What to see? | South Africa

 

Johannesburg

Jo'burg, or Jozi as it's more commonly known, is without a doubt the great big beating heart of South Africa, and has long played a Jekyll-and-Hyde role in the global consciousness. Often the stage on which the epic of this extraordinary nation has been played out, the colossus of Jo'burg, with all its thrills and foibles, is today a fascinating, multitudinous city, where all the ups and downs of 21st-century South Africa can be witnessed in three, multicolour dimensions. In the past, the city's darker personality proved the most enduring and might be considered dangerous. It is advisable to visit one of the black townships that surround the city like Soweto, the largest of all with their houses, cottages, bungalows and several references to the Apartheid regime. From Johannesburg we can go to Gold Reef City and learn more about the gold mines, one of the great riches of the country, along with diamonds. A few kilometers away you can also visit Pretoria, the administrative capital of the country.

 

Cape Town

Good-looking, fun-loving, sporty and sociable. If Cape Town was in the dating game that's how her profile would read. The Mother City of South Africa occupies one of the world's most stunning locations, with an iconic mountain slap-bang in her centre. As beautiful as the surrounding beaches and vineyards can be, it is the rugged wilderness of Table Mountain, coated in a unique flora that grabs everyone's attention. Complementing the mountain's natural beauty is Cape Town's eye-catching way with design and colour in everything from the brightly painted façades of the Bo-Kaap and the Victorian bathing chalets of Muizenberg, to the contemporary Afro-chic décor of the many excellent guesthouses, restaurants and bars. The city is crammed with galleries displaying amazing artworks and shops selling wonderfully inventive craftwork. It's also getting a reputation as the fashion nexus of South Africa. In Cape Town area may not be game parks on Kruger's scale, but there are plenty of great wildlife-spotting opportunities, from the penguins at Boulders to the antelopes, buffaloes and black rhino at Solole Game Reserve. The restaurants and bars compare favourably with those of other cosmopolitan cities. There's a lively cultural scene, particularly when it comes to music, which pervades every corner of the city, and if outdoor activities and adrenaline buzzes are your thing, you've come to the right place.

 

Garden Route

The Garden Route is perhaps the most internationally renowned South African destination after Cape Town and the Kruger National Park, and with good reason. Within a few hundred kilometers, the range of topography, vegetation, wildlife and outdoor activity is breathtaking. Roughly encompassing the coastline from Mossel Bay in the west to just beyond Plettenberg Bay in the east, it caters to all kinds of travellers and all manner of budgets. You can hike in old-growth forests, bike through wildlife reserves, commune with monkeys, chill-out on superb white beaches and canoe in lagoons. Most travellers visit Oudtshoorn while traversing the Garden Route.

 

Durban

Stretching along a swathe of butter-yellow sand, South Africa's third-largest city offers a lively seaside holiday. The beachfront, with its multi-km stretch of high-rise hotels and snack bars, remains a city trademark, and the city centre, peppered with some grandiose colonial buildings and fascinating Art Deco architecture, throbs to a distinctly African beat. Home to the largest concentration of people of Indian descent in the country, Durban also boasts the sights, sounds and scents of the subcontinent.

 

Drakensberg

The tabletop peaks of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg range, which form the boundary between South Africa and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, offer some of the country's most awe-inspiring landscapes. This vast 243.000 hectare sweep of basalt summits and buttresses are so recognizably South African that they've become tourist-brochure clichés. The Drakensberg is usually divided into three sections, although the distinctions aren't strict. The northern Drakensberg runs from the Golden Gate Highlands National Park to the Royal Natal National Park. Harrismith and Bergville are sizeable towns in this area. The central Drakensberg's main feature is Giant's Castle Game Reserve, the largest national park in the area. Northwest of Giant's Castle is the Cathedral Peak wilderness area. The towns of Bergville, Estcourt and Winterton are all adjacent to the central Drakensberg. The southern Drakensberg runs down to the Transkei. This area is less developed than the others, but is no less spectacular.

 

Kruger National Park

Try to imagine a national park the size of Israel, with huge tracts of acacia, sycamore figs and bushwillow interrupted by open savannah, rushing rivers and the occasional rocky bluff. Now fill it with lions, leopards, elephants, Cape buffaloes and black rhinos (the Big Five), plus cheetahs, giraffes, hippos and many species of smaller animals, and you'll start to have some notion of what it's like to visit Kruger National Park. The park has an extensive network of sealed roads and comfortable camps, but if you prefer to keep it rough, there are also 4WD tracks, and mountain bike and hiking trails. Even when you stick to the tarmac, the sounds and scents of the bush are never more than a few meters away. Southern Kruger is the most popular section of the park, with the highest animal concentrations and the easiest access. Kruger is at its best in the far north. Here, although animal concentrations are somewhat lower, the bush setting and wilderness atmosphere are all-enveloping.

 

KwaZulu-Natal

Rough and ready, smart and sophisticated, rural and rustic, KwaZulu-Natal is as eclectic as its cultures, people and landscapes. It has its metropolitan heart in the port of Durban and its nearby historic capital, Pietermaritzburg. The beaches along this coast attract local holiday-makers, and to the north is Zululand, home to some Africa's most evocative traditional settlements and cultural sites. The region also boasts alluring national parks and isolated, wild coastal reserves. The province's border in the far west, the heritage-listed uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountain range, features awesome peaks, unforgettable vistas and excellent hiking opportunities.

 

Kalahari Gemsbok National Park

One of the largest protected areas in Africa where one can observe the antelope's migration. The landscape is classified as semi-desert, but is richer than it looks and hosts a large population of birds, reptiles and small mammals; also vegetarian animals feeding predators such as black-manned lion, cheetah, leopards, wild dogs, hyenas, jackals and foxes. The best time to visit is in June and July when the weather is cooler and the animals move through the dry river beds.