South Africa is no longer a secret. It is fast displacing many countries and regions as a preferable destination for honeymoon, wildlife enthusiasts, history buffs, culture vultures, foodies, beach bums, outdoor suckers, adrenaline junkies and the list goes on and on. Renewed emphasis on tourism coupled with excellent infrastructure, weak exchange rate, direct air links/ bus networks, and favourable climate is only helping the cause.
South Africa is a large, diverse and incredibly beautiful country. It varies from the picturesque Garden Route towns of the Western Cape to the raw subtropical coast of northern KwaZulu-Natal, with the vast Karoo semi-desert across its heart and one of Africa’s premier safari destinations, Kruger National Park, in the northeast. To top it all off, South Africa also has the continent’s best food, best wine, and best service.
To put my case forward, why South Africa is “the Destination for you” in the coming December holidays, I will divide my argument in two parts.
A.) Basic Hygiene Issues :-
South Africa is more affordable than ever before :- Currency Exchange rate of South Africa (ZAR) into INR is at five year low. This means that people travelling from India will find it cheaper to travel now than ever before and will have more spending power per INR. Currently 1 ZAR is equal to 5.58 INR, which has for a large period remained above 6. Your overall trip expense will be 10% lower, on account of currency difference only. With such a conducive rate for currency conversion, you get more bang for your buck compared to Euro or Dollar.
Left side Drive:- There is no better way to explore this country, then pick up a self drive car. Garden Route is one of the most scenic drives in the world and it features in almost every itinerary to South Africa. Driving is similar to Indian side of driving, as is the case with most of the former British colonies. Therefore, you will feel at home while driving here, while you may miss the honking on road. Roads are absolutely world class with proper signage. You may not even need GPS.
Excellent Homestays and Lodges:- South Africa boasts of self reliant and beautifully located homestays and guesthouses which offer full service, meals on demand and unparalleled vantage points. They rival the infrastructure or facilities available in Europe or Australia in every aspect of it and at half the price. I have stayed in a fully serviced Lodge with infinity pool, own wine cellar and well maintained stable at a patlry sum of USD 125 per day.
Gourmet Food :- Food is celebrated here and you would find all cuisines here, easily. Choices will not be limited to European food or non vegetarian food. Frankschooek, gourmet capital of South Africa boasts of highest density of Michelin Star Restaurants. South Africa is also a major wine-growing region and you will find excellent quality of wine at a very reasonable price. It is often cheaper than water.
Great Climate:– In general South Africa is a very sunny country, with many areas experiencing over 300 sunny days per year. It has balmy weather, even during the winter months. Also, because South Africa is located in the southern hemisphere, its seasons are opposite to what they are in India. This means that our autumn and winter months are the perfect time for basking in South Africa’s warm, summer sun.
English is widely spoken and understood :- There are no language barriers in South Africa since nearly everybody speaks English. This country has eleven official languages, one of which is English. It is easy to do anything in this country from talking to a local, to ordering food in a restaurant, to asking somebody for directions. If you speak English, you will have no communication problems at all which makes for a pleasant experience, while touring the country.
B.) Compelling Reasons:-
Captown, a world class city :- It is one of the most iconic sea side cities in world. You can exhaust your repertoire of adjectives in describing this city. It is bustling, eclectic, chic, cool, entertaining, exciting, picturesque and windy. It is set against a backdrop of awe inspiring, Table Mountain, which is often covered by a fluffy blanket of clouds. Its waterfront area is a busy harbour of Table Bay and the mighty Atlantic, great place to explore on foot, eat, drink and shop. Surrounding beach and surf towns are charming (similar layout to Sydney). Cheery on the top is its proximity to the Cape Peninsula, where you can see one of only two land based penguin colonies on earth, along with the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, where you can walk out to the lighthouse, seemingly perched at the end of the world.
Winelands are breathtaking :- It is a super easy day trip from Capetown but spending less than two days here would not do justice to the longstanding cultural heritage and world class wine producing wine estates. These estates are characterised by classic Dutch – style buildings and massive vineyards with picturesque mountains as a backdrop. It’s 18 ‘official’ wine routes, and 2 brandy routes, are among the most scenic in the world. This includes the Route 62 wine route, said to be the world’s longest wine route. The town of Robertson, two hours’ drive east of Cape Town, is home to the acclaimed Robertson Winery, winner of numerous international awards for its Shiraz, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay varietals. Paarl, the third-oldest town in South Africa, is home to the internationally renowned Nederburg Wine Estate, as well as numerous other premier brands.The Franschhoek Wine Valley is also famous for its food and is acknowledged as the ‘gourmet capital of South Africa’.
Scenic Garden Route :- Long considered as one of the greatest coastal drives on earth. It stretches from Mossel Bay in the west to just beyond Plettenberg Bay in the east, yet the range of topography, vegetation, wildlife and outdoor activity in this short space is mind boggling. The Garden Route is renowned for vast stretches of beach, enclosed by mountains, lakes, valleys, nature reserves and the sea – an eco-destination par excellence, catering for the nature lover. The region has a well-developed tourist infrastructure with magnificent towns dotted all along the coast. There are plethora of activities to be done as you traverse the coastline like whale watching, shark cage diving, para gliding, sky diving etc.. The area also boasts two national parks – Tsitsikamma and Wilderness – as well as numerous other provincial and private nature reserves.
Abundant Wildlife :- Warning! Watching wildlife is addictive. First you start with the Big Five, then whales, penguins, meerkats, wild dogs, birds, dung beetles…Kruger National Park, located in northeast South Africa, is one of the oldest established game reserve in Africa and provides you with the rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the wildlife, for which Africa is famous. Kruger covers nearly 8,000 square miles and boasts an incredible array of species (147 types of mammals, 507 types of birds, 114 different reptiles, 336 species of trees, 34 kinds of amphibians, and 49 types of fish) that are sure to leave you in awe.
If you’re looking for really authentic safari experience in South Africa, there’s no place like Kruger National Park. Here, you can watch the sun sink over the bush while you watch giraffes and elephants graze peacefully and take adrenaline-fuelled off-road safaris to track lion prides through the long grass at dawn. If you’re after some on foot adventure, you can even try taking intrepid walking safaris through the park
Luxury Trains :- South Africa is home to two of the most famous luxury trains in the world, the Blue Train and Rovos Rail, both evoking the Golden Age of rail travel while rolling across the nation’s heart, from Cape Town to Pretoria/Johannesburg. By travelling this route, you not only cover three quaeter of the length of the country but you get to see the rich and diverse side that so many visitors to South Africa miss out on by flying this leg.
I hope, arguments are compelling and you are thinking. But don’t forget, there are no free lunches. You need to be careful about couple of things :-
– Crime isn’t the indiscriminate phenomenon that press reports suggest, but it is an issue. Statistically, the odds of becoming a victim are highest in downtown Johannesburg, where violent crime is a daily reality. Other cities present a reduced risk – similar to, say, in most of the cities. Taking precaution is important.
– Peak Season. Make your travel bookings as soon as possible as summer is a peak season, also avoid Christmas eve and new york surcharge, if you can, by travelling before 22nd December. Rates go up by 20-40%