dark, be careful when using ATMs, conceal your wallet and passport). Visitors should educate themselves about other ways to remain safe in the areas of South Africa that they will be visiting.

Visitors Should Bring

- Malaria tablets, mosquito repellent and appropriate clothing to keep mosquitoes at bay
- A GSM mobile phone
- a power converter and adapter for electronics (for 220V/230V, 15 amps, with either 15-amp 3 prong round pin plugs or 5-amp 2 prong round pin plugs)
- Sun protection
- Layers of clothing
- Appropriate clothing for game viewing: neutral colours are recommended

Travel Resources

South Africa’s time zone is SAST, which is UTC/GMT + 2. Daylight savings time is not observed. Remember that South Africa is in the southern hemisphere and therefore seasons are opposite to those in North America and Europe.

Whereas Johannesburg is the largest city, the executive capital of South Africa is Pretoria. Other seats of power include Bloemfontein (the judicial capital), and Cape Town (the legislative capital).

Major international carriers arrive into the OR Tambo International Airport (JNB), the busiest airport on the African continent and the Cape Town International Airport (CPT). Domestic flights are an excellent way to move around the country, as the distances involved are vast.

By Julie Bowman.


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