10 reasons to book a holiday to South Africa

Some say that all human beings originate from South Africa, and in this country of vibrant cultures, wilderness and pristine natural areas, you cannot help but come alive as you reconnect with a powerful force of life that runs through this corner of the globe.

Feel your energy rise to the drumbeat of Africa under starry skies at Isibindi Zulu Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal. © Guy Upfold

Feel your energy rise to the drumbeat of Africa under starry skies at Isibindi Zulu Lodge in KwaZulu-Natal ©Guy Upfold

After returning to my beloved country after four weeks of international travel, I am struck again by what good value and spectacular beauty South Africa offers both local and international guests. Here are my top 10 reasons why you should consider South Africa as your have-it-all holiday destination:

1. Pristine wilderness and biodiversity

South Africa has done well to protect areas of spectacular natural beauty, from the vast safari parks of Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserves, to indigenous forest like Tsitsikamma, Drakensberg mountains, wetlands and miles of pristine beaches like iSimangaliso. as well as desert flower regions like Namaqualand and floral kingdoms like the fynbos of the Western Cape.

These cottages are as lakeside as it gets at Lake Naverone in the World Heritage Site of the Drakensberg.

These cottages are as lakeside as it gets at Lake Naverone in the World Heritage Site of the Drakensberg

In South Africa you don’t even have to choose between a safari, beach or mountain holiday, as you can visit all of these areas in one trip.

The safety in the national and provincial parks, and the commitment to conservation is inspiring. For me, one of the greatest privileges of South Africa, compared to many other countries in the world, is the ease with which one may escape the crowds to find spaces of solitude and silence. You will be surprised by how quickly and easily serene rural areas may be accessed from convenient transport hubs and cities.

2. Luxury at affordable prices

Take advantage of the weak South African currency, the Rand, to experience luxury beyond that which your budget usually permits. You may travel in luxury on a fraction of the cost of many other countries, gaining spectacular views, blissful baths, spas, glamping and world class pampering of all kinds.

South Africans are thoughtful about unique and authentic accommodation, and you often feel that your comfort and pleasure is a top priority of your hosts.

This luxurious Rhino Post Safari Lodge in the Kruger National Park offers your own private wildlife reality show. © Guy Upfold

This luxurious Rhino Post Safari Lodge in the Kruger National Park offers your own private wildlife reality show ©Guy Upfold

3. Sumptuous quality produce

South Africans love their food and do not tolerate mediocre ingredients or sloppy treatment of sustainably grown local produce. Every international tourist who I have met on my travels has commented on the quality of the local meat, fruit and vegetables, and the attention that is given to quality food in South Africa. One couple recently marvelled: “We have been travelling for two weeks now and we have yet to encounter a disappointing meal, even from the local chain restaurants.”

Chef Carl Moller is Executive Head Chef of Isibindi Africa Lodges and a great photographer © Carl Moller

Chef Carl Moller is the executive head chef of Isibindi Africa Lodges and a great photographer ©Carl Moller

With a love of the great outdoors, you are likely to experience al fresco dining with carefully selected local ingredients cooked over an open flame, with modern twists and creative flair. Tropical fruit platters and a love of interesting salads will delight you at almost every meal of the day. Our breakfasts rival those in any part of the world, and morning and afternoon tea, along with sundowner snacks, are revered rituals. Cultural fusion means Cape Malay seafood delicacies and fiery hot Durban curries. Our Dutch heritage brings sweet delights, including cakes and decadent puddings, and you may be forgiven for finding squashed ginger-flavoured koeksisters in your luggage upon your return home.

Holidays are about creating memories and fulfilling specific lifelong fantasies. South Africans are romantics at heart and many lodges will be delighted to set up a romantic table for two at the sea, bushveld or forest.

Many lodges, like Thonga Beach Lodge, are delighted to help you realise a specific holiday dream © Guy Upfold

Many lodges, like Thonga Beach Lodge, are delighted to help you to realise a specific holiday dream ©Guy Upfold

4. Rich cultural heritage

Known for celebrating diverse local and international culture, we have drawn on the best in food, architecture and décor from our own country and around the world. Sensory experiences are an essential component of a good holiday, from French-inspired cheeses to African ‘potjie’ meals (meat and vegetables cooked very slowly in a three-legged pot over an open fire). In our décor you will find bright colours, or subtle taupes and natural textures. Stay in traditional thatched round huts (called ‘rondavels’) or a colonial style safari tent, Cape Dutch wineland farmhouse, a treehouse nestled in an indigenous forest or a modern eco-design coastal suite.

Experience these 1820’s style Colonial explorer tents at Plains Tented Camp in the Kruger National Park © Guy Upfold

Experience these 1820’s style Colonial explorer tents at Plains Tented Camp in the Kruger National Park ©Guy Upfold

Tolerant of a wide range of cultural expressions, you may dress as you please in most lodges, without needing to fear beady-eyed looks from locals or other guests. Whether you have a love of fashion or prefer to stumble out of bed in your slippers and sweatpants onto that safari vehicle, it all quickly becomes about the sunrise behind a fish eagle or an elephant lumbering down the road towards you.

Sleep in a traditional ‘rondavel’ in a game reserve at Isibindi Zulu Lodge © Guy Upfold

Sleep in a traditional ‘rondavel’ in a game reserve at Isibindi Zulu Lodge © Guy Upfold

5. The miracle of transformation

Rich in history and open in talking about it, the story of South African transformation is an awe-inspiring one, which is bound to bring depth to your holiday experience.

Celebrating legends like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, you may ask locals about their conflicted and complicated opinions and experiences of transformation, or visit Robben Island or the Apartheid Museum and feel inspired to become a better version of yourself. Do some research to find lodges that take staff development and community upliftment seriously, as this will enrich your travels as you contribute to developing previously disadvantaged communities.

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in Hluhluwe is co-owned and staffed by the local Hlabisa community © Roger de la Harpe

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in Hluhluwe is co-owned and staffed by the local Hlabisa community © Roger de la Harpe

6. Beautiful cities

Iconic Cape Town, with its mountains and seas and vibey international culture, offers something for everyone. Visiting national botanic gardens like Kirstenbosch, taking a cable car up Table Mountain, and driving along spectacular coastlines will always leave you wishing you had booked to stay a bit longer.

Laid-back Durban will infuse you with tropical relaxation, while inspiring your creativity with local artistic design. Intense Johannesburg is a melting pot of cultures, producing world class art, cutting-edge modern design and a well organised transport hub from which to easily access other parts of the country and world.

7. Big Five game reserves

Almost every province in South Africa has vast natural parks where one may safari in close contact with big and small game, and flora. Experts in creating the perfect safari, there is a strong commitment to showing guests the revered beasts and birds of our land.

You may encounter different forms of wildlife from the back of a game vehicle, on foot on a walking safari, by bicycle or hot air balloon. International experts in game viewing, South Africans are often invited as consultants to other parts of the world to demonstrate eco-sensitive and holistic safari experiences. There are many malaria-free and low-risk-malaria game parks, which is unusual in Africa.

South Africa is passionate about conservation of endangered species like cheetah © Characterstays

South Africa is passionate about conservation of endangered species like cheetah © Characterstays

8. Adventure and activities

From yoga retreats to sailing expeditions to snorkelling to turtle viewing safaris, South Africa is all about that awesome outdoor environment © Riaan Meintjes

From yoga retreats to sailing expeditions to snorkelling to turtle viewing safaris, South Africa is all about that awesome outdoor environment © Riaan Meintjes

Thanks to our amazing weather, South Africans are sports-mad and you will find a range of fun outdoor activities to suit every interest. There are plenty of fun activities for children, whose natural free spirits will bloom in the great outdoors.

Watch with joy as your children become the most free-spirited versions of themselves in the beautiful South African outdoors © Characterstays

Watch with joy as your children become the most free-spirited versions of themselves in the beautiful South African outdoors ©Characterstays

Birdwatching is a famous South African pursuit and the country is a popular destination for twitchers. You can find places where there is a vast diversity of grassland, freshwater, sea and forest birds in one area.

Spoonbills at sunset in the Kruger National Park © Characterstays

Spoonbills at sunset in the Kruger National Park ©Characterstays

Many outdoor activities and tours are guided by passionate locals who combine breathtaking scenery with fascinating information about nature and history. For example, let the stories of bravery and cowardice of the Anglo-Boer war and the Anglo-Zulu war enthral you, leading you to question what type of person you would be under such intense circumstances.

Let Isibindi Zulu Lodge guides enthral you will tales of the cursed battle of Isandlwana and outrageous courage shown at Rorke’s Drift © Guy Upfold

Let Isibindi Zulu Lodge guides enthral you with tales of the cursed battle of Isandlwana and outrageous courage shown at Rorke’s Drift ©Guy Upfold

9. World’s best beaches

I am often rather disappointed at what is called a ‘beach’ in other parts of the planet, as here we are spoilt by some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. In my family we even name holidays after the unique colours of a local beach, like Thonga turquoise, Cintsa grey or Ballito blue.

Robinson Crusoe-goes percale at Thonga Beach Lodge © Guy Upfold

Robinson Crusoe goes percale at Thonga Beach Lodge ©Guy Upfold

Most South African beaches have soft white or golden sand, stretch for miles and miles, and are much less crowded than beaches in other parts of the world. You will find yourself happy, as happy as only a child can usually be, sorting through shells, floating in the ocean or rooting for hatching baby turtles making their dangerous journey into the sea.

There are warm oceans, gentle swimming beaches, snorkelling and diving beaches, walking beaches and scenic Wild Coast beaches with high rock faces and gorges. Take plenty of spare camera batteries as you will find yourself snapping way too many photographs of one after another spectacular beach landscape and sunset.

Nothing quite beats a golden sunrise from the pristine natural beach at Thonga Beach Lodge © Guy Upfold

Nothing quite beats a golden sunrise from the pristine natural beach at Thonga Beach Lodge ©Guy Upfold

10. Combining nature and technology

Unlike many other developing countries, South Africa is a strange combination of being naturally and technologically advanced. Our national roads are generally excellent, travel by air efficient and tour operating companies slick and well-versed in international travel trends. The shopping includes everything from top international brands to local ethnic crafts and curios. You may choose to stay in lodges in pristine natural areas with WiFi or you can still escape to remote pockets for that all-important digital detox.

This is a country that has one of the highest tourism returns in the world, and whatever your reason for visiting, you are likely to fall in love with this land of contrasts and beauty. For more ideas of interesting places to stay, see Characterstays or visit Africa Geographic Travel for inspiration on tours to South Africa.

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge

Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge is the only private lodge situated within the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park, KwaZulu Natal. Situated high up on a ridge the lodge commands spectacular views over the park. Game drives and walks are offered in the heart of Big 5 territory.

Okavango Walking Chiefs Island
Princeton University Press
Africa Geographic