South Africa... our favourite places
Are you keen to find out more about the best South African holiday destinations? Here, we share our personal favourites.
A diverse country that offers the varied attractions of awe-inspiring game drives, dazzling cities and scenic winelands, South Africa is an incredibly exciting place to travel. Of course, its vast size and the variety of experiences here mean that deciding where exactly to travel to can be difficult. To help you learn more about the possibilities, we spoke to Cox & Kings' consultant Shameem Bhyat, who shared her favourite destinations in the country.
The first destination Shameem shared was Cape Town – one of the nation's most visited destinations. Celebrated for its mix of cultural and scenic attractions, this cosmopolitan city perhaps most stands out for its backdrop. Indeed, Shameem enthused about the city's setting, explaining that Table Mountain is one of its key draws. But it is by no means its only natural wonder; the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and the Kirstenbosch Gardens are just a few of the other highlights.
In terms of culture, the Cape Malay community of Bo-Kaap is an absolutely wonderful place to visit. It's delightful to stroll through this little neighbourhood, teeming as it is with brightly coloured houses and the smells of home cooking, to soak up another facet of Cape Town's diverse culture.
A tour of the peninsula also comes particularly highly recommended by Shameem, who explained a guide would take you out for a drive out from Cape Town, down the beautiful coastal road passing through quaint little towns, and on to the region's oldest vineyard, Constantia.
Plus, despite being a large city, there are plenty of smaller, more unique places to stay in Cape Town – including lodges and little guest houses, which means you are not restricted to the large hotels (of which are there many fabulous top-end possibilities).
Another firm favourite of Shameem's, the Winelands are often visited on Cape Town itineraries. After all, this wonderful region is just a 45-minute drive from the city and provides a total contrast to the busy throng of the metropolis. Its tranquil atmosphere, splendid scenery and excellent wineries combine to make for a truly relaxing stay. The opportunity to taste South African wine and explore vineyards is, as you would expect, one of the main reasons to come here – but no less important is the local cuisine, which enjoys an international reputation. "If you're a foodie, it's a fantastic experience to go to these places and sample wine and food," commented Shameem.
In terms of visiting vineyards, exploring areas like Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, which were originally settled by the Dutch, holds a particular appeal because of their wonderful history. Shameem explained that it's actually possible to take a day-long tour of four or five wineries, with lunch included. Alternatively, the wine tram, which starts in Franschhoek and runs throughout the year, offers easy travel to a selection of the major wineries, including Rickety Bridge. This hop-on, hop-off tram gives you the freedom to spend as much or as little time at each winery as you like.
Shameen also effervesced about Babylonstoren, a working farm in Franschhoek which has converted former labourers' cottages in luxurious accommodation. Ideal for relaxation, this property allows you to pick your own fruit and vegetables, enjoy fine wines and cuisine, and take leisurely cycle rides over to the nearby dam for idyllic picnics at sunset.
The Garden Route
A popular addition on South African itineraries, the Garden Route runs from Mossel Bay all the way to the Eastern Cape. Contrary to what most people believe, the Garden Route is actually quite far from Cape Town – approximately a five-hour drive. However, Shameem explained that it's easy to break the journey up with a stop at one of the many wonderful towns en route. A particularly good option is Oudtshoorn, which is a great place to spend the night – especially thanks to local attractions such as its ostrich farms and the Cango Caves.
The Garden Route itself is fantastic for travellers who love the great outdoors. To reach the beginning, you'll drive through scenic mountain passes before making your way along rugged coastlines and around rainforests. The varied, wild scenery makes for exciting exploration, as well as memorable hikes and bike rides. Fantastic beaches enhance its appeal – especially stretches of sand like Noetzie Beach in Knysna, which is ideal for walking (be mindful it's not suitable for swimming).
Self-drive experiences fit particularly well with the Garden Route; Shameem recommended self-drive because it offers the freedom to explore this immensely exciting and picturesque region exactly as you please.
Situated about four hours east of Johannesburg, Mpumalanga is a region of significant natural beauty. This is a place liberally sprinkled with canyons, fascinating rock formations and waterfalls, while its proximity to the Kruger National Park makes it a great base for wildlife spotting too. Indeed, Shameem suggested visiting the two destinations together, noting that it's possible to stay within the Kruger National Park itself and travel the 20-25km to Mpumalanga – or vice versa – to explore.
For stays in Mpumalanga, the town of Hazyview is ideal. Sitting on the region's Panoramic Route, it offers glorious scenery and proximity to some of the finest local attractions, many of which can be found in Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve. Home to simply astonishing scenery, this dramatic canyon provides spectacular viewing points, such as the atmospherically named God's Window, and unusual rock formations in the Bourke's Luck Potholes.
Mpumalanga is also home to a cheetah breeding centre, botanical gardens and much more of interest for those with a passion for the natural world. Indeed, even the journey from Johannesburg to Mpumalanga is dotted with treasures. For instance, en route you can call in at historic Dullstroom, where the Dutch settlers landed in the 1800s. Imbued with a charming village atmosphere, this laid-back destination has a distinctly European feel, and is a wonderful spot for fishing.
Shameem's final favourite destination is KwaZulu-Natal – another vast area of South Africa. Highlighting Durban in particular, she explained this city is brilliant for beach breaks, not only being home to scenic stretches of sand, but bays that are actually safe for swimming too.
Also one of South Africa's major ports, Durban is a historical city too – so there are certainly more than beaches to enjoy here. Indeed, it also possesses a large Indian population, which, combined with its coastal location that produces excellent seafood, makes for a wonderful culinary culture. Indian-influenced meals combine with fresh catch from the sea to make a real treat for the taste buds.
There are also some fantastic relaxing spots nearby. The town of Umhlanga, which is just to the north of the city, is home to the wonderful Oyster Box – one of the finest local hotels, and is a charming place to round off your trip. And for those who like the sound of soaking up more culture before flying back to the UK, a visit to the Anglo-Zulu Battlefields, which lie within KwaZulu-Natal, can be including on your itinerary.
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