This is the first African country on my blog and also my first of this great continent. I have been really blessed to have friends in this beautiful country who extended their hospitality to show their beautiful homeland. Like anyone else, I too went with some apprehensions, but I came back corrected, bowled over and a changed person with a bagful of memories.
South Africa is by far the most prosperous African nation. It has a strong Dutch influence which reflects in its language and culture. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach the tip of Africa, however it was the Dutch who were the early settlers.
The demography is rather varied. Whites and blacks are all over the country. There are two completely different scenarios found here. On one side there are opulent regions like Cape Town, Johannesburg and on the other side there are poverty stricken regions as well.
There are 11 official languages in South Africa, of which two are English and Afrikaans. Our hosts there spoke both. From what we could understand that Afrikaans is similar to Dutch though it sounded like Arabic to me. However for anyone visiting South Africa, you can very easily survive anywhere with English, which was a huge brownie point for this country.
South Africa has a total of 9 provinces and a small landlocked country Lesotho enveloped in its territory. It shares border with Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It has an envious coastline with a beautiful scenery from Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean on two sides; both meeting at Cape Point.
There are supposed to be three capital cities in South Africa. Cape Town, Pretoria and Bloemfontein. Each of them has a part of the country’s administrative and judicial centre.
The climate has huge variations and I was reminded of English Weather, where you experience many seasons in one day. My trip in the month of September came as a total surprise. I packed for a summery days and mild chilly evenings. However some days of our journey we were sitting by the fireplace in Swellendam. The north part of the country with Kruger Park in Mpumalanga was hot and dry in September with cool nights. The cities in Cape region were sunny and dry with spells of rain and cold nights.
My advice would be to pack for three seasons, hot, rainy and cold if traveling across South Africa
Having spent a fortnight there, all I can say is I long to go back and this time was not enough for this beautiful country. My trip was planned by my two wonderful friends Pru and Maggie who are born and bred South Africans. I will publish my itinerary in a separate post, however with my experience and research I do have some recommendations
You cannot miss Kruger National Park; it’s the crowning jewel of SA. Even if you are not a wildlife enthusiast (as they call ‘Bush baby’) a day is still worth in Kruger. You must definitely drive along the Garden Route. That’s one of the most scenic routes of SA. Most parts of it reminded me of driving in Europe. Reserve some days for city tours to get a flavour of urban SA. I strongly recommend Cape Town. It has stunning beaches and mountains. Your trip to SA is incomplete if you do not visit the iconic Table Mountain, one of the natural Seven Wonders of the World.
I was very fortunate to have stayed at my lovely friends’ home so got a flavour of some amazing South African cuisine. To start with the ‘Cape Malay’ cuisine is the most popular all over South Africa. We had some lovely veggie roasts, stews and the famous ‘bobotie’ (a spiced mince meat dish). We had a very interesting live barbeque of meats and veggies on many occasions. They call it ‘Braai’. There is so much of pride in the people about doing a Braai. They love their met, they love their fire and their Braai.
Not to miss some local desserts like ‘melktert’ and ‘koeksisters’; the former of which was simply delicious.
And what to say about the wines; Sigh…it’s just costs just a little more than water. SA wines are world famous. They are blessed with large vineyards and some of the best wines at mindboggling prices. You may actually become ‘wineholic’ in SA
There are great options for Accommodation in SA. You may not get lot of hostels like Europe. The self-catering places seem to be very popular and you will find lots of boards in any touristy town. We stayed in all such places and they were gorgeous for the price they were offering; plus it’s economical to make your own food. The popular Supermarkets like SPAR, Pick n Pay, and Woolworths at every corner will make life easy.
Currency of SA is RAND. The international code is ZAR (Zuid-Afrikannse Rand). Now some advice on exchange. I got a multi-currency card loaded from India and carried some USD. You can exchange in banks like ABSA, Nedbank, Standard Bank, however the exchange rate may vary. Exchange in big cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town which will be easier. We tried at some small towns where it was tough and very procedural. Also withdrawal amounts from the ATM are limited. At many places my friends from the US could not use their AMEX as well. So plan a bit ahead of time.
Ready to explore?
South Africa is a jewel. Our fifteen days were just not enough. From Kruger to Table Mountain, all I can say is that SA, you have kept me longing to come back for more.
Browse through this blog to check out some interesting write-ups and candid pictures from my trip to SA.