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Archbishop Desmond Tutu may have dubbed South Africa as “the rainbow nation” in the spirit of multiculturalism, but the country’s diversity is inherent in its landscape. Burgeoning cities rub shoulders with craggy mountains and glistening shores, while vine-carpeted Winelands give way to the rust-hued dunes of the Kalahari in the north. South Africa is a land of infinite variety and we’ve spotlighted the places where you can experience the country at its very best.
Experience South Africa’s Best Destinations
Kick off your South African adventure in the country’s bustling capital, where dynamic city energy is softened by laid-back coastal living – don’t expect two days the same here. In the foothills of Lion’s Head, Ellerman House serves as a great base with views across the city and over Bantry Bay. After a morning spent browsing the hotel’s 1,000-piece collection of South African art, stroll along the seafront to Lily’s Restaurant for an Insta-worthy breakfast – we’re ordering the pancakes with raspberries, lime, coconut and crème fraîche.
There’s nothing like a few afternoon activities to work off your brunch – though we do recommend grabbing treats for the road from Jason Bakery; the hybrid “doughssant” is a must-try. Beach lovers should make a beeline for Clifton 2nd, where prime-time sunbathing is best interspersed by shoreline strolls to pick up an ice cream. Thrill-seekers, meanwhile, should forego Table Mountain in favour of Lion’s Head, where there are fewer people to cramp your style and vistas over the city are even more jaw-dropping. Feeling brave? Try paragliding from the top.
Come evening, The Test Kitchen is the hottest dinner ticket in town – book in advance for global dishes prepared with local South African ingredients. Sophistication and drama characterise the restaurant’s Dark Room, where cocktails and small plates are served, while more formal courses are enjoyed in the semi-industrial Light Room. Saunter back to Ellerman House for a nightcap from the hotel’s 7,500-bottle cellar.
Trade in city lights for country nights at Leeu Estates, where sun-drenched terraces are neighboured by towering mountains and a bubbling river. Wineries are unsurprisingly the main draw in this region; days here are best spent hopping from one to another in the rich and ripe areas of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. As you sip on South Africa’s best bottles, expect to be serenaded only by rustling vineyard leaves and the pleasing clink of wine glasses.
A sunrise hot air balloon ride makes an early wake up well worth it, but, should you want a lie in (wine tastings are hard work, after all), an afternoon bike ride through the vineyards is equally sublime. Come sundown, book a table at Babel Restaurant in Babylonstoren, one of the oldest Cape Dutch farms in South Africa. Pop into its renowned spa before dining on farm-fresh in the light-filled conservatory.
Of course, a trip to South Africa wouldn’t be complete without an attempt at spotting the Big Five. Fly to Madikwe Game Reserve and transfer to your safari lodge of choice. Opt for Madikwe Safari Lodge for muted colours that melt into the wilderness, or Jaci’s Tree Lodge for a sanctuary above the treetops. Early risers should join sunrise game drives for the best chance at spotting animals, while those who like get up close (but hopefully not too personal) with South Africa’s big cats can try a walking safari.
For a more under-the-radar experience, set your GPS to the Waterberg region. Sure, you’re less likely to see South Africa’s big cats, but floating along on a boat safari while spotting colourful birds perched atop mud-wallowing hippos is nothing short of serene. Bed down amid mountain streams, gorges and rolling hills at Marataba Mountain Lodge, where open-plan design makes for idyllic sunset-watching post-game drive.
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