South Africa. I travelled there as a backpacker. Worked there as a volunteer. Lived there as a resident type person.
I’ve experienced a lot in South Africa. I’ve seen racial harmony; I’ve observed racism. I’ve been humbled by dignity in poverty; I’ve been robbed by people in poverty. I’ve experienced human warmth; I’ve witnessed human cruelty.
I’ve seen the good and the bad of country. And the strange. In honour of the latter, here are a few curious, interesting and fun personal observations about South Africa.
Guide To South Africa is like a fantasy world map
You know the map of Middle-Earth in the Lord of the Rings books? The map in the Game of Thrones novels? South Africa is a bit like that.
I don’t mean it’s full of hobbits and dragons; I mean it embodies that fantasy trait of realms ranging from arid scrubland (Northern Cape) to lush forests (Mpumalanga), and from icy mountains (the Drakensberg range) to vast oceans (shout-out to the Atlantic and Indian).
Large exotic creatures no roam wild on the vast plains of South Africa, but the fantastical Big Five (lion, elephants, buffalo, leopard and rhino) remain ingrained in the nation’s culture.
Joburg looks like a city from a futuristic dystopian movie
I won’t start every entry like this, but you know those cities-of-the-future from 80s films where everything has gone wrong?
The ones with high crime, boarded-up shops, people afraid to stop at red lights and fires in metal bins? Like in Blade Runner or Demolition Man? That’s what inner-city Johannesburg is like.
It’s not a place you want to spend a typical evening. Although, if you hang around long enough, perhaps you’ll meet Robocop…
There. Are. So. Many. Languages.
A lot of countries have more than one official language. But 11? Are you serious?!
Luckily, many people speak multiple languages, and there’s a lot of overlap. Typically, most will speak English, Afrikaans and their ‘local’ language, e.g. Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, etc. Obviously, that’s not even going into regional dialect variations, but let’s not go nuts here.
My advice for backpackers? Know English, learn some Afrikaans and pick up a few polite phrases for whichever place you’re in at the time. Especially the tongue-clicky Xhosa. It’s fun.
The Afrikaans accent is scary – but hot.
The Afrikaans language is a deep, throat-wrecking and Germanic-sounding drawl. The result of this is that, when animated, Afrikaners can sound aggressive, powerful and… sexy. It’s kind of like they’re giving you orders all the time, even when they’re just asking for a coffee.
It’s totally a preference thing, but while everyone likes to be seduced by French or Italian or another romantic language, sometimes you can’t beat a good hard… Afrikaans accent.
Rugby is the national sport, or is it football?
Due to the juxtaposing cultures in the country, you’ll get a very different impression of sporting passion depending on who you’re with.
Whereas football is basically the national sport in England – black or white – in South Africa the number one sport for Afrikaners is rugby. The beloved green-and-gold Springboks are the primary focus of white sport fans. However, among the black population it’s all about soccer. The national team, affectionately known as, are the pride and joy of the country.
Yes, yes, I know; you can’t just literally split sporting affiliation into black and white.
Except you can. Sort of.
‘Black Taxi’ means something very different
I was really confused the first few times (white) people in South Africa referred to the combi van taxis that carry 15 -20 people at a time. In the UK a ‘black taxi’ or ‘black cab’ is a universal mode of transport; they’re used by pretty much everybody.
Black taxis in South Africa are different; it’s considered a poor person’s way of getting around. But, as a traveller, you shouldn’t be afraid of this. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and involves lots of waiting around, but it’s a chance to travel as normal people travel.
I hate to use the phrase, but, like volunteering in Africa, catching a black taxi means you get a very authentic South Africa experience.
You can hang out with elephants and sharks in the same day
Because South Africa is like this magical fantasy place when it comes to wildlife, you’re basically incredibly spoiled; you could spend a morning diving with sharks and go on a game drive in the afternoon or evening.
Kruger National Park is the most famous national park, but the country is teeming with them, and you might have a better experience at one of the less popular ones. My recommendation is Addo National Park near Port Elizabeth – it’s awesome for elephants. Lots of elephants.
If you can kill it, you can barbecue it
South Africans love barbecuing. Or, as they call it over there, braaing. To braai is a not merely a method of cooking; it’s a lifestyle. A cultural tradition. Modern heritage. It’s universally loved by all. Except vegetarians. But there aren’t many of them in South Africa.
Usually braais will feature standard steaks, ribs and the beloved boerewors sausage made from beef and pork. But be prepared for anything. Impala, boar, springbok, crocodile; they all could make an appearance.
Your Guide to Budget Travel In Africa
Africa is a continent bursting with possibilities for travel: diverse cultures, fascinating histories and vibrant communities. Among the main reasons to travel in Africa are the breathtaking wildlife and natural beauty, the adventure and romance of safari, the deserts, jungles, mountains, and delight of the glittering coastline.
Exploring the continent can be done on any budget, and if you travel wisely it is possible to get by on surprisingly little. While it would be impossible to cover all that the mighty continent has to offer in such short space, we hope it provides some indicators for destinations and activities during what should be a trip of a lifetime.
When to Go and Weather
Africa is a vast continent straddling the equator and as such has varied climates and contrasting seasons.
Travelers usually time visits to avoid the height of the rainy seasons and the ravaging temperatures at the peak of the hot seasons, but these weather patterns change from region to region.
– North Africa is at its best, and coolest, during October to March. Sub-Saharan Africa is best for travelling between rainy seasons.
– In East Africa it is dry from December to March and again in and June to October.
– West Africa is dry in October to May, but also extremely hot during these months.
– Central Africa is dry from June to September.
– In the South, the dry season is from May to June and the rainy season is from November to May; between these seasons, around October, southern Africa is ferociously hot.
Enjoy African Action, Adventure and Stunning Wildlife In An Affordable Way
For many travellers the principle reason for travelling in Africa is to experience the astonishing diversity of wildlife, most famously by going on safari.
Safari packages vary greatly in price, but a basic minibus and camping trip out in the wilderness – while relatively costly, gives value for money in terms of the amount of animals you get to see.
Walking safaris are great for getting up close with nature, and often cheap too!
Generally, safaris in the national parks of western and southern Africa such as Kruger and Etosha are more affordable than the more famous parks of the Serengeti and Massai Mara in the east.
Birdwatching is also a big wildlife attraction due to the incredible number of bird species across Africa, and during the months of November to March the numbers swell as native birds are joined by migratory varieties.
Birds inhabit every part of Africa, so birdwatching is an affordable way to see the continent’s wildlife.
Africa is home to many primates including mankind’s closest relatives: the chimps and gorillas.
Trips to visit the apes in Rwanda, Uganda, Cameroon and Tanzania can be the experience of a lifetime, but don’t come cheap.
Primate tracking in Gabon and Gambia are generally more affordable options.
There are endless possibilities for hiking in Africa, taking in all types of terrain and climate, and an affordable way to take in the scenery.
The spectacular peaks of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and a week spent walking the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania are particularly fine hiking opportunities.
Africa’s Great Lakes – Albert, Victoria, Nyasa and Tanganyika – offer enormous possibilities for exploration of the wildlife and cultures of past and present that have grown around them.
On the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the awesome power of nature can be seen at Victoria Falls, which is one of the largest waterfalls in the world.
The Zambezi River, which cascades through the falls, is a centre for water sports and adventure pursuits in Africa, and there are activities to suit any budget.
Africa’s amazing coastline provides a massive range of attractions for visitors. There are opportunities for diving along the shores of the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Indian Ocean and the mighty Atlantic.
Scuba diving can be expensive, but snorkeling is a cheap and enjoyable alternative, especially for exploring the many coral reefs and shallows of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. One of the best ways to enjoy Africa is by simply relaxing on the sandy paradises of the continent’s beaches.
Local Festivals And Celebrations
Contemporary Africa offers a feast of different cultures, life styles and experiences. The best thing about the continent is the people, and a good way to get involved is to visit local festivals and celebrations.
There are countless regional events to attend, and some of the bigger festivals are worth timing you visit to coincide with.
– The Cure Salee (‘Festival of the Nomads’) is an annual gathering of Nomadic tribes in Niger, which takes place to mark the end of the rainy season in September.
– Africa’s voodoo traditions are represented at Togo and Benin’s yearly Vodun celebrations around January 10th.
– The city of Fes hosts a fantastic multitude of global sounds at the Morocco Festival of Sacred Music every June.
Marrakech is famous for its shopping, and has an abundance of hand made lamps. They make them on the back streets and corners around town, but few know that much of it, though not all, is child labor…
South Africa’s Durban International Film Festival is also an important showcase, taking place each June.
Tips on Budgeting In Africa.
- Keep accounts: By keeping a record of all you costs you can plan ahead for your travels, allow yourself a daily allowance and make preparations for bigger outlays.
- Plan big expenses in advance: While you can keep your daily expenses relatively low during your travels in Africa there will be occasions when it’s worth paying a bit more money such as going on safari, long-distance travel or treating yourself to a night in a more luxurious hotel. Plan ahead for these moments, before you start travelling if possible, so you know exactly how much money you need for bigger expenses.
- Be flexible: Traveling in Africa should be a trip of a lifetime, so be prepared to be flexible with your budget. There will be times when spending a bit more is worthwhile such as picking a guide and transport for going safari. It’s also wise to have some cash set aside for an emergency.
- Haggle: Many merchants in Africa expect their customers to bargain for their goods, so learning to haggle is a great skill to have. Work out how much you’re willing to pay for an item before haggling, and by remaining polite and friendly throughout the bargaining all parties should come out of a haggle happy.
- Spend ethically: There is a great deal of poverty in Africa, and as a tourist you will often be seen as much richer than the locals and be expected to pay more. You shouldn’t take offense to this, and by spending wisely you can help ease this inequality. Buy and pay for local services and goods so local people benefit, and if you want to help people begging in the streets then donate some money to a local charity. If you spend wisely you can enjoy Africa on an affordable budget and hopefully also bring some happiness to those who live in the lands through which you travel.
Hope this guide helps you plan your next trip to Africa!
(photo credits: The Dilly Lama)
About the author: Andrew Tipp is a writer, blogger and editor. He is an experienced traveler, and has spent more than a year backpacking around the world. Andy has also worked as a full-time travel editor for gapyear.com and written for number of travel blogs. South Africa is one of his favorite places; he’s written an extensive guide to the country, and has spent time teaching English in Limpopo province as a volunteer. He is a passionate advocate of travel and volunteering, and has presented talks at university roadshows and travel trade fairs on the subjects.
South Africa’s Best Cities
South Africa is a diverse country that’s probably most famous for being a top safari destination. While it is, without doubt, an unparallelled place to see the big five, it’s also home to some of the world’s most exciting cities – a fact that I think can sometimes be overlooked.
Hopefully, this will inspire you to hop on a plane and visit one of them for your next holiday! And, if it does, you can find a brilliant selection of luxurious accommodation through Wanderforth.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a guide to three of South Africa’s most vibrant, exciting and memorable metropolises.
I think Cape Town is probably the best-known city in South Africa and it is, in my opinion, one that definitely deserves its fame. As well as being the provincial capital of the Western Cape, it is home to a huge wealth of attractions, from natural wonders like Table Mountain to beautiful beaches populated with penguins.
My absolute favorite thing about Cape Town is Boulders Beach, the home of the aforementioned colony of African penguins, who have lived here since the 1980s.
Coming here to see them waddling around and swimming is a must and, if you’re really lucky, you’ll find yourself paddling beside them when you take a dip. Just as a quick tip, this beach is part of Table Mountain National Park, so you’ll need to pay a small fee to get in.
If your idea of the perfect city combines varied urban attractions with an absolutely stunning coastline, I think you’ll find it difficult to discover a destination better than Durban. This city lies on the edge of a coastline bathed in warm Indian Ocean waters, and as a consequence the shore here is a divine place for sunbathing and swimming.
As we’re focusing on cities rather than beaches today, I’ll try not to get too caught up in talking about various stretches of sand!
Aside from the beaches, Durban’s attractions include its wonderfully diverse culture; you should be able to discern Zulu and Indian, as well as South African, influences.
Should you fancy experiencing a little of the luxurious lifestyle, make sure you spend some time at Wilson’s Wharf.
This charming area is home to a great mix of restaurants and high-end shops, as well as acting as a splendid summer venue for musical and theatrical events.
Last on the list is the incredibly vibrant, diverse and historically rich Johannesburg – the ultimate place to come if you want a jam-packed break.
Think exploring nationally important cultural attractions during the day and partying hard at night.
Among the most fascinating options for the former is visiting the Apartheid Museum, which tells the story of 20th-century South Africa. This does, of course, mean it has a strong focus on apartheid, but the establishment does look at the broader national history too.
If you want to spend a day or two doing something a little more light-hearted, head to Gold Reef City. Packed with fast-paced rides like Tower of Terror and Anaconda, it is also somewhere the kids can enjoy a spot of dressing up in period costume.
Be sure to stay vigilant in Johannesburg and plan your trip ahead of time. With some pre-planning, you can have an amazing time!
Night Owls Guide to Namibia, Africa
Forget about any misconceptions you may have, because Namibia, Southern Africa is up and coming on the tourist scene in a major way.
That’s right, there is somewhere other than the big African cities of Johannesburg and Nairobi where you can experience all night partying and top class eateries, with a healthy and sometimes overpowering African influence thrown into the mix.
I for one love to explore, which is why if you are looking for something totally different and some of the most stunning scenery in the whole continent.
The young country of Namibia, Southern Africa can deliver an unrivaled experience that will take even the most experienced travelers’ breath away, and provide a contrasting nightlife suitable for all no matter your expectations.
Windhoek – Little Germany
Any traveler flying into Namibia’s central Highlands’s capital Windhoek will be immediately met by heavy German influences, which as a result has led to the city becoming a beacon to the rest of the continent on just how an Africa city can thrive if it uses colonial influences to its advantage.
Hotels in Namibia and Windhoek will not exactly be packed full of western tourists – something that I’m sure will appeal to many travelers looking for a true African experience – but there will be plenty of faces milling around on the search for Namibia’s nightspots.
The city may not exactly seem buzzing at first glance, but it can offer first class food – which unsurprisingly is based on German cuisine – as well as several lively party venues.
Club Thriller does not enjoy the best location – in fact new visitors to Namibia, Southern Africa may well think it looks a bit rough on arrival – but it does provide a nice mix of African and European music and a fairly relaxed atmosphere.
Funky Lab is a more popular nightspot and the Jass Bar is a sophisticated venue where you can enjoy a nice cigar and a pleasant conversation in a part of Africa few have explored.
If you can, visit this city in March or April, when the month long German carnival is in town. It’s a real experience not to be missed if possible.
Cheap and Cheerful Swakopmund
Hotels in Namibia can vary, but if you decide to stay in the interesting city of Swakopmund there is no way you’ll break the bank as everything is so cheap!
Hotels in Namibia and Swakopmund in particular can charge around £5 per room, which is great value.
You can sample the local beer for under a £1 and in most places you can fill yourself up on huge steaks for under a fiver. Not bad, eh?
When it comes to nightlife, there are plenty of options in this small but buzzing city. If you want to follow the locals and any travellers who are in town, head to Gruner Kranz.
Here you’ll find pool tables, beautiful girls, cheap beer and shots all accompanied by good music suited to all tastes.
The city is safe and is a good beacon of Namibia, Southern Africa as a whole, so forget about it being bandit country or unsafe for tourists – just relax with the locals and enjoy true African nightlife every night of the week!
So there you have it – Namibia, Southern Africa in a nutshell. Expect the unexpected by all means, but expect a thrilling holiday above all else!
Savor The Taste Of Namibia, Southern Africa
When my boyfriend and I decided to venture to Namibia Southern Africa I was more than a little concerned about what I was going to eat, being a vegetarian.
Like any devoted carnivore my boyfriend attempted to quash my fears with the ‘they’ll always be salad’ argument, which made me even more irate.
But I shouldn’t have been so worried, there were hundreds of amazing food places in Namibia. Although undeniably meat orientated, many of the restaurants had a large vegetarian section, so vast in fact that I often found it difficult to choose!
One restaurant I would recommend in particular is Homstead in Windheok. As long as you’re not indecisive (the menu is one of the most diverse I’ve seen) then this is the perfect place for all tastes. The food is also pretty unusual, my boyfriend had a crocodile fondue for example, while I went for a deliciously flavoured vegetable curry dish.
The herbs and vegetables used were all freshly grown in their garden, and the restaurant had a very wholesome, earthy vibe. The setting was beautiful, you could either sit in their idyllic garden and bird watch while you ate, or dine in the historical house built in 1906. They even had a wine cellar and some interesting liquors to sample, though be warned they can be pretty strong!
For a more international flavour I would recommend O Portuga restaurant, also in Windheok. These dishes are based on Portuguese cuisine and the flavours are absolutely out of this world!
My boyfriend had a mammoth meat kebab, which literally towered over us! Apparently it was one of the best kebabs he’d ever had, and he doesn’t praise meat lightly.
In an attempt at bravado, he also tried Piri Piri (a really fiery flavoured chilli).
If you like chilli these are something else, but if you’re only trying to be manly avoid them at all costs, it was great entertainment for me though. For my main meal I decided on the salmon steak cooked in mixed vegetables. Although I usually try not to eat fish I could not help sampling this delicious dish, and the guilt was well worth it, the fish was succulent and the flavours were stunning.
For pudding we shared the petite gateaux, which had the perfect ratio of chocolate to vanilla ice cream, and was warmed to perfection. It was so heavenly in fact that we soon found ourselves fighting over the last morsel.
Although I was initially skeptical about what the food in my destination Namibia might be like, I was quickly won over by its deliciously exotic flavors. Unfortunately for my waistband, I never even contemplated a salad!