South Africa lies on the southern tip of Africa with northern Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and has Mozambique and Swaziland as eastern neighbours. The independent state of Lesotho, lies like an enclave in the middle of South Africa.
South Africa has a rich colonial history going back to the middle of the 17th century when the Dutch founded a post on the Cape for supplies and drinking water for the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Around 1800, the British occupied the vast country. The Dutch, also known as the Boers, went into the interior and founded several states there. It took another century before the British also took those states and made the country a united South Africa. In the 20th century, apartheid was only abolished in 1990. Four years later, Nelson Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.
A tour of South Africa can be done throughout the year. In their winter (when it is summer with us), it is fortunately not too hot. Especially the parks in the northeast, such as the Kruger Park, are pleasantly warm then. If it is winter with us, you may well be in the heat of their summer, but then you mainly limit yourself to the southwest, as it can be quite stuffy in the northeast of the country. We were there in October and found that to be an exceptionally pleasant period. March and April are also good months for a round trip. April, July and September are less suitable travel months because there are so many people travelling then. Everything becomes more expensive and busier because of this.
Currency: South African rand(ZAR)
Official languages: Afrikaans English Southern Ndebele Northern Sotho Southern Sotho Swati Tsonga Tswana Venda Xhosa Zulu
Archaeologists have dated fossils found in Gauteng Province around three million years old. A one hour drive from Johannesburg, the caves at Sterkfontein, Malapa and several other locations are collectively one of South Africa’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Sterkfontein Visitors can explore the excavation areas using a network of boardwalks and walkways. The visitor center has a museum with pre-historic fossils and various historical displays.
Bantu-speaking tribes settled in the northern areas of what is now South Africa during the 5th century BC, after vanquishing the San and Khoikhoi. Over the next 1,500 years, they gradually moved southward. By the time the first European explorers arrived in the 16th century, South Africa was a predominantly Bantu-speaking nation.
Dutch colonist Jan van Riebeeck set up an outpost at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. This complex would later expand and evolve into what is now Cape Town. The original Dutch settlers shipped in slaves from India and Indonesia. As the pioneers moved east taking more territory, they clashed with the Bantu-speaking Xhosa tribes. A series of conflicts known as the Cape Frontier Wars took place from the 1770’s to the 1870’s.
In Grahamstown, the 1820 Settlers Memorial Museum has been revamped and renamed the History Museum. It houses artifacts and exhibits which offer unique insights into the lives and heritage of the people who inhabited the region between the 18th and early 20th centuries. British Armed Forces took over Cape Town in 1806. After diamonds were found in the 1860’s and gold in 1884, European colonizers battled over these sources of wealth.
The Dutch and allied settlers came to be known as the Boers. The British and the Boers fought two wars as they both tried to gain control of disputed territory and farmland. The first was from 1880 to 1881 and the second from 1899 to 1902. The oldest building in the country, Cape Town’s Castle of Good Hope, houses the Castle Military Museum, which has a fabulous collection of weaponry from the Cape Frontier and Anglo-Boer wars.
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is the most important figure in South Africa’s recent history. The militant anti-apartheid activist was sent to jail in 1962 and became a rallying symbol for the national and global anti-apartheid movements. He spent 27 years of a life sentence in Johannesburg Number Four and Robben Island, making both important tourist hotspots. After his release in 1990, Mandela led African National Congress negotiations which resulted in South Africa adopting a democracy in 1994. Subsequent elections saw Mandela installed as the first president of the country, a position he retained until stepping down in 1999.
South Africa’s indigenous culture suffered during the years of apartheid and even native African singers began using English or Afrikaans. Bantu and its various dialects are undergoing a minor renaissance and musicians are adopting their native tongues once again. Kwaito is a pleasant fusion of old and contemporary African beats. Traditional South African languages have survived in rural areas, where less everyday exposure to Westerners has taken place.
Dance is popular in all echelons of South African society, with particular dances representing the origins of its performers. Gumboot originated from the first miners and is today an integral part of the nation’s culture. Gumboot performances can be seen at key tourist areas, such as Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Zulu dances are an amazing spectacle of warriors in traditional attire, which can be observed during the annual Royal Reed Dance or at cultural shows in Phezula Game Park in KwaZulu Natal Province.
South Africa has a rich sporting heritage and its three most popular are rugby, cricket and soccer. People in South Africa actively follow the Springboks and the Proteas national teams and games are shown on televisions in many public establishments.
South Africa experiences a high degree of sunshine with rainfall about half of the global average, increasing from west to east, and with semi-desert regions in the north-west. While the Western Cape has a Mediterranean climate with winter rainfall, most of the country experiences summer rain.
As a tourist, you can stay in the country for up to three months without a visa. However, you must have a machine-readable passport with at least two empty pages, valid for at least 30 days after departure from South Africa. You must be able to prove that you are indeed a tourist, have sufficient financial means, have a return ticket or a ticket to the next destination, and are in possession of all documents required for the next destination. If you wish to stay longer than three months, you are advised to contact the South African embassy in your country.
Transport is well organised in South Africa. The country is very big. Depending on the duration of your journey and what you wish to see in the country anyway, you can travel by rental car, bus, train or plane. Because we had ‘only’ four weeks to see a maximum of half of the country, we travelled for the first two weeks with a rental car, after which we took the plane from the south to Durban. Here we got another rental car with which we drove to the northeast. The roads are generally good, although you also have many gravel roads.
There are good train connections between the major cities. You have compartments with great luxury to cheaper alternatives. However, a faster and cheaper way to travel by public transport is the bus. And you also get those in different variants. The bus that we would like to advise for the active traveller who wants to draw his own plan, is the so-called Baz Bus, a hop-on hop-off bus company, fairly similar to the Peru Hop. There are hop-on hop-off tickets for five different, beautiful routes where you can make up to 40 stops. These stops can often also be combined with an excursion. More information can be found on the Baz Bus site
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
Although we find South Africa a fantastic country to visit, certain safety risks apply. Especially around the big cities there are violent, criminal gangs that are active and can make the life of the tourist, especially immediately after arrival, pretty miserable. The advice from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is therefore not to get money out directly at the airport or at the border office. Before leaving, study the current Travel Advice for South Africa and Lesotho. Also take a look at our travel blog on safety with some general advice.
A Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate is now a mandatory requirement for all persons entering Kenya. Kenya, like other countries in Africa, sits in a malaria prone area in the African tropics. Anti-Malarial Prophylactics are highly recommended – kindly consult with your physician on this before travel. Whilst contracting Malaria is not necessarily imminent, we also recommend you bring insect repellent, long pants and long sleeved tops for the cooler evenings, as well as sleeping under a mosquito net. Additional recommended, but not mandatory, vaccinations include Typhoid, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B as well as Tetanus.
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