A trip to South Africa delivers the best of both worlds: stunning nature (beaches, safari, waterfalls) and urban adventures (architecture, history, cuisine). Add the friendly people, and you’ve got the makings of an unforgettable trip.
Here are some South Africa highlights to inspire your visit, including major mountains and splash-worthy beaches, street food and world-class cuisine, must-see Cape Town, must-visit history, and all manner of animals — cute, cuddly, furry, and ferocious.
1. The wide, soft sand at Boulders Beach near Cape Town is the only place in the world where you get close to African Penguins. A ridiculously adorable population of 2,000 and 3,000 penguins waddle, paddle, and float in the clear water and among the large granite boulders lining the shore.
2. Visit the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town. A short walk from the city center, these iconic homes date back to the 1760s, when huurhuisjes (rental houses) were leased to enslaved people from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Africa. Then, the houses were required to be white. Now the homes are owned by freed people who painted them bright colors to express their freedom. This historic district is well worth a visit to explore Islamic shrines (kramas), shop the craft markets, and discover the delicious Cape Malay cuisine.
3. Take in the view of Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain. Wreathed in moody clouds or standing proud in the bright sun, this flat-topped mountain is practically a mascot for the city. You can hike the area or ride a cable car to the top. Can’t get there just now? Here’s a virtual ride.
4. Sweet, sweet treats like melktert — creamy custard with a touch of cinnamon in a tender pie crust (recipe) — and Koeksusters — braided strips of dough, deep-fried then dunked in a sweet glaze — are the perfect afternoon snack break.
5. The sunrises and sunsets in South Africa are pretty hard to beat.
6. Every year after the winter rains — during August and September — Namaqualand becomes a rainbow carpet of wildflowers. The Namaqualand Flower Route stretches through the small towns of Garies, Springbok, Kamieskroon, and Port Nolloth.
7. South Africa is a treasure trove of pristine beaches with stunning views. Sandy shores, pristine waters, and sensational scenery. The title Blue Flag beach is awarded to beaches that are clean, well managed, environmentally conscious, and safe; some even provide educational services. South Africa offers 46 Blue Flag beaches from the West Cape to East Cape and in between.
8. South African cuisine serves up delicious comfort food that combines indigenous ingredients and recipes, plus the influence of Dutch, French, and Indian flavors. A crucial word for you to know? Braai. That’s a South African barbecue, probably on a Sunday afternoon, with meats (including the sausages called boerewors) grilled over wood with chakalaka — a spicy relish made of peppers, onions, carrots, tomatoes, and baked beans seasoned with curry — on the side.
9. Two words: Majestic waterfalls.
10. South Africa has been producing wine since the 17th century, when the first vines were planted by the Dutch in Cape Colony. Today, the two most important wine regions are found around Stellenbosch and Paarl. You can sip reds (Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot), Chardonnay, and crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
11. If you’ve ever wanted to go on a safari, South Africa is an excellent place to do it, especially if you want to see the Big Five: African lions, African leopards, black rhinos, African elephants, and Cape buffalo.
12. Two more words: Bunny Chow.
13. All aboard the Blue Train for a posh two-day trip from Pretoria in the north to Cape Town in the south. While indulging in five-star service, you’ll glide through scenic desert, mountains, and vineyards.
14. Nelson Mandela was an anti-apartheid leader. In 1963, he was given a life sentence in prison for terrorist activities; he was released from prison in 1990 after the fall of Apartheid. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, and on April 27, 1994, he voted for the first time in his life. Thirteen days later, he was elected South Africa’s first Black president. Learn more about Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Museum and visit the likenesses that honor him in Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg and Cape Town city hall.
Top image courtesy of Tobias Reich/Unsplash.
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