South Africa is one of my favourite places in the world and an absolute must visit for any traveller as far as I’m concerned. I could ramble on for days and still not explain why. I guess it’s just one of those places you have to see, smell and feel to truly understand its mysterious majesty. Yes, it has its issues too of course, but somehow, the rawness, energy and child-like innocence of it is intoxicating. The cities, especially Durban and Capetown, are beautiful and offer so much as destinations. When you get out of the cities however, it’s a different world. Although there’s still plenty of hustle and bustle as you would expect in a country with a large rural population, there is still a calmness and ease of life in the South African countryside that is very welcoming – Africa time here is a beautiful thing!
It’s often said, but it’s true – South Africa is a land of contrasts. Every thing from the massively varying cultures, the warm and friendly people, the food and the landscapes are mesmerisingly diverse. Sorry, I did tell you it is one of my favourites! Every time I go there it feels like home. Animals, wow the animals; if seeing an African Elephant or Lion for your first time doesn’t totally enthral you than I don’t know what will. Documentaries are great, but do yourself a massive favour and get to South Africa and experience the wilderness in 3D. It really is wonderfully exhilarating.
Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
Go: September – April
Language: 11 official languages including Afrikaans and English
Eat: Boerwors on the Braai
Move: Local Taxi (kombi vans that cover routes all over the country)
Pack: Tent (great for saving on accommodation in hostels or national parks). I recommend the Gelert Track 2.
Read: The Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela (1995)
Stay: Hostels (great network all along the coast) Check out http://coasttocoast.co.za for all the rundown.
Accommodation: Hostels are everywhere in South Africa especially along the coast and you can find many idyllic places for $10-15 US per dorm bed per night. Tents can normally be set up in hostel grounds for less. Some hostels, especially in the Eastern Cape, have rooms set in traditional Xhosa dwellings.
Food: South Africans have a huge love for meat but don’t despair, I know plenty of vegetarians there and they survive just fine. If you do love your meat then make sure you get some boerwors on the braai (South African word for BBQ) and try some biltong. A typical grocery shop will cost around $7 US per day and is the cheapest way to feed yourself. Otherwise market snacks will set you back around $5 US per day. A nice dinner in a western restaurant will cost $10 – $20 US or upmarket in Cape Town will set you back $40 US.
Sightseeing: A daytrip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 21 years will cost $23 US. Make sure you book a few days before, especially in holiday season. A township tour from Cape Town or Johannesburg will be a memorable experience and costs approx $10 US for full day. A 3 day Safari trip will set you back approx $300 US. Full day diving trips, with 2 dives included, start from $140 US. Surfing lessons along the wild coast will set you back $20 US for 2 hours.
Transport: The 3 main long distance bus companies in South Africa are Greyhound, Translux and Intercape, with Greyhound being the most expensive of the 3. Intercape is more commonly used by locals and therefore, normally the cheapest. To give you some idea, a trip on Intercape from Durban to Cape Town (approx. 24 hours) will cost you around $60 US. Local taxis, which are really collective kombi vans, are the cheapest form of transport. Typically used for shorter distance, don’t expect any luxuries from them; they can be loud but a lot of fun! Prices start from around 50 cents. Car hire starts at approx. $35 US a day and is a great way to get around, giving you the freedom to explore a lot of the country for yourself if you’re budget allows. Once out of the cities, driving is fairly easy, although road quality can be poor. Internal flights are surprisingly reasonable option if you want to travel long distances quickly. Kulula offer flights JHB to CPT from $70 US one way. The Baz Bus – a dedicated backpackers bus with door-to-door hostel service – can be an easy option, but it’s expensive and you won’t get to mingle with locals in the same way.
The Top 5 Attractions
Hike Table Mountain: If you are up for it, the walking tracks are challenging, but offer beautiful views over the whole of Cape Town. Sadly, however they cant be planned as the weather changes too frequently. Your best bet is to get up early every day you are in Cape Town and if it is sunny pack your water and some snacks and get your butt in a taxi! Alternatively, you can always just get the cable car up the mountain!
Experience Robben Island: This was one of my most favorite experiences during my whole time in SA. There’s nothing quite s humbling as standing in the place where one of the greatest men to have lived spent so much time in such horrible conditions. Nelson Mandela is/was practically a GOD to the majority of the South African Nation and after spending a few hours on Robben Island, you’ll start to understand why.
Marvel at the Wild Coast: It’s here that you’ll witness some of the most sublime coastline anywhere in the world, with rolling hills, stunning beaches and incredible waterfalls. These pieces of paradise will also offer you the chance to immerse yourself in traditional culture and learn some Xhosa and Zulu language. Small, local villages dot the coastline, like hidden gems and provide idyllic environments to slow down and relax. Africa time certainly exists in this part of the world so be prepared to unwind and enjoy the vibe.
Taste Durban: Durbs has had its fair share of bad press, so don’t get me wrong, there are some areas you just need to stay away from. However, as any savvy traveller knows, you just have to be sensible about where you go and when – listening to the locals is a great way to learn this information. Durbs is a wonderfully eclectic city of British, Afrikaans, Zulu and Indian culture, with a fantastic array of food to match. The chilled out vibe is very noticeable in the hip little enclaves of the inner suburbs that sport trendy bars, cafes and restaurants. My favorite hangouts are the Davenport Road precinct and Florida Road, which showcase some of the best bits of this tropical city and her charms.
Warm up your binoculars on Safari: There is only one continent on the planet that can offer the romance and intrigue of a real safari, and luckily for us, the South Africa offers up the ultimate experience in abundance. There are many famous game parks throughout the country, many of which can provide you with the opportunity experience the Big 5 (Buffalos, Elephants, Lions, Leopards, Rhinos). Take a tour or hire a vehicle and do a self-drive, either way just make sure you don’t miss out.
The Money Savers
Diving: Save your money and wait till you get to Mozambique – it’s cheaper and better
Tents: Camping is a fun way to see any country and South Africa has plenty of hostels where you can camp ( my favorite is Buccaneeers Backpackers in Cintsa) and an abundance of National parks. So load up the tent and sleeping bag and find some adventure.
Haggle: South African markets, like most in the world, give you a great opportunity to haggle on price. It doesn’t matter if you are buying groceries or wood carvings, markets are a great way to save and to enjoy some good old fashioned banter with locals
Don’t take baz bus: You’ll pay way over the odds for the same route you can take by local transport and miss half the fun. If you’re that desperate to meet other tourists, do it at a hostel instead.
Avoid Kruger and go to a lesser-known game park: Reserves such as http://balule.krugerpark.co.za, Klaserie or even Timbavati offer good value for money.
Free Wi-Fi Zones: Forget paying for Wi-Fi in your hostel etc, simply head to the nearest Wimpy, burger joint or Mug and Bean coffee shop to get free access. There are also many free Wi-Fi hotspots in town centers or shopping centers and don’t forget McDonalds are always good for it. You can hunt down free wifi at http://www.findfreewifi.co.za
Supermarkets: Supermarkets are reasonably cheap by European standards, with Pick and Pay, Checkers and Spar all offering the best Value. For an alternative you can try the local markets, cheaper, much more fun and a better cultural experience.
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