Guide to South Africa
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Last Updated on November 22, 2021 by Amy
On January 20th, we departed Cape Town after 70 days in South Africa. This was our second visit to South Africa, and considering how much we love Cape Town and the stunning wildlife available here, it has easily been a favorite stop for us in our five and a half years of travel.
This was our second visit to South Africa. The first visit was in 2010 when we visited for 10 days for the FIFA World Cup. We traveled with our friends Jon and Stephanie, and while the guys attended the US team’s first-round games, Steph and I found other ways to entertain ourselves. All the games were based in Johannesburg (Joburg), which was a great base to fly out to other parts of South Africa. Between games, we made trips to Cape Town and Kruger National Park.
This visit, we arrived via our sailboat, Starry Horizons, in Richard’s Bay on the east coast. We hopped along the coast for 70 days, visiting five cities on the coast.
We really did love our stay in South Africa. The country is stunning and has amazing wildlife and hiking – two of our favorite things to do. Everyone we encountered was friendly to us and helpful.
And South Africa is home to seven of the top 20 attractions in Africa!
South Africa’s History
South Africa today is extremely diverse. But in the past, it’s had a hard history for its naive people and slaves that were brought in. Apartheid began in 1948 and only ended in 1994. The Jim Crow laws of the states ended in the 1960s – when my parents were young. Apartheid ended in my lifetime; when I was 10 years old. There’s still huge reverberations throughout the country, with large wealth gaps and racism.
Most of the people we encountered spoke English, though surveys show that only about half the population does. There are 11 official languages, but it seems to us to be very regional – many of the South Africans we met spoke Afrikaans, but when we ventured up to Kgalagadi, we heard (and learned) some Khoe, and in the eastern coast of KwaZulu-Natal Province we heard more Zulu.
The ethnicity is primarily Black Africans, with about 9% of the population identifying as white, and 9% identifying as Coloureds (kind of an uncomfortable word for an American to use, but that’s what is accepted). We could see a lot of societal division – whenever we went to nice restaurants, the staff was entirely black, and the guests entirely white.
While we didn’t encounter any overt racism, there were a few moments where we encountered “casual racism”, much like we saw in Australia.
Safety in South Africa
Absolutely everywhere we went, South Africans cautioned us to be safe. Never carry expensive, things, don’t go out alone, and always take a car instead of walking. The only place I went out for a run by myself was in the V&A Waterfront District in Cape Town. Security officers were everywhere, even before sunrise, and I felt safe enough.
Cell Phone Service
We used Vodacom in South Africa and paid 700 Rand for 20 GB of data ($2.25 USD/GB). We had no problem with coverage, except for Kgalagadi, where there is no cell phone coverage whatsoever.
Itineraries for South Africa
7 or 10 Days
If you have a week or so to visit South Africa, split your time between Cape Town and national parks. How many days you spend in each is up to you; if you enjoy wildlife, stay longer in national parks, if you enjoy cities, history, hiking, etc, spend more time in Cape Town. Of course, you can split it evenly with four nights in Cape Town and four nights in a national park.
Check out our Cape Town post for itineraries in Cape Town.
If you can afford it, doing a higher-end overnight safari is extremely worth it. Our stay at Honeyguide in Kruger was an amazing experience, and completely worth the price. You’ll see heaps of interesting animals, though if you are looking specifically for leopards, we had more success at Wilpattu in Sri Lanka.
If you can’t stomach the price tag of a big safari, fly to Durban and rent a car. From Durban, you can drive to several great parks such as Hluhluwe– iMfolozi Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park (and the nearby St Lucia Estuary), and Maloti-Drakensberg Park. These parks all allow self-driving and can be done in one day.
In Durban, you can bike the Golden Mile or dive one of the most famous dive sites in the world, Aliwal Shoal, where you’ll find Ragged-Tooth sharks.
It’s worth noting that while on safari in Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, we met an ex-pat couple who, in their four years of living in South Africa, had visited most of the national parks. Of course, I asked them which ones they thought were best. They said Kruger for wildlife and Drakensberg for the landscape.
Three Weeks in South Africa
If you have more time in South Africa, take the above itinerary and tack on a road trip on the Garden Route. The Garden Route is a 300-kilometer portion of the southern coast that stretched from Whitsand to Storms River.
It only takes eight hours to drive from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, the far end of the Garden Route. Along the way, you can stop at great places such as Mossel Bay, Knysna, and Plettenberg Bay.
It’s a 75-minute flight back to Cape Town from Port Elizabeth.
- Gateway Guides map of the Graden Route
- Two nights at Addo Elephant Park Rest Camps
- Two days self-driving Addo Elephant Park
- 7-day Garden Route Road Trip
One Month in South Africa
Check out this amazing 30-day itinerary for a complete road trip around South Africa.
Foods to Eat in South Africa
We spent so much time in Cape Town, which is a truly international hot spot for food. We ate so many amazing meals there, although many of them are international cuisines.
However, there are plenty of delicious foods that are local to South Africa and reflect the influence of South Africa’s history: Portuguese, Dutch, Indian, and Malay.
Biltong is similar to beef jerky, though the process and flavors are different. It’s made with more fat, and, I think, a bit more flavorful. It also can come as “moist” biltong, which I LOVE!
This casserole is made from spiced minced meat with an egg-based top. It’s often served with grated coconut, raisins, or bananas.
This dish is more common on the eastern side of South Africa, due to the influence of the Indian population, especially in places like Durban. Bunny chow is when you take a partial loaf of white bread, scoop out the insides, and fill it with curry. It’s often served with grated carrots. The curry can be really spicy-hot at traditional places, but if you have it in tourist’s joints, it’s milder.
Also called red tea, Rooibos tea is made from the rooibos plant that grows in the fynbos, a flora eco-system endemic to South Africa. It is similar to hibiscus tea, with a very floral flavor, and you can get it in any coffee shop.
Inverroche Amber Gin
This unique gin was gifted to us, and it’s totally unique to South Africa – infused with the flavors of the fynbos. Try it with lemon and honey cordial. In fact, South Africa produces a lot of craft gins…why not explore more than the amber?
For dessert, malva pudding is a sweet and rich cake, made with apricot jam. It’s served warm, with a cream sauce and/or ice cream. David ate several of these around South Africa, and Willoughby’s in Cape Town was the winner.
Our Next Visit
We will hopefully come back to South Africa someday – at the very least to drive the Garden Route and see more wildlife!