South Africa was not really the first choice for us when we were planning for our annual trip. And there were quite a few options which we considered before finalizing this trip to South Africa, but ultimately it has won our hearts!! So now that we have had a wonderful tour of this southernmost nation of the African continent, I will list the main reasons for you to travel to South Africa. 7 Reasons why this is a country not to be missed and should ideally hang very high in your bucket list.
We had initially planned to travel to UK – touring London, Windermere, the Scottish Highlands up north to the Isle of Skye and return through Edinburgh. But a tenaciously long tour plan of 22 days, problematic health conditions and a fairly large cost estimate forced us to change our travel plans at a late stage. Thus, with a heavy heart, we went through the task of cancelling our hotel and car bookings,and our flight tickets too. here you will also find a list of Places you should visit in South Africa.
We were looking for alternatives, and had a few options to decide upon, where we tried to examine each of them. We are residents of Dubai, UAE and the months of July-August, with schools under recess for summer, are a good opportunity for family travel. But these months also witness rising temperatures across the Northern Hemisphere. Far Northern Europe ( Scandinavia) looked a fair choice but again did not fit into our 12 days window that we now wanted to restrict our travel plans to. We debated but eventually crossed out plans for Eastern Balkan because of weather, logistics and visa issues. Turning our interests downwards now, we crossed out Australia where I had been for work and lived for about 10 months about a decade ago, and South America ( Peru hangs high in my destination wish-list ) was again too far – didn’t look the right choice for a 11 to 12 days of tour plan, that we were now mostly targeting. We also shelved any plans for Russia (since language is a problem for non-Russian speaking travelers). In comes South Africa into our potential travel horizon.
The advantage for South Africa is that, it too lies on the Southern Hemisphere and hence experiences winter when we, the northerners experience our summers. It has great wildlife, nice beaches and waterfronts, and some mountains and rivers too. Being amateur photographers with a keen interest in landscape and wildlife, this suited us perfectly. We read a bit about South Africa, and equipped with some initial knowledge, selected it as a probable destination. Enough to build a positive interest in doing a bit of research !
Why should you travel to South Africa ?
There are great many reasons for one to travel to South Africa. Here is a list of few.
- Seasons : Great for a Summer vacation tour for most of the northern hemisphere dwelers of the earth.
- Nature : Has some of the best nature and landscape . Panorama Route and around Cape Town.
- Wildlife: Fantastic wildlife and chance to see the African Big 5. Kruger has voted as one of the three best Game Parks of the world.
- Culture: Lovers of heritage culture would find the South Africa stimulating and fascinating.
- History : Right from the Boer wars to the Non Aligned movement South Africa has a prominent and rich History.
- Ease of travelling : Fantastic Infrastructure for roads, bridges, accommodation food and other services
- Food: You get a mix of African continental and some asian food at most places.
- People : The South African people are warm and hospitable.
First things first: Why South Africa
Some basic information about South Africa.
South Africa, the southern most country in the African continent, was ruled by white minorities (mostly Dutch and British) for about 300 years. It then struggled through half a century of systematized racial discrimination known as Apartheid, till the government was forced to change constitution and its laws during the first-half of the nineties. The country boasts of four Noble Prize winners for Peace and Anti-Apartheid movement : Albert Lutuli, Demond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and FW De Clerk. Johannesburg and Cape Town are the two biggest cities of South Africa, while Durban and Pretoria are also well known. Kruger National Park is one of the largest game viewing parks in the world. We had earlier been to Masai Mara (which you can read here) and is another star attraction. Besides Kruger National Park, there are numerous public and private game parks in South Africa of which Sabi Sands and Timbawati are pretty famous.
As an Indian, our relations with South Africa runs deep. We were in the forefront of vesting our support for the anti-apartheid movement, the first country to sever all diplomatic, trade and cultural relations with South Africa in 1946. The father of our nation, M.K. Gandhi had spent about 20 years in South Africa, first as a lawyer and later as a civil activist. It was South Africa, which proved to be the incubator for Gandhi, to mature as the social and political activist/ leader that he transformed into on his return to India. We had conferred on Nelson Mandela, the father of the South African nation, the highest Indian civilian award of Bharat Ratna ( one of two foreigners ever , if you leave out Mother Teresa that is, the other one being Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan of Pakistan ). Mandela had also chosen India as his first nation to visit after becoming the President of South Africa.
The question of “safety” slowly rose as our biggest point of worry or concern with a South Africa tour. Wading knee deep through scores of travel related websites, blogs and governmental restrictions, what we read troubled us. Mugging, looting, killing and raping was highlighted in many of such travel related portals, and our apprehensions rose. After further discussing, debating and analyzing, we somehow felt that it can be a doable tour, but with greater control, allowing lesser chances for occurrences of unwanted events, and choosing safety instead of rewards or risk, while being perpetually alert of our surroundings. A bit of information here : Indians do not need to pay for Visa ( they need one , mind you !!) for South Africa.
Orlando Towers at Soweto, Johannesburg
Our Travel Plans for South Africa
We planned to fly into Johannesburg, and stay for a night. Next we planned to spend a couple of days at Kruger National Park, travel back through the Panorama Route around Graskop and Hazy View where we again planned a couple of days halt. We then return to Johannesburg to visit Nelson Mandela‘s house( now a museum) near Soweto and then fly off to Cape Town the next morning.
The second leg of the Tour would include Cape Town with its local sights and attractions like Table mountain and the Waterfront. It would continue to the southern coastal town of Hermanus where people travel for Whale watching and Shark Cage diving, and Simon’s Town where they have a Boulder’s beach Penguin Colony, and is in close proximity to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope. Six days for the first Leg and Five days for the second. Being lovers of road trips, we pre-booked our cars, using Rentalcars and AutoEurope site, a car for each leg of the trip. We loved the freedom and flexibility that a self-driven road trip brings. It was then that Anita found out about Aha Lesedi, an Afro cultural Village about 65 kms from Johannesburg, and we fell for it. Aha Lesedi became the first halt for the night, replacing Johannesburg, for our South African Road Trip.
Now that we were all set and the basic plan frozen, we started building our daily time schedule with things to see. Te most challenging was to cover about seven different locations of the Panorama Tour in a day or just over. But we were determined not to miss. Ultimately we didn’t. Slowly the whole tour took logical shape after a bit of discussion and deliberation.
We booked our multi city-return flights. We chose Ethiopian for its cheaper rates and shorter transit breaks, the alternates from Dubai were Emirates and the Kenyan Airlines. We booked the hotels through Booking.com . (As one of its Genius member I receive a discount at many of its hotels and some privileged late check out benefits and I am offering that to you too if booked through the this link ( Booking.com) . We also booked the first two nights inside Kruger National Park through South African National Park website, Sanparks. This is one of the biggest challenges since they stay fully occupied most of the year around and have to be booked really early, if you are travelling during the moderate or high season. We also booked our tickets for Table Mountain National Park and Robben Island in advance to avoid longer queues, for our Cape Town visit.
Places you should visit in South Africa.
South Africa Leg 1:
This was what our final plan looked like for South Africa :
Aha Lesedi – Cultural Village and an African Tribal experience – 65 kms from Johannesburg- . From here drive through Pretoria into Kruger the next day (about 450 kms )! – We planned to stay here for 1 night. Read about our experience at Aha Lesedi Here …
Kruger National Park : Game viewing with night stays at Berg en Dal and Skukuza Rest Camps – Total 2 nights. For people who are viewing such wildlife parks for the first time, the advice is to add one more day here. Lower Sabie Camp is also great alternative. In general pick the southern camps since Kruger Park is huge and even a fortnight may not be enough to visit all the camps. Stay between Melalane and Kruger gate if your time is shorter. You can see all the African Big 5 animals in a day or two, as we did !! 🙂
Graskop – as a base for our Panorama Route which is a haven for Nature Lovers- 2 Nights. This is close to Kruger, and the drive between Graskop from Hazy view will take your breath away with its unending rows of pines and birches and long desolate valleys and mountain slopes.
Johannesburg: For city Attractions, visit Nelson Mandela’s home at 8115 Vilikazi street near Soweto. Stay for the night near Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport to catch a morning flight to Cape Town – 1 night
South Africa Leg 2:
Cape Town : Table Mountain , Signal Hill, Camps Bay, and Victoria & Alfred Waterfront – 2 nights. Add another day here for Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for most of his twenty five years of incarceration. This cruise/ tour itself is about 4 hours long but is heavily dependent on weather conditions.
Hermanus – Southern coastal town off the Indian Ocean, well known for such Adventure sports like Whale Watching and Shark cage diving. – 1 Night
Simon’s Town – The southern most town of Africa. A neat small town this forms the base for the Penguin’s Colony and the Table Mountain Reserve which includes Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope). – This is the southern most tip of the African continent !! – We booked here for 2 nights.
Penguins Colony Boulders Beach: Simon’s Town
Our return would be from through Cape Town, and Anita added Chapman’s Peak Drive to our return route into Cape Town International Airport. A small detour and you can enjoy a lovely drive with the mountains on one side and the blue waters of Indian Ocean on the other.
Use a local Sim card when travelling inside South Africa both for calling at data purposes. I suggest buying a Vodacom sim (available at Airports.). You can have customised packages for data and air bundles. I chose for a 2 GB data and 60 minutes calling. It lasted fine for about 12 days.
Convert your currency from local stores rather than the counters from airport. Airport has the most horrible currency conversion rates. Some hotel apartments may accept USD too.
Vaccination Requirements for Visa : Yellow fever vaccine.
Braai and Paap are two common food items here. Braai is very popular, essentially means Bar-B-Q while Paap is a softened rice pulp mashed and eaten with both gravies and vegetables. Taste the marvelous South African wines. Wine lovers should pay a visit to Groot Constantia about 20 kms from Cape Town city.
This is a country which has a bit of everything! From great lively cities and picturesque urban attractions, a bit of history and architecture, holidaying activities, great choice of food and drinks, well made infrastructure, and lots of nature wherever we went .. Yes, South Africa is amazing !!!