The Top 10 Reasons to Visit South Africa
1. Dip into the intriguing world of diamonds in Cape Town
The story of diamonds in South Africa starts with a 15-year-old boy named Erasmus Stephanus Jacobs, who happened to pick up a shiny, transparent stone on his father’s farm in 1867. As it turned out, the stone was a 21.19ct diamond (named ‘Eureka’), and the beautiful gem reshaped the mining industry, and the country, forever. By 1871 dozens of more diamond-rich sites have been discovered. Scores of fortune seekers from around the world descended on the town of Kimberley in the Northern Cape in search of their own ‘Eureka’ moments. Since then South African soils have birthed some of the world’s most celebrated diamonds, including the largest rough diamond ever found, the 3,106.75ct Cullinan diamond.
As a gift to the city, CEO and Founder , Yair Shimansky, brought the story of South Africa’s diamonds to life by creating the Shimansky Diamond Experience; a must-see tourist destination celebrating diamonds in Cape Town. Replicas of the world’s most famous diamonds are displayed alongside fascinating exhibits explaining the journey of the gems from mine to finger. Beautifully curated, and personally guided, it celebrates diamonds uniquely and engagingly.
2. Visit the Land Where Ndlovu Youth Choir Found Their Voice
When the Ndlovu Youth Choir broke out with their infectious take on Shakira’s Waka Waka (This Time’s for Africa) at America’s Got Talent 2019, they put South Africa’s Limpopo region on the map. The talented performers' stories are inspiring – they all joined the choir of a program established to help underprivileged kids to express themselves.
Their home turf is as beautiful as their voices. The province hosts some of South Africa’s best game reserves for authentic safaris. Most notable is the Kruger National Park, which was established in 1898. Untouched since then it is teeming with wildlife. Bucket list stuff is to see what South Africans refer to as ‘The Big Five' - elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, and leopard. Accommodation in and around the park (it’s roughly the size of Israel), range from 6-star private lodges to camping.
3. Sample Wines With a Difference
South Africa is classified as a New World wine region like its southern cousins Australia and New Zealand. However, the first grapes were planted in the Western Cape region of South Africa in 1655 and winemakers have spent the last 364 years perfecting their art.
The wine regions around the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are wonderful to explore. Book yourself into one of the many lodges that represent the original Cape Dutch architecture of the early days in the region.. For something a little different, try the region’s pinotage. Wine experts compare Western Cape pinotages to Southern French blends made from Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. South African Sauvignon Blanc is also a palate pleaser. They’re fresh, green and less intense than those produced in New Zealand, for example. If you’d prefer a local pro to show you the ropes, book a curated wine experience and experience the Franschhoek region aboard a hop-on and hop-off vintage tram.
4. Watch Whales Up Close
Locals of the Western Cape get pretty blasé about seeing whales cruise through their waters. These mighty beasts (humpback whales, southern right whales, and Bryde's whales) descend on the cold ocean waters of False Bay from Antarctica to calve their offspring every year.
The hamlet of Hermanus is rated one of the best 12 places to whale watch in the world. September sees the annual Hermanus Whale Festival swing into full gear and is the prime time to visit if you want to see all the action. The town hugs the coastline with dramatic cliffs making viewing of their breaching and blowing rewarding and easy even if you don’t leave the shore.
Southern Right Charters are your go-to crew for ‘boat safaris'. Their boat-based whale watching trips depart three times a day from the new harbour in Hermanus. The catamaran is kitted with refreshments, and a specialist guide will accompany you. They're experienced and trained to get close to these incredible beasts so you can shoot away to your heart's content – with your camera, of course!
5. Discover your roots at the Cradle of Humankind
Where do you come from? We're not talking about tracing your heritage; it's much bigger than that. At the Cradle of Humankind about an hour’s drive from Johannesburg, you’ll discover where our entire species emerged. The string of limestone caves is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with good reason. A large number of hominids remains have been discovered here.
The Sterkfontein Caves Tour will take you deep into the earth where the oldest human fossil ever was found. It includes a visit to the Maropeng exhibition centre where you’ll discover how humans developed. Prepare to have your mind blown.
6. Eat at the best restaurant in the world
We’re not exaggerating here, Wolfgat was awarded the status as the number one dining spot on the globe in 2019 by the World Restaurant Awards. Wolfgat can be found in a tiny fishing village called Paternoster, about two hour’s drive from Cape Town, South Africa.
The location is spectacular. The coastline and lime-washed homes have a feeling of Mykonos, only wilder. Winning chef Kobus van der Merwe is a trailblazer who serves up unique dishes inspired by the ingredients he ‘forages’ from the bush and ocean (seaweed is a regular on the menu), or sustainably and locally sourced. Both fresh and salted seafood abound on the menu, but carnivores won’t be able to resist the scrub-fed lamb. You’re guaranteed to have your mind stretched and your taste buds awoken at this 20-seater spot.
7. Walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela
As South Africa's most beloved and celebrated icons, numerous sites pay homage to Mandela around the country. But none of them are as confronting and interesting as a visit to Robben Island.The island is close to the shore of Cape Town, and it’s where ‘Madiba’ spent more than two decades, with other political prisoners. Many of the tour guides are former prisoners.
A ferry trip takes you to the shore where you’ll be guided through the historical sights, ending with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell. The 7-by-9-foot room was his home for 16 of the 27 years he was imprisoned. Mandela’s legacy will be evident throughout your trip to South Africa, but it was here that the spirit of reconciliation and harmony was born.
8. Sleep on Table Mountain
If you're looking for different things to do in Cape Town, look up! Table Mountain is aptly called because it literally looks like a table top, complete with clouds that spill over it like a tablecloth when the South-Easter wind picks up. The rock dominates the city of Cape Town, and you’ll be itching to summit it from the moment you land. The cableway is the way to experience without breaking a sweat.
For the more adventurous, instead hike your way up (always with a trained guide, the mountain can be treacherous), and then huddle down for the night at the Overseers Cottage.The self-catering, renovated cottage can sleep up to 16, and guarantees to serve up incredible stargazing.
9. Learn to scuba dive in Sodwana Bay
The Eastern coast of South Africa hugs the Indian Ocean. At one of the most Northern points of the country is Sodwana Bay. Warm water, tropical sea life, and white, sandy beaches are the signature of this off-the-beaten-track spot. Just a few hour's drive from Durban and you'll find yourself in paradise. The weather is lovely all-year-round, so make a pit stop here and earn your scuba license while you explore the underwater delights that South Africa has to offer.
10. Meet the elephants!
The Garden Route is one of the most beautiful drives on offer in South Africa if you’re in for a road trip. It stretches from Mossel Bay to the Storms River. The Elephant Sanctuary in Plettenberg Bay is a highlight. The sanctuary offers hands-on experiences with elephants, and it's simply an unforgettable way to learn about them while supporting the rehabilitation and care of the species. If interacting with an elephant is something you never dreamed of doing, it's time to change that.