In a land of plenty such as ours, where endless landscapes, white beaches, mountain peaks and abundant game await exploration, it’s not easy to select the top five South African tourist attractions. Yet in a world ever pressed for time, priority is key and a list of must-sees will be the basis of any planned visit.
Cape Town, meet the Mother City
The sweetheart of African destinations, the Mother City will demand a lingering look at her cosmopolitan mix of locals, diverse offerings and beautiful beaches. Iconically marked by Table Mountain, one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the world, as well as Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 19 years of his incarceration. With internationally renowned restaurants, craft beer and the Winelands producing the fine fruits of the vine, its a gastronomic delight. Markets such as the Biscuit Mill, the V&A Food Market and the Oranjezicht City Farm Market feed the appetite for local produce. Creativity commands attention as it finds you wherever you look. Over the past decades Cape Town has reinvented herself, and the world is invited to share in all she has to offer.
Kruger National Park and its abundance of game
Africa conjures up images of lion, elephant and rhino, rightly so as this is their natural home with no trip to South Africa complete without a safari. As the oldest established wildlife park, dating back to 1898, The Kruger National Park is the place for this. Home to the impressive Big 5, hippos, cheetah, giraffe, zebra and much more. Game viewing can be done by self-drive on the well-marked roads, or from one of the private reserves within the park. The joy you will get when spotting these animals in their natural habitat is indescribable, surreal and humbling. Whether its opulent luxury in the bush that you seek, middle mark game lodges or a camping site from which to take in the peace and quiet, you will find it here. After all, its those animals we are after. Connect with AMADI for help with these arrangements.
Mapumalanga’s panoramic route
An area of extreme beauty and natural phenomena, the panoramic route will take you from the town of Graskop to the southernmost point of the Blyde River Canyon, the third biggest canyon in the world. Lowveld attractions include magnificent lookout points at God’s Window, Wonderview and the Three Rondawels. The incredible Bourkes Luck Potholes, deep cylindrical cavities formed by thousands of years of water erosion at the confluence of the Blyde and Treur Rivers, are a gift from nature.
The old mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest deserves a visit. Established during the heady days of the gold rush in the late 1800′s and the whole town is now lovingly preserved as a national monument with restaurants and good shopping. The tumbling waterfalls of Berlin Falls and Lisbon Falls can be visited near Hazyview. Wherever you base yourself, there are day trips and circular routes that can be planned. There are bananas and giant avocados for sale next to the road, as well as craft and pottery that you will want to squeeze into your hand luggage. The area is easily coupled with your Kruger visit.
Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg, reaching for the clouds
The Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg mountain range stretches the entire length of KwaZulu Natal’s western boundary and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. An area known for hiking trails, bird watching, game viewing, horse trails and some of South Africa’s oldest rock art. There are 4×4 trails, quad bikes to be hired, horse riding and even trout fishing and white water rafting on the Tugela River. Its an outdoor lover’s paradise.
Important to point out the Royal Natal National Park, Cathedral Peak, Champagne Castle and Monk’s Cowl. Karkloof Canopy Tour offers a unique eco-wilderness adventure that involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 meters above the forest floor. Sounds a little scary, but being in those trees with the birds and whispers of wind is truly special.
The foothills are scattered with boutiques hotels, lodges, farm stalls, craft brewers, cheese makers, weavers and artists. This is where Ardmore Ceramics came to life, a proudly South African export. The imposing peaks blend into gentle rolling hills and there is a charmed and relaxed pace of life here.
Soweto, feel the pulse
A name that conjures images of a sprawling township with a volatile history and home to over 3,5 million people, this is where much of the struggle against Apartheid played out. It certainly ranks amongst one of the most important and interesting sights in the country and is today a mixture of affluent and poor suburbs which pulse with life, vibrant music and theatre. Emerging fashion and pretty much the coolest kids to be found.
When visiting Soweto it’s certainly worth taking a guided tour to bring the history to life. For example, the only street in the world to house two Nobel Peace prizewinners is here. Vilakazi where both the late former president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once lived. Soweto covers a huge swath of land, over 90 square miles, so it’s easy to get lost in. Not that you should be deterred by that fact. Consider one of Lebo’s Soweto Bicycle Tours. Or if you’re not quite up to a bike ride, a cool Tuk-Tuk can be booked. For the adrenalin junky, a bungee off the Orlando Towers will get that heart rate up. Whichever way you opt to do it, Soweto will touch your heart and soul and offer a better understanding of South Africa.
Not one for limiting the pleasures of travel and exploration, my advice would be to start with these, but only with the very clear understanding that South Africa is a country of diversity, as rich and full-bodied as a complex red wine, bursting with soul and asking to be savoured. One that you won’t want to leave. Allow some extra time to deviate from the route.
* This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.
** Pics sourced.