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I’ve been in South Africa for two weeks, and I am still in disbelief at how much this country has amazed me.
Is South Africa what I thought it would be? It was BETTER.
I knew I would enjoy it, but I had no idea I would enjoy it this much. Here are some of the ways that South Africa surprised me:
Johannesburg is actually a lot of fun.
Few cities have worse reputations than Johannesburg — most people describe it as boring at best and dangerous at worst, but I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this city.
Johannesburg is home to wonderful historical and cultural sites, cool neighborhoods, so many chic hotels, bars, and restaurants — and most importantly, Joburg actually has style. Many people here dress SO well, especially the men, and that reflects when you walk around the high-end shopping areas.
Most travel agents tell people that they should skip Johannesburg. I disagree wholeheartedly.
Seeing animals on safari will move you to tears.
I was looking forward to our Kruger safari, but I had no idea how deeply moved I was — whether it was seeing a family of rhinos crashing through the woods, or watching a cheetah feast on its kill as vultures and a little jackal fought for the remains, or laughing as an adorable baby elephant tried to scare us off, or seeing an elusive honeybadger dodge through the brush, probably looking for a snake to eat.
It nearly made me weep. Seeing animals like these in their natural environment is incredibly moving.
Going on safari is something that every serious traveler should prioritize doing at least once in his or her life.
Townships are eye-opening — and much safer to visit than you think.
While in Joburg, we didn’t just go to Soweto, the most famous township — we went to Alexandra, which our excellent guide, Robin, told us is “where people from Soweto go when they want a township experience.”
I had no idea whether it would be safe for me to bring my iPhone, or whether I would have to walk around clutching my purse like I do in Barcelona, or whether everyone would be walking around with guns.
But it wasn’t the frightening place I imagined. Alex was bright, it was colorful, it was filled with so much life, and I didn’t feel unsafe for a moment. Rather than being targets, we were welcomed quite literally with open arms. (Essential note: ONLY visit townships with a guide who knows what he or she is doing.)
The Blue Train is kind of like a rap video.
Riding one of the world’s most luxurious trains was an incredible experience. There is no better way to travel the world than by luxury train! I actually had my own butler!
And everything is included. Which means that for 27 hours, we were given virtually everything our hearts desired.
And so we spent the evening in the cigar lounge, dressed in our finest clothes, smoking Cubans and drinking Remy Martin.
The food is amazing — and so is the wine.
I ate like royalty in South Africa. Among the foods I’ve tried here, ostrich, kudu, springbok (pictured above), langoustines, and oysters are among the most memorable. Some of the haute offerings? Green tea panna cotta, pears poached in port, quail veloute with pork and quail eggs…
It doesn’t have to be fancy, though. South Africans live for beer and barbecue. I don’t know what they put in their boerewors (sausages) but they are SO good here.
And the WINES. South Africa has some delicious Pinotages, made in the winelands region just outside Cape Town. My favorite: Hamilton Russell Pinotage. I need to bring some of that back to England.
Cape Town has the world’s most beautiful natural setting.
One of the world’s most dramatic coastlines, Table Mountain seen from every direction, a unique array of flora that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, vineyards, penguin-filled beaches, and so much sunshine — could any city be more beautiful than this?
Cape Town just begs to be photographed from every angle. You won’t be able to keep your hands off your camera.
(For the record, I hear Rio de Janeiro is up there as well, but I haven’t been to Rio!)
South Africa is home to so much cultural diversity.
South Africa has 11 official languages and dozens of ethnic groups. It’s not just black, white, and colored (mixed race) people — white is divided between the Afrikaners and the English speakers; there are many African ethnic groups, including Xhosa and Zulu, and there is a sizable Indian population as well.
And yes, this diversity has led to quite a bit of turmoil in South Africa in the last century, and not only from apartheid. I can’t even begin to put the history of South Africa into a single post. But today, it adds so much culture, especially when traveling from one end of the country to the other.
South Africa has come SO far in a relatively short time.
South Africa struggled under apartheid until 1990, when it began to be dismantled. Nelson Mandela was elected after a long reform process and took office in 1994.
In those past 18 years, the death penalty was abolished; prisoners regained the right to vote; healthcare was revolutionized, and same-sex marriage became legal. And as one of the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), it’s poised to become one of the leading new economic powers.
In just 18 years!
Don’t get me wrong — South Africa has its share of serious problems. AIDS. Crime. Violence. Economic disparity. It would be naive not to acknowledge this. But while South Africa has a way to go, the country’s progress is still incredibly impressive.
South Africa will amaze you, too.
Visit South Africa is giving you the chance to experience South Africa as I did! Enter this contest and you can win a trip for two to South Africa almost exactly like mine. (US and Canada residents only.)
I cannot recommend South Africa as a destination enough — and I’ll be telling you why. This post is the tiniest teaser of what’s to come. Stay tuned for much, much more coverage of South Africa over the next few weeks.
Many thanks to Visit South Africa for introducing me to this wonderful part of the world. All opinions, as always, are my own.
98 thoughts on “South Africa: More Than I Ever Imagined”
Absolutely stunning photography! I would LOVE to visit South Africa someday. I’m so glad you had a wonderful (and safe!) Trip!
Thank you, Erica! Wait until you see the scenic pictures I took of Kruger. A whole photo essay’s worth!
You sum up so many of my thoughts on South Africa. It will forever be one of my favourite trips and I often think back on it with wonder – seriously, was it real? Well you confirmed it again – it is definitely real!
Thanks, Jay! Sounds like it left both of us reeling. 🙂
Very cool!! I work with a girl from South Africa and she tells me about it all the time. Definitely different from what I had pictured in my head. I entered the contest, fingers crossed!
Good luck, Rika! I bet you’d love it!
I have wanted to visit South Africa for about 10 years now. My ex-bf was from Pretoria and just hearing about his life and getting close to his family made me realize how much I want to explore his homeland. That relationship is long over but my desire to live in South Africa for awhile will never go away – I’ll have to book a ticket soon. Or here’s hoping I win that prize! 🙂
Chrystal, even though the relationship is done, I’m glad to hear you didn’t let that ruin your impression of the country!
I stumbled upon your blog a while ago and have pretty much been addicted to it ever since. (Must be because I am an attorney who just wants to travel!) As a South African, I cannot be more proud of my country after reading your blog post! Thank you so much!
Thank you, Michelle! And you SHOULD travel as much as you can! We’ve only got one life!
I’m super excited to hear more about your South Africa trip! My bf and I are heading there (and Bostwana & Zimbabwe) for almost a month in mid-Dec. So excited!!! 😀
Oh, that sounds like an AMAZING trip in the making! Eager to hear about which country you like the best!
I’ve been following your journey and secretly seething with jealousy. Looked AMAZEBALLS
Haha — thanks, Candice. You’d love it here!
Hey Are those Penguins in the last one. Wow! and do you know they are endangered species. Nice Photographs. Awesome writing like always!!!
Thanks, Chitra! Those are definitely penguins!
Thank you thank you for saying such lovely things about our gorgeous country, and for those fabulous photos! I hope the rest of your stay here gets better by the day!
Don’t forget to include Route 62 on your travels in the Western Cape – it’s our secret treasure.
Fran, I wish I had seen more of the Western Cape! Just a brief drive through it was all I got. Wilderness and Swellendam in particular looked amazing.
The Garden Route is a stunning area. Picturesque and so many activities.
I truly am so proud when seeing how so many people from around the world enjoy our amazing country, as much as we do.
Gay tourism is also becoming a big thing for Cape Town, so gays… come ready for a party!!
Thanks, Wes from Cape Town
Wow South Africa looks amazing! I met a girl at a hostel a while ago who was about to move there to work on a Great White Shark boat and I’ve wanted to go to Cape Town ever since. I entered the contest a while ago so fingers crossed 🙂
Good luck, Ashley! Would LOVE it if one of my readers wins!
Ahhhh the penguin picture is amazing! I really want to go to South Africa now – inspired!
The penguins are amazing! We also went to SANCCOB, a refuge taking care of injured penguins! More on that later.
You’ve just wet my whistle for heading back to South Africa Feb and March. Will look into the Blue Train. Kruger absolutely blew me away. Thought I might have a heart attack because I was constantly SO excited. Look forward to more of your trip, and mine.
The Blue Train was amazing, Gaelyn. I always want to travel the world by luxury train!
I completely know what you mean about falling in love with South Africa. I did too during my trip in May/June. I can’t wait to get back there, next year.
The animal encounters brought me to tears as well – theres something so moving about seeing these animals you’ve only seen in zoos or on the NatGeo channel up close and FREE… It makes me a little misty eyed just thinking about it.
And I wasn’t expecting to get world-class sushi in Johannesburg, but I did – which amuses me to no end since right now I’m living on the ocean in NZ and can’t get any bloody sushi… but in landlocked Jo’burg in AFRICA I could! haha go figure.
Melissa, I had some of the absolute best oysters of my life in Johannesburg! I couldn’t believe it!
I loved Kenya and Morrocco…looking forward to a trip to South Africa!
We lived in South Africa 1953-1957. Visited it in 1977 and the change was staggering even then. Apartheid was a thing of the past and to see all races in the airport waiting room was a shock. No “white only” seats, doors or restrooms! It was joy to see and something had hoped would happen, but could not then see any possibility. We visited that same “mall” in Jo’burg in ’77! Glad you could visit there and thankful for the pictures–brought back memories!
Wow. That’s amazing, Eva. Thanks for stopping by!
I remember a friend of my mom’s went to South Africa when I was young, and hearing about her trip always made me want to go there myself. I’m glad to know that South Africa surprised you and that you had such a great time. South Africa looks like an incredible country, one I’m sure to visit.
Also that last photo is just awesomesauce.
It’s a great place, Alouise. You’d love it!
I need to go… and SOON! I’ve heard nothing but good things about South Africa and the pictures of Capetown alone convince me that the country is a must-see.
You would LOVE IT, Oneika! It’s an amazing country.
Wow, this trip sounds (and looks!) just amazing! I’m so excited to hear more about your experiences and see more of that gorgeous South African landscape!
Oh, just you WAIT until I get into the Cape Town photo essays!
It all sounds absolutely FABULOUS. A safari in Africa is my absolute dream trip, so I’m sure I’ll join you in shedding tears of excitement when the time finally comes.
You would LOVE Kruger, Emily. Everything is there! Every animal you can imagine! (Except meerkats…hahaha.)
Hope you’re enjoying our Mother city!!!! If u still in CPT, visit Mzoli for the best Braai meat You’l ever have….
Mzanzi ROCKS…tell the world(“,)…
Kabelo is right… Mzoli’s has awesome food!!!
South Africa could just be THE BEST place on Earth ^__^
Great post – I’m lucky enough that my other half is South African, so I’ve been a few times and will keep going back. Amazing country and it’s such a shame that the violence is as far as people can see, so stay away.
Looking forward to reading more posts on S.A as they come!
I agree, Ally — it’s a shame. I’ll be writing more in-depth about safety in South Africa, hoping that it empowers people to go.
Sounds like a pretty incredible trip – can’t wait to hear more about it.
It’s the kind of destination you’d love, Matt. You’d love the beauty and the mountains.
I visited 2 years ago now for 6 weeks, was the best thing I have ever done – I worked in an orphanage there. 2 years later i’m hooked to travel but nothing compares to SA still! Glad you enjoyed it and felt like your eyes had been opened like i did! 🙂
I love that it’s your special destination, Jodie! I’d love to spend much longer here.
What a wonderful post! I haven’t been to South Africa yet, but this just moved it up a few notches on my wish list! Isn’t it awesome when a place turns out to be better than you expected? I look forward to reading all about your trip!
Thanks, cosmo! It’s quite a country!
My wife and I have debated on whether or not to travel to Suth Africa for a while now. Our biggest reason for not going there has been how dangerous it is. I’m glad t hear not all the rumors are true. The safari sounds amazing! A big addition to the ‘go to South Africa’ column…
Brian, South Africa certainly has its unique dangers, but I find that if you research them in advance you can figure out how to best avoid them. And the safari? Beyond safe, and beyond amazing!
It is only dangerous if you go into the slum area’s (townships). If i went to Los Angeles, i wouldn’t go into South Central….
Yes, our country has issue’s, but they are slowly being ironed out. People were safe when they came for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
Don’t be scared of us. Just be street smart and you will be fine 🙂
So glad you are enjoying our beautiful country Kate. we are happy to have you here!!! xxxlove from Cape Townxxx
Thanks, Kathryn! I’m loving it here!
Woohoo this is my homeland you are talking about! So glad you are able to experience our wonderful country!
You should come say “hollaaaaa”!
I’m in johannesburg!
I’m typing this from your airport! 😛
A well written post about my country – very tastefully done. honest about our problems but also our often understated beauty I think thats a true reflection of where we are at….enjoy your time left….I’ll be home in 4 months and I can’t wait…
Thanks very much, Phumi!
I’ve really enjoyed reading your article about my incredible country. I live in Cape Town and try not to take this beautiful place for granted, because I know how lucky I am to live here.
Visitors to Cape Town should really try to fit in a hike in Table Mountain National Park if they have the time. The diversity of fauna and flora on the mountain is amazing, not to mention the panoramic views. There are so many safe and easy trails to choose from, it’s totally worth doing!
Enjoy the rest of your time here, have a fantastic trip!
I loved Table Mountain, Tracy! Could have spent a few hours there! Thanks for coming.
Been living in Cape Town for 4 years now and i’m only fitting it in now…i’m Hiking table mountain tomorrow…!!!!
(‘ ‘,)Excited….I hiked Lions Head 3 weeks ago…. it was awesome ….hopefully tomorrow will be even more awesome…
Cape Town was one of the only places in the world where you could hitch a ride in a military fighter jet. It was called Thunder city. Unfortunately it’s closed down now.
That sounds awesome, Shaun! Too bad it’s over.
You post really convinced me that I must make SA a priority in the next few years. This year I made it to Mont Saint Michel, the kind of place I thought I would only see in dreams. Next up, SA!
Thrilled to hear that, Marie! You’ll love it!
I’ve wanted to visit South Africa for such a long time now, and posts like this remind me why! It’s such an interesting country, and I have no doubt that I’ll fall in love with it, too!
You would LOVE it. Definitely look into going when you can!
YAY! This post makes my heart SO happy! I’ve been living as an expat in South Africa for 5 years now (the first 2 in Cape Town, the past three in Joburg) and I love both areas of the country so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip, I don’t the the beauty and diversity of this country 🙂
Sorry, I meant – I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the beauty and diversity of this country* Still need to have my morning cup of coffee 😉
Several close friends of mine have spent a lot of time in SA and always have great things to say about, but I really don’t know much myself – looking forward to seeing more of your trip!
LOVE THIS! I’ve never been but I’m thinking.. honeymoon? LOL..
Incredible! SA wasn’t that high on my to-do list really, but it is now. I’m so jealous you got to see a honey badger, those things are awesome 😀
I have heard that South Africa is absolutely beautiful. What child growing up didn’t desire to see the animals on safari? I would be moved to tears too. Just seeing elephants around here almost has me crying
Well you’ve sold me on wanting to visit South Africa – although the accents had me wanting to visit it already! Great post on a lesser-blogged-about country!
South Africa was on my list for a very long time. I didn’t get there yet, but I’ve heard so many stories about this country from friends and from people I met on my travels, people who lived there for several months, or even years. So many perspectives! Most of them were about the beautiful nature, the high level of racism, the overall inequality, and the poverty. I’m glad to find out here a more optimistic view on South Africa 🙂
Lovely pictures. Looking forward to more posts about it
South Africa looks amazing, may have to put it on my list of ‘to do’!
So unfair. My friends are heading out this Christmas, but I cannot afford it. Always wanted to visit SA- looks immense!
Great post and beautiful photos! I can’t wait until I can go to Africa but its so hard to choose where to go!
I visit Johannesburg often and the locals never take me into the centre. They always say it is unsafe. I’m glad to hear that it was safe for you and you were able to appreciate some of the nicer sides. Sandton is indeed lovely and posh!
I’ve been to Pretoria a few times and that is beautiful when in bloom. Kruger is great too yet I can’t believe it is now 9 years since I went.
Whilst I’ve never been I’ve heard that St George is a wonderful place to visit too.
I’ve always said that Cape Town is the most beautiful city in the world!!! SA is a country that gets totally under your skin and you can’t ever stop thinking about.
I studied abroad in South Africa for five and a half months and I would not change that experience for anything! I lived in Pietermaritzburg (an hour west of Durban) and was able to go on safari, visit the penguins near Cape Point, horseback riding in mountains at Sani Pass, wine tours in Cape Town, go to the top of the World Cup stadium in Durban, Johannesburg, St. Lucia, and so much more! I am truly glad that you were also able to experience some of those sightings and opportunities!
Thanks for this, Kate! I am a South African living in South Korea and as much as I love to travel, your posts about SA have reminded me that there is good reason to go home 🙂
I am a south African living in the uk and have been away from home lately. I follow your blog and love reading up on your adventures I was so thrilled with what you said about Vietnam that I travelled there myself and was amazed . As a south African reading about what you have to say about my home you have truelly brought me to tears thank you for being so honest and real about what you experienced I can see that you have really got to know it well enough to recognise what we see in her . It is a lovely land and your posts have done it so much of justice .
Tashiani, thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad you liked the posts. I love your country.
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Here is Alessandra. First of all thanks for your blog, it’s amazing and the pictures are fantastic.
I’m planning my own trip in South Africa and I’d like ask to you some suggestions, I’m 25 years old and I need to know the best way to organise my travel in safe:
do you know some place where can I sleep in CT and Durban?
do you know any TO to organize a visit to see the big 5?
Are there any places that I have to visit?
Thanks a million!
Alessandra, this post is crammed with advice for a South Africa road trip: https://www.adventurouskate.com/the-ultimate-south-africa-road-trip-itinerary/
Great, thank you Kate.
Just a question more: I will be alone, do you think that I can rent a car and travel alone? Or is it better find a Sud african T.O to do it in safe?
Really thanks and if you will come in Italy it will my pleasure give you some suggestion 🙂 (specially about Piedmont- food and wine)
Alessandra, it all depends on how comfortable you are driving a manual car on the left (which I am not). If you think you can handle it, go ahead!