South Africa is a country brimming with a unique mix of interesting cultures and Instagram worthy landscapes. Nelson Mandela’s homeland emerged from decades of apartheid to become a travel destination capable of leaving an indelible mark on anyone lucky enough to visit.
Twice the size of France, the massive interior of South Africa can be overwhelming for first time visitors. And with 11 different languages spoken across nine provinces, even a local like myself is still discovering new treasures. I may have a lifetime to spend here, but chances are, you don’t. So to help you unearth all that South Africa has to offer, I have listed five things you should know before planning a trip here.
1. More Than A Safari
Although a common misconception, you’d be sorely mistaken for thinking that all South Africa has to offer is safari trips to spot the Big 5. From dreamy desert plains to a jaw-dropping infinite coastline, South Africa boasts some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world. Its diverse beauty includes an endless list of exhilarating waterfalls, world-class vineyards, majestic mountains and abundant bushveld where wild animals roam freely. South Africa’s beauty is only matched by its diversity. On offer is an endless array of unforgettable experiences, that leaves visitors keenly aware that they’ve only scratched the surface. With so much on offer, it might be wise to carefully plan your trip, accounting for the distance between activities.
2. Safety Begins With You
Point to any country on the map, and I can list a plethora of security concerns. Like anywhere else in the world, South Africa has crime. A legacy of racial injustice and violence underpins South Africa’s relationship with security. In an effort to ensure ultimate security, residents build their walls sky high, kit them with electric fence and reinforce their windows with steel bars. This might be a bit worrisome to behold, but this highlights the fact that residents consider their personal safety and security be paramount. They may be overly cautious about their security, but this is a good thing. This, coupled with the fact that a vast majority of South Africans are as welcoming as they are helpful, only proves that tourists have little reason for concern.
Safety begins with you though, so take responsibility for your own safety, and maintain equal amounts of vigilance and common sense. Avoid flashing valuables and cash, and keep as much as you can be locked up in your hotel safe.
3. Do As The Locals Do
South Africa may be home to some of the most picturesque landscapes ever known to man, but the true beauty of this Rainbow Nation lies with the rich culture of its people. Considering this, and the nation’s tangible opulence, it might be surprising to know that most South Africans live in poverty. However, true to the resilience of the South African spirit, locals have made the best of the tough economic circumstances, by turning their communities into rich tapestries of culture, communion and social activity. These communities are home to communal barbecues called Shisa-Nyama, a must visit local activity that attracts visitors from all walks of life. Fun and camaraderie are beautifully interwoven over communal barbecue and serve as a microcosmic reflection of the deeply rooted spirit of community that can be found almost nowhere else. This is just one example of the beauty and rich experiences that exist abundantly where no one expects. I suggest taking a trip to a local community, and experience South Africa’s purest beauty, it’s people.
4. Amenities Aplenty
Boosted by the 2010 Soccer World Cup’s infrastructure cash injection, South Africa solidified its recognition as a world-class tourist destination. Its biggest cities will have you thinking you’re in Europe. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that a country home to a 7-time ‘world’s best city’ winner has the some of the continent’s most advanced infrastructure.
Connectivity is a breeze throughout the country, as cell network is pretty extensive and WiFi hotspots are plentiful. Accessing cash is pretty easy too, with ATMs scattered liberally across all towns and cities. It isn’t too difficult to spend that cash either, as Shopping centers filled with clothing and retail stores are plentiful.
5. Public Transport, What Public Transport?
Although its infrastructure is world class, and its road network is good, South Africa’s transport system is not. Locals use buses, commuter trains and minivans to get around, but it is not advisable that tourists follow their lead, as these modes of transport are unreliable and unsafe. Renting a car is the best option to get around safely and efficiently. With rental costing only $30 a day, enjoying a road trip throughout the country should be on the cards for anyone looking to discover as much of the country’s scenic sights as possible.
Eric has revolved in and out of passport controls for over 20 years. From his first archaeological field school in Belize to rural villages in Ethiopia and Buddhist temples in Laos, Eric has come smile to smile with all walks of life. A writer, photographer and entrepreneur, the LA native believes the power of connectivity and community is enriched through travel.