Cape Town, where most travellers start their South Africa holiday, is a city that embraces its heritage and stunning surrounds. Check in to your hotel and head straight out to explore once you land – a rare luxury for somewhere so far flung. It’s where the jetlag-free, two-hour time difference is a bonus. Classic hotels serve up afternoon tea and simple indulgences like eating good food, drinking fine wine and taking leisurely strolls along the Victoria & Alfred waterfront are kept sacred, although a modern age is just around the corner with Africa’s largest contemporary art museum, the Zeitz MOCAA. There are unreal city views that melt into the ocean from Table Mountain – we recommend walking up if you’re up to it and rewarding yourself with a cable car ride down (pre-booking is advised). Just an hour inland, go wine tasting in the picture-postcard Winelands where kitchens produce flavoursome food worthy of each pairing. In game reserves like the famous Kruger National Park, a Big Five safari welcomes you into the fold of the bushveld and its mesmerising wildlife. Early starts are alleviated by hot coffee and biscuits as you venture into the wild by 4x4 in search of both predators and prey and at night, you’ll gather under the stars at a boma for hearty food by the bonfire. This is the ultimate country for city, wine and safari – and it’s still vast enough to have hidden, off-the-beaten-track places to discover like KwaZulu-Natal.
Where is South Africa?
South Africa is at the southernmost tip of Africa. Its southern half has a coastline of over 1700 miles and is where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet. South Africa shares its northern borders with several African countries so you can easily create multi-centre holiday to combine a safari in Kruger National Park in the north-east with a trip to Victoria Falls, or a self-drive on the Garden Route with a beach escape on Mauritius or the Seychelles with direct flights from Johannesburg.
The most convenient way to get around South Africa is by driving. South Africans drive on the left-hand side and roads are generally well-maintained and signposted in English. Driving also means you’ll be able to reach smaller towns and combine the best sightseeing spots of the Western Cape such as Hermanus for whale watching and beautiful coastal drives on the Cape Peninsula. If you’re not driving or want to combine the popular Western Cape with stops in other regions, there are regular domestic flights between Cape Town, Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, Durban and Johannesburg. Kruger National Park is well connected with three airports and many game reserves have their own airstrips for convenient access and shorter transfer times.
Food & drink
Meat plays a big part in South African cuisine: there’s biltong (a thick beef jerky), bobotie (a Cape Malay dish reminiscent to moussaka) and bunny chow (hollowed-out bread filled with curry). You might also find delicacies such as springbok and ostrich on the menu, while seafood is popular on the coast like in Knysna, which is famous for its annual oyster festival. Braais (South African barbecues) take advantage of the sizzling weather in the summer months and on safari, lodges typically have a boma, an outdoor dining space with a bonfire where safari goers can share stories over dinner. For dessert or something sweet to go with your coffee, there’s melktart, vanilla custard tart, and koeksister, fried and glazed twists of dough. Food and drink is good value in South Africa because of the favourable exchange rate – all the more reason to sample plenty of the signature pinotages. The standard of wine is excellent and cheaper than in the UK. Amarula, a sweet and creamy liqueur, is another popular South African export, and for non-alcoholic refreshment there’s rooibos (red bush) tea. Food is a highlight in Cape Town, where locals and visitors flock to favourite haunts for Sunday brunches and afternoon tea.
Shopping in South Africa can be exceptionally good value thanks to the favourable exchange rates of the pound against the South African rand. Wine is particularly worth indulging in as you can get a very good bottle of wine for around £5 and you can ship a box of your favourite back home if the shipping cost works out reasonably enough. Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is the go-to spot for shopping with plenty of souvenir options from high-end South Africa designer shops to local boutique stalls for handcrafted jewellery and textiles.
GMT +2 hours
South Africa has 3 capitals: Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative).
South African Rand
Johannesburg 11½ hours; Cape Town 13¾ hours.
South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsongo, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu and English.
Visa not required for UK passport holders; 2 full clear pages together required in passport.
Electrical sockets can vary between US, UK, South African and USB plugs in hotels.
Waiters and taxi drivers should receive 10 % of the bill, unless a service charge is levied. Two Rand per bag is recommended for porters.