Well known for its vibrancy and rich history, South Africa is an exciting travel destination for people from all walks of life,” enthuses Robyn Greig at Wits Language School. “Called the Rainbow Nation because of its racial and cultural diversity, it has 11 official languages and a mix of ethnic and cultural groups that offer unique traditions, religions and foods.”
“Cape Town is a city of immense natural beauty, as well as one of diverse historical significance, both of which have evolved the city into an eclectic environment for arts and culture,” says Torrique Borges at LAL Cape Town.
For visitors, Yolanda Mouton at IH Cape Town recommends the city’s ‘Big 6’: Table Mountain (see box), Robben Island, V&A Waterfront, Kristenbosch Botanical Gardens, Groot Constantia Wine Estate and Cape Point. For the famous Table Mountain photo backdrop, Johannes Kraus of Kurus English advises heading to Bloubergstrand.
As well as culture and landscape, Cape Town has its share of thrills. “Adrenalin junkies enjoy activities such as paragliding, skydiving, bungee jumping, hiking and water sports of all sorts,” relates Annaelle More at Cape Studies. “Shark cage diving to spot the majestic great white, penguin viewing and safaris are on top of the list of most visitors and locals,” she continues. Borges adds that Table Mountain boasts the world’s highest commercial abseil, and students can also see ostrich, baboons, antelope and mountain zebra in their natural habitat nearby.
Events including the Cape Town Jazz Festival, Cape Town Carnival and Kaapse Klopse minstrel carnival, in remembrance of the only day slaves were given off, add to the cultural tapestry, advises Kraus.
Johannesburg is a “world-class African city with a blossoming economy”, says Greig. He recommends the Hop On Hop Off bus as “a great way to get a guided tour of Joburg”, with 16 language options. The Neighbour Goods Market every Saturday is a fine way to taste cuisine, see local bands and DJs and meet friendly South Africans, he adds.
The Apartheid Museum is an important reminder of South Africa’s oppressive past and progressive constitution, Greig says. “The permanent exhibitions, made up from various photographs, artefacts and film footage, demonstrate the stories of those who fought in the struggle for liberation.” Delving deeper into history, back to the very beginning indeed, is the Cradle of Humankind, around 50km outside the city, where the 4.17 million-year old ‘Little Foot’ hominid skeleton was discovered, he explains.
The city of Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape province similarly has a range of historical and natural points of interest, advises Shaun Fitzhenry at Bay Language Institute, not least Route 67, which “consists of 67 public works of art symbolising Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of work dedicated to the freedom of South Africa and includes 67 steps leading up the second largest flag in Africa. All works of art were designed by local artists from the Eastern Cape.” Fitzhenry says the school’s Karoo weekend, meanwhile, incorporates Graaff-Reinet’s Valley of Desolation (“incredible rock formations with the plains of Camdeboo as a backdrop”), the village of Nieu Bethesda (“fossils, stargazing, medicinal plants and more”) and the Mountain Zebra National Park.
Heading south, Jeffreys Bay boasts some of the best surf in the world exclaims Dallas Land at Jeffreys Bay Language School, as well as a surf museum, surf apparel, sunset beach horse riding and safari.
Several contributors urge students to visit the Wild Coast section of Eastern Cape, traditional home to the Xhosa and birthplace of Nelson Mandela. It is “a concoction of just about everything”, says More, while Borges states, “The Wild Coast is the closest you will get to untouched civilization in South Africa and still retains a largely rural lifestyle, alongside incredible ocean shorelines and lush, rolling hills.”
Issuance of visas for English language students has been a problematic area, concedes Manya Bredell at Cape Town School of English (see STM, January 2015, page 5), but she recommends the 90-day visitor visa. Mouton adds for many nationalities this tourist visa can be extended within 30 days of arrival for an additional 90 days.
South Africa is great for independent travel, says Fitzhenry, with car hire an easy option. But he recommends an accredited tour guide or operator for the national parks: “We feel that first-time visitors often miss out on so much because they don’t know what to look for, where to look for it or how to look.” Mouton concurs and says IH Cape Town has a travel and tour desk at the school. Coast to Coast is an excellent free guide from most travel outlets, adds Borges.
Places to stay are cheap and easy to find, says Mouton, although Borges advises summer accommodation should be booked early. Some other tips given were buying bottled water in remote areas and carrying some currency around as some places don’t accept cards. firstname.lastname@example.org
A taste of Africa
With ethnic cuisine, mouth-watering barbecues, game, fresh seafood, not to mention highly regarded wines and local beers to wash it all down, South Africa will get the taste buds tingling.
“Venture out and enjoy a Chisa Nyama African barbecue in the suburbs or townships, accompanied by live music.” Johannes Kraus, Kurus English
“Mzoli’s restaurant... Order your meat, which they prepare for you on the braai (barbecue) while having a couple of drinks and socialising.” Yolanda Mouton, IH Cape Town
“Strandloper seafood restaurant in Langebaan. Not for the fainthearted as this restaurant boasts a ten-course meal of fresh seafood and Cape dishes.” Annaelle More, Cape Studies
“Biltong and droëwors! South African delicacies of dried, salted and spiced meat, often eaten as a snack… Boerewors is a traditional South African sausage made with ground meat and spices.” Annaelle More, Cape Studies
“Microbrew beers have become very popular, so I would recommend them.” Dallas Land, Jeffrey’s Bay Language School
“Pinotage is a South African red wine variety, making the Diemersfontein Pinotage a typical local delight, with its hints of coffee and chocolate flavours.” Torrique Borges, LAL Cape Town
5 recommended places to visit
1. Kruger National Park
Home to the famous ‘Big 5’, Torrique Borges at LAL Cape Town says “Kruger National Park is South Africa’s premier National Park where you can see the widest variety of bird and wildlife in the country, roaming and flying free in the wild bush.” It is, relates Robyn Greig at Wits Language School, bigger than Israel!
2. Table Mountain National Park
“One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Table Mountain offers panoramic and unparalleled views of Cape Town,” says Borges. A former student of ICCE in Brazil described it as the best view in the world, advises Michael Joop at the agency. Cape Point, within the park, is a must, says Laise Menucci at another Brazilian agency World Study. “You see two oceans meeting. It is possible to feel the cold wind coming from the Atlantic Ocean and the warm wind from the Indian Ocean. It is really beautiful.”
3. Stellenbosch and Constantia Wine Routes
“Our wine farms are famous for exquisite wines at affordable prices,” says Annaelle More at Cape Studies. The Stellenbosch Wine Route incorporates more than 150 wine farms and estates with tasting rooms, restaurants and accommodation. “Savour a home-grown, award-winning glass of wine at sunset on a spectacular wine estate in Stellenbosch,” advises Greig.
4. Addo Elephant National Park
Stretching from the semi-arid Karoo area in the north around Darlington Dam, over the Zuurberg Mountains, through the Sundays River Valley and south to the coast, Addo covers about 180,000 hectares. “Addo Elephant National Park is a must-see: one tour operator sells ‘Big Seven’ trips instead of ‘Big Five’ trips, which include whale and great white shark spotting,” says Shaun Fitzhenry at Bay Language Institute.
According to Johannes Kraus at Kurus English, students should visit Durban “to swim and surf in the warm, sub-tropical Indian Ocean and in order to experience the strong and vibrant Indian influence in South Africa.” He adds, “The spice markets are also extensive and absolutely amazing.”