The ‘Rainbow Nation’ is all things to all people – and even that description doesn’t come close to the reality of what is one of the most captivating countries in Africa. Whether you’re a foodie, safari aficionado, wine buff, photographer, art ethusiest or history buff – you’ll find that South Africa offers all of these experiences and more. In the same trip, you can spend time with meerkats in the desert or go shark-cage diving. You can track the Big Five or relax with a superb glass of wine as the sun sets over the vineyards where it was made. There is no set itinerary for exploring South Africa – rather be guided by your interests. Your luxury South Africa safari starts here!
- Relax with a superb glass of wine as the sun sets over the vineyards where it was made
- Feel the Kalahari breeze in your hair while on horseback
- Stroll along the cobbled streets of Bo-Kaap and learn about the colorful nature and architecture of the locals
- Join a professional guide to track black rhinos on foot at Phinda Reserve
- From June to November, spot southern right whales, which come to the Cape to mate and calve
- Meet the world’s most northly penguins on Boulder Beach
Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the world’s great cities, from its unbeatable location between two oceans and an iconic mountain, to the many attractions and diversions it offers. If you’re a foodie, or you enjoy wine, you’ve come to the right place – Cape Town has some superb restaurants (several with Michelin stars and international reputations), while the award-winning vineyards of the Cape Winelands are a stone’s throw away. As a cosmopolitan crossroads, Cape Town has a fascinating history and has played a key role in the history of South Africa. Just offshore is Robben Island (most famous former inmate: Nelson Mandela), SA’s answer to Alcatraz. A short escape from the city brings you to Table Mountain (take the cable car!) or the rugged beauty of the Cape Peninsula.
South Africa has an enviable climate, not least when it comes to growing grapes. The Cape Winelands produce superb reds and whites, and frequently outshine more established wine-growing areas. Winemaking here is a blend of tradition and innovation (witness South Africa’s own homegrown varietal, Pinotage). The traditional towns of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are attractions in themselves, with lush golf courses and many wonderful small art galleries and restaurants that specialize in pairing local wines and produce. Many of the wine estates offer tasting tours and are close enough together that several can be visited in a single day (hire a driver).
South Africa’s Eastern Cape offers a wide range of topography and experiences, from lush tropical forests to uninhabited desert expanses, you’re sure to find the adventure you’re looking for. Take a hike through some of South Africa’s finest trails that wind along the province’s coastline through water-filled landscapes. One of the many jewels in the crown of the Eastern Cape is Shamwari, a family-friendly game reserve with remarkable wildlife and a very welcoming and inclusive approach to safaris. Shamwari has also made valuable contributions to conservation initiatives and to preserving the rich cultural heritage of the people of the Eastern Cape.
South of Cape Town, this historic settlement is the perfect place for nature lovers wanting to escape from the city. Nature reserves such as Grootbos offer luxury accommodation where the sea meets the sands and give you the chance to explore a unique dune ecosystem. You’ll also learn more about the Cape Floral Kingdom – the unique species of plants collectively known as fynbos are found nowhere else on Earth. Hermanus offers both land and water activities and is perhaps best known for whale-watching (both from boats and the shore). From June to November each year, southern right whales pass this way, often very close to shore. Hermanus hosts a Whale Festival every September and the town even employs a Whale Crier who announces sightings.
Jozi, as it’s known, is a result of the gold rushes of a century or more ago. It sits on top of some of the world’s richest deposits of this precious metal, and as a result, has attracted quite a cast of characters down the years. Today, it’s arguably Africa’s most energetic and vibrant city, and a hotbed of arts, culture and especially music. While the city may be a relatively recent creation, humans have lived in this area for millions of years, as the fascinating fossil discoveries from the nearby Cradle of Humankind have shown. Johannesburg definitely justifies a stopover during your safari itinerary – a tour of the township of Soweto is essential for anyone who wants to understand modern South African history. A cycle tour of the city is one of the best ways to take in the street art, music and even stop for a coffee.
The Kalahari isn’t a true desert – it receives just too much rainfall each year to qualify. It is, however, a unique arid ecosystem of rolling dunes, isolated mountain ridges and thorny scrub which – although it may appear inhospitable – provides a home to many rare, specially adapted species. One of the best places to experience the “green Kalahari” is in the vast protected area of Tswalu. Think incredible stargazing and evenings around the campfire, with walks and game drives in search of remarkable creatures such as pangolin and aardvark. The Kalahari is further proof of the sheer variety of landscapes and habitats within South Africa – one country composed of many different regions and offering almost every experience under the sun.
The Kruger National Park is synonymous with wildlife viewing, but it’s the adjoining private reserves of Greater Kruger that offer the very best safari experiences. Chief among these is the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, formed over 70 years ago by visionary conservationists who wanted to preserve this very special ecosystem. Today, Sabi Sand features some of South Africa’s best-known luxury safari lodges (think ultimate safari chic, superb cuisine and above all, exceptional wildlife experiences). The area is known for its prolific leopard sightings – in fact, there’s nowhere better in southern Africa to see these elusive predators. Greater Kruger also features the other members of the Big Five, and extensive security measures have been put in place to ensure that this area is a safe haven for the most threatened species, including rhino.
The province of KwaZulu-Natal has a little of everything: dramatic coastline, the beautiful undulating hills of the Midlands, and remarkable history. If you’re looking to experience the diversity of South Africa’s wildlife, you’ll find yourself drawn to private game reserves like Thanda and Phinda which preserve an incredible range of habitats from forests to grasslands. These unique ecosystems add up to an incredible world of potential when it comes to going on safari. Phinda is home to a magnificent variety of wildlife, including the entire Big Five, but is best known for its large population of the elegant cheetah and the endangered black rhino, both of which are less easily spotted at other game reserves. Two major influences on the character of “KZN” are the warm waters of the Indian Ocean (there are awesome dive sites here) and the proud heritage of the Zulu people – both are worth exploring.
Madikwe is a remarkable conservation success story. Located in South Africa’s North-West Province, against the border with Botswana, it was only founded in 1991 on what had been farmland. Operation Phoenix saw hundreds of wild animals relocated to this new reserve, and they have thrived. Today, it’s a flourishing ecosystem, known especially for its population of rare wild dog. There is even the famed “Madikwe Super Seven”, which includes wild dog, cheetah, as well as the Big Five. It’s a completely malaria-free area, which makes it ideal for families with young children. Madikwe can be reached by air or road (it’s about a five-hour drive from Johannesburg), and offers a number of accommodation options that allow you to encounter the wildlife of the area at close quarters. By visiting Madikwe, you’re helping to generate more conservation good news from Africa.