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5 Reasons To Tick South Africa Off Your Bucket List

5 Reasons To Tick South Africa Off Your Bucket List

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South Africa is the perfect place to start a journey into Africa. Up north is the ancient landscape of Kruger National Park – home to 150 mammals, and prehistoric rock art – and at the southern-most tip is the glimmering city of Cape Town. Between these two extremes you’ll find some of the world’s best wine regions, most photogenic landscapes, and an amazing diversity of cultures.

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The best part – South Africa’s well-established tourism industry means travelling there is stress-free and affordable. The country is connected by well-paved roads and an efficient transport system. Any of the activities below can be organised through your accommodation.

#1 Experience The Rich Culture Of Cape Town

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(Photo: Tom Karlo / Flickr)

From the million dollar beachside mansions of Camps Bay and sky-scraping modernity of the CBD, to the sprawling slums on the city outskirts, Cape Town is a microcosm of the extreme contrasts that define life in South Africa. It’s also one of the world’s most attractive cities – with the iconic silhouette of Table Mountain always looming large. When the Mountain isn’t draped in a creamy cloud of mist you can walk or catch a cable car to the top for a great view of this diverse metropolis.

Foodies can enjoy top-notch cuisine from all corners of the world, or local favourites like Cape Malay curry. The sprawling cobble-stone markets at Greenmarkets Square and along Long Street are a great place to pick up a souvenir (ornately-painted ornamental ostrich egg anyone?). You can escape the bustle in the beautiful Kirstenbosch botanical gardens, or on one of Cape Town’s many gorgeous beaches.

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Cape Town’s art galleries and museums are excellent, and provide a great insight into the country’s complex culture and history. Particularly worth checking out is The District Six Museum which allows you to step back in time to see how one mixed area of Cape Town was lively and vibrant before all the non-whites were forcefully evicted in the ’60s. It’s a mixed-media recreation of the past, complete with audio recordings of characters from the old neighbourhood.

Music fans should coincide their trip with one of Cape Town’s renowned music festivals like the Cape Town International Jazz Festival or World Music Festival. Electronic music fans can check out a club night any day of the week featuring thriving local styles of South African house music such as kwaito, and township tech. Evolving alongside Chicago house at the end of the apartheid era, South African house often features heavy synth-driven beats, with touches of African instrumentation and lyrics shouted in a mixture of Xhosa, Zulu and English.

#2 Wine Tours Around Stellenbosch

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(Photo: Author’s own)

A tour through South Africa’s famed wine regions is one of the nicer ways to pass a day, allowing you the chance to extravagantly unwind in some of the most picturesque scenery in southern Africa. It’s ridiculously cheap – for about $50 a minivan will pick you up from your accommodation and take you to three or four historic vineyards to be plied with cheese, chocolate, and very decent amounts of wine.

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You may sample up to two dozen fine wines in a single tour. You may take a lot of photos which seem funny at the time, but you later realise are unsuitable for publication. You may also spend the whole day excitedly making plans for the evening (like going to one of the aforementioned dance parties) only to wind up asleep in the van on the ride back home.

#3 Cage Dive With Great White Sharks

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(Photo: Hermanus Backpackers / Flickr)

New research shows that great white sharks are not the mindless killing machines that have haunted the imaginations of surfers everywhere since the release of Jaws. They have little interest in actually eating humans, but, being curious, like to go for a “sample bite”. But even a sample bite from an animal that weighs over two tonnes and has 300 serrated teeth is obviously something that’s generally best avoided.

Unless you’re in Cape Town of course, in which case you can go out to the deep ocean and be lowered into the water in a cage while these ancient apex predators fly at you like shiny torpedoes of death. If you’re into that sort of thing.

#4 Kruger National Park

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(Photo: Clive Reid / Flickr)

If you fancy a less terrifying animal encounter than cage-diving, South Africa has some of the best safari parks on the continent. With two million hectares of wild savannah, Kruger National Park is the biggest and the best safari place to witness the epic battle of survival between species play out and be thankful that you’re distanced from this particular food chain as you watch crocodiles lurking around waterholes, and big cats stalking their prey.

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You can play a game of spot-the-elephant in Kruger in your own vehicle, on foot, or from above in a hot air balloon. At some of the park’s high-end accommodation you can even watch wildlife while sipping a cocktail in the pool.

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#5 The Apartheid Museum And Robben Island

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Former inmate at Robben Island, demonstrating the difference in meal rations for different races. (Photo: Author’s own)

Upon arrival at Johannesburg’s apartheid museum you’re randomly assigned a ticket saying either “black” or “white”, which dictates which door you can use to enter the museum. It’s just a small taste of what life was like under the petty and oppressive apartheid system whereby all South African citizens had to carry an identity card at all times which stated their race and hence dictated where they could travel, work, and reside.

A visit to the apartheid museum is as emotionally devastating as you’d expect it to be. But it’s also a fascinating journey through a dark period of South Africa’s history, the legacy of which will take a long time to heal. While often gut-wrenching, it’s also inspiring to see the calm, steely resolve of anti-apartheid activists like Steve Biko, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela in the face of such a brutal and oppressive system.

One of the first acts of defiance organised by Mandela’s ANC was for protesters to invite arrest by congregating in areas marked for Europeans only. The idea was to highlight the absurdity of the system and create a bureaucratic nightmare by inciting so many arrests that the prison system would overflow with petty offenders. 8,000 people were arrested in five months, and the apartheid Government reacted by bringing in even harsher penalties for acts of civil disobedience.

Robben Island, in Cape Town, is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, along with many other political prisoners. Nowadays the former inmates have been given jobs as tour guides – providing an education on apartheid from those who experienced it first-hand.

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(Lead image: Bo Kaap via Claudio Fonte / Unsplash)

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