“Be safe… and have fun!”
It didn’t matter whom I told that I was going to South Africa. As soon I gave them the great news about my upcoming trip, the first utterance from their lips was some kind of well-wish for my safety. It caught me off guard, since all I could focus on was the wonders I was about to see for the first time: the array of animal life of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the renaissance of Johannesburg’s coolest neighbourhoods, the emotional leftovers of not-so-distant history in Soweto… and just all the biltong I could stomach.
Upon arrival, I quickly realised how much my fellow travel addicts deserve - rather, need - a lesson on dispelling myths. So here I go, truth-telling on some of the most common questions travellers have before visiting South Africa.
Yes, you can be safe in South Africa
Certainly, you should be careful in South Africa, whether you’re in rural areas or cities. Don’t flash your money, use suitcase locks, and look after yourself. But you’d get the same advice if you were taking a European holiday! The advice I always give travellers who are hesitant to book a trip to a new destination is to join a group. Tour travel is one of the most efficient ways to travel, full stop. But if you join a group for a South Africa trip, you’ll expand your cohort (aka have more people to help be alert) as well as others who will help you understand and experience the true beauty of this country. I travelled with a group, accompanied by impeccable tour guides, and we were unanimous in our thinking that everyone we met was open to share a story, proud yet humble, funny and generous with a smile, and overall very welcoming… even when we took too long to stage the perfect Instagram snap!
Every photo was worth our time in Maboneng, Johannesburg.
Bang for your Aussie buck
Of course, being able to stretch a dollar matters when you’re planning an international holiday. As it happens, the South African rand is much weaker than the Australian dollar, which means that your dollar will go far. In fact, when it comes to purchases like coffee, drinks, and dinner, South Africa is a cheaper investment than Bali! At specialty souvenir markets, you’ll be able to haggle prices down (ask for the South African local discount). Even the cost of a 5-star hotel will wash out cheaper in the end than a 5-star hotel in many Asian countries.
An outstanding menu for an outstanding meal at Epicure by Chef Coco in Johannesburg.
Body, at ease
Another major consideration travellers often have (and should have) before departing for an international trip is if they need to take health precautions. Before a trip to South Africa, you should make sure you are up to date with your tuberculosis shot and it’s recommended that you get a typhoid shot. But luckily, other shots protecting you from malaria and yellow fever aren’t necessary. Plus, the water is absolutely fine to drink from the tap. Doesn’t knowing all of this already make you feel better?
I am happy to report that there were hardly any mosquitoes or flies in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park!
A family destination indeed
First of all, what child who watched The Lion King wouldn’t want to see these magnificent creatures in real life?! I was young when the original film came out and I was in awe when I saw a “Simba” and even a “Timon” for the first time. But the appeal for families reaches beyond the impressive national parks. Every African nation can tout its history in the formation of the world and humankind as we know it. But South Africa really takes the crown when it comes to encouraging families to learn and explore. The Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in Maropeng is a wonderland for history. In a few numbers, 48% of the world’s hominid findings came from the 15 caves that make up Cradle of Humankind, including “Mrs Ples,” a 2.3-million-year-old fossil. The Maropeng Visitor Centre brings visitors through the very beginning of the world to modern day, detailing in hands-on exhibits how the planet formed, how humans evolved, and what our future looks like. It’s interactive, innovative, and extremely engaging for visitors of all ages!
Taking an underground tour of the Sterkfontein Caves in Maropeng.
There are still hidden gem to discover
Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban are the three most well-known cities, and of course there are the bucket list-worthy nature reserves like Kruger National Park and Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site. But ask a local and they’ll tell you that there are hidden gems waiting for you to visit! Clarens is a must-visit for art aficionados. This small town has been called “The Jewel of the Free State.” The landscape is a work of art itself, but the town boasts world-class art galleries and restaurants. And Cape Town is the beach city most akin to Sydney, but even within this well-trodden city lie secret beaches: Buffels Bay Beach, Diaz Beach, and Sunset Beach top many locals’ lists.
Of course, the classic tourist paths are mesmerising! These giraffes modeled for us at Fugitives Drift, KwaZulu-Natal.