There is no perfect place on Earth, they say. But “they” haven’t visited South Africa, the Rainbow Nation. Yes, the country has its struggles, but for the traveller in search of natural beauty, wildlife, wide open spaces and variety at all levels, South Africa is one of the most gratifying destinations I know.
THE NATURAL BEAUTY OF SOUTH AFRICA:
Land of mind-blowing diversity and contrast by excellence with no one place resembling the other, it fascinated explorers way before it grabbed me and was the object of numerous wars and invasions over the centuries. The Portuguese, the Dutch, the English, who does not want a piece of South Africa?
To begin with, this is where you shall find some truly exceptional sites. South Africa is bathed by the waters of two Oceans. The warm currents of the Indian Ocean meet the cold currents of the Atlantic in Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. This alone is a magical encounter.
Consider this: in South Africa, you can travel in few hours from the seaside to the mountains, leaving behind Durban and its beautiful shores to go high up into the Drakensberg. If wildlife is what you’re after, then you’ll be happy to know that the Kruger National Park can be reached within 4 hours’ drive from Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa.
An overnight in the park is recommended as the animals usually come out to be seen early in the morning and isn’t it quite a start of the day to drink coffee while watching a giraffe sipping from a pond?
Half way between Durban and Cape Town is the Wild Coast, also known as the Transkei region. This side of the country reveals unique, wild and rugged beauty. A memorable experience here is horse riding: there is nothing like a hearty canter on an almost deserted beach having the Ocean by your side.
Coming from a European city, the vastness of the horizon is simply stunning and gives an incomparable sense of freedom.
Another place that stole my heart is the Karoo desert. People wondered why I liked it there: “But there’s nothing in the desert”, I heard. Indeed. Nothing but the endless sky reaching out to the permanent redness of the infinite land.
This is where you truly learn to appreciate the elements, their strength and moods. This is where you can truly see them, as complete and raw and immense as they come.
And then there’s Cape Town. Welcome to the place with an interminable range of things to see and do. Whether you feel adventurous and active or simply want to take it easy, chances are you will not run out of options.
Drive on the scenic Chapman’s Peak and spend the day at the Cape of Good Hope discovered by Bartolomeo Diaz in 1488 – you will be blown away, not only because the winds are ferociously strong. Hold on to your hat!
WINE TASTING TOUR:
Do a wine tasting tour (or two) and let your taste buds enjoy the richness and pure delight of the South African wines. Cape Town is not exactly short of wine farms: rumour has it there are some 900 within four hours’ drive distance.
The closest and best known (but also the most crowded) are Groot Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, but don’t be limited by these choices when there are so many others.
If soaking in as much sun as your skin can handle is your goal, Cape Town doesn’t lack beaches either. Clifton 1, 2, 3 or 4 or Llandudno are the most popular ones.
Don’t miss the opportunity however to hike up the Table Mountain and watch the sun set from Lion’s Head – the views offered by these vantage points are a treat for the eyes.
Why not try your balance at surfing while you are there? The waves of the Atlantic are not always friendly for the beginners, but in Muizenberg you might just be able to stand on your surf board and ride a mild wave. It’s exhilarating.
Cape Town will also dazzle you with its variety of food choices. It seems as though all corners of the world have gathered here to put their flavours together and make a feast. South Africans may hang on to their braai and biltong, but they are lucky to have access to mouth-watering dishes that reflect its mixed identity.
A step into South Africa is a step into its past. One cannot and shouldn’t overlook history when in South Africa. In the suburbs of Johannesburg, the Soweto township deserves a detour, not only to see Nelson Mandela’s House, but also because this is where the uprising against the apartheid started and proceeded to shape much of the country’s socio-political landscape to date.
Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town is another compulsory stop and an emotional one to that. South Africa will teach you to value the meaning of freedom.
South Africa is a country in full transformation. It has come a long way in a short time and it’s fighting for balance. It has a long journey ahead to truly become the perfect country, the country that I dream of.
Yet the fact remains that South Africa is an interesting place that stands out from all others, an ideal holiday destination and a country for everyone to discover.