Most people only dream of seeing elephants splashing in a waterhole, a pride of lions lazing in the shade or a cheetah sprinting to catch a gazelle. We love South Africa for its once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experiences. Track down the Big Five on safari in Kruger National Park, a reserve the size of Wales, then retire to your luxurious game lodge, where the sights and sounds of the wild are never more than a few metres away.
Kruger might be South Africa's most famous national park, but less than two hours drive from Port Elizabeth and the Garden Route, the Eastern Cape also has some of the best reserves in Africa. Luxurious lodges and expert guides will ensure you have the experience of a lifetime, with almost guaranteed Big Five sightings.
Ever wanted to dive in a cage surrounded by great white sharks? As if seeing the Big Five isn't enough of an adrenaline rush, holidays in South Africa have plenty more thrilling experiences to offer. Imagine abseiling from Table Mountain, white water rafting, hot air ballooning over Kruger, tree top swinging, bungee jumping, paragliding, deep-sea diving or rock climbing -- the list is almost endless.
With its easy, safe road network, South Africa is a great place for a road trip. We highly recommend the famous Garden Route, the stunning scenic stretch between Cape Town and the game reserves of the Eastern Cape. This lush route is dotted with lakes, beaches, national parks and wonderful places to stay, like upmarket Plettenberg bay, the port town of Knysna, and the seafront city of Port Elizabeth.
With their green patchwork-like fields, grapevine-striped valleys, and blue-grey mountains, the Cape Winelands are one of the world's most renowned wine regions. Discover top wine estates and local vineyards, with their tastings, tours and fine dining. Sip the local Pinotage as you soak up the scenery, snap a photo of the striking Paarl monument and explore the pretty towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
Lovingly known as the 'Mother City', beautiful Cape Town will take your breath away. Head to the top of Table Mountain for stunning panoramas across the bay, enjoy a meal at the buzzing V&A Waterfront, relax on a sun lounger in trendy Camps Bay, pick up handmade souvenirs in Greenmarket Square, be inspired by the brightly painted homes in the Bo-Kaap, and look back and learn at Robben Island and the District Six Museum.
There are a number of carriers flying from the UK to South Africa.
Direct Carriers: South African Airways, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic fly to Cape Town and Johannesburg. Average flight time is approximately 11 hours.
Indirect Carriers: Emirates flies via Dubai and KLM flies via Amsterdam to both Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Departure Taxes: These are included in the cost of your airline ticket.
British passport holders require a visa to enter South Africa. This is free for stays of up to 90 days and can be obtained on arrival. Please ensure you have two blank pages in your passport for your visa or you may be refused entry. Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in South Africa. Please contact the South African High Commission for up to date country and visa information on 0207 451 7299.
The official currency is the South African Rand and you can buy them in the UK. The import and export of local currency in cash is limited to 5,000 Rand. If you need to change your UK Pounds in South Africa, you can do so at banks, currency exchanges and many hotels.
Major credit cards are widely accepted at almost all hotels, shops, restaurants, and game reserves. The only exception seems to be petrol stations. Cash machines will also accept international cards and can be found in all towns, cities, shopping malls, and petrol stations. Traveller's cheques can be used at banks, hotels, restaurants, and some shops.
Much like in the UK, a tip of 10 to 15 percent tends to be expected, although it is worth checking that a service charge has not already been added to your bill. The good news is the service in South Africa is usually worth every penny.
May - August
Before travelling you should make sure you are up to date with the standard vaccinations such as Diptheria, Tetanus, Hepatitis A and Polio. Also recommended is Typhoid. Anti-malarial protection is essential for Kruger National Park. Yellow fever immunisation is required if arriving from an infected country or area. For full details, please contact your GP.
How you fill your suitcase for holidays in South Africa depends on where you are going and what you are doing. Think beachwear, city-chic outfits, muted safari gear, or all of the above. South Africa is very laidback, so there is no need to dress up for dinner (unless you want to) in all but the smartest of restaurants. Most places offer a glimpse of incredible scenery, so your camera and binoculars are essentials.
High factor sunscreen;
A jacket, jumper or fleece and long-sleeved cover-ups for evenings and breezy days;
A wide-brimmed hat to keep the sun off your face;
Cool, lightweight summer clothing;
Comfortable walking shoes for exploring;
An electrical plug adaptor (the power supply in South Africa is 230 volts at 50 hertz).
A waterproof jacket;
Neutral coloured, practical clothing for safaris;
Your camera and binoculars;
The country's diverse heritage has helped cook up its varied cuisine, with a mix of flavours both borrowed and distinctly South African. As a result, the nation's restaurant scene is thriving and a perfect match for the superb local wines. People love their meat here, from beef and chicken to springbok, warthog, and ostrich barbecued on a braai in true South African style. Seafood is abundant too, thanks to the miles and miles of coastline. Other local tastes include the sweet curries of Cape Malay cuisine in Cape Town, and the spicy Indian influenced dishes in Durban.
This traditional Afrikaans stew is cooked in an iron pot called a potjie over an open fire. The recipe includes meat, vegetables, rice, or potatoes, all left to simmer with spices for up to six hours, ideally with a fireside chat while you wait. Stirring is frowned upon, the idea being that the different flavours mix as little as possible.
South Africa’s national dish has been eaten in the Cape of Good Hope since the 17th century. This Cape Malay dish is a spicy, baked minced beef stew with a creamy egg-based topping. The recipe traditionally contains dried fruit like raisins or sultanas.
Bredie is the Afrikaans word for stew. This meat, tomato, and vegetable dish is usually made with mutton and a dash of chilli, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. It was first introduced to South Africa by Malay people, usually slaves brought to the colony.
South Africa has a multitude of great restaurants, but there is another side to its culinary appeal. Follow your nose, or the hungry locals, to find street food stalls in markets, on city pavements, and in the townships. South African street food reflects the diverse blend of indigenous and migrant people who have settled there, from European-style sausages to Indian-influenced samosas. Be careful to only order street food from vendors whose food is clean, fresh, and cooked right in front of you.
This Dutch-inspired spicy sausage is made from beef and a blend of spices including allspice, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, and coriander seed. Usually grilled on a braai, it is often served with pap, a South African side dish similar to polenta, or hotdog-style as a boerie roll with a tomato and onion relish.
South Africa’s most famous snack is a type of cured, spiced meat cut into strips. Similar to beef jerky but thicker and less sweet, it can be made from any meat, like springbok, ostrich, and even shark, but is usually made from cuts of beef.
Also known as kota, this fast food favourite is a scooped out bread loaf filled with curry. Legend has it that it was invented in Durban’s Indian community during apartheid, when people of Asian and African descent were banned from using cutlery.
With more than its fair share of luxury hotels and upmarket restaurants, holidays in South Africa can sometimes be expensive. Generally, though, prices compare very favourably to the UK. In a mid-range restaurant, a three-course meal for two might set you back 300 South African Rand, with a bottled beer at 18 South African Rand. In the shops, you can buy a 1.5 litre bottle of water for around 12 South African Rand.
With its varied heritage, from indigenous tribes to European and Asian migrants, South Africa does not have one single national costume. Instead, there are many forms of traditional clothing, most of which have today been replaced by more Western styles. In Zulu culture, vibrant, brightly-coloured dress is a symbol of a woman's single status, as are beaded headbands, necklaces and izincu bands around elbows, waists, and elbows. Married Zulu women wear more demure isicholo hats and ibhayi shawls. While Zulu men traditionally wear different animal hides, depending on their marital status.
Otherwise known as the Rainbow Nation, holidays in South Africa meet a diverse mix of beliefs, languages, colours, and creeds. The country has come a long way from its sad history of colonialism and apartheid, although tensions still linger in issues such as the unequal division of wealth. Around two-thirds of South Africans are Christian, with Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and traditional African beliefs also practised.
When it comes to etiquette, it’s worth keeping the following in mind:
• Handshaking is the usual form of greeting, although some women may just give a nod of acknowledgment.
• Smoking is prohibited in public buildings and on public transport.
• Drinking alcohol on the streets or beaches is illegal.
• Casual wear is widely acceptable on South Africa holidays.
Crime is still an issue in South Africa, although most occurs in townships and isolated areas away from the usual tourist destinations. The risk in the main tourist areas is generally low and the local authorities make protecting visitors a high priority. It is always worth following a few basic safety rules:
• Always visit townships with a reliable tour guide.
• Check beforehand that the areas you plan to visit are safe (ask hotel staff or police).
• Know where you are going before you set off, particularly at night, and do not walk alone in isolated or unsafe areas.
• Keep your valuables out of sight when away from the main tourist areas.
One of the world's top safari destinations, South Africa is home to all the iconic African animals that you may only have seen in the zoo before now. Most famous are the Big Five; if you want to see them in their natural habitat, Kruger National Park alone has over 2,000 lions, 10,000 elephants, 2,000 leopards, 20,000 buffaloes, and 10,000 rhinos.Other land mammals include giraffes, gazelles, antelope, zebras, baboons, meerkats, monkeys, hyenas, and cheetahs, which can reach speeds of over 60 miles per hour. Birdlife ranges from kingfishers and bee-eaters to eagles, vultures and the tiny-brained ostrich. Reptiles include tortoises, chameleons and over 100 species of snake, from the python to the venomous black mamba. Cold-blooded crocodiles roam the rivers and lakes, along with huge hippos. In the sea, loggerhead and leatherback turtles are the focus of a major conservation effort, and over 2,000 species of fish include the awesome great white shark. The largest of all South Africa's creatures, the blue whale, can grow up to 33 metres long. Other whales include orcas, humpbacks, and the most commonly spotted southern right whale, which can often be seen from the land as it comes into coastal bays to calve.
Shark Cage Diving
Coming face-to-face with great white sharks from the safety of a cage has to be one of the ultimate thrills. The best time of year to experience shark cage diving is from April to October, although great whites and other sharks are encountered year-round.
South Africa is one of the world’s best destinations for watching marine mammals, with whales visiting annually from July to late November and pods of dolphins year-round. In the towns of Hermanus and Plettenberg bay, both claiming to be the whale capital of the world, you can see these incredible creatures by boat and even from cliffs and beaches.
Not far from Cape Town, this sheltered beach and its huge granite boulders are home to a growing colony of the endangered African penguin. Wooden walkways allow visitors to view these charming flightless birds in their natural habitat.