South Africa is a land of contrasts. It has a diversity of cultures and the land itself echoes this. From the fishing villages dotted on the coast, to the semi-desert of the Karoo, the majesty of the Drakensberg Mountains and the breath taking scenery of the mother city, Cape Town, you will be spoilt for choice for spectacular sights on your visit.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means and everyone will have their own favourites, but these are some of mine:
1. Cape Town
I am a proud Capetonian, having been born there and gone to school in the city so it has to be no 1 on my list. It really has everything you could want in a holiday destination. If you are looking for white beaches to catch the rays or surf, a vineyard to wander through sipping a glass of wine, a mountain to climb then Cape Town will not disappoint. The world famous Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens are also a great option for a day out in the city.
I love visiting the quaint seaside villages of Kalk Bay and Simonstown. Kalk Bay is still a working fishing harbour and there is nothing nicer that eating fish and chips in one of the restaurants or buying a freshly caught fish from the boats. Boulders Beach Nature Reserve is also high up on my list and the wacky penguins will keep you suitably entertained as they waddle to and fro. The Cape Point Nature Reserve which is also the same side of the peninsular should not be missed. The views from the top of the point are awesome in the true sense of the word. Cape Town also offers a host of wonderful restaurants and markets for foodies to enjoy.
2. The West Coast or the Flower Route
Just after the winter rains for about 2 months, the semi-desert area of Namaqualand becomes a carpet of flowers. Don’t miss this! It is just as beautiful as the lavender fields in Provence. If you are unable to plan a trip around this time it is still worth a visit as the coast is still beautiful. Try and spend a couple of days in Paternoster, a white washed fishing village where you can indulge in freshly caught fish, crayfish and mussels straight off the rocks.
3. The Garden Route
You will be seduced by the sheer natural beauty of this drive. The 200 km stretch includes George, the Wilderness, Sedgefield, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay and ends in the Tstisikamma Forest, a magic world of ferns, birdlife and giant trees. The sandy beaches, lagoons and cliffs are worth taking the time to explore. For those of you who are adrenaline junkies drive the extra 26 km to the Bloukrans River Bridge to bungee from the highest commercial bungee bridge in the world.
4. The Karoo
This area is a vast semi-desert region best known as big sky country. You really can see for miles. The region is dotted with small villages and a few larger towns. Windmills adorn the landscape like solitary sentries guarding the secrets the land has to offer.
One of these gems is the town of Matjiesfontein, just off the N1 between Touws River and Laingsberg. Visiting here is like stepping back to a bygone era. The town was established in 1884 on the main line between Cape Town and Johannesburg. It was also a popular spa in the Victorian Era. It was declared a National Heritage site in 1975. For a taste the past this is living history at its best.
5. The Drakensberg (Ukhahlamba) Mountains
The Drakensberg mountain range is the highest in South Africa. It has a rich plant life and rugged peaks, forests, waterfalls and rivers abound in the mountains. It is one of the World Heritage sites found in South Africa.
The area is divided into 3 regions, southern, central and northern, each with their own unique beauty. The mountains are littered with San rock art sites featuring around 35,000 images. Over the years I have visited much of this region, but my favourite remains the northern area. The Amphitheatre is a cliff face that is 5 km wide and 1200 m tall. The scale is immense and you feel totally dwarfed by its majesty. There is a chain ladder to climb to the top of the escarpment for the hikers amongst you. This is worth doing as you will be rewarded with unforgettable views.
6. Kruger National Park
No visit to South Africa would be complete without a trip to the Kruger National Park .This is one of the world’s greatest national parks. The vast number of animals makes it a unique and special place. The iconic safari animals or Big Five can all be found here. The scenery changes as you move from the south to the north of the park. The southern part is my favourite with granite outcrops and the Lebombo moutains dominating the scenery and offers a variety of habitat for the animals of the park.
I could go on and on. I love South Africa, even with all its problems. It doesn’t have many old buildings, or quaint olde ye worlde cobbled street villages, but it does have so much to offer. It is a beautiful country. I have travelled extensively, in fact 33 countries at the last count, so apart from being a little bit biased I think that I am qualified to make this judgement call. Once you start exploring you will find much to like and you will hopefully return to delve a little deeper into its splendour.
Janine from Gastrotravelogue is a wine swilling 50 something South African foodie who loves travelling. She has been travelling since long haul flying meant a stop somewhere in the middle of the night to refuel! Who remembers that? Her favourite quote is one by Mary Ritter Beard: "Travel is more than the seeing of sights, it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of the living".
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