South Africa's wildlife sanctuaries fall into three main
categories: nature parks, private and national game reserves.
Nature parks are not so much noted for their wildlife as their
scenic beauty, walking and hiking trails. The majority of
private reserves are located on the western border of the Kruger
National Park and there are others in northern KwaZulu-Natal and
the Eastern Cape. If you're really planning a safari and hope to
enjoy the true wildlife experience, it's best to contact a
wildlife tour organizer based in South Africa.
You'll discover that South Africa is so beautiful. Scenic
glories range from the lush forests of the Garden Route, to the
rolling sand dunes of the Kalahari. The magnificent Drakensberg
Mountains offer some awe-inspiring panoramas, while in contrast
there is the gorgeous countryside of the wine lands. The escape
to the wilderness of the bush is an antidote to the pressures of
urban life, while the vast prairies in the center of the country
provide a wonderful feeling of space and freedom.
Wildlife and Animal Watching [up]
More and more people are attracted by the nature and game
reserves of South Africa. The most popular one is, of course,
the Kruger National Park. Next to the Kruger Park you will find
21 national and more than 200 provincial parks. Most of the
"public" and "private" nature conservation
areas are developed for the tourist and offer accommodation and
The country is one of the best places in Africa for seeing the
"Big Five" - elephant, lion, rhino (black and white),
leopard and buffalo, in addition to cheetah, giraffe, zebra,
numerous antelope types, hippo and crocodile. South Africa also
has one of the greatest diversities of bird species in the
world. From May to August, the grass is short and game is easily
spotted. From August through to mid-October - the last months of
the dry season in most of the country - game tends to
concentrate near waterholes, which make them ideal viewing
National Parks and Game Reserves
With the greatest concentration of mammals in the world, the
Kruger National Park is a must for all safari-enthusiasts.
Kruger is host to about 8,000 elephant, 2,500 white rhino, 300
black rhino, 20,000 buffalo, 2,000 lion, 900 leopard, 250
cheetah, 4,600 giraffe, and 30,000 zebra. In addition there are
over 500 species of birds. If you do visit the park allow about
2 days for a visit and remember that anti-malaria precautions
The park caters to about 700,000 visitors a year, yet because of
its size (it's as big as Wales) and its infrastructure, it
creates an impression of unspoilt wilderness, particularly in
the less frequented northern section. The southern part of
Kruger is in Mpumalanga's lowveld and the northern part in
Northern Province. To the north Kruger shares borders with
Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park while to the east it adjoins
wildlife areas of Mozambique.
The Ndumo Game Reserve lies towards the northern border with
Mozambique, and about 470 km north of Durban. Ndumo boasts an
abundance of birds, over 60% of the 800 species found in South
Africa have been recorded here, with tropical migrants from East
Africa as well as many storks, flamingos and pelicans. There are
large numbers of hippo and crocodile although the lush
vegetation makes it difficult to spot animals like buffalo and
A visit to the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park - located 280 km north of
Durban - is definitely worthwhile, even for those who have
already seen Kruger, as the hilly topography and lush vegetation
is quite different and there's a good chance of seeing rhino.
Hluhluwe and Umfolozi (joined in 1992) were set up to save the
rhino from extinction in 1895. Umfolozi was the first park in
South Africa to offer wilderness trails - between March and
November the park can be explored on foot (or horseback) in
small groups on three-day safaris, accompanied by experienced
Situated on the Eastern Cape, 25 kms south west of Cradock, The
malaria free Mountain Zebra National Park is a sanctuary for the
rare Cape Mountain Zebra. The park consists of grasslands and
the arid Great Karoo. The Addo Elephant National Park is the
most concentrated elephant reserve in Africa, located on the
Easter Cape, 70 km north of Port Elizabeth. Some 300 elephants
are the main attraction. Also Cape buffalo, rare black rhino,
warthog, eland, kudu and various other antelope species may be
Other reserves and parks that should be included in your
itinerary are the Tembe Elephant Park, The Elephant and Rhino
Reserve, The Perinet Reserve and the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.
The renowned, safari-enthusiasts "Big Five" are
expanded to the "Big Six" in the Cape, as whales are
the big attraction for the public, especially along the south
coast of Mossel Bay up to False Bay.
The most famous whale-mecca is Hermanus, an unspoilt holiday
haven, about 100 km from Cape Town. In Hermanus a "Whale
Caller" shouts "whale in sight" to alert the
tourists. A great viewpoint is the Harbour Museum, from where
you can watch the "Southern Right Whale". Listen
carefully, and it is even possible to hear a "whale
conversation". All nature fans entranced by this coastal
belt, where the rugged cliffs offer a wonderful sighting of the
ocean and the whales. Binoculars are an absolute must. The best
time for whale watching is from August to the beginning of
Wine and Wine Routes [up]
Many people are becoming more knowledgeable about both South
African white wines, with their fresh fruity elegance and the
reds, full-bodied with a distinct bouquet. White wines lead the
market. Popular grapes are Chenin Blanc, Cape Riesling,
Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Leading red varieties are
Cinsaut, Pinotage, Pinot Noir, Shiraz and at the top of the
league, Cabernet Sauvignon, which merits being laid down for at
least 10 years.
A popular way of discovering the joys of South African wines is
on a day trip from Cape Town - either self-drive or on an
organized excursion by a local travel organizer. Devotees of the
grape however can spend several days - weeks if they wish -
finding out about the subtle differences between the various
types, as there are so many estates to visit. In all, there are
13 wine routes to explore - and 2,000 varieties of wine to
All the main vineyard areas are in the Western Cape and lie
within a relatively concentrated area no further than 100 miles
from Cape Town, broadly in an easterly direction. The drier and
hotter Klein Karoo, Olifants River and lower Orange River
regions lie further to the east and north and do not benefit
from the same Mediterranean climate.
Activities for the Adventurous [up]
South Africa is a great destination for lovers of the Great
Outdoors, not only for those going on safari but also for
adventure enthusiasts. Many South African activity organizers
can arrange some of the most exhilarating trips, from scuba
diving to surfing and from white-water rafting to whale
South Africa has some of the best and the least crowded surfing
beaches in the world, allowing experienced and inexperienced
surfers alike to find "their" beach. For beginners,
Algoa Bay and Silvic Bay near Port Elizabeth have relatively
light waves while breakers of up to three meters pound the
beaches of the west coast near Cape Town. However, the water
temperature of the Atlantic does not exceed 18° C.! The Indian
Ocean in contrast reaches temperatures of 24°C. This is where
Durban, the centre of surfing, is situated. From October to
April perfect winds prevail.
The best months for surfing are from October to April. During
this time you can expect winds around strength six on the
Beaufort scale. During the month of December you can expect a
lull in wind intensity. Average temperatures in Cape Town range
from 16°C in August to 28°C degrees in January and in Port
Elizabeth from 19°C to 25°C.
Cape Town offers the most concentrated choice of surfing spots
in South Africa. There are almost 48 spots within an hour's
drive of the city. The largest concentration is on the western
side of the Peninsula facing the Atlantic Ocean. The breaks on
the peninsula itself range from the harbor wall to the north,
down the Atlantic seaboard, around Cape Point (about 65km from
the city), up the east side to the seaside resort of Muizenberg
and beyond, and along the 40km beach that stretches all the way
from Muizenberg to Gordon's Bay.
South Africa boasts a wealth of colorful, underwater fauna and
flora with a phenomenal variety of 2,000 different species of
fish. Close encounters with whales and dolphins are possible.
The southernmost coral reef in the world is on the KwaZulu-Natal
coastal belt. Places of special interest are the various
ship-wrecks which lie off Cape Point (Cape of Good Hope).
The main types of scuba diving and snorkeling in South Africa
include Tropical Reef Diving, Wreck Diving, Cape Diving and for
the more adventurous diver - Shark Diving. The latter involves
you being lowered in a cage and seeing the sharks close up.
Sharks migrate through False Bay, at the Cape, from June to
August, and ragged-tooth sharks move into the Durban
(KwaZulu-Natal) area from October to January.
Scuba divers need special equipment and training before taking
the plunge. An alternative way of seeing the rich marine life of
the underwater world is snorkeling - all you need is a pair of
flippers, a snorkel and a mask.
White Water Rafting and Canoeing
Canoe trips and river rafting, called "Koofing" in
Afrikaans, are gaining popularity. Experience is not necessary
and children can participate as well. These activities may
involve camping overnight in the open, under Africa's
magnificent starry sky.
They can be as challenging as you choose, depending on the
river. Some, like the Doring in the Cape, are fast-flowing and
steep. Others, including the Orange River, are less demanding,
though still offering their share of thrills and spills. You
need to be fairly fit to cope with the really wild rivers, but
most swimmers can deal with the more gentle conditions. And if
you've time to look at the scenery - you'll find it as
breathtaking as the rafting.
Places of Interest [up]
Don't feel stuck in a rut when you're staying in a city or town
- in South Africa there's plenty of urban adventure just around
the corner. Indeed you're missing out if you ignore the vibrant
variety of multi-ethnic experiences waiting for you on your
doorstep. Coastal cities are beginning to realize the potential
of their harborfronts as ideal tourist destinations,
re-introducing some fascinating waterfront activities and
drawing scores of shops, restaurants, art and craft dealers,
musicians and many other attractions.
Travelers are rewarded with good value and excellent
accommodation in South Africa, including many B&Bs, guest
houses and even accommodation in private lodges and game
Cape Town - known as the "Mother City" because it was
here the Dutch established the first European settlement in 1652
- is one of the world's most beautiful cities. It is set on a
sweeping bay with Table Mountain as a dramatic backdrop.
As well as its splendid beaches, Cape Town has many tourist
attractions. The majestic Table Mountain backdrop makes Cape
Town one of the most appealing cities in the world. Table
Mountain is a World Heritage Site. Towering 300 metres above sea
level, the summit can be reached by a revolving cable car. Once
at the top, you are rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views
over the city. There's a restaurant serving meals and
refreshments and walking trails lined with fynbos plants. On the
eastern slopes of Table Mountain are the famous Kirstenbosch
National Botanical Gardens boasting over 5,000 species of
indigenous plants - a great place for a picnic.
Durban is known as the place "where the fun never
sets", a vibrant, cosmopolitan city, boasting wide, sandy
beaches, a plethora of cultural attractions, great nightlife and
a year-round sunny climate.
Built around the busiest port in Africa, Durban presents a
fascinating fusion of European, Indian and indigenous Zulu
influences. Visitors will be drawn first to the Marine Parade
seafront, with its "Golden Mile" international hotels,
wide range of restaurants, paddling pools, curio sellers,
rickshaws - and splendid beaches offering the chance to surf,
swim or simply soak up the sun. The bustle of an African market
can be discovered at Warwick Junction, where you can find the
unusual ingredients of local cuisine like okra and wild spinach.
You can also find out the secrets of traditional herbal medicine
from a "sangoma" or African healer.
Johannesburg and Pretoria
Born due to the discovery of gold, Johannesburg has grown from a
dusty mining town to become the commercial and industrial heart
of South Africa. One exciting tourist attraction is the Newtown
Cultural Precinct, part of an ambitious urban reclamation
project. Situated on President Street between Chinatown, the
Oriental Plaza and Diagonal Street, warehouses and other
buildings have been renovated to present a microcosm of South
African culture. The Workers' Museum features an extensive
photographic collection. On Saturdays the square becomes the
venue for the Johannesburg Market.
Johannesburg has a unique attraction - mine dancing, based on
the home-spun entertainment of the thousands of Africans
employed by the gold mines. To while away their free time, they
would sing and dance to their traditional music, which has a
rich historical and cultural background. Incongruously, dancers
and musicians perform in miners' hard hats and gumboots!
Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, is a
modern city built on the wealth of the Cullinan Diamond Mines.
Known as Jacaranda City because of the profusion of
mauve-blossomed trees that line its avenues, it is noted for its
exquisite gardens, historic buildings, monuments and museums.
The grand Union Buildings overlooking the city, are a testament
to bygone eras of colonial power, the apartheid years and the
freedom struggle. It was on the steps of the Union Buildings
that South Africa's first democratically elected president,
Nelson Mandela, addressed the nation on his inauguration.
Kimberley, the scene of a frenetic diamond rush when deposits of
the precious gems were found on a farm in 1871, is known as the
"City of Diamonds". Situated on the highveld at 1,198m
above sea level, the capital of Northern Cape province remains
an important hub for the diamond industry as well as a center
for agriculture. However the past is recalled with the Big Hole
and Kimberley Mine Museum. The 800 meter deep hole, dug out by
shovel and pickaxe, is the result of the frenzied excavations by
prospectors - some of whom struck it rich, while others suffered
the deep disappointment of dashed dreams. The museum houses 'the
Eureka', the first diamond discovered and '616', at 616 carats
the world's largest diamond.
Located on Algoa Bay, with its safe diving beaches, and
recording more sunshine hours than any other coastal city, Port
Elizabeth is an ideal family resort. Known as the "Friendly
City", here there's the chance to indulge in a whole range
of watersports - windsurfing, surfing, canoeing, scuba diving
and deep-sea fishing to name but a few.
Flanked by the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, this province boasts
almost 1,000 kilometres of unspoilt beaches, incredible scenic
beauty, and year-round moderate weather. The tapestry of
cultural diversity is evident in the variety of cuisine,
architecture, arts and crafts, museums and historical landmarks.
The Garden Route along this section is South Africa's most
famous holiday itinerary, running between Storms River in the
east and Mossel Bay in the west. The route runs parallel to a
fantastic, lush Indian Ocean coastline of lakes, mountains,
indigenous forests, amber-coloured rivers, towering cliffs and
long, golden sandy beaches and bays. Holiday resorts are dotted
along the way. The town of Knysna is a must see on the Garden
Route as it offers breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean and
the Knysna Lagoon. Plettenberg Bay, about 195 km from Port
Elizabeth also boasts an idyllic setting. During the main season
this is certainly the most popular holiday resort on the Garden
Route, renowned for its white sandy beaches. Early Portuguese
explorers called Plettenberg Bay "Bahia Formosa"
For more information, why not browse our on-line Bookstore
Practical Information for the Traveler [up]
Passports and Visas
Citizens from the EU, the US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada
do not require a visa for a visit for up to 90 days in the
country. All travelers must have a return ticket and should make
sure their passport is valid for six months after the intended
date of return.
How to Get There
Many international airlines including South African Airways
operate non-stop flights between many European and North
American cities to Johannesburg or Cape Town. Examples of flight
times to Johannesburg are; New York 17.5 hours, Paris, London
and Frankfurt 11 hours, Perth 9 hours. Once you're in South
Africa domestic flights connect all the key destinations.
Driving is on the left and the roads are rarely congested
outside the main cities, making self-drive holidays so easy and
Currency and Money
The currency is the Rand, which is divided into 100 cents.
Current exchange rates (March 2001) are as follows: US$1 = SAR
8; 1Euro = SAR 7; £1 = SAR 11; Major international credit cards
such as American Express, Diners, MasterCard and Visa are
accepted. However use may be restricted in small towns and
country areas and in some retail shops. Automatic teller
machines (ATMs) are situated outside most banks in towns and
cities and operate 24 hours a day.
Value Added Tax
14%, included in prices of
goods and services. Foreigners may claim VAT refunds at departure points
upon leaving South Africa
Traffic drives on the
left-hand side of the road. Maximum speed limit on highways is
120km/hour, 80km/hour on freeways, and 60km/hour in urban areas. Foreign
drivers' licences are valid in South Africa, provided that they include
a photograph of the driver.
We suggest you try the
following car rental companies;
What to Bring
During the South African summer (November to February)
light-weight clothing is the norm. In winter a jumper or jacket
may be needed, particularly in the evenings. A few places may
require guests to wear a jacket and tie or cocktail dresses in
the evening - but in most cases the dress-code is 'smart casual'
- a shirt and slacks.
Try to wear neutral colors - brown, beige or khaki - on game
drives to help blend in with the background. Also in game
reserves, put on long-sleeved shirts and trousers in the
evenings to reduce the chances of mosquito bites.
Binoculars, camera or camcorder are pretty much essential tools
of the "safari trade" - and pack plenty of spare film
and batteries. You will increase your enjoyment if you bring
with you brochures and books on South African flora and fauna.
South Africa has 11 official languages. English is spoken
throughout the land and German, French and Italian are also
spoken at some of the main hotels.
South Africa's seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern
Hemisphere, with midwinter in June and July and midsummer in
December and January. On the highveld in the interior, there is
sunshine the year round. Summers are hot and thundery; winters
bright dry and cold at night.
Cape Town and the southernmost part of Western Cape has a
Mediterranean-type climate, with mild, changeable winters, when
most of the rainfall occurs, and a warm to hot summer. Durban
and the KwaZulu-Natal coast enjoys a sub-tropical climate, again
with plenty of sunshine year round. Summers are hot, thundery
and humid at sea level. June and July, when the humidity is low,
are ideal months to visit Durban and the coast.
No vaccination certificates are required for visitors coming
from the EU, the US, Australia, Canada or New Zealand but
anti-malaria precautions are necessary especially if traveling
to the following areas: Eastern lowveld of Mpumalanga and
Northern Province, the Kruger National Park and the game
reserves in KwaZulu-Natal. Consult your doctor or your
Pharmacist for appropriate medication.
The bilharzia parasite is present in streams, rivers, lakes and
dams in some of the northern and eastern parts of the country,
so visitors should not drink from or bathe in these waters. The
Eastern Cape is bilharzia free. It is safe to drink the tap
water throughout South Africa, and health regulations control
the hygiene of street food vendors. While South Africa boasts
excellent medical facilities, visitors should ensure they take
out insurance to cover the cost of treatment should the need
Enjoy your trip!