Safari, exotic animals, Zulus, football, rugby, extreme sports, incredible beaches, parks, hotels and restaurants of the highest quality, some of the best wines in the world and an overwhelming history. These are just some of the ingredients that have transformed a country associated, until recently, with aperthaid and street violence, in one of the most coveted tourist destinations of the world. And since the onset of the 2010 World Cup is around the corner, we give you 10 reasons to visit this African country, in the remaining time between watching the football games.
- Kruger National Park
Considered a veritable heaven, for thousands of years, for South African hunters and gatherers, Kruger National Park has become one of the largest and best-known natural reserves of the world. With an area of 18,989 square kilometers, the park has a length of 360 kilometers from north to south and 64 kilometers from east to west. A huge and exciting stretch, where tourists can liberally witness the spectacle of wildlife. Besides, one of the most popular clips ever posted on YouTube, “Battle at Kruger”, was recorded right in this national park.
No less than six ecosystems are found throughout the reserve, where can be found 1982 species of plants, 517 species of birds, 147 species of mammals (including the 5 Africa’s giants: the lion, the elephant, the rhino, the leopard and the african buffalo) and 114 species of reptiles, including 3000 crocodiles. At Kruger are also found 350 african wild dogs, a species of which there are less then 400 copies on South African territory. The park also owns a huge “family” of elephants, about 12,000 copies, despite the fact that the reserve cannot sustain than 8,000 such mammals.
Kruger National Park is also one of the most popular tourist destinations of South Africa, being endowed with 21 rest camps and 15 cottages for safari enthusiasts.
- The biggest baobab in the world
The South African natives believed that the baobab offended the Creator; therefore he planted the tree upside down. If you’ve ever seen a baobab, especially in winter, when its branches, like some huge roots, ascend to heaven, you will certainly understand what the ancient Africans were saying. Baobab is a solitary tree, with a gigantic trunk, which can live for thousands and thousands of years, perfectly adapted to the African environment. The tree we’ll talk about today is found in the small town Modjadjiskloof, in the north of the country, and is one of the main attractions of Limpopo municipality. Its age exceeds 6000 years, making it even older than the Egyptian pyramids. Just imagine that when its first leaves were emerging, Sahara was not nearly the huge desert that is today.
Its trunk was cleaned on the inside in 1993, one of the features of extremely old baobab trees being that of remaining empty on the inside, but this does not affect their existence. The rangers were very surprised when they found ancient traces of prehistoric people who had found shelter in the giant baobab trunk. Today, in the large space inside the tree trunk, was arranged a bar with a 60 seating capacity. Do you think is too much? Then you have to know that the current baobab circumference is 47 meters, at a height of 22 meters. And what’s even more spectacular is that the venerable tree still blooms, regularly, every spring and has become home to several dozens of birds, including two pairs of owls.
- Sudwala caves
Located in Mpumalanga province, in eastern South Africa, Sudwala caves are considered the oldest caves in the world, their age exceeding 240 million years. Incidentally, the rocks that make up the walls of the caves are dating from the Precambrian, being formed 3.8 billion years ago. The caves were used as shelter since the dawn of mankind, also due to the constant source of fresh air in these underground chambers. In the modern times, the Sudwala caves were rediscovered in the nineteenth century, by Somquba, the son of King Sobhuza I (1780-1839), when he was seeking refuge from the army of his brother, Mswati II.
After this episode, the Swazi tribe warriors have found a permanent shelter in the caves of eastern South Africa. Also, at Sudwala is said it would have been hiding the treasure of President Paul Kruger, a symbol of the Boer resistance against the British crown, estimated at over $ 1 billion in gold.
Becoming a major tourist attraction in South Africa, Sudwala caves are currently hosting concerts and offers tourists a 5-hour journey among some of the rarest and the most beautiful creations of the nature, including the famous Crystal Room, consisting of aragonite crystals.
- Durban’s beaches
Palm trees; golden sand; huge waves, ideal for surfing; or lagoons with calm waters, just perfect to spend quality time with your family; luxury apartments and one of the largest and wealthiest ports in the world, all in a warm climate throughout the year, specific to the Indian Ocean… these are the ingredients that made the Durban beaches one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Africa.
The locals also call the beaches “Africa’s Miami Beach”, and those who were fortunate enough to see them can tell you that there’s no exaggeration at all.
Durban, a port placed by the specialists among the top 10 ports around the world, is a real paradise for tourists eager to relax on an exotic beach. Coral reefs and thousands of species of fish spread on these natural barriers is (if needed) an additional reason for scuba diving and snorkelling enthusiasts to spend their holidays in South Africa.
- Robben Island
On Robben Island, do not expect to find the beaches, prehistoric sites or, at least, a sample of the ancient history of South African natives. You’ll not find any of them. In fact, Robben Island, with an area of only 5 square kilometers, seems rather a forgotten place, desolate and dominated by the huge and famous political prison where were imprisoned the fiercest opponents of the Dutch colonialism. This is, in fact, the tourist attraction of the island. It should be said that here, on Robben Island, among other famous prisoners, brought even from Dutch colonies in Indonesia, was incarcerated, for decades, former black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.
Another point of interest offered by Robben Island (Seal Island, in Dutch) is, as its name implies, the seal and penguin colony existing here. The truth is that a once-flourishing colony of these animals, Robben Island was ravaged by the European settlers, after they released several rabbit families to provide a food source to the potential sailors who would have failed here, a practice which is extremely harmful to the environment, but often used in the past centuries by seafarers. In just a few years, rabbits managed to exterminate the seals and penguins on the island, the authority control being the only one able to reduce the number of rabbits, allowing the first penguins to reoccupy their island, in 1983.
Robben Island is also a real graveyard of Dutch and British vessels from the past centuries. Dozens of wrecks, of which the best known is the Dutch one, sunk along with a treasure estimated at tens of millions of pounds in gold, are lying on the bottom of the Indian Ocean with no chance of being recovered. The reason? The extremely powerful currents and continuous huge waves, that make impossible every single diving attempt.
- The Blyde River Canyon
It’s considered one of the great natural wonders of the world and, in the same time, it’s the third largest canyon of the Earth, after the Grand Canyon in the USA and Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Instead, it’s the only “green” canyon of the planet. The trips included in the tourist packages or these negotiated onsite can carry you through a veritable terrestrial paradise, home to thousands of plants, fish, birds, mammals and reptiles species, many of which being endangered in the world.
60 kilometers of wild nature, waterfalls, unique geological formations, almost 40 kilometers of caves and caverns, all spiced with expeditions organized by the authorities, quests in which you can try your luck at fishing, you can opt for climbing the highest point of the canyon, Mariepskop (1944 meters), you can venture yourself in biking trips and you can also admire, in their natural environment, some of the largest crocodiles and hippos on the black continent.
- Garden Route
Garden Route, one of the most spectacular images of South African nature, is a sample of what a trip to the Africa’s most southern country can offer you. Formed at the crossing of the Indian Ocean with Tsitsikamma and Outeniqua Mountains, the Garden Route is, undoubtedly, an evidence of the beauty created by nature.
Indigenous forests, marshes and low vegetation areas are one of the favorite destinations among dedicated safari enthusiasts. Why? Imagine that, only in this area, there are 10 nature reserves, each containing a different ecosystem, from marine ecosystems, which abounds in seals, dolphins and corals, to those located in the heart of the mountains.
The unique natural mix of Garden Route can be visited within the organized safaris. If you’re here, do not hesitate to book a place on the board of the last functional steam train in Africa. This experience on board may be the ingredient for a memorable holiday.
- Cape Town
Bordered on one side by the ocean and on the other side by the spectacular Table Mountains, Cape Town, once called “Cape of Good Hope”, is now one of the largest and most spectacular cities of South Africa. Tourists who choose this destination for the first time must know that in Cape Town are probably the most famous restaurants in the world, at least regarding seafood dishes, as well as some of the most famous shops in the world.
The beaches, one of the South Africa’s main attractions, can successfully fit in any standards of a perfect beach. Also, the locals offer you the entire range of entertainment that one could imagine. From sea voyages on yachts, sails and fishing boats, to fishing, tracking and photographing whales, surfing, snorkelling or scuba-diving… and that’s just to name the most popular summer activities. And if you want to be extravagant, you can swim in the wonderful place where the Atlantic waters encounter those of the Indian Ocean, a place included on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Obviously, being so close to the mountain, it only takes a few minutes to be properly equipped, climb by cable car and explore some of the most Africa’s beautiful mountains. This panorama is is literally a dream.
Cape Town also has one of the most best known nature reserves in Africa, famous for the extremely rare and exotic flowers it houses. And if you want to try the famous South African wines, rivals of French or Italian wines in the great restaurants of the world, you just need to visit the vineyards located near the city.
Those who visit Johannesburg for the first time would probably expect to see an urban jungle. They would be amazed to see, when the plane is over the city, just a huge forest stretching as far as the eye can see; because, yes, Johannesburg is the “greenest” city in the world, with over 600 parks and the largest urban forest in the world. But once you have reached the ground, you wake up in one of the most populated and most industrialized cities of Africa. Curiously, when the first settlers founded the city, there were no trees in Johannesburg. Only the discovery of gold in the area and the huge lumber demand determined the locals to plant a huge number of eucalyptus, oaks and other hardwood trees, necessary for the mining structures. Then, the increasing population of the town chose to decorate the lands around their houses with increasingly exotic trees. This was just a step away from the green jewel that is today.
South Africans have quickly understood the benefits of tourism and have invested heavily in promoting the strengths of this country. Thus, the largest zoo in South Africa was arranged in Johannesburg, one of the few places where Siberian tiger and white lions managed to breed successfully. 54 hectares, home to over 2,000 exotic animals from more than 360 species, receive annually hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the world. This is much more, compared to what was the zoo since its opening in 1904, when the only animals were a lion, a baboon, a leopard, a giraffe, an antelope, a golden eagle and a couple of porcupines.
Johannesburg is also the place where bungee jumping, paragliding, ballooning, aviation and skydiving enthusiasts meet each year. Alongside the famous aviation schools in this African city, extreme sports lovers can enjoy bungee jumping from towers 100 meters tall or into a famous amandoned quarry, Henley-on-Klip, 24 meters deep. It’s, perhaps, the best adapted town to the needs of extreme sports aficionados. Probably not coincidentally, Johannesburg is called the extreme sports capital.
It’s certainly the most traditional place from all over South Africa. Although the influence of Zulu culture is pervasive in this African country, a bigger offering to the great Zulu nation you will find nowhere else. It’s also one of the ideal places for safari and bird-watching. Within these activities, you can admire over 650 species of rare birds and Africa’s five giants: the lion, the elephant, the rhino, the leopard and the African buffalo.
A trip to the land of Zulus might have the ability to bring you face to face to one of the truly fascinating cultures of the world. The lucky ones may even assist at the local weddings and enjoy the proverbial Zulu hospitality. In the same time, Zululand is a model a model of civilization and a model of perfect blend between old traditions and modern influences.
A tour through this marvelous and magic region will take you to Melnouth, the birthplace of King Shaka Zulu, the founder of the nation that bears his name, and also to the few graves assigned to the same leader. Also, the biggest attraction is the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi natural park, Africa’s oldest natural reserve and one of the most spectacular from the black continent. And as if that were not enough, you can also visit Richard Bay, a coastal city whose beaches have become famous worldwide.