16 Mar 2015 Top tips for planning a South African holiday by Kate Nelson
Originally from the UK, my planned 3-month solo expedition around Southern Africa taught me some interesting and valuable lessons. Now, as a General Manager of Camp Jabulani I get to meet international guests on a daily basis, and have had the opportunity to see the best and the worst of travel planning in action.
Here are some of my top tips for travel in South Africa.
1. Experience the diversity
South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world; from its geography, various cultures to the wildlife. This stunning country offers dramatic ocean and mountain scenery. There is Cape Town (one of the new 7 wonders of the world), a sophisticated Winelands regions, tropical beaches by the Indian Ocean, and of course some of the finest wildlife viewing on earth. The history of South Africa is complex and fascinating. As a visitor you will enjoy being part of the ‘Rainbow Nation’, a legacy of the late former state president Nelson Mandela. You will meet warm and friendly people who are proud and passionate about their country, and their role in the tourism industry.
2. Minimise your traveling time
There’s so much to do and take in, and some people often make the mistake of overloading their itinerary, and end up switching accommodation venues too many times. Having to move every couple of days is time-consuming, tiring and unsettling. I would recommend that you pick some accessible venues to base yourself from, and explore the country from there. For instance, it is perfectly possible to visit the Winelands region while staying in Cape Town (or vice versa).
When staying in the Kruger Park area, you will not gain much by changing lodges too often. In fact, you will probably miss out on game drives and actually lessen your chances of enjoying those memorable wildlife encounters. Rather pick a lodge where there is plenty to do for 4 or more days at a time. Click here to read our tips about choosing a safari lodge.
3. Choose your bucket list experiences, then your accommodation
With so many options available, the choices can be overwhelming. This is where a good travel agent or local advisor can make all the difference. In every region of South Africa there are fantastic venues to suit all budgets and interests. My advice therefore is rather to seek out the experiences that will give you lifelong memories and then arrange your accommodation accordingly. Click here for some suggestions of South African experiences to enjoy.
4. Pick the best time of year to suit your interests
Once you have decided on your list of activities, you can figure out the best time to visit to maximise your time. There is actually no bad time to visit South Africa, but the weather patterns are regionalised, so the ‘best’ season will depend on where you are choosing to spend the majority of your time. For instance, winters in Cape Town can be wild, wet and windy, but up in the bush at that same time of the year you can experience some of the best game viewing and the weather is much more temperate. Whale breeding season in the Cape peaks during July-September. Personally, I adore springtime in the bush as I am a sucker for all the baby animals and really enjoy seeing the birds nesting and the first flush of green after the dry winter. Once again, a reputable travel agent will be able to give you great advice.
5. Don’t be scared, but do be prepared
South Africa has received bad publicity over the years in terms of its crime figures. However, it’s important to put these into context since incidents concerning international tourists are extremely rare. If you are planning to make your own travel arrangements, then as with any country in the world it makes sense to check which city areas are higher risk and to avoid those. For the less adventurous, working with a travel advisor or tour operator will ensure that your trip is planned so that you are carefully handed over between accommodation and transport companies. All transfer arrangements will be taken care of and you will have a reputable guide to escort you at all times.
6. What about Ebola?
There have been no cases of Ebola within South Africa and we are thousands of kilometres away from infected areas. Statistically there is more chance of being hit by a taxi in Paris than there is of contracting Ebola in South Africa. The LA Times actually published an interesting article which explains why tourists should not be deterred from travelling to South Africa.
7. Listen to word of mouth
I do recommend that you do consult local South African residents, and online resources such as Trip Advisor to thoroughly vet your choices. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do this research yourself, then a good travel agency will be able to assist you. There are a number of Africa specialists who ensure that their staff have visited the key tourism attractions and venues and are thus able to offer first-hand knowledge and accurate advice.
8. Just do it!
There has never been a better time to travel to South Africa than now. The major currencies are all trading strongly against the rand which means that tour operators are offering packages representing unbelievable value for money. South Africa is heavily reliant on tourism which contributes over 12,000 direct and indirect jobs, and to ensure ongoing sustainability it is vital that international travellers continue to visit the country. Those individuals who have taken the time to educate themselves that South Africa is still a safe destination will be enjoying cost-effective travel, uncrowded venues and the warmest possible welcome.
Hoping to see you soon.
Camp Jabulani General Manager