Reasons to Visit
The most economical and by far the most popular way to experience South Africa is on a self drive. The roads are good, traffic tends to be light and driving is on the left.
Within easy driving distance of Cape Town, the valleys of Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek have become known as 'The Winelands'. Here you can admire the manicured rows of green and russet vines and even stop to sample the local tipple.
Cape Town – one of the world’s great cities, Cape Town has excellent accommodation, is easy to explore and is the gateway to the Wine Regions and Garden Route. Cape Town is an ideal place to start your trip around South Africa.
Hermanus and Walker Bay, near Cape Town, are perhaps the best places in the world to spot whales from the shore (Jun-Dec). Whale watching trips from boats are also popular in South Africa.
Learn how Ghandi, Paul Kruger and Winston Churchill were all involved in the battle of Spioenkop, during the Boer War, or how a hundred British soldiers held off some 4,000 Zulus at Rorke’s Drift, and how nearly 1,800 were killed a few hours earlier at the battle of Isandlwana.
South Africa offers some of the best safari in the whole of Africa. One of the best places are the private reserves of Kruger Greater Park, where you can see the 'Big Five' (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo).
South Africa boasts some spectacular scenery across the whole country. These include the imposing Drakensberg Mountains, coastal views along the Garden Route, the impressive Blyde River Canyon and the vast Karoo.
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Our South Africa specialists are experienced and passionate about the country - between them they have spent many weeks a year researching new experiences and ensuring everything is of the highest standard. They know South Africa inside out.
DavidSouth Africa Specialist01993 838 511
RobSouth Africa Specialist01993 838 507
TobySouth Africa Specialist01993 838 518
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South Africa is as diverse as its history.
In the Kruger, Sabi Sands and other reserves, game drives astound with an abundance of lion, leopard, cheetah and Big Five sightings, and some game areas even offer malaria-free safari options.
Cape Town and the beaches of the coast offer the perfect way to relax after your safari.
Reflecting its status as "The Rainbow Nation" South Africa has eleven official languages. Thankfully you will very seldom encounter someone who cannot speak English. The most widely spoken languages are Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans. Signs are normally in English and Afrikaans.
South Africa doesn't really have a national cuisine, and most of what you eat will be international dishes, but cooked with local produce, which is excellent. Cape Malay cuisine is definitely worth trying, and consists mainly of mild, aromatic curries. Other than this, you should try some of the game meats on offer: kudu and crocodile both appear on menus, and ostrich is absolutely fabulous: well prepared, it tastes like a superb cut of beef.
Local beers tend to be a bit cheaper than imported ones - Castle is the main brew, and is pretty decent, although Windhoek, from Namibia, gets the nod in our opinion.
South Africa wines enjoy a deservedly good reputation, and you will have ample opportunities to try some. It is worth bearing in mind that you are probably paying 50-70% less for wine in South Africa than the same bottle would cost you in the UK, so by pushing the boat out a bit, you can get a really excellent bottle of wine. Estates whose produce we have really enjoyed over the years include: Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Alto, Haute Cabriere, Warwick, KWV, Robert's Rock, Fairview, La Motte and Kanonkop - but you should experiment, and ask the opinion of your waiter, ranger, lodge manager or hotel owner, who will all be happy to share their thoughts with you. Those who are really looking forward to this aspect of the trip, or are considering buying lots of wine whilst in South Africa should consider buying the John Platter South African Wine Guide - a popular and indispensable listing for nearly all South African vineyards.
Tipping is not compulsory. If, however, you want to tip because you have received good service, we have enclosed a brief guideline to assist you:
a) Specialist guides and rangers - if the guide has done a good job, we recommend ZAR150 per guest per day.b) Trackers (if you have one on safari) - we suggest ZAR100 per guest per day.b) The general camp / lodge staff - here we recommend about ZAR50 per guest per day. This should be placed in the communal tipping box. c) Drivers - again, here we would suggest about ZAR25 per guest per day.d) Porters - about ZAR10 per porterage.c) Restaurants - unless the bill states that service is included, 10% is an acceptable tip to leave if you are satisfied with the service.
The currency of South Africa is the rand (ZAR). This is a volatile currency, and has swung between ZAR10 to £1 and ZAR18 to £1 over the last couple of years. It is worth checking the rate before you leave so you have some idea what to expect; try www.xe.com. Credit cards, especially Visa and Mastercard, are widely accepted at most hotels, lodges and restaurants in South Africa, AMEX and Diners less so. The notable exception is petrol stations: here you will always need to pay cash. You can change money easily in most towns, at banks and bureaux de change, as well as some restaurants and some hotels. There are some ATMs which will issue cash advances on credit cards (and sometimes Visa Connect cards) as well. In rural areas you will find it much harder to change money so it would be a good idea to have as much cash on you as you are likely to need before you reach the next major town.
Day-to-day expenses do not have to be very high: you could get by on £15 per person per day if you ate in simple restaurants and cafes, although £20-£25 a day will see you eating and drinking very well. Petrol is about 2/3rds of the price of petrol in the UK, and ZAR300 will be about the cost of a full tank (including a tip for the pump attendant).
If you are travelling through the Garden Route and you are particularly interested in Knysna and the forests in the area you might like to read 'Fiela`s Child' written by well-known South African author, Dalene Matthee. It is a gripping story about a white boy found on a doorstep of, and adopted by a black woman living in the Knysna Forest. Years later the white family reclaim him and the boy is torn between the two families. The whole story unfolds in the Knysna Forest, at a time when the Knysna Elephant could still be found in abundance and woodcutters lived and worked in the forest.
JM Coetzee is South Africa’s most famous author. A recluse, he has still managed to put South Africa on the literary map of the world, with two Booker Prizes (the first person ever to win two) and a Noble Prize for Literature. His novels are often dark, with characters in extreme situations, and 'Disgrace', perhaps his best-known book, is no exception, telling the story of a professor in Cape Town who loses his job, his reputation, his ambitions through an ill-advised liaison with one of his students.
'The Power of One', by Bryce Courtney is the story of a young, English South African, Peekay, growing up in the early days of Apartheid. This is a powerful story about the inequalities and individual struggles at this time and the resilience of the human spirit. It has been made into a film, however this is nowhere near as good as the book.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo are probably South Africa’s best known musical export. This is largely thanks to their collaboration with Paul Simon on his Graceland album, and the use of their song “Inkanyezi Nezazi” in Heinz adverts in the UK. Over the 45 years of the group they have recorded over 50 albums. A good place to start is with the 1998 compliation album, 'The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Star and The Wiseman'.
Johnny Clegg is a musician with widespread recognition in South Africa. He was born in the UK, but found himself at University in Johannesburg where an early interest in Zulu music flourished and he launched a musical career that always saw him singing alongside black musicians, often with an overtly anti-apartheid message. A great album to introduce yourself to 'Johnny Clegg is Best Of Live'. It features the track, Impi, which you will often hear played in bars in South Africa.
'Goodbye Bafana' is the 2007 film depicting the relationship between Nelson Mandela and his warder during his 27 years of imprisonment, based on the memoirs of the warder. It features Joseph Fiennes as the warder and Dennis Haysbert as Mandela, and the heart of the tale is the warders conversion from a devout racist to someone with respect and friendship for Mandela.
'Zulu' must be the most-watched film involving South Africa, thanks to its continual presence in the bank holiday television scheduling! It is an excellent film and takes very few liberties with events as they unfolded at Rorke’s Drift (with the notable exception of filming it about 100 kilometres to the west of the original battle site!).
'uCarmen eKhayelitsha' is a South African adaptation of Bizet’s opera, Carmen, translocated from Seville in medieval Spain to modern-day Khayelitsha, one of the townships bordering Cape Town. It is performed entirely by a local cast, and in the Xhosa language. The film won a Golden Bear at Berlin and was in official selection at Cannes.
Babotie is a traditional Afrikaner dish made more often in winter than in summer. It is made with mince, raisins, eggs and curry spices and served with rice with either a lush green salad or some steamed vegetables. Garnish that goes very well with this dish is Mrs Balls fruit chutney and a lovely glass of crisp and dry white wine.
Biltong: rather like beef jerky this is dried beef or game and is considered delicious by most South Africans, although not all Brits agree! Boerwors is an Afrikaans thick beef sausage always put on a braai (barbeque).
Ostrich steaks, whilst not unique to South Africa, are absolutely superb here and should be tried. A good ostrich steak is easily the equal of the best beef steak, and is much lower in cholesterol as well.
There is a multitude of game to try when in South Africa, especially on safari. Commonly you will have the chance to try kudu, springbok, and impala, and you should take this chance!
South African wines are at the forefront of new world wines, deservedly so. Wine production is centred on the Winelands region of Stellenbosch, Franscchoek and Paarl. In reds, the Pinotage grape was first created from the Pinot Noir and Hermitage grapes in South Africa, and is the signature wine for the country. Not to everyone’s taste, it is very earthy and goes well with the wide array of meat available in South Africa.
White wines are predominantly Chardonnays and Chenin Blancs, and the sparkling wines, known as Methode Cap Classique, are easily the equal of many champagnes. Rooibos tea is made from the fynbos plants of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Very high in antioxidants, it also tastes very nice. It should normally be drunk without milk. Castle is the local beer, although Windhoek, from neighbouring Namibia is widely available and is thought by many to be the superior brew.
'Lekker' (Very good).
The Cape Region - idyllic and vibrant, Garden Route - lush and fresh, Eastern Cape - historic and peaceful, The Overberg & Klein Karoo - unspoilt and uncommercial, KwaZulu-Natal - bristling with highlights, Mpumalanga - green and spacious, The North – unexplored and wild.
African Art like rock sculptures, beaded necklaces and bracelets. Painted table cloths or place mats. Painted ostrich eggs, wood carvings.
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Further reading:Tours in South AfricaRegions of South AfricaWhen to GoItinerary IdeasTrain JourneysPlaces to GoThings to DoAccommodationCountry Guides
Other countries in Africa:BotswanaKenyaMadagascarMalawiMauritiusMozambiqueNamibiaRwandaTanzaniaThe SeychellesUgandaZambiaZanzibar ArchipelagoZimbabwe
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