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    Beginner's Guide to South Africa

    Beginner's Guide to South Africa

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    The images of big game and big landscapes are firmly established in the highlight reel of global tourism. As  they should be; they are the most impressive of their kind! But it is the myriad of truly unique and inspiring experiences that escape our immediate attention, which afford South Africa a diversity of offerings to which there is little comparison anywhere in the world.

    Explore our destination guide to discover a South Africa that offers everything from vibrant cosmopolitan centres, to diving with tiger sharks and touring vineyards that produce some of the world’s finest wine. (Best enjoyed with some local gastronomic delights!)

    South Africa’s history and culture

    Cradle of Mankind 

    Let’s start at the beginning – the Cradle of Mankind in Maropeng, about 45 minutes from Johannesburg, holds the deeply buried secrets of the origin of our species. This World Heritage Site is the world’s richest deposit of human fossils and a treasure trove of clues about our early history. Today  the site has a high-tech visitor centre which traces our evolutionary path from distant past to future, and includes an underground boat ride among its offerings.
    There are 15 fossil sites, the best known of which is the Sterkfontein Caves, which can be toured in a fascinating journey that includes a descent some 60 metres underground.

    Cultural Villages 

    Part of what makes South Africa so unique is its diverse cultures and traditions. To best give you an insight into this rich heritage, cultural villages have been opened to visitors. Visit one of these villages and gain a unique and interactive insight into many aspects of the tribal ways of life; from crushing maize to brewing beer!
    Among the best known of these is the Besotho cultural village at the foot of the sandstone mountains in the Free State province, Shakaland and Simunye Zulu village in KwaZulu-Natal.

    While traditional practice might be similar, each tribe enjoys its own customs in hut building and decorating, dance, language and dress. Many of these villages are also responsible tourism projects which allows the money generated by tourism to be put back into the community which allows them to be self sufficient and preserve their age-old traditions.

    A country’s long walk to freedom 

    The South African freedom struggle always raised the issue of justice for every citizen of the country. From the first struggle for freedom that occurred in 1652 when the Khoi-Khoi opposed the establishment of a refreshment station at Table Bay by the Dutch East India Company, to the late 20th century, when apartheid reigned in South Africa when it was entrenched in law in 1948. Today there are struggle heritage sites all over South Africa. Perhaps the best-known is the Robben Island Museum.
    Robben Island has been the site of incarceration stretching back 350 years and has now become a symbol of justice, human rights and self-sacrifice after many political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and current Prime Minister, Jacob Zuma,  were kept there. There is a 3.5 hour tour that leaves from the V&A waterfront in Cape Town. After a half hour ferry the tour is guided through the prison (often by an ex political prisoner), followed by a 45 minute guide bus tour around the island that details its history as a mental hospital, military base and leper colony.
    Robben Island Museum has World Heritage status and is a South African National Heritage Site.

    Hidden treasures

    South Africa’s cultural and creative diversity is inspirational, but the breadth and variety of experiences on offer can also be overwhelming. That’s where Hidden Treasures comes in.
    Hidden Treasures is a local tourism product initiative developed by the Tourism Enterprise Partnership. Hidden Treasures now spans across all nine provinces and provides a top-notch, cutting edge and unmistakably South African experience and products that cultural adventurers can mix and match to create their ultimate art, food, or heritage itinerary. The range and diversity of products and experiences available means the tour combinations are endless. In Mpumalanga, for example, you could spend a day visiting grass-roots performing arts, sample lowveld-style fine dining and end your day in a fusion of African songs and instruments.
    Check out the three day Hidden Treasures itineraries and more at www.sahiddentreasures.co.za

    Food and wine

    Your South African feast 

    From traditional comfort food to Michelin-star dining; a hearty shebeen buffet or a gourmet banquet beneath a star-strewn African sky, let your taste buds take you on a journey of discovery with mouth-watering South African soul food.

    Food tours 

    Travellers in search of edible adventure are in for a South African-style treat. Whether you want to cook Cape Malay cuisine in the Bo-Kaap or dig up Kalahari truffles with San hunter gatherers there is a South African cuisine tour to suit your taste.

    South African food tour options range from über expensive Eurocentric gourmet exclusivity, to super-cheap cultural delights. For an authentic experience, try some of the many ‘township cuisine tours’.
    Township food tours offer edible adventures to hungry travellers. If you want to cook up a storm there is a township pot just waiting for you to stir. If you like the idea of a more liquid lunch, there are tavern tours galore.
    In the post-apartheid era, township food is as diverse as the people who live there. There are a range of restaurant experiences to be had and township cuisine tours take in everything from super smart hotels and chisa-nyama barbeque style street food. Whatever you want to cook and eat, the gastronomic world is your oyster in South Africa’s townships.

     Zulu cuisine 

    Zulu cuisine offers marvellous menus for travelling taste buds. From the comfort of isibhede and phutu porridge to the intoxication of utywala beer and the fiery perfection of chakalaka relish, Zulu dishes are seasoned with history, infused with culture and full of fine flavours.
    The foundations of Zulu cuisine are sorghum and maize starches, which are generally eaten as polenta-like porridges or drunk in the form of beer.
    If you wish to learn as well as taste, African Relish  is a good bet. African Relish is a recreational Karoo cookery school in Prince Albert, a quaint town in the Karoo. Gourmands increasingly visit this region for its restful atmosphere, abundance of locally grown produce, organic and small-scale food artisan producers, local wines, and gorgeous scenery.
    At this Karoo cookery school in Prince Albert, there’s a preference for produce that’s fresh, local, seasonal and sustainable that borders on reverence. Moreover, where better to discover the roots of South African cuisine than in the breadbasket of the Karoo?

    Wine tasting 

    With wine regions stretching from the western to the far northern Cape and the edge of the Karoo you can almost taste your way around South Africa. Sample at well-known estates or seek out little-known gems – our Port and Brandy routes are renowned too. Where there’s fabulous wine, great food is never far behind.

    Winemaker interaction tours 

    Winemaker interaction tours allow travellers to get up close and personal with the makers of their favourite tipples. From chatting to the children of wine farm workers to sipping and spitting with multi-award-winning winemakers there is a tailor-made tour to suit your palate and mood.
    There are literally thousands of tour options for travellers wishing to discover the glories of the Cape winelands.


    For some, adventure is a hike through spectacular  national parks, for others, it means putting yourself in the face of danger and attempting to smile at it. Luckily, South Africa is one the best places in the world for both, and every thrill seeking experience in between.

    Shark dives 

    When it comes to diving, South Africa ranks up there with the world’s best. The South Coast is a prized destination due to its alluring combination of reefs, shipwrecks and various species of sharks and rays which frequent the waters. Accessed from the city of Durban, the stretch of coast is an all-year-round destination. The world renowned Aliwal Shoal is a 37 metre deep fossilised sand dune that has been a hindrance to ships for centuries. The wrecks of British steamer Nebo (1884) and Norwegian tanker Produce now adorn the ocean floor and attract a large variety of reef fish and large shoals of salmon and brindle bass.
    The star attraction, however, is the ragged tooth sharks. The Raggie Cave attracts huge numbers of this sociable shark and can be safely explored.
    Further down the coast is Protea Bank, which is also renowned for its resident sharks, including the Tiger Shark, Bull Shark and Hammerhead. Protea Bank is one site in South Africa where you are able to dive with Tiger Sharks without being confined to a cage – one of the few destinations in the world that will allow for such adventure.
    One shark that you will definitely want a cage for, however, is the Great White. Shark Alley is a world famous sea channel off the coast of the Cape Coast that is home to around 50000-odd Cape fur seals on Dyer Island. The result is a multitude of Great Whites that trawl the waters and a mecca for adrenaline junkies who come to plunge into the water with them. If you are keen to remain dry, there is plenty to see for on-board spectators, especially  during the peak season of June to September.

     Bloukrans Bungee 

    If you find yourself driving along the N2 motor way between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth and are having adventure withdrawals, then the best remedy  would be to peel off at the world’s highest commercial bungee jump. Bloukrans Bungee will rocket you from 0-190 km/h in 6 seconds as you plunge the 216m metres from the world’s highest single-span concrete arch bridge.

    Canopy tours 

    If you like your adventure to be informative as well, then strap yourself to a steel cable that suspends 30 metres above the forest floor and experience the beauty and ecology of some of South Africa’s most beautiful fauna and flora from a perspective few to see.
    The canopy tours started as a means for biologists to study some of South Africa’s unique canopy life. Today you can choose from several tours around South Africa that range from highly informational zip lines between the canopy to purely breathtaking above-canopy tours at Magaliesberg Mountains and Drakensberg, which includes Africa’s first elevated rock walkway.


    If you prefer a slower pace, take your time to explore and enjoy some of the world’s most spectacular and unique landscapes.

     Barrier of Spears 

    The spectacular and ancient Drakensberg Mountain Range is Southern Africa’s highest range at 3 482 m and stretches an enormous 1,000 km from north to east. In Zulu the range is called uKhahlamba, or the barrier of spears, which does justice to its dramatic basalt buttresses. The Blyde River Canyon is situated in the northern part of the mountain range.

    This unspoiled escarpment offers you spectacular views, a multitude of activities and rich historical value and is considered one of South Africa’s most popular natural attractions. It is made up of a sandstone layer covered with a 1400 m basalt layer and its incredible biodiversity and sandstone caves, filled with the largest collection of San paintings in the world, are two of the reasons why you should visit. The Drakensberg Mountains hold approximately 40 000 works of San art and are home to a large number of threatened and endemic plants as well as nearly 300 bird species.
    Due to this variety of plant life and the largest collection of San rock paintings in Africa, the range is listed as a World Heritage Site.

    The Wild Coast

    The Wild Coast is an unspoiled natural treasure. Visitors can explore its renowned beauty on foot, by 4×4 or horseback before embarking on fishing expeditions or snorkelling and diving outings.
    The Wild Coast in South Africa, stretches along the Eastern Cape Province’s coastline. As its name suggests, this strip of coastline, which reaches from the Mtamvuna River in the north to the Great Kei River in the south, is an untamed wilderness. It offers incredible views of the dramatic coastline, jagged cliffs, sheltered bays, wild beaches and rolling hills and valleys.
    The Transkei, a former homeland, forms part of the Eastern Cape Wild Coast and is an underdeveloped area with low population that cannot be easily accessed, but is a hiker’s paradise and can be enjoyed on horseback.  It is renowned for being one of the most beautiful places on the planet and is the heartland of the Xhosa nation.
    The Wild Coast is also known for its shipwrecks – a legacy of its wild and tempestuous nature. The entire coastline can be seen on foot on what is known as the Wild Coast Hiking Trail. Water activities, like snorkelling and diving, give a spectacular experience of the world beneath the waves while spotting lost treasure and other relics from shipwrecks.

    Cape Floristic region 

    The Cape Floristic region’s bounty of plant life has earned South Africa a place among the world’s top-rated locations for biodiversity. Much of this rich natural heritage cannot be seen anywhere else on earth. Covering 90,000 square km, it is estimated each 1,000 square km of this floral kingdom contains 465 species.

    The Cape Floristic region is uniquely South African – unique in that a large percentage of this floral wealth is endemic to the country. Its incredible richness enables South Africa to claim the third-highest level of biodiversity in the world.

    The Table Mountain National Park, one of a chain of eight protected areas encompassed by the region, packs more plant species into its 22,000 hectares than entire countries like the British Isles or New Zealand.The Cape Floristic region, a World Heritage Site, begins at the Cape Peninsula and trails along a mountainous path to the Eastern Cape. Besides Table Mountain, it takes in the De Hoop Nature Reserve, the Boland, the Groot Winterhoek wilderness area, the Swartberg mountains, the Boosmansbos wilderness area, the Cederberg and Baviaanskloof.

    Prime flower viewing time in the Cape is late winter into early spring, when people travel from all over the country to see the bold displays all along the West Coast and throughout this region of Cape flowers.

    The Big Five 

    You can visit almost any province in South Africa and experience a Big 5 safari, but the Kruger National Park in the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces remain the iconic tourism drawcard. The Big 5 – elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino – abound in the park and you can see them on a guided tour self-drive. The trained eye of a ranger, however, could prove an invaluable asset when trying to spot a lion in the shade after a kill, or a leopard sleeping in a Boab Tree.
    The northern Kruger National Park is more than just big game. There are wilderness areas of immense natural beauty and diversity, where you can discover unique forests, bird life, some of the earliest traces of mankind, and Crooks Corner, which links South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, and where the villains of yesteryear could skip between the borders during the dry season.
    If you are a self-drive enthusiast, then you can’t miss the awe-inspiring Kgalagadia Safari. Discover red rolling sand dunes, solitude, inimitable photogenic landscapes and extraordinary wildlife such as the cheetah and majestic black-maned Kalahari lion.

    Find out more from your local, personal travel manager.


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