South Africa is one of the continent’s best safari destinations, offering the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) and more in accessible parks and reserves. You can drive right into the epic wilderness at Kruger, Kgalagadi and other parks, or join khaki-clad rangers on guided drives and walks. But it’s not all about big-game sightings – wildlife watching here also teaches you to enjoy the little things: a leopard tortoise ambling alongside the road, a go-away bird chirping its distinctive chant in the trees, or an encounter with seals, whales or a great white shark along the coast.
South Africa can be visited comfortably any time. However, depending on what you plan to do, it’s worth paying attention to the seasons, which are the reverse of those in the northern hemisphere. Winter (June to September) is cooler, drier and ideal for hiking and outdoor pursuits. Because vegetation is less dense and thirsty animals congregate around rivers and other permanent water sources, winter is also the best time for wildlife-watching. In the eastern highveld, nights are often crisp and clear, with occasional frosts, so come prepared with a jacket.
Spring (mid-September to November) and autumn (April and May) are ideal almost everywhere. Spring is also the best time to see vast expanses of the Northern Cape carpeted with wildflowers.
Places to visit:
Well, the name of this key attraction already suggests it — a flat-topped mountain, overlooking Cape Town. Make sure to hike to the top of the mountain. The climb is a hard task, but the view from up there is spectacular — all of Cape Town’s radiance can be seen from up there, and the sea breeze will definitely freshen you up. For the not-so-adventurous type, there is a cable car to the summit.
The Cape Peninsula
If you are an adventurous type of person and you enjoy hiking — The Cape Peninsula is the best place to go. Within Table Mountain National Park, you will find the Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. The unspoiled nature will give you an experience to remember for a lifetime. If you visit this area in spring or early summer, you might see Southern Right Whales. Whatever time of year you visit, make sure you see the colony of 3,000 African penguins at Boulders Beach.
Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is famous for many things, but mostly for the prison where South Africa’s political prisoners were held during the Apartheid era. At various points in history, the island was also a leper colony, a mental hospital and a defense training base.
The Garden Route
The Garden Route stretches from Mossel Bay (Western Cape) to the Storms River (Eastern Cape). It is a marvelous route to walk through. First you will probably want to take a peek at the ten nature reserves, then the marine reserves. You can experience the pleasure of seeing over 300 different bird species, coral reefs, dolphins, seals, and many other magnificent creatures. Along the Garden Route there are a couple of bays where whales come to calve from July to December. The best bay to go to is Plettenberg Bay, which is a whale hotspot.
The Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park lies in the Limpopo Province and is the largest reserve in South Africa. This is a place that literally takes your breath away. With such diversity in flora and fauna, no one could remain unimpressed. You can see 336 types of trees, 49 kinds of fish, 34 types of amphibians, 114 different reptiles, 507 species of birds and 147 kinds of mammals. The wild diversity is mixed with some history at archeological sites, like Masorini and Thulamela.
The Cradle of Humankind
Just 50km away from Johannesburg, there is a complex of limestone caves. In these caves, scientists have discovered fossils that date back to the birth of humankind. The most famous among the fossils are the skull “Mr. Ples” (which is a 2.1 million-year-old skull) and the skeleton “Little Foot” (which is 3 million-years-old). Our earliest known ancestors evolved from The Cradle of Humankind.
Knysna is a town situated in the middle of the Garden Route and it deserves special attention. This is one of South Africa`s true gems. It is a great place to have fun, relax and enjoy great food. The town is a big attraction to artists and people who enjoy water sports. You can spend a day “wave jumping” on a lagoon, then enjoy an incredible sunset. So if you want to relax and have a good time — this is the place.
Oudtshoorn may seem like an unusual recommendation, since it is considered the Ostrich Capital of South Africa. Yet this is the place to visit if you would like to ride an ostrich or just sample their eggs. There are many hotels that serve ostrich eggs, mainly for breakfast. They are very rich in taste and rather large, compared to other eggs. Ostrich meat is also served in the form of sausages and steaks. And for those who are not very fond of ostriches, you can go cycling since the scenery here is also beautiful.
Durban is a very friendly place to go. It is the third largest city in South Africa and is famous for its “Golden Mile” — string of beaches filled with surfers, and also a shark free zone. You can spend the whole day relaxing on the beach and then have a nice meal in a nearby pub. Afterwards, go and check the Marine World Aquarium and you’ll have a day worth to remembering.
It doesn’t matter if you are an adventurous type or not if you want to visit Gansbaai. The beauty of nature will be all around you — in and out of the water. For example, you can watch the whales from the Cliffs of De Kelders, enjoy the white sands of Pearly Beach or take a walk in the ancient milkwood forests. If you are looking for a thrill, you can dive with the great White Sharks.