With its vast golden savannahs, dramatic gorges and beautiful deserts, South Africa is a classic. As much as you’ll want to come for a Big 5 safari, or perhaps a stay at one of the world’s most decadent private game reserve lodges, you’ll also want to set your sights on the country’s pristine beaches, captivating cities and world-famous winelands. Here’s why we think you’ll love South Africa and things to know before you go. 

Why You Should Visit South Africa 

Bountiful Beaches 

Photo by Susan Tuckey, Penguins2PolarBears, December 2015

Cosmopolitan Cape Town is home to some of the best urban beaches in the world. Right near the city center, you can hang out on chic Camps Bay, or head to famous Boulder Beach to hang out with endangered African penguins. Make your way along the renowned Garden Route or the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal and you’ll be able to stop at secluded, soft-sand beaches - the water warms the farther north you go. There’s swimming, sunning, snorkeling, diving - the ocean is a true highlight of any South Africa vacation. 

The Big Five 

Photo by Susan Tuckey, Penguins2PolarBears, December 2015

Is a South Africa safari on your bucket list? You’ve come to the right place. If you’re fortunate, you can glimpse the Big 5 all in one day: elephant, buffalo, rhino, lion and leopard. The country is full of conservation areas and national parks, including Kruger National Park (and its private game reserves like Sabi Sands and MalaMala), Madikwe Game Reserve, Phinda Game Reserve and Addo Elephant National Park. 

Fabulous Food & Wine 

Photo by Susan Tuckey, Penguins2PolarBears, December 2015

Admit it, this may be your number-one reason for considering South Africa - and what a perfect reason it is. Venture out from Cape Town to the Cape Winelands, gourmet capital of the country. Sip award-winning vintages in cool cellars and sun-dappled patios and indulge in what is arguably some of the world’s best cuisine. Johannesburg is not to be overlooked by foodies - it’s catching up to Cape Town rapidly with inspiring local restaurants, craft beer and vibrant markets. 

Plentiful Activities 

Photo by Susan Tuckey, Penguins2PolarBears, December 2015

Throughout your stay in South Africa, feel free to treat the country as your own big backyard. Hike to the summit of Table Mountain. Go horseback riding in Drakensberg. Head to Hermanus for whale watching. Cycle between vineyards in the Cape Winelands. Take a walking safari in Kruger National Park. And tee off on some of the world’s best golf courses. 

Beautiful Weather 

Photo by Susan Tuckey, Penguins2PolarBears, December 2015

It’s little wonder South Africans are so happy and friendly - they have a lot of sun to smile about. Durban, Ballito and the beaches along the KwaZulu-Natal Coast average more than 300 days of sunshine per year. Even when it’s considered the “rainy season,” Kruger National Park is quite sunny, save for quick late-afternoon thunderstorms. The country’s overall temperate climate makes it a breeze to plan a vacation there - no matter the time of year, there’s a locale for you to live your best life.  

Rich History 

The 2.3-million-year-old fossil named Mrs. Ples was discovered here in the Cradle of Humankind, alone with many other hominin fossils. Visit the KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields, where expert guides will illuminate you on the South Africa of 1875, when battles played out here between British soldiers, Boer commandos and Zulu warriors. Visit Robben Island, site of Nelson Mandela’s incarceration. Meet San Bushmen, who will gladly inform you about their desert lifestyle. And as you tour the Constantia Winelands, imagine how life looked there more than 300 years ago. 

Easily Accessible 

Countless international flights land in South Africa every day. Consider a self-drive holiday, one of the best ways to explore the country, thanks to a national network of well-maintained highways. WiFi is widely accessible, you’ll have cell service just about everywhere and, should you take that recommended road trip, you’ll never be far from a full-service gas station. 

What to Know Before You Go to South Africa 

Take Proper Safety Precautions 

Crime continues to be an issue in South Africa, but it mainly occurs in non-touristy areas. Tourists can, however, be targets of petty crime. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or having your smartphone out in public, don’t leave belongings unattended and don’t walk around alone late at night. 

The Exchange Rate Is Favourable 

You can expect most items to be quite affordable for Canadian and American tourists. You’ll find local beer for a dollar or less, bottles of wine for about $20 and upscale meals with drinks for about $40 per person. Even the most luxury hotels in sought-after locations are much less than their Canadian or US equivalent. 

A Safari Should Be a Big Budget Item

General affordability of South Africa aside, you should budget big if you’re planning to go on a safari. If you seek comfortable accommodations, a reliable and knowledgeable guide, you’ll pay about $400 per person (in the off season). Your spot typically includes meals, service, wildlife sighting outings and the accompaniment of a ranger. 

Be Aware of Where Your Money Goes

So that you don’t accidentally support an unworthy cause, ask questions before signing up for tours, wildlife experiences, volunteer programs and the like. Choose tour operators who support the local economy. Be extra certain your wildlife experience does not contribute to canned hunting or cruelty and that companies aren’t exploiting workers and labor laws. Some parts of South Africa aren’t regulated, so it’s worth the extra time to assuage your conscience later. 

Embrace South Africa Time

Similar to the Caribbean or Southeast East, figuratively speaking, South Africa runs on its own clock - figuratively. Embrace the slower, laid-back pace - it’s a healthy antidote to the busy lifestyle you likely lead back home. 

Tip the Car Guard

If you’re self-driving and you park, you may be encountered by a brightly adorned person who asks for money. These folks are actually legitimate car guards. They’ll watch your vehicle and prevent break-ins while your car is parked. It’s usually 2 to 5 rand for a few minutes or 10 rand for a longer period of time - and well worth it. 

Considering South Africa? Contact me to learn more about this fascinating travel destination.