It can be hard to find a destination that interests just about everyone. Yet South Africa manages to do it with ease. Food lovers looking to book a Fred. Olsen cruise will be won over by the array of dining options, while wine lovers will find a new favourite drink in one of the many vineyards. Along with friendly locals you can unwind on one of the many gorgeous beaches, or get your blood pumping with the many adventure sports on offer.
Some of us have dreams and goals that we want to achieve in our lifetime, many of which expand across numerous countries and even continents. But you can quite easily make an entire South African bucket list and tick off the activities during your next cruise holiday.
See wild lions
There are some things that you simply have to do when you visit Africa. One of them is to experience its wonderful wildlife. You may have seen such animals in zoos, but nothing will ever compare to watching them dominate their natural habitat.
Sadly many of the incredible native species in Africa are endangered, with many having seen their numbers decimated over recent years. It is therefore vitally important to raise awareness for these animals and to support them, before it is too late. Fortunately there are organisations like Captured in Africa (CAF) dedicated to supporting such a cause. We asked CAF’s CEO Drew Abrahamson a series of questions about what you can expect from a safari in South Africa and why tourism like this plays such a vital role in the preservation of the world’s best loved species.
“South Africa’s landscape is very diverse with private and state-owned reserves throughout the country,” said Drew. “There is a safari to suit all needs. From big 5 to beach and bush which could include whale watching, great white shark diving as well as the most magical, barely untouched snorkelling spots.
“South Africa is home to the infamous Sabi Sand Game Reserve which is a privately-owned big 5 reserve and forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park. The Sabi Sands is known for its big cat sightings, especially lions and leopards and the first-time safari goer will be guaranteed to see the big 5. South Africa prides itself on extremely high service levels throughout the industry, so every detail is taken into account and the guest should not leave disappointed.”
As well as offering world-renowned wildlife experiences, safaris in South Africa support organisations like CAF. “Safaris taken with ethical companies can be highly beneficial to our wildlife as well as communities surrounding the reserves,” said Drew. “The most beneficial aspect of travellers visiting anywhere in Africa with a company like Captured In Africa is that education comes first, so the animals are the main priority. With the education of guests, support follows, as they learn about the value wildlife has to the greater well-being and protection of the planet.”
While seeing big cats is high up on many peoples’ South African bucket list, we were curious to find out what other animals you can spot on a safari:
“The diversity of wildlife in Africa is incredible. Depending on the area, you can see everything from the big 5 (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalo), as well as cheetahs and pangolins. Another amazing animal which most forget about is the African wild dog, which are highly persecuted as they live in packs with behaviour the same as wolves, so farmers across the continent sadly see them as vermin. For those who love vast open spaces, sunrises and sunsets, an African safari is something that will imprint in your memory forever. Africa gets under your skin and is difficult to leave behind.”
Go cage diving
You are not restricted to the wildlife on land in South Africa. The seas are teeming with marine life. One of the most famous residents in South Africa’s waters is the great white shark and for those that are brave enough can even join the fearsome creatures in the water. Many of us have felt our hearts race from little more than a video of a shark, but for others that just simply isn’t enough. All along the coast you will find quaint towns with qualified and experienced businesses offering you the chance to go cage diving.
Submerged in a metal cage you will come face-to-face with an incredible apex predator in its natural habitat. They are one of the most iconic animals on the planet and something we should treasure. It is therefore important to be sure that if you do wish to go cage diving, that you are using a responsible company. Apex Shark Expeditions are one such example. With a genuine passion for sharks they are based in False Bay, where they specialise in eco-friendly expeditions in small groups, ensuring an intimate and importantly, educational experience for everyone.
Try some local cuisine
South African cuisine holds true to the recipes and flavours used by the indigenous population, but with notable influences from the Dutch, French, Indians and other Asian countries. The result is a diverse selection of foods and tastes. Here you can also choose between high-end dining in celebrated restaurants, or get a real flavour of the country with the many street food stalls selling some of South Africa’s most popular dishes.
A Durban street food staple, the Bunny Chow obsession has swept across the country and is even springing up in the United Kingdom. A simple but delicious dish, Bunny Chow is a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with a choice of spicy curries. There are a number of varieties, from the type of curry to the size of the meal. You can get half a load, which is a very large meal, or quarter, which is sure to leave you stuffed.
Regarded as the national dish of South Africa, Bobotie resembles a Shepard’s pie. Minced meat is cooked with a number of spices including curry powder, along with herbs, and is then topped with eggs and milk before being baked.
Anne from Anne Travel Foodie has been to over 55 countries, but South Africa is one of her favourites. She's a vegetarian and she's sharing her three favourite restaurants in Cape Town for good vegetarian options with us.
“One of my favourite streets is Long Street, it has many bars and restaurants. A great place for a burger is Tiger’s Milk. I had their Tree Hugger Burger, a vegetarian burger with Portobello, aubergine and feta cheese. They also have some nice cocktails to get you in the party mood before exploring Long Street some more.
“Buena Vista Social Cafe is a tapas bar with a few street side tables. From here it’s great people watching especially a bit later in the evening when everybody is getting ready to go out. They have a delicious vegetarian tapas platter for two with hummus, tzatziki, marinated mushrooms and grilled aubergine. Their nachos are also superb and besides tapas they also serve regular main dishes.
"Close to Long Street you’ll find Kloof Street, a bit calmer but a great street to have dinner since there are many restaurants and most of them have outdoor seating. My favourite is Kloof Street House. It’s a bit more up-class but very reasonably priced. The interior is great and the food is delicious. They have several veggie options, as a starter they have a vegetarian antipasti platter for two with hummus, bread, olives and vegetables. I had their lentil artichoke bake with carrot and cumin puree and avocado as a main, but they also have a good potato gnocchi with roasted butternut squash.”
Go snorkelling with seals
Another of South Africa’s best loved animals are seals, which occupy the shorelines. You can settle for a simple boat tour or water safari to admire these animals from above, but why not try something truly memorable? There are numerous companies, like Apex Shark Expeditions, which offer you the chance to go snorkelling with seals.
You have the chance swim amongst these incredibly curious and friendly animals, as they glide through their underwater playground. The Cape fur seals will mimic your movements and can even swim alongside you once you enter the water.
Bungee jump between two cooling towers
You are spoilt for choice when it comes to adventure activities in South Africa. While you may have met people who have braved a shark cage, there aren’t many who have done a bungee jump between two cooling towers. The brainchild of Bob Woods, Orlando Towers opened in 2009, and is currently managed by Nico Myburg who has more than 20 years of experience in bungee jumping and extreme sports.
What were just two disused cooling towers became an iconic sight. Now brightly decorated and a real tourist attraction for the township of Soweto. The west tower is painted with depictions of Soweto’s most famous sons and daughters along with traditional scenes that best reflect the area.
Drive along the Garden Route
A bucket list is often very personal and unique, but something that features more regularly than others is a drive along the Garden Route. If you have the time, hiring a car can be the best way to explore a country. It is an activity that Vicki Garside, content creator and editor-in-chief for Make Time to See the World, would recommend for anyone visiting South Africa:
"When visiting South Africa I highly recommend driving the Garden Route. With various stops along the route you'll see a wide range of South Africa's highlights such as the wine region of Stellenbosch, have the opportunity to cage dive with Great Whites in Shark Alley, taste some of the world's best Oysters in Knysna, bungee jump off the second highest platform in the world on Bloukrans Bridge and even learn to surf in Jeffrey's Bay. The drive is beautiful and really gives you a fantastic overview of everything South Africa has to offer."
You can begin your drive along the Garden Route in Cape Town, as you follow the scenic south-eastern coast along towards Port Elizabeth. The road itself is spectacular and well worth the trip, but the highlight is certainly discovering small towns and villages along the way.
Visit the wine country
With around 60 different wine regions in South Africa spanning a massive 247,100 acres, wine lovers will have an absolute field day here. John Chen created the brilliant blog Johnny Africa when he moved to South Africa in 2013. He went on to document his experience in the country and when we asked what people should add to their bucket list, he was quick to recommend the wine regions:
"A visit to South Africa's wine country is a must for anyone visiting the Rainbow nation. Located just outside of Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Constantia make for a perfect day out of the city. If you think you've seen beautiful wine country, think again. The dramatic landscape and views here put Mendoza, Napa Valley, and Burgundy to shame. Did I mention the wine is quite fantastic and tastings cost no more than £3? Make sure to sample some Pinotage, South Africa's signature grape, as well as their famous oaked Chardonnays. Some of South Africa's top restaurants are also in wine country and 10 course tastings can be had for a fraction of what you would pay at home. My favourite wine farms to date remain Tokara, Delaire Graff, Vergelegen, and Morgenster. Explore for yourself and you'll see why South Africa is one of the world's hidden gems!"
Cape Town is blessed with a dramatic coastline, expansive countryside, modern cityscape and unique townships with their own distinguishable characteristics. You can appreciate each individually, but there is only one place to really be bowled over by them all at the same time. Overlooking the city is Table Mountain, with its summit reaching 1,089 in the sky, which is yours to tackle thanks to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, which is wheelchair accessible.
More than 25 million visitors have made the ascent since it opened in 1929, as it gives you the chance to take a tour around the hiking trails, admire the wildlife and enjoy a bite of food overlooking some unforgettable views. But for the adventure hungry, this isn’t quite enough.
Abseiling down Table Mountain
You can take a controlled 112 metre descent from the top of Table Mountain, as you make your way down an almost entirely vertical slope. This is open to anyone of suitable health and age who has made their own way up the mountain.
It isn’t hard to see why South Africa is fast becoming the adventure capital of the world, nor one of the most desirable holiday destinations. Before your cruise, try and write up a South African bucket list so you can tick off everything that is so wonderful about the rainbow nation.
Image credit: Andrew Rice