South Africa is a country of contrasts, having undergone significant changes in the past two decades. From being a pariah state to becoming a popular tourist destination, the “Rainbow Nation” offers a diverse range of attractions. Its landscape is a beautiful blend of colors, and the country boasts of some of the most unique and diverse attractions in the world. If you’re planning a romantic getaway, South Africa is the perfect destination for couples looking for adventure, relaxation, and a taste of culture.
From world-class shopping malls to shanty towns, leafy suburbs to amazing game reserves, world-class wines to home-brewed township beers and city slickers to witchdoctors, South Africa offers intriguing glimpses of both luxury and life in the raw. Couples can choose from adventure, safaris, fine food and wine, spas, or just walking and cycling together.
Not only is South Africa dramatically beautiful, nearly everyone speaks English. And whether you employ a car and driver or strike out on your own journey of exploration, you can be exploring a market in Soweto one day and watching lions in a game reserve the next.
Combine a little romance with a wildlife experience by starting your journey being whisked from Johannesburg’s Tambo Airport to The Palace of the Lost City, part of the Sun International group that has upmarket hotels and resorts around the country. The ultra-luxe resort features 338 rooms, all with a distinct African theme, and lavish architecture – think Middle Eastern style meets African chic, surrounded by botanical gardens, streams and walking trails. Guest activities include balloon game safaris, golfing on two Gary Player- designed courses (look out for the crocodiles at one of the water hazards), gambling at the casino or swimming at an artificial beach with its own wave machine.
The Palace is one of five hotels within the Sun City resort, a two-hour drive from Johannesburg and close to two of South Africa’s best malaria-free wildlife reserves; the Pilanesberg National Park and the Madikwe Game Reserve. For anyone not wanting to take malaria medication to visit the Kruger National Park, this is the next best thing.
Pilanesberg National Park is the fourth-largest in the country; a melting pot of terrains in the crater of an extinct volcano. It’s home to populations of lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo (Africa’s Big Five) and so much more. Don’t be deceived by the somnambulent hippos: they are among the most dangerous of all wild animals. Early morning and dusk are the best time to spot most animals, so game drives are usually scheduled for super-early and then again in the late afternoon, often stopping for a traditional gin and tonic as the sun sets. But remember to keep your windows closed when you get back to Sun City. The local baboons – and there are plenty of them – have been known to enter rooms and cause havoc.
Johannesburg has been demonised as crime-ridden, but has cleaned up its act recently and is well worth a few days of any visitor’s time. It’s a big sprawling city, ugly with its slag heaps of gold mine residue, but still the richest city on the continent. Here you’ll need either a hire car or a driver, and a knowledgeable local guide would be invaluable.
Downtown is rough and ready with market stalls, many vandalised and deserted buildings and piles of rubbish. It is, however, fascinating to explore the witchdoctors’ stalls offering off-the-street consultations and visit shops selling traditional muti or medicines. In contrast, you’ll find massive shopping malls in the northern suburbs (with all the global brands represented), while the The Maslow – a hotel in the upscale suburb of Sandton – is a very good base, with one of the country’s best spas on site.
It would be foolish to miss out on a day in Soweto, now home to cafés and bars, and even B&Bs offering a unique experience.The ultra-modern Gautrain links downtown Jo’burg with the northern suburbs in just a few minutes, but you’ll probably need to take an organised tour to Soweto. With many local businesses having invested heavily in tourism, the most- visited parts of Soweto are very safe, including Vilakazi Street – the only thoroughfare in the world to have been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Dr Desmond Tutu).
In contrast to what you might expect, Soweto is home to malls, upwardly mobile suburbs and world-class football stadiums (FNB Stadium, aka Soccer City, aka The Calabash, was the venue for the 2010 World Cup final), although there are still plenty of shanty towns, known as “informal settlements”. Must-do Jo’burg activities include the Apartheid Museum to discover South Africa’s shameful past; and a meal in one of the world-class restaurants in Nelson Mandela Square. Recommended is The Butcher Shop & Grill, where some of the steaks are big enough for two to share. Another part of the pulsating city not to miss is the resurgent Maboneng precinct, close to downtown. It’s alive with cafés, bars, art galleries and vibrant young people of all creeds and colours.
Multicultural Cape Town, a long drive or a two-hour flight from Johannesburg, is a spectacularly beautiful city that sits at the intersection of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, under the watchful eye of dramatic Table Mountain. With its Mediterranean climate, vibrant multicultural lifestyle, beautiful beaches (although the water can be cold) and pretty villages and gardens, it’s not to be missed.
Travel to the top of Table Mountain by cable car to enjoy spectacular views, visit hip beaches like Clifton, lunch in busy Sea Point, check out the colourful Muslim quarter of Bo- Kaap and sample the nightlife and many different ethnic eateries after hours in busy Long Street.
The bustling V&A Waterfront is famous for its al fresco dining, shopping and free entertainment. It’s home to The Table Bay, a legendary hotel, which enjoys a waterfront location at the centre of the action. The hotel serves arguably the best high tea in the country and a selection of African fusion dishes at its Camissa restaurant, and also runs some fascinating urban foraging experiences.
Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was the most famous prisoner, is just a short ferry ride away from the Table Bay. Take advice from locals and book well in advance as the tours can be oversubscribed. There are also 17 different wine regions within an hour or two of Cape Town – including the very chic Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl – while many visitors like to head out of town to do some whale watching on the Cape Peninsula, or take a drive for a few days along the beautiful Garden Route to Port Elizabeth.
Wherever you go in South Africa you’ll find tremendous value.
NEED TO KNOW – SOUTH AFRICA
Before traveling to South Africa, it is important to check the visa requirements for your country. Some countries may require a visa, while others may be able to enter visa-free for a limited period. Currently, Australians do not need a visa for up to 90 days (holiday purposes). Check Smart Traveller’s website here to keep up to date.
South Africa has a high crime rate, so it is important to take safety precautions when traveling. Avoid walking alone at night, keep valuables out of sight, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
The currency in South Africa is the South African Rand (ZAR). It is recommended to exchange currency at a bank or authorised exchange bureau, as rates may be better than at airports or hotels.
South Africa has 11 official languages, with English being the most widely spoken. However, it is always helpful to learn a few basic phrases in the local language, such as isiZulu or isiXhosa.
South Africa has a variety of transportation options, including buses, taxis, and trains. It is important to research the safety and reliability of each option before choosing.
When planning a trip to South Africa, it’s important to keep in mind that the climate can vary greatly depending on the region you’ll be visiting. From the warm subtropical climate of the coast to the hot deserts and humid highlands, each area has its own unique weather patterns. Additionally, the southwest region experiences a Mediterranean climate, while the mountains can even have snow on their peaks. Be sure to research the climate of your specific destination and pack accordingly for a comfortable and enjoyable trip.
South Africa is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including the famous “Big Five” (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo). It is important to respect the animals and follow all safety guidelines when viewing them in their natural habitats.
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