South Africa has surfaced out of dark days to share its brilliant bushveld, award-winning wine regions, emerging cities and golden beaches with the world. Africa’s sophisticated powerhouse is home to diverse habitats, eclectic cultures & a fascinating history. Pack in beaches, the Big 5, malaria-free safaris, amazing Cape Town & Africa’s finest food and wine.
South Africa has it all: a unique blend of the old and the new Africa that combines ultra-modern cities and up-to-the-minute facilities with an ancient heritage. South Africa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa, as it offers truly magnificent views and has an abundance of activities to enjoy. Spend time scouting out the creatures of the savannah, immersing in the colourful culture and cruising through the cosmopolitan cities that shine with optimism and enthusiasm.
Washed by the waters of both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, South Africa has eleven official languages and is endowed with an almost unrivalled variety of terrain. Guests will find themselves enchanted with a unique vibrancy and absorbed in the freedom of every citizen.
With a rich culture, a unique floral and animal kingdom and some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, visitors can enjoy a diversity of sites including the famous Cape Town, The Wine lands, the Garden Route and the safari haven of Mpumalanga.
Add to this the superb selection of wines and exquisite cuisine and the hospitality of the multi-cultural people and one can begin to see why South Africa is known as ‘a world in one country’.
History & Economy
Shaped by one of the world’s most turbulent histories, South Africa is a country like no other on the continent.
Home to archaeological sites dating back over three million years, South Africa’s indigenous people were the Khoikhoi and San Bushmen, long since confined to the margins of history. Iron Age African herders and farmers – predecessors of today’s ethnic groups such as the Zulus and Xhosas – were the first settlers to arrive, followed by the Europeans, personified by Dutchman Jan van Riebeeck’s 1652 landfall. It was the subsequent arrival of the British however that precipitated 350 years of colonisation and war as settlers, missionaries and empire builders’ established white rule. The subsequent liberation struggle has largely defined modern South Africa which only became a true democracy in 1994.
Such is South Africa’s economic power that it has the same relationship with Africa as the United States has with the world – it’s the continent’s powerhouse and its GDP alone is a full quarter of that of the entire African continent. A mixed economy with access to abundant resources, South Africa has well developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing, engineering, power-producing and financial industries. Some of its most important exports are gold, platinum, wine, fruit and coal.
People & Culture
The phrase ‘Rainbow Nation’ was coined by struggle icon Desmond Tutu to describe South African society, and it is a well chosen one. Few countries can match the ethnic mix of this country, perhaps best illustrated by its 11 official languages (though English is the long-established lingua franca). Nearly 80% of South Africa’s 50 million people consider themselves part of a black culture with Indians, coloureds and English or Afrikaans-speaking whites making up the rest along with large Jewish and Portuguese communities. In recent years South Africa has become home to many African migrants and refugees.
Like most African countries, South Africa is a deeply religious one: 80% consider themselves Christian and every year a million people attend the country’s biggest Easter celebration. Yet despite modern appearances, traditional beliefs still hold sway in much of the country – sangomas (‘witch doctors’) are regularly consulted by 60% of the population and the use of muti (traditional medicine ) is widespread.
A country of constant debate, challenge and adaptation, culture runs deep. Home to prehistoric rock art and Nobel Prize winners, South Africa has produced world famous statesmen, writers, athletes and musicians. Its food reflects the diversity of its people and visitors can expect a blend of European, Asian and African influences as well as award-winning wines.
Landscape & Wildlife
Set at the bottom of the African continent and with a 2500km coastline teeming with marine life, South Africa has astonishing natural diversity. Dominated by a flat semi-arid interior – the Karoo – South Africa’s landscapes include soaring mountain ranges, sub-tropical beaches, temperate forests, high grasslands and tangled bushveld. The Western Cape is home to the striking fynbos vegetation and a stunning coastline but it’s the north and east of the country where most of the large animals remain.
The Kruger National Park is the country’s flagship Big 5 reserve but there are big game destinations all across the country and its coastal waters are home to whales and great white sharks, both of which can be seen close up. A conservation powerhouse, South Africa is an important stronghold for elephant, rhino, turtles and predators of all description while its long bird list makes for great bird watching.
South Africa wildlife highlights include Big 5 game viewing in the Kruger Park and its private reserves; whale watching on the Whale Coast between August and October; shark-cage diving in Gansbaai near Cape Town; malaria-free Big 5 game viewing in the Eastern Cape and Madikwe Game Reserve; and game viewing and birding in KwaZulu-Natal.
Heading out at dawn on a Big 5 safari, soaking up the sun on unspoilt beaches, sampling fine wines in mountain vineyards or living it up in a world-class restaurant after 18 holes on a championship golf course – no matter what’s on your getaway wish list, a South Africa holiday will tick all the right boxes.
Anchored at the base of the African continent, South Africa is perhaps its most diverse country and is home to some of Africa’s most iconic characters, destinations and experiences. Starting in the south with Africa’s favourite city, the incomparable Cape Town, this country encompasses classic holiday destinations such as the coastal towns, forests and lakes of the Garden Route, the long subtropical Indian Ocean coast of KwaZulu-Natal plus dozens of wildlife-packed reserves including the world-famous Kruger National Park.
And with a range of accommodation as varied as these magnificent landscapes plus a sophisticated and extensive infrastructure network, getting around South Africa is simple: you can easily self-drive from your beachfront accommodation on the Garden Route to child-friendly lodges in the Eastern Cape’s Big 5 game reserves or fly from a stylish suite in a private Kruger reserve to the exclusive boutique hotels of Cape Town.
Family holidays and honeymoon escapes; affordable breaks and luxury safaris; outdoor adventures and gourmet experiences – South Africa really does cater for all tastes and budgets but if you’re not sure where to begin, then you can start by relaxing.
We have a cosmopolitan portfolio of tried-and-tested accommodation as well as an extensive range of holidays in South Africa, many of which include other great holiday destinations such as Botswana, Mauritius and Mozambique’s Indian Ocean islands. And we know what we’re recommending: our Africa Safari Experts have travelled the length and breadth of South Africa so who better to trust with your dreams? Send us that wish list and we’ll put together a never-to-be-forgotten South Africa holiday.
Our top places to visit in South Africa:
- Kruger National Park – phenomenal Big 5 game viewing
- Cape Town & the Cape Wine lands – one of the world’s most beautiful cities & vineyard-clad valleys
- Garden Route – beaches, forests & seaside towns
- KwaZulu-Natal – beaches, safaris & historic battlefields
- Sun City – Africa’s premier holiday resort
Choosing where to go in South Africa is a bit like selecting which countries to visit on a global tour – each region is that different. From the sparkling city of Cape Town and the bottle-green hills of the Cape Wine lands to the wild reserves of Kruger, Madikwe and the fantasyland that is Sun City, we’ve selected our favourite places of interest in this highly diverse country.
Cape Town: one of the world’s most beautiful cities
Laying between Table Mountain and the sea- an unbeatable blend of stunning natural beauty and year-round fun makes Cape Town an easy city to fall in love with. For starters there are the beaches – so many you’ll struggle to single out a favourite – and then there’s hiking on iconic Table Mountain, the penguins of Boulders Beach, the ever-popular V&A Waterfront, the nearby Cape Wine lands and picnics and concerts at Kirstenbosch Gardens.
Add to this a superb selection of accommodation, award-winning food and wine experiences plus a colourful collection of friendly locals and you’ll soon see why this captivating city was recently voted the “World’s #1 Travel Destination” (Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, 2011).
Kruger Park: phenomenal Big 5 game viewing
South Africa’s largest and best known reserve, the Kruger National Park is home to the country’s greatest diversity of wildlife and includes the super-celebrities of the safari circuit: Africa’s Big 5.
To the west and south of the Kruger National Park are the two South African provinces of Mpumalanga and Limpopo. In the north is Zimbabwe, and to the east is Mozambique. It is now part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park that links Kruger National Park with the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe, and with the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique.
Why pick Kruger for your South Africa safari? It’s where to go in South Africa for guaranteed big game sightings, there’s accommodation to suit every style and budget, and being so well connected by air, you can easily round off your Big 5 safari with a few days on Cape Town’s beautiful beaches or even a tropical island off the Mozambique coast.
Garden Route: beaches, forests & seaside towns
South Africa’s Garden Route is a natural playground of soft sand, warm sea, shady indigenous forest and laid-back little towns. Families will love the safe swimming beaches around Plettenberg Bay; adventurers can go hiking, horse riding or dolphin spotting; romantics can dine at restaurants overlooking Knysna’s peaceful lagoon (ask for the oysters!) and the wide selection of accommodation caters for everyone.
Cape Wine lands: vineyard-clad valleys close to Cape Town
The green valleys and Alpine-style Mountains of the Cape Wine lands are a treat for both eye and palate: sip, swirl and sample award-winning wines, indulge in gourmet cuisine, or wander down oak-lined streets to local art galleries, all to a stunningly scenic backdrop. Although only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, we guarantee that a night or two in this peaceful patchwork of vineyards and mountains will dissolve any lingering city stress.
Eastern Cape: malaria-free Big 5 safaris
For an exciting and stress-free family safari the Eastern Cape is hard to beat: a combination of child-friendly lodges in malaria-free reserves within driving distance of the Garden Route means an unforgettable family holiday. But it’s not just families who get to have all the fun in the Eastern Cape: these Big 5 reserves also have a handful of secluded, luxurious lodges that are among our favourites for a romantic safari away from crowds and kids.
KwaZulu-Natal: beaches, safaris & historic battlefields
Durban is a great shipping port and also known as South Africa’s “holiday playground”. The museums, cultural centres, Sea World Aquarium and Botanical gardens are well worth a visit. The Indian bazaars and restaurants are a special feature of Durban culture. Exclusive beach resorts stretch north of the city en route to the land of the Zulus.
The Hluhlwe-Umfolozi Park and St Lucia wetland reserve constitute one of the largest wildlife reserves in the country also comprising a number of private reserves nearby. Unique to the area, game viewing by boat on Lake St Lucia.
It’s often said that locals know best, and when South Africans go on holiday their top choice is often the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). From the broad beaches of the sunny KwaZulu-Natal subtropical coast and the luxury accommodation of its big game reserves to its soaring mountain peaks and historic battlefields – KZN is where to go in South Africa for game viewing, bird watching, adventure, history and on-the-beach relaxation.
Sun City: Africa’s premier holiday resort
Sun City- an extravagant playground resort of exotic hotels, casinos and glitzy entertainment in true Las Vegas style. Under three hours from Johannesburg lies South Africa’s undisputed ‘Kingdom of Pleasure’ – Sun City. If you’re looking for true escapism and non-stop entertainment then this is without question where to go – there are championship golf courses and world-class casinos, a slide-filled water park plus nightclubs, shops, restaurants … they’ve even built their own beach! And if that’s not enough, Sun City is right next to the Pilanesberg Big 5 Game Reserve.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve: great game viewing & close to Sun City
Once a volcanic crater, the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s best wildlife destinations and is centred around a large hippo and croc-filled lake. Although conveniently close to Sun City, these two top destinations feel words apart: some visitors choose to stay in Sun City and pop across for a half-day safari, but with such great Big 5 game viewing on offer plus a wide choice of excellent safari lodges, we’d highly recommend a night or two in this beautiful piece of African wilderness.
Madikwe Game Reserve: Big 5 game viewing away from the crowds
About a 3-hour drive or short charter flight from Johannesburg lies one of South Africa’s least known large reserves: Madikwe Private Game Reserve. Its Kalahari grasslands and woodlands are surprisingly full of animals and one of the best places to see the highly endangered African wild dog plus the Big 5. What’s more, if you’re looking for a family safari, the great news is that Madikwe lies outside the malarial belt and offers excellent family-friendly lodges as well as romantic retreats and honeymoon suites.
Johannesburg: restaurants, museums & an electric energy
Johannesburg is a modern city of skyscrapers, shopping centres, offices and hotels. The suburbs comprise immaculate homes and gardens on the one hand with the sprawling and tightly packed townships on the other.
Until recently most visitors to South Africa would whiz through Johannesburg, stopping just long enough to catch their connecting flight. Nowadays, however, Johannesburg (or Jozi as it’s known to the locals) is undergoing a revival and has become a destination in its own right with a fantastic selection of hotels and guest houses, a thriving café culture and thrumming night life. Catch the ultra-modern Gau-train straight from the airport to the heart of Sandton with its shining shopping centres filled with high-end boutiques, and give your credit card a good workout. Finally, for greater insight into South Africa’s recent past we’d highly recommend a visit to the Apartheid Museum – it’s a highly informative and moving experience.
South Africa is a large and diverse country with a climate that varies from region to region: Cape Town and the Western Cape experiences winter rainfall (June to August) and a largely bone-dry hot summer while much of the rest of the country, including the Kruger Park area, have heavy summer thundershowers (December to March) and a dry winter period from May to October. The Garden Route and Eastern Capeon the other hand can experience rain at any time of year.
Our “when to go” guidelines are based on the best time to visit South Africa’s top attractions:
The drier winter months between May and October is the best time for superb game viewing on a South Africa safari in Kruger, Madikwe, Pilanesberg and KwaZulu-Natal as animals are concentrated around water sources and are easier to spot in the thinned-out bush.
For a Cape Town beach holiday you simply can’t beat the hot summer months between November and March – although book your accommodation early if you want to visit over Christmas or New Year.
The KwaZulu-Natal coast has year-round sunshine, a beautifully mild winter and warm ocean temperatures so any time is a good time.
If you want to see whales in the south-western Cape on the aptly named Whale Coast then visit between June and November, although numbers are at their peak in September.
For more information on when to go on a South Africa holiday, simply enquire with one of our Africa Safari Experts.
South Africa’s national currency is the South African Rand. Foreign currency can be readily exchanged at banks, bureaus de change and many hotels, but most travellers simply draw cash at ATMs (cash machines) which you’ll find throughout South Africa’s towns and cities. Not only is this far more convenient but ATMs also tend to offer a better rate of exchange.
We’d advise against carrying large quantities of cash however, for big purchases rather use your credit card. Most major credit cards (Amex, MasterCard, Visa and Diners) are widely accepted in shops, restaurants and hotels, but are not accepted at many petrol stations.
You can claim back the VAT (the 14% value-added tax) on products you purchased in South Africa and are taking out the country (provided the total value of purchases exceeds R250) so be sure to keep your tax invoices and claim your cash back at the airport when you leave.
Tipping is customary in South Africa, although entirely at your discretion. Hotels and lodges often use an “envelope system” with your tip distributed amongst staff members; at restaurants the general guideline is 10 to 15% for good to excellent service; and if you’re driving around towns you’ll often find a yellow-bibbed “car guard” who’ll keep an eye on your vehicle while it’s parked on the street in exchange for a couple of rand on your return.
For in-depth tipping guidelines on your South Africa safari, enquire with one of our Africa Safari Experts – they’d be happy to share their knowledge with you.
What to Pack
What you pack for your South Africa holiday depends on where and when you want to visit. Given the country’s mostly temperate climate, you’ll be comfortable during the summer in lightweight clothes but pack a jacket and closed shoes to be safe – Cape Town in particular is known for its four-seasons-in-a-day weather while Johannesburg and the Kruger Park experience heavy summer rains.
If you’re coming to South Africa for a beach holiday pack plenty of sunscreen, swimming costumes and casual wear for the day, plus a few more dressed-up items for the evenings if you’ll be spending time in the cities of Cape Town or Johannesburg. South Africans are relatively casual dressers but you’ll need a few more formal items if you’ll be staying at the country’s exclusive hotels or embarking on a luxury train journey.
If you are visiting South Africa in the winter, pack warmer layers, a coat and a pair of boots – it can get surprisingly chilly, especially during the June-August months. When it comes to packing for a South Africa safari, follow the guidelines in our Africa Safari Guide travel advice section. Stick to lightweight, practical clothing in neutral colours with a warm fleece or jacket for early morning and evening game drives. And finally, wherever you are travelling in South Africa be sure to pack a pair of comfortable walking shoes – from city streets to mountain hikes, there is so much to see and do on foot!
Flights & Getting Around
O R Tambo International Airport: Africa’s biggest travel hub, Johannesburg’s main airport serves as a gateway to all South and Southern African destinations as well as East African ones and the Indian Ocean.
Cape Town International Airport: fly direct to Cape Town or via Johannesburg for South Africa’s Cape destinations – Cape Town, the Whale Route, Cape Wine lands, Garden Route and the Eastern Cape.
Durban International Airport: visitors to KwaZulu-Natal’s game reserves, battlefields and Indian Ocean coast will land here via Johannesburg or Cape Town though there are direct flights via Dubai. A direct flight to Mauritius makes for a great KZN safari and beach holiday. Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport: linking the Kruger National Park and its private reserves with Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, a flight to Vilanculos on the Mozambique coast also means an easy Kruger/Bazaruto Archipelago itinerary.
Hoedspruit Airport: fly into the Kruger’s second airport from Johannesburg or Cape Town for easy access to the park’s private reserves.
Port Elizabeth Airport: gateway to the Big 5 reserves of the Eastern Cape, PE serves as an ideal finishing point for travellers on a self-drive safari from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape via the Garden Route.
George Airport: get straight into the heart of the Garden Route with a flight to George via Johannesburg or Cape Town. Getting around South Africa is easy. Daily commercial flights link all its cities while private and charter aircraft also crisscross the South African skies. Many of our recommended lodges have their own private airstrip.
Road transfers are conducted in modern and comfortable vehicles but with its sophisticated infrastructure, South Africa is ideal car-hire country. Suitable destinations for a self-drive holiday include Cape Town, the Cape Wine lands, the Garden Route, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. Many visitors to the Kruger National Park choose to drive there via the scenic Panorama Route but once at their safari accommodation will join other guests on the guided game drives.
Visa & Passport Requirements
All visitors to South Africa require a passport valid for six months from date of departure as well as at least one completely blank page in your passport, excluding the final page.
Visitors from the USA, most Commonwealth countries (including the UK and Australia), most Western European countries and Japan don’t require visas but will be issued a free entry permit on arrival valid for up to 90 days. Visitors of nationalities other than those listed above will need to obtain a visa prior to travel from a South African embassy or consulate.
For full details on visa requirements and processing times, visit the South African Department of Home Affairs website.