By Jessica Russo
What do you picture when you imagine South Africa? Of course, it's you want to see the Big Five animals - I mean, you are in Africa - but there is so much more to this dream of a country.
Close your eyes and picture a pink-orange sunset over the shimmering sea, feel a lion’s pride when you climb to the top of a rugged mountain, and hear the patter of street drummers as you wander through colorful outdoor markets. Taste the smooth flavor of local wine on a mountainside vineyard, or the smoky tang of sizzling braai while you dance with friendly locals.
Feel your eyes widen at the bright turquoise water, home to seals, penguins, and yes, the great white shark. Yes, safari is amazing, but there is so much more to see and do. Where unspoiled nature meets history, art, and adventure - that, my friends, is South Africa.
Spend the day soaking up the African sun with a cold drink in-hand, or dance it up at a fun beach party! South Africans are all about laid-back fun on the coast. Some of SA's most beloved beaches are:
• Muizenberg, Cape Town - yes, the one with the cute little colored huts!
• Camps Bay, Cape Town - the fan favorite, hands-down
• Bloubergstrand - the one with insane views of Table Mountain from the sand
• Hermanus, Western Cape - the best place to spot whales!
• Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal - a stone's throw from Durban
• Clifton 4th, Cape Town - Clifton 3rd, an awesome gay beach, is right next-door
• Boulders Beach, Western Cape - wait, did someone say this beach is filled with a huge colony of adorable African penguins?!? Yup.
Sip the day away while gazing out at soaring mountains and rolling vineyards. Be sure to try South Africa's signature wine, Pinotage, which boasts a smooth oaky, smoky flavor. Don't know which vineyards to visit? Consider these areas:
• Stellenbosch - a fan favorite for its beautiful scenery and adorable surrounding university town
• Franschoek - home of the Huguenot Memorial!
• Paarl - yummy wine and a pretty nature reserve
From Cape Town to Johannesburg, South African cities are jam-packed with tons to see and do. Here are a few must-see sights in SA's most beloved cities:
• Cape Town: Table Mountain, Bo-Kaap, Camps Bay, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Lion's Head, V&A Waterfront, Long Street, District Six Museum
• Jo'Burg: Cradle of Humankid, Apartheid Museum, Soweto, Mandela House
• Durban: Durban Botanic Gardens, North Beach, Indian District
Natural Thrill Rides
Are you an adrenaline junkie? If so, the Rainbow Nation is the perfect place for you. The best part? You'll be alongside nature the whole time. Scare your mom with these heart-pounding adventures:
• Shark Cage Diving - Gansbaai, Cape Town
• Hiking - Lion's Head, Table Mountain, Cape of Good Hope (Olifantsbos), Whale Hiking Trail, Blyderivierspoort, Skeleton Gorge - just to name a few.
• Ziplining - Western Cape, Garden Route, Pilanesberg Game Reserve, Cape Town
Culture, Sports, & Music
South Africa is highly diverse in every way. Immerse yourself in the colorful culture of the Rainbow Nation, a vibrant land of tribal tradition, artistic spirit, die-hard rugby fans, and music that makes even the most shy person break into dance.
• Paint your face and go to a rugby match! In Johannesburg? Catch a match at Ellis Park Stadium. Pretoria? Cheer your loudest at Loftus Versfeld. In Cape Town? Newlands is your best bet.
• South Africans love music - listening to it, playing it, and dancing to it. Keep your ears open for the soothing beats of djembe drums and marimba!
• Visit and/or volunteer at townships. Although it has progressed since the end of apartheid, inequality and poverty is still widespread in this developing nation. When visiting townships, keep in mind that residents are not actors or museum subjects. They are real people living their day-to-day normal lives and tourists must be respectful. Don't just point and take pictures - get active! Bring supplies, help the community, and learn all about life and culture in South African townships. The most-visited and most historic are Soweto near Johannesburg and Langa near Cape Town.
• Street Art - Cape Town and Johannesburg are filled with artistic masterpieces. The cities serve as canvases and works usually convey peaceful or political messages.
Ya' know those jaw-dropping sights that make you say whoa? These are those sites:
• Cape Peninsula/Cape of Good Hope
• Table Mountain
• Robben Island
• Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Johannesburg & Beyond:
• The Drakensberg
• Cradle of Humankind
• Tsitsikamma Forest
• The Blyde River Canyon
• Victoria Falls - While not technically in South Africa, many tourists tack this massive waterfall onto their itineraries. This bucket-list Wonder of the World is located on the Zambezi River, between Zambia and Zimbabwe - a hop, skip, and a jump from SA!
Sugar, spice, and everything nice! South African cities have recently become culinary capitals - especially Cape Town. Try these local foodie favorites that'll leave you begging for more:
• Biltong: umami-rich dried and spiced meat (usually made from beef, kudu, or ostrich)
• Bobotie: a traditional dish of spiced minced beef or lamb, egg, curry - sometimes raisins, apples, or apricots for some sweetness!
• Bunny Chow: a Durban-born favorite, this dish is now loved throughout the country. Think: a soft bread-bowl filled with curry, vegetables, and various meats.
• Chakalaka and Pap: can you get more South African? I don't think so. This spicy vegetable dish, usually served with bread (pap), is a main side dish at any braai (BBQ)!