25 Reasons to Visit South Africa Right Now

Photo by Freeimages.com/wynand van niekerk

by Oliver Smith, The Daily Telegraph, April 27, 2016

1. Today is Freedom Day

Nothing brings home the historic transformation South Africa has undergone since the dark days of apartheid like a day to commemorate the country's first non-racial elections held on this day in 1994; elections won by the African National Congress that brought Nelson Madela to power. 

 2. The pound is mighty strong

It's not quite the dizzy heights of January, when £1 bought R24.5, a record high, but Britons can still get good returns on sterling, with a pound buying around R21. 

3. Because Cape Town is the  world’s best city ... again

So say Telegraph Travel readers. “You really can’t overstate the case for visiting Cape Town,” says Pippa de Bruyn, a  resident of the city and author of our expert guide . “First, there’s the in-your-face beauty of a craggy mountain range that drops precipitously into a glittering sea, its flanks carpeted in green. Then there’s the pristine white beaches lapped by – it must be said – a chilly Atlantic, their curves defined by giant granite boulders to bake on, and burbling mountain streams in dappled forests.” That's quite enough Pippa, you're making us jealous.

4. They’ve got the Big Five

That's lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhino, in case you weren't sure. And then there's hippo, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, meerkats, wild dogs, kudu, hyena and ostrich (including ones you can ride at Outsdhorrn)

5. You might even have a  wildlife encounter  like one of these

•  Rhino battles elephants in territorial row
•  Impala seeks refuge from cheetah by leaping into tourist's car

6. It's heaven for whale watching

Even if you stay on shore.  Mark Cawardine, the wildlife expert, explains : "This is one of the few places in the world where it is possible to watch whales from coastal footpaths, restaurants, cafés and even from the comfort of your hotel bed. Hermanus, especially, has some of the best land-based whale watching in the world."

7. It hosts one of the greatest migrations on Earth - the sardine run

Monty Halls, who wrote about the run for Telegraph Travel  last year, says: "First reported in the Natal Mercury paper on August 4, 1853, this is one of the great global events of the marine calendar. It involves vast shoals of sardines moving north along the coast of the Eastern Cape and Natal, with numbers immeasurable to man. They are pursued by anything with teeth, a beak – or a camera."

8. You can’t escape the proximity of nature – even in Cape Town

“Whether it is spotting zebra on the slopes of Table Mountain or being halted by cavorting baboons near Cape Point,” says Pippa de Bruyn. Yes, but do you have urban foxes? Thought not.

9. It’s got one of the best luxury train trips in the world

Got £800 to spare? The luxurious  Blue Train  route covers the 994 miles between Cape Town and Pretoria in 27 hours, with one stop in each direction – the fashionable old town of Matjiesfontein in the Karoo on the northbound journey, and the historic diamond-mining town of Kimberley on the journey back. Mark Smith, the Man in Seat 61, says: “Meals and drinks (and even Montecristo Havana cigars) are included in the fare, and there is an extensive list of South African wines available. You probably won’t be able to drink £800-worth before you reach Pretoria, but you can have a damn good try...”

Rovos Rail  tackles the same route in similar luxury but at a far more leisurely pace.

But there is a budget alternative...

"You can also travel from Cape Town to Jo’burg on the weekly Premier Classe train for R2,840 (£132) or on the four-times-per-week Shosholoza Meyl Sleeper for an incredible R630 – about £30," says Mark Smith. "Premier Classe passengers enjoy cosy private sleepers with three-course meals included in the elegant restaurant car and the day spent scenery-gazing in a spacious lounge with piano-bar - luxury on a budget."

•  Africa's best rail journeys

10. It has one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world

That's Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town.

As well as the world's most extreme golf hole, the 400-yard par three "extreme 19th" at the Legends Golf Course, where you hit your tee shot from a clifftop that can only be reached by helicopter. Naturally, Telegraph Travel's Charles Starmer-Smith bagged a par.

11. The wine

Lisa Grainger, author of our  essential guide to South Africa, writes: "There are more than 200 cellars within a couple of hours’ drive of Cape Town, and four main wine regions – Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek  and Wellington – in which to explore art galleries, sip wine and sample local dishes in gracious Cape Dutch estates."

12. There some incredible landscapes

Like the Valley of Desolation.

And Bourke's Luck, a rock formation in the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.

13. You can stay in Nelson Mandela's former home

Last year the private residence built for the great leader  opened to the public as a luxury holiday retreat . It's located on the Shambala Private Game Reserve, around 160 miles north of Johannesburg. Prices start at R70,000 (£3,248) per night. While this might seem expensive, the property can sleep up to 12 people.

A holiday home with history

14. Or in what might be the coolest treehouse in the world

This incredible accommodation is found at the  Lion Sands Game Reserve in the Kruger National Park . Guests are taken to the 'Chalkey Treehouse' at sunset for a picnic supper and then left to spend a luxurious night in the bush. After dark, the night air is filled with the chatter of hyenas and the occasional roar of a lion. Campers are left armed with mosquito repellent and a two-way radio.

"Lions can't climb trees, can they?"

There's also a  shoe house in Mpumalanga .

15. You can watch two oceans meet at Cape Agulhas

16. There are pristine beaches

Some of the best are found in  Plettenberg Bay, in the Western Cape, along the popular Garden Route.

Great whites are common to the area, however...  

17. They drive on the left

And signposts are generally clear and in English.

18. It's (almost) in the same time zone as Britain

So no jet lag.

19. Penguins!

Boulders Beach is know for its waddling visitors. Or go to see the seals on nearby Seal Island.

20. There's some seriously good hiking

"Ukhahlamba Drakensberg is southern Africa’s highest mountain chain, a 907-sq-mile park with spectacular views and some of the finest examples of Bushman art on the continent," says Lisa Grainger.

21. And historic battlefields

She adds: "For those with even a passing interest in history, the battlefields of Isandlwana and  Rorke’s Drift  in the northern KwaZulu-Natal interior are worth stopping at."

 22. It's great for shopping

Pippa de Bruyn says: "Cape Town has a cool urban edge, with excellent art galleries, hip bars, world-rated restaurants, design-savvy shops, and home to Africa's innovative artists and designers, drawn by the city's innate beauty."

In Johannesburg, "hip fashion boutiques and weekend markets are springing up in formerly derelict inner-city factories, particularly around Main Street," according to Lisa Grainger.

23. It has eight  World Heritage Sites

In addition to the aforementioned Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park, there is Robben Island, the Richtersveld desert, Mapungubwe, the Cape Floristic Region, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Vredefort Dome and the "Cradle of Humankind", known for its unique wealth of hominid fossils.

24. There is the world's fastest "zip slide"

Which tops out at 75mph.  It's found in Sun City .

25. And the largest cave system in Africa

The Cango Caves.

That's 25 good reasons - now start planning a trip  

The Best Hotels In South Africa View All

  • Rodwell House Cape Town, South AfricaTelegraph expert rating 8

    One of the original 1930s St James mansions overlooking the sea, Rodwell House is my favourite option on the False Bay coast, which has far more history and charm than the glitzy Atlantic seaboard (though, facing east, you’ll have to forego those Atlantic seaboard sunsets). Read expert review

    From£596inc. tax

    Check Availability

    Rates provided by Booking.com

  • La Clé de Montagnes Franschhoek, South AfricaTelegraph expert rating 10

    A privately owned five-star complex of four villas in a wine and fruit farm established by French Huguenots in 1692, in the heart of South Africa’s Western Cape winelands. Affordable luxury and privacy at its best in a village with French heritage and ambiance, in one of the loveliest valleys of the Cape. Read expert review

    From£408inc. tax

    Check Availability

    Rates provided by Booking.com

  • One&Only Cape Town Cape Town, South AfricaTelegraph expert rating8

    One & Only Cape Town is a large luxury urban resort located in the Waterfront Marina, with excellent facilities and services that include a fittingly large pool, daily children’s programme, an award-winning spa, and views of Table Mountain from most rooms. Read expert review

    From£355inc. tax

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    Rates provided by Booking.com


This article was written by Oliver Smith from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.