Why South Africa?
Famous for its diversity and all year-round good weather, South Africa is a top safari destination for the western traveller. But why is it so popular? It is well priced, the most diverse African country in terms of cultures and natural biomes, its nature is superbly special, sporting some of the best guiding on the earth, and a totally unique cosmopolitan city crammed with wonderful wines, scrumptious foods and local delicacies!
1. Cheap: Every time the not so illustrious Jacob Zuma opens his mouth the economy of South Africa makes a plunge. The travel industry is acting as a buoyancy tank for the nation's coffers. Over 2017 the Rand slowly decreased in value and therefore the adventurous Brit is able to get more for the mighty Pound. For £600 per person per night in South Africa you can get pretty much the best of the best in terms of safari. In East Africa (where the dollar is used) you are lucky to get anything near that high standard for the same amount.
2. Rich Historical & Cultural: South Africa is both culturally and historically interesting. There are officially nine languages and tribes that live there. Their cultures are far more ‘westernised’ than the rest of the African sub-Saharan nations. The chance to see the transformation to post-apartheid South Africa is a perplexing, insightful and a moving experience. Seeing where the hero Mandela changed such horror into a land of colour and freedom is something extraordinary. One of my favourite areas of South Africa is Zulu Land, where battlefields from both the Zulu and Boer Wars are found. Countless extraordinary things happened in this area and there are many historical adventures to discover.
3. Landscapes and Habitats: Due to its location on the edges of so many different land and oceanic areas, there is an odd and wonderful diversity to the habitats and landscapes in South Africa. Where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic at the Cape Agulhas there is a spectacular convulsion of marine wildlife, natural storms and fun (AND PENGUINS!!!). There is also the whale migration that is pretty cool. There is the wonderful fynbos coastline with thousands of species of specifically adapted flora and fauna that enjoys the rough salty coastal winds. This forms the majority of the well-known ‘Garden Route’. There are the two deserts that meet, The Kalahari comes right down from Botswana and the Karoo that covers much of southern South Africa. They meet and create a great expanse of natural desert. Here you find a very interesting environment, you'll find specially adapted animals that can live in these harsh conditions. For example, I have never seen lions with such big feet (turns out they pant through their pads). Attached to this is the Namaqualand wild flowers, an unreal density of pronking springbok and insane wild flower carpets. Then there is the Highveld plateau carved up by canyons, waterfalls and rivers. It is the home of the famous Kruger National Park and some quality agricultural land. The panorama route is a good place to go with the family. Huge views, wildlife and activities. If you are a young family, you can even do a totally malaria free safari in South Africa in the northern reserves such as the Madikwe or the Waterburg. Phinda and its ancient sand forests create an oasis full of endemic bird species found in the Kwazulu Natal region. The list goes on….
4. Wildlife and Guiding: The wildlife of South Africa is fairly similar to the rest of the African safari destinations. Depending on where you go will influence what you see entirely. If you want to see specifically leopards, you should go to the Sabi Sands, if you want to see Elephants you could look at Addo, if you like cheetahs I would suggest Phinda, if you want to see Pangolin (rarest and most wonderful creature on the earth) go to Swalu in the Kalahari. I am a secret birder and therefore would go to somewhere secluded on the panorama route. It is important that if you have a specific interest in a particular animal then let your consultant know and they will find the perfect lodge for you. The guiding is South Africa is of a specific standard that you rarely find anywhere else. South African guides are FGASA trained. This is a very long and hard course that requires serious dedication. Therefore, guides in South Africa are often a little bit nerdy! They spend their time off exploring the nature of different areas with fellow guides rather than going home to see their despairing families. They know far more than we think. Geology, astronomy, taxonomy, animal behaviour and history of human habitation is just a few of the niche things you should ask your guides about when on safari. Annoyingly they know it all, but in a nice way. One of my favourite safari experiences was when I had just seen a leopard and her cub playing around in a tree as the sun went down. On the drive, back to the lodge the guide stopped and told us a story about the stars that were out in force. A wonderful reminder of how safari isn’t just about the wildlife.
5. Cape Town, The Dream City: Cape Town is a huge attraction to anyone. A buzzing city full of young people starting new and exciting companies. The city has a feeling of excitement reverberating all around. From Table Mountain to the penguins on Boulders Beach, the surfing to the wineries, the shops on the waterfront to the gardens of Kirstenbosch, Robben Island to Kloof Street, it has a compendium of awesome activities for everyone who visits it. There are so many ways to explore this great city. I believe one of the best ways is just talk to a local and see where is fun and avoid the crowds. There are plenty of secrets left over.
6. Scrummy Food: What we often find an issue with Africa tourism is that we book people into a very good safari destination and yet the food is below par. The wine list is a little limited. Well, this doesn’t happen in South Africa. They are so up to date with modern cuisine. They are leading the charge with healthy, fresh and adventurous foods. This is all backed by the great wines of Franschoek, Stellenbosch, Constantia and so many more. South African wine is taking the world by storm. Good wine and food is available throughout the hotels, lodges and camps at a good price.
Why South Africa? It’s wonderful and fun for anyone. Some people are snobby about South Africa and it's commercial tourism. I think this is a huge credit to the country. The tourism is efficient and everyone who visits loves it and goes back. That’s why we, the British travel consultants, sell it more than any other African country.