South Africa travel guide, including map of South Africa, top South Africa travel experiences, tips for travel in South Africa, plus where to see whales and wil
South Africa's defining characteristic is its breath-taking diversity. As well as the Big 5 in Kruger (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalo and rhinos), safari enthusiasts can spot hippo in the Limpopo River, whales off Hermanus and penguins at Boulder's Beach, Cape Town.
Like its wildlife, South Africa's landscapes vary dramatically from the heights of the Drakensberg mountains to the subtropical KwaZulu Natal coast, from the flowering Cape to the vast Karoo semi-desert in its heartland. And with an excellent network of highways, good public transport and clearly marked hiking trials, South Africa is one of the easiest countries to explore on the African continent.
South Africa also has a rich range of cultures and peoples – a fact often obscured by the Apartheid's attempt to categorise in black and white. With 11 official languages, it truly is the Rainbow Nation. So even if you've visited before, you'll have many more South Africas left to see.
Sleeping over in South Africa’s national parks is cheap and a great way to experience them early in the morning before the crowds arrive. A real gem is the self-guided Cape of Good Hope National Park Hiking Trail.
Most visitors to Cape Town pile into tourist buses and head straight to Cape Point’s funicular for the photo opportunities. Instead, go slow with the 33.8km two-day Cape of Good Hope Trail, with overnight accommodation in one of three basic cottages. You’ll be rewarded with a fragrant flower trail and secluded beaches on your way to the iconic Cape Point lighthouse.
Although generally pleasant and sunny, the best time to go varies by region. The Cape and the Garden Route have a Mediterranean climate. Summers (November to March) are warm and dry (24-27° C); winters (June to August) are mild and moist (7-18° C).
Nearly everywhere else in South Africa, summer sees the most rainfall, with the east wetter than west. If you are visiting subtropical KwaZulu-Natal it is best to avoid December, February and March, which are particularly humid.
Big-game viewing is best in winter, when the malaria threat is also reduced. Whales can be spotted off the west and south coasts from June to November. The flowers in the western Cape are spectacular in September.
If you spending New Year in the Cape don’t miss the colourful Kaapse Klopse (Cape Ministerial Carnival), which runs for a month from 2 January. South Africa’s oldest and biggest arts festival – the National Arts Festival – is held from late June to early July at Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape.
Cape Town (CPT) is 20km from the city. Johannesburg (JNB) is 25km from the city. Also Durban (DUR), Port Elizabeth (PLZ) and Bloemfontein (BFN).
South Africa’s major towns are served by an excellent internal air system. On popular routes, tickets can be only slightly more expensive than a bus ticket.
Travelling by train in South Africa is very slow – Johannesburg to Cape Town takes 29 hours. But overnighting can be glamorous on the famous Blue Train or equally luxurious routes offered by Rovos Rail. If you’re planning a long stay in South Africa, want the freedom of a car but can’t face the long drive between cities, consider using an intercity train which allows you to transport your car. Be warned, security can be an issue on some trains.
Buses and coaches are efficient and cheap. South Africa’s roads are perhaps the best maintained and connected on the continent. Car hire is widely available and a little cheaper than in Europe. Driving is on the left-hand side of the road. Potential hazards include other drivers, animals on the road in rural areas and car-jacking in urban places.
South Africa has a wide range, from backpacker hostels and B&Bs (Bed en Ontbyt in Afrikaans) through to upmarket safari lodges and 5-star hotels. Accommodation tends to be cheaper in South Africa than Western Europe and the USA but more expensive than the rest of the continent.
Self-catering cottages and apartments can be an affordable option. For decades the homes of poor black South African were hidden from tourists but since the end of the Apartheid, a number of township B&Bs have opened, giving you a different way to experience South Africa.
South Africans are great meat eaters with barbecue (braai) and stews being popular. Other dishes to look out for include Malay-influenced food in Cape Town (eg. bobotie) biltong (dried meat) boerewors (sausage) and game.
Surrounded by two oceans, South Africa is great for seafood. Look for the SASSI (Southern Africa Sustainable Seafood Intiative) sign in restaurants to ensure that the seafood is sustainably sourced.
Fruit and vegetables are of a high standard and though South Africa is a meat-loving society, most restaurants will have vegetarian options and most major towns will have at least one vegetarian restaurant. Mielie pap (maize porridge), eaten with stew, is the staple of most of the population. South Africa’s wines are superb, its beers unmemorable.
Tap water is generally safe in South Africa’s cities. However, you should stick to purified water in rural areas. The worst health hazard you're likely to encounter is the sun.
Most of South Africa is malaria free, although there is a seasonal risk (October-May) in KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Public hospitals are fairly well-equipped in most urban areas and private hospitals are of an excellent standard.
South Africa has had its fair share of crime but most travellers visit without incident. Limit the risk of being mugged or car-jacked by keeping valuables out of view, car doors locked and windows rolled-up. Also, bearing in mind the country’s high HIV rate, travellers should take precautions.
The dark days of Chad’s Zakouma National Park saw its wildlife poached to near extinction, but now the animals are returning, its reputation is on the up. Mark Stratton investigates for Wanderlust... More
A finalist at last year’s Wanderlust World Guide Awards, Ashraf Masoud explains why a guide’s work is never done in Egypt – at least not when they keep finding new wonders… More
Calm your nerves by visiting one of these striking places around the planet, bathed in shades of turquoise, cyan, dark and bright blue... More
15 August marks the 250th anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte's birth, meaning 2019 is the perfect year to explore the French emperor's birthplace, the islands on which he was exiled, in Europe and beyond... More
Whether navigating great rivers, winding round remote islands in search of endemic wildlife or crossing continents in the wake of great explorers, these adventure cruises are sure to float your boat... More
Wondering where to see elephants in the wild? Read expert advice on spotting elephants in national parks and rehabilitation sanctuaries around the world... More
Kenya's Masai Mara is among the world's most famous locations to witness increasingly rare and dramatic wildlife encounters. Find out what to see, and when... More
From jostling floating markets in Thailand to islands made from reeds in Lake Titicaca, these incredible attractions are colourful, uplifting and gravity-defying … and guaranteed to float your boat... More
A frozen, wild continent teeming with wildlife, Antarctica is one of the world’s most exciting destinations for travellers. But what is it actually like to go there - and how can you make it happen? More
Off-season doesn’t necessarily mean bad season. Sometimes, it's worth putting up with less-than-perfect weather for low prices, unbelievable wildlife encounters and incredible natural phenomena... More
Want to see the ocean's gentle giants for yourself? Take your pick of the best opportunities to see whales in the wild waters of Iceland, Canada, Mexico and beyond - with trips running all year round... More
Lush, green and teeming with wildlife, the world’s rainforests are the lungs of the earth. They are havens of biodiversity, and offer some of the last great adventures on the planet... More
Liberia’s coastline hides some of the most spectacular stretches of sand on the planet, let alone West Africa. But can it overcome a traumatic past to attract the travellers it deserves – and needs? More
Tucked away in some of the most remote corners of the planet, from Ecuador to Cambodia, Australia to the Arctic - these beautiful, isolated hotels are the best way to truly get away from it all... More
Regal and majestic, spotting a lion in the wild is the highlight of any safari. Jonathan and Angela Scott, the Big Cat People, reveal the very best places to in Africa to see them... More
Plan your timing wisely and your wildlife experience could be enriched by the presence of tiny (and unbelievably cute) animal offspring... More
Bright, sunny and exuding a warm, cosy glow, these golden destinations are guaranteed to bring a little sunshine into your life... More
Uncover the best destinations to travel to in August, for warm weather, natural wonders, cultural highlights, once-in-a-lifetime wildlife watching experiences and longer-term trips... More
From rock-hewn cities to Welsh castles; mountaintop temples to island prisons, we celebrate the UNESCO-listed wonders that make the world a more cultured place... More
Filmmaker Karina's documentary BLUE is about the crisis in our oceans, and how to stop it. Here, she shares where she took her camera crew, and what they uncovered along the way... More
Wanderlust subscribers now receive a free £50 voucher valid on trips from a great selection of top tour operators
And the best bit is, this isn't a one-off offer, you get one every time you renew as well!
The £50 discount can be redeemed against one trip booking with one of our tour operator partners, by the expiry date printed on the voucher. The £50 can even be redeemed on top of any discounts our partners are already offering, ensuring Wanderlust subscribers get the best deal possible.
Simply quote your unique voucher code when booking to claim the discount. This offer is only available to Wanderlust subscribers.
UK subscribers automatically receive the voucher each year. Overseas subscribers receive it upon request.
From: £8970.00More …
From: £2115.00More …
Cox & Kings Travel
From: £2575.0000More …
From: £1740.00More …
Sign up today for free and be the first to get notified of new articles, new competitions, new events and more!