South Africa holidays

Experience South Africa

Best Places to Visit

Cape Town, with its natural beauty, bustling city atmosphere and beautiful beaches, is one of the star attractions in South Africa. There is a broad range of restaurants and bars to be explored along with the colourful district of Bo-Kaap, great shops, botanical gardens and the likes of Clifton Beach and Camps Bay for sunbathing.

For visitors wanting to learn about the history of South Africa, Robben Island off Cape Town's coast, is a must-visit. From the 17th to 20th century, it was a place of imprisonment. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years incarcerated here during apartheid as a political prisoner. The former prison is now a museum dedicated to the history of apartheid.

Just east of Cape Town are the Winelands. Along with some wonderfully preserved Dutch architecture dating back to the 17th century, the region is known for its wine tours, with the towns of Stellenbosch, Wellington and Paarl all known for their amazing wine. There are also some great restaurants throughout the towns so that visitors can enjoy a meal with their wine.

Knysna, on the Garden Route, is one of the best places to visit in South Africa. There are many activities to enjoy here, as the lagoon is perfect for many water sports. The surrounding forests are great places for strolls and there are plenty of nice bars and restaurants to enjoy of an evening.

South Africa has plenty of wildlife to see, and Kruger National Park is the oldest wildlife park in Africa. Established in 1898, it offers some of the most amazing safari experiences as hippos, cheetah, crocodiles and giraffe can all be seen here, along with lions, rhino and elephants. It's even possible to stay in the park, with a range of accommodation options, from camping to cottages.

Hermanus on the Western Cape is a major tourist destination. One of the main reasons for its popularity is that it is the best place in the world to spot whales, particularly the Southern right whale. The best time to see these majestic creatures is August to November. However, the town is still a popular resort with a pleasant, small town vibe throughout the rest of the year.

Top Landmarks

Soweto is an important place for anyone interested in the history of South Africa. This town, just outside of Johannesburg, was the site of most of the struggle against apartheid. It's now a mix of rich suburbs and poor shantytowns that are home to some of the most vibrant music and theatre in the country.

The Drakensburg Mountains stretch around 600 miles along the length of KwaZulu-Natal's western boundary. They are ideal for hiking and bird watching, along with game viewing and trout fishing. Here, visitors can take the Karkloof Canopy Tour and zip-wire from one platform to another at heights of around 30 metres. It's also a great place to see bushman rock art. The San Bushmen, who originally inhabited the mountains left behind some stunning cave paintings, the best of which can be seen in Kamberg National Park.

The Royal Natal National Park can also be found in these mountains and encompasses the Mont-aux-Sources, one of the highest mountains in the Drakensbergs. It is the source of the stunning Tugela Falls, which tumble over 3,000 feet across five separate tiers.

Hogsback in the Amatola Mountains is another naturally beautiful spot. The lush, green landscape of this area is dotted with many waterfalls and streams that are suitable to swim in and it's popular with walkers and horse riders. Many different species of birds that call this place home.

Entertainment

South Africa has a lot to offer in the way of entertainment, from theatres and nightclubs, to live music venues and cinemas. Comedy clubs are also extremely popular and can be found in just about every city and town in the country.

Cape Town is known for its nightlife and has many big nightclubs while the Nico Theatre Centre is the performing arts hub of the city. There's an opera house, a large-scale arena and a coffee shop here. Shows are performed throughout the year, with a diverse range of genres on offer.

Maynardville Open Air Theatre, also in Cape Town, has a number of seasons, such Shakespeare and ballet, but for rock and popular music concerts, most people head to Plumstead, a venue in the city centre that has something for all music tastes.

Johannesburg has plenty to offer visitors, too. There are many bars and nightclubs, and several theatres, such as the Alhambra Theatre and the Market Theatre. For a late night, Roxy's club is well known for its rock and pop nights, often going on into the early hours of the morning.

Gambling was made legal in South Africa in 1994, and since then many small casinos have opened up. However, it's best to stick to the large ones in the major cities. Sun Coast in Durban and the Grand West Casino in Cape Town are popular spots for those looking to get lucky.

Menlyn Park Drive-In Cinema in Pretoria is a perfect place to experience a drive-in movie for those visitors who have a car.

Dining Out

South African cuisine has been influenced by British, Dutch, Indian and German foods, along with native African flavours. This has created a fusion of tastes ranging from classic British dishes to an array of spicy meats.

There are a number of local dishes to sample. Braaivleis is meat roasted in an open charcoal or wood fire. This is a common dish at social events. Potiekos is a meat and vegetable stew, cooked in an iron pot over an open fire.

Boerewors, spicy sausage, is often found in cafes and is typically served as boerewors rolls. Similar to hot dogs but with boerewors instead, this snack is topped off with a tomato and onion relish. Biltong, either beef or ostrich, dried and seasoned, is a popular dish at sports events.

Bunny chow is traditional to KwaZulu-Natal. Half a loaf of bread filled with either beef or lamb curry, it can be found in many restaurants. For dessert, melktert, a milk tart, and koeksisters, a sticky, deep-fried dessert, are both worth trying. They are good ways to round off a meal. South Africa is renowned for its wines and almost all restaurants serve this local produce.

For those wanting a taste of the familiar, British restaurants serving traditional sausage and mash can be found in most cities and Italian cuisine and American-style diners are common. The usual fast food outlets are also represented.

Beach

The Eastern Cape boasts some of the finest beaches in South Africa. East London and Port Elizabeth are best for surfing, while the west coast is known for its wilder waters but stunning beaches. Port St John's can be found here, and this reasonably undeveloped beach is perfect for swimming and lazing about in the coastal lagoons.

Romance

There are a number of eco reserves in Knysna where couples can sip champagne and watch the stars from their own private tree house before heading to one of the nearby lagoons for a dip. For those wanting a beach getaway, the wonderfully secluded Rocktail Beach in KwaZulu Natal is tucked away in the forest. The waters here are popular with dolphins, turtles and occasionally, whales.

Family

Taking the kids on a safari is a must when visiting South Africa. There are plenty of small wildlife parks that feature plenty of wildlife without having to drive for miles, and many are all-inclusive with buffet lunch, dinner and accommodation. Any of the game parks along the Garden Route are ideal. It's also possible to find malaria-free game parks so that children will not have to take malaria precautions.

Adventure

The Drakensburg Mountains are perfect for adventure, as here tourists can rent quad bikes and go rock climbing or white water rafting. South Africa is also an amazing place for scuba diving. The Western Cape is great for diving, with False Bay on the Cape Town peninsula one of the best sites. Partridge Point and Tafelberg are other well-known dive sites.

Need to know

Language

South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, Zulu, Swazi and English. Although only about eight percent of the population speaks English as a mother tongue, around 60 percent are fluent. In the tourist industry, English is widely spoken.

Currency

The official currency is the South African Rand (R). R1 is made up of 100 cents. Converting Euros, pounds sterling or US dollars can be done at any bank. The same goes for travellers' cheques. Banks can be found throughout South Africa, including in small towns and rural areas. ATMs are available across the country and accept major cards such as Maestro and Visa. It's also possible to get cash out at the checkouts of big stores. Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants, hotels and large shops.

Visas

Tourists from the EU and the UK do not need a visa to enter South Africa for up to 90 days. All that is required is a valid passport and proof of a return flight. Nationals of many other nations are granted a visa-free stay of up to 30 days while those visitors needing a visa to enter should arrange this via a South African embassy prior to travel.

Climate

The climate ranges from desert in the north-west to sub-tropical in the east. The rainy season takes place in the summer (October to January). The exception is the Western Cape. Here rain tends to fall during the winter (June to August). Summer across the country tends to be hot and humid with temperatures of around 30°C. Winter is cooler, with temperatures of around 26°C, and considerably drier.

Main Airports

There are ten international airports in South Africa. The three major ones are OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, Cape Town International Airport and Durban International Airport, with most international flights landing at one of these three key air hubs. The majority of flights from the UK land in Cape Town, although Johannesburg's airport is the country's primary air gateway.

Flight Options

British Airways and South African Airways both have daily direct flights from London- Heathrow to Cape Town. Emirates also fly this route. Both British Airways and South African Airways also fly from London-Heathrow to Johannesburg and then onto Cape Town. The average direct flight time from London to Johannesburg is 11 hours and 30 minutes.

Travel Advice

It can be cheaper to land in Johannesburg and then continue onto Cape Town. Remember to book both flights at the same time, as this can save money. There isn't really a low season in South Africa, as with each season different types of holiday are offered. However, July and August tend to see flight fares rise, so booking in the shoulder months of June and September is best.

Other Transport Options

Many cruise lines offer Cape Town as a stop or final destination, with visitors then able to fly back to their home country. Princess Cruises is one such liner. It's also possible to enter South Africa by car from neighbouring Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. There is a charge to come over the border and not all border checkpoints are open 24 hours.

Getting Around

Domestic flights are common and there are some cheap deals to be found. However, the bus is the cheapest and easiest way of getting around, with the train a good option for travelling between the major cities. The road network is extensive and car rental is easy to arrange, but it's important to shop around for the best deal.

Car

Renting a car is quick and easy. Bookings can either be made online before arrival or on-the-spot at any town, city or airport. The leading companies are Avis and Hertz, but a Thrifty Car Rental and Tempest Car Hire also have depots. Most of the roads are in good condition, however, in the more rural areas they can be poorly maintained. Driving is on the left.

Train

The national rail operator, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, runs services across South Africa. Between the major cities, there is a budget service known as Shosholoza Meyl. Then there's luxury service, or premier class, available between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. Luxury tickets cost substantially more that regular tickets but offer a more comfortable way to travel. Tickets can be booked online or at train stations.

Air

All of South Africa's international airports receive domestic flights, with frequent flights between major cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town. Mango and Kulula Airlines both offer deals and often have the lowest prices. Although South African Airlines can sometimes be pricey, is occasionally has online specials so it is worth checking.

SOUTH AFRICA`S WEATHER TODAY

Mostly cloudy °C

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MONTHS

AVERAGE RAINFALL (mm)

  • 134

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  • 100

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  • 89

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MONTHS

MAP

FACTS

  1. The Karoo region in the Western Cape of South Africa is the place to find fossils of dinosaurs. Some estimates suggest that 80% of mammalian fossils found are from this region.
  2. Cave paintings in Blombos Cave, Heidelberg, are believed to date back over 75,000 years.
  3. Table Mountain rises 1,086m above sea level and overlooks Cape Town. It only looks flat from one side and is home to the world's highest abseil at 112m high.

FACTS

  1. The Karoo region in the Western Cape of South Africa is the place to find fossils of dinosaurs. Some estimates suggest that 80% of mammalian fossils found are from this region.
  2. Cave paintings in Blombos Cave, Heidelberg, are believed to date back over 75,000 years.
  3. Table Mountain rises 1,086m above sea level and overlooks Cape Town. It only looks flat from one side and is home to the world's highest abseil at 112m high.

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