Hello and welcome to Lark Tours. If you are interested in visiting South Africa you have taken a step in the right direction. We believe that South Africa is one of the world's premier travel destinations and that you will not be disappointed in your choice to visit this vibrant country. Now, in no particular order of importance, here is the information you are here for:
Reason 1: South Africa and Cape Town continue to win major travel awards
This reason practically says it all. Travel critics have been heaping on the awards for South Africa and Cape Town as two of the world's best travel destinations. Here are just a few examples:
In 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 Cape Town was ranked as one of the world's top-ten best cities to visit in Travel & Leisure's "World's Best Cities" List.
Cape Town won the 2009 "Best Travel Destination in Africa and the Middle East" from Travel & Leisure for the eighth year running.
South Africa was ranked by National Geographic Adventure as one of the top ten must-see destinations from 2005 to 2007.
Cape Town was ranked number 5 by BBC on its "Top 50 Places to See Before You Die" List.
At the 2009 World Travel Awards, South Africa won best holiday destination in Africa by taking home 18 of the 33 available African awards.
At the 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 World Travel Awards Cape Town won "Africa's Leading Destination."
Cape Town International Airport was voted Africa's Best Airport from 2005 to 2008 in the World Airport Awards.
In 2009 Johannesburg's O.R.Tambo International Airport was ranked Africa's best airport.
Reason 2: South Africa has been chosen to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the most popular sporting event in the world
This is an incredible opportunity for South Africa, which has been chosen as the setting for the most prestigious and popular international soccer competition. Let me share some statistics with you to put this into perspective. This is the first time in the 77-year history of the FIFA World Cup that this event is being held on African soil. In terms of television viewership, the World Cup is the world's most popular sporting event. The 2006 World Cup attracted 5.9 billion viewers over the course of the tournament and the 2010 World Cup is expected to attract even more viewers. During this tournament, over three million soccer fans are expected to arrive in South Africa in order to watch the games.
The World Cup will put South Africa in the limelight and give it lots of international exposure. There is little doubt that this will launch South Africa to the forefront of the world's most desirable vacation destinations. My advice is to beat the crowds and visit South Africa today.
Reason 3: Of all the African countries, South Africa is the most modern
South Africa has well developed infrastructure and modern amenities. Cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Knysna, and many other cities in South Africa have the kinds of structures, services, entertainment, restaurants, and offerings you would expect to find in American or European cities. Better yet, South Africa is further improving its infrastructure as it prepares for World Cup 2010.
Reason 4: South Africa offers a unique mix of culture, wildlife, and beautiful landscape
Despite being the most modern African country, South Africa still offers many of the attractions that draw people to Africa. It is infused with vibrant culture and has the wild African bush at its back door. This is important to understanding why South Africa is such a special place. It has a rare mix of modern development, African culture, outdoor attractions, and untamed wildlife that you will find nowhere else in the world.
Reason 5: Kruger National Park is one of the best places in the world for viewing African wildlife
Kruger National Park, located in northeast South Africa, is one of the oldest established game reserve in Africa and provides you with the rare opportunity to immerse yourself in the bushveld with the lion, elephant, and all the other animals, birds, and reptiles for which Africa is famous. Kruger covers nearly 8,000 square miles and boasts an incredible array of species (147 types of mammals, 507 types of birds, 114 different reptiles, 336 species of trees, 34 kinds of amphibians, and 49 types of fish) that are sure to leave you in awe.
My first time in Kruger I encountered a full-grown male elephant that did not like my car. He reared his head, trumpeted loudly, and made an impressive spectacle intended to plant fear in my car's heart. Needless to say, my car did not care, but its driver was fully impressed. In Kruger every moment is an adventure. I laughed out loud watching baby Baboons wrestle each other. I felt the hairs on my nick rise when I turned a corner where a large Spotted Hyena loped past my car, fearlessly staring me in the eyes. Of course, who can forget the giraffe? I marveled at just how strange this animal really is as it munched leaves from a tree next to my car.
Despite the phenomenal wildlife one of my favorite things about Kruger are the sunsets. Until you have watched the sun slowly descend in the Western sky, with the sounds of Africa in the air, you have missed out on one of life's great moments.
Reason 6: With frequent, direct flights now available, it is easier than ever to get to South Africa
South Africa is becoming increasingly accessible to Americans as more and more airline companies begin offering cheaper, direct flights to Cape Town and Johannesburg. In years past if you wanted to visit South Africa you would usually have to fly through Detroit to Amsterdam and then down to South Africa. The trip usually took 25 to 30 hours and with delays could take even longer
But now, with direct flights, you can travel from the east coast of the U.S. to South Africa in approximately 15 hours. With this kind of flight, you could wake up for an early breakfast in New York and be in Cape Town in time for a late dinner. Best of all, no visa is required for American and most European citizens - you simply need a passport.
South Africa also has first class airports, which are rated as being the best in Africa. This will help ensure that you have a hassle-free flight. I have always had great experiences in South African airports.
Reason 7: The South African Rand is weak compared to the Dollar, Pound, and Euro giving you more buying power
This is an especially compelling reason to visit South Africa. One dollar currently trades for about seven Rand and it usually hovers somewhere between six and seven Rand per Dollar. The Rand is even weaker in comparison to the British Pound (14 Rand per 1 Pound) and to the Euro (10 to 1). With such a strong currency conversion you can experience all the best that South Africa has to offer without spending as much as you would in another more expensive part of the world.
Also related to this point, South Africa has modern financial infrastructure, which means you can use your Visa and MasterCard throughout the country. There are also many ATMs that will allow you to use your American bankcard for withdrawing money, though they do charge some nominal fee similar to the fees you would be charged in the U.S. for using an ATM not owned by your bank.
Reason 8: There are no language barriers in South Africa since nearly everybody speaks English
This is a small point, but an important one. This country has eleven official languages, one of which is English. This language is spoken by nearly everybody. It is easy to do anything in this country from talking to a local, to ordering food in a restaurant, to asking somebody for directions. If you speak English, you will have no communication problems at all which makes for a hassle-free experience.
Reason 9: South Africa has incredible biodiversity
South Africa's natural offerings are far more vast than just what is located in Kruger. Consider the following statement: though South Africa has less than 1% of the world's land surface, it has 6% of the world's known mammal and reptile species and 10% of the world's plant, fish, and bird species.
If you are still not convinced that South Africa has remarkable biodiversity consider the fact that in the world there are a total of six different floral kingdoms, one of which is located wholly in South Africa. Most kingdoms encompass huge portions of the earth, such as the Paleotropical Floral Kingdom, which extends across massive areas of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Ocean. The Cape Floral Kingdom occurs only in the southwest portion of South Africa's Western Cape, making South Africa the one country in the world that has its own floral kingdom. This region encompasses 9600 plant species, 70% of which are unique and grow nowhere else in the world. Table Mountain alone, located in the heart of this kingdom, boasts over 1500 plant species, which are more plant types than you will find in the entire area of Great Britain! One of the most famous of these unique species is the Giant Protea, also known as the King Protea, which is South Africa's national flower. Sadly, over 1000 of these exclusive species face extinction as development continues in the Western Cape.
I will leave you with one last fact about South Africa's biodiversity: South Africa has penguins! This fact always surprises people. The Jackass Penguin is endemic to South Africa and large colonies of them thrive just outside Cape Town. You can visit these waddling wonders at Boulder Beach in Simonstown.
Reason 10: South Africa is composed of diverse groups of people who create a vibrant culture
South Africa's culture is a unique blend of many people descending from African, Asian, and European groups. Archbishop Desmond Tutu best described South Africa when he called it "the Rainbow Nation." Some of the predominant groups are the Venda, Sotho, Nguni (for which the Zulus and Xhosa are the largest, most well-known sub-groups), and the Shangaan-Tsonga, the four largest ethnic groups in South Africa. Other predominant groups are the Afrikaners of Dutch descent, whites of British ancestry, and large groups with Indian roots. Major urban areas are melting pots of culture where you will find shops and vendors selling foods and goods of all different types. On the streets of Cape Town, for example, you will find shops selling samosas and curries, corner stores with racks of slowly cured biltong (like beef jerky) which was perfected by the Dutch, tea shops where locals eat fresh scones alongside their hot tea, and many local vendors peddling hand-made African art, paintings, and wood-carvings.
The rural areas of South Africa are where you can still experience true African culture. There are entire communities and regions where locals still live in huts, or in basic housing, in a manner similar to the way in which past generations lived. Here you will find that men still pay dowries for their brides, cattle is a central status of wealth, traditional artwork flourishes, and best of all, dancing, singing, and music are an important part of life.
The most fantastic thing about South Africans, no matter their ethnicity or where they live, is that they are, for the most part, very accepting of others and optimistic about the future.
Reason 11: Cape Town is an extraordinary city
Of all the cities in the world, Cape Town is my favorite. As a matter of fact, I could probably write an entire novel about why I love Cape Town. The city is bustling, the atmosphere is exciting, and the activities and entertainment this city offers are limitless.
When I lived Cape Town, there was nothing more exciting than walking out my front door each morning where I was engulfed in a collage of western influence, African culture, and natural beauty. On the one hand, the city itself is very similar to San Francisco (Cape Town is known as San Francisco's sister city) with offices, houses, and shops lining the streets from the base of Table Mountain to the busy harbors of Table Bay and the mighty Atlantic. Yet, on the street level life is distinctly African. Overcrowded mini-buses, the heart of South Africa's transportation system, whiz by constantly with the drivers shouting out their destinations via open doors and windows. The streets are packed with vendors, hawking snacks and goods, who often congregate to produce makeshift marketplaces. Everywhere you turn there are signs that you are in Africa. Best of all, everything takes place beneath the lofty Table Mountain, one of the world's oldest mountains. When I am in Cape Town I love to enjoy a cup of coffee while gazing at the fluffy blanket of clouds that roll softly over Table Mountain's flat top, briefly pouring over the side, before diffusing into space.
Cape Town is a city that you simply must experience for yourself.
Reason 12: South Africa is a favorite among Europeans who have been flocking there for years
For all these years South Africa has been the warm southern vacation spot for Europeans. But now that it getting easier for Americans and people from other parts of the world to make the journey to South Africa, this is beginning to change. South Africa has been experiencing major increases in tourists from the U.S. and from Asian countries like India and Japan. After all, it is time the rest of the world gets to experience the serenity of sitting at La Med, a seaside restaurant in Cape Town, on a Sunday evening while watching the sun set over the Atlantic and enjoying fresh seafood specialties along with quality South African wines.
Reason 13: The beaches in South Africa are some of the best in the world
Beaches are one of South Africa's big highlights. Camps Bay and Clifton beaches in Cape Town are white sand beaches located at the base of Table Mountain, Lions Head, and the Twelve Apostles. These posh beaches with aquamarine water, where trendy cafes, open-air restaurants, and oversized mansions line the streets behind the beach, are favorite hangouts for the Capetonians during the hot summer months. Outside of Cape Town, Durban, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, and other major coastal cities also offer beautiful beaches perfect for relaxing.
Outside the cities, many of the beaches are remote and exquisite. My favorite South African beach, called Coffee Bay, is one such place. Located in the Wild Coast, you can sit with locals on the grassy slopes overlooking the Indian Ocean and watch as sets of deep blue waves break on the beaches below. The locals here live in traditional huts without modern amenities like electricity and running water. They will guide you along the coast to see the rocky shore, secluded beaches, lagoons, and many secret spots including a cave where Nelson Mandela and the ANC hid a massive weapons stockpile during Apartheid.
Reason 14: South Africa's winelands are world-famous
The history of South Africa's winelands dates back to the mid-1600s when Jan van Riebeeck produced South Africa's first recorded wine. Later, at the end of the 17th century, Huguenots, who were largely experienced in oenology (the growing of grapes and making of wine), immigrated to South Africa where they established vast vineyards in the Cape region. Today, this area in the Western Province is where you will find most of South Africa's vineyards and wine estates. Some of the more reputable areas are Stellenbosch, Robertson, and Constantia Valley, which is actually located in Cape Town.
As a matter of fact, Constantia Valley is the oldest region of winelands in South Africa. The wine estate Groot Constantia, which today produces some of the world's finest wine (it was named "New World Winery of the Year 2006" by The Wine Enthusiast Magazine), was established in 1685. This was South Africa's first winery. Napoleon Bonaparte, King Louis Philippe of France, Frederic The Great of Prussia, the Lords Seventeen of the Dutch East India Company, and many other famous and powerful figures coveted the wine from Groot Constantia for its incredible quality and exclusivity. Today its wines continue to win international awards and it stands as a shining example of what the South African wine industry has achieved, and what it continues to accomplish.
Reason 15: South Africa offers a rich historical experience
As a history buff this is one of my favorite aspects of South Africa. First and foremost, this is home to Nelson Mandela. I, like many other people, admire this man as a hero. He and the other remarkable ANC leaders of the mid-1900s (Oliver Tambo, Chief Luthuli, and the many others) all accomplished a staggering feat: they led a bloodless revolution that resulted in the overturn of Apartheid and the freedom of millions of Blacks, Asians, and Coloureds that to this day has held constant. A quick look around Africa and the political situations in some of the other countries and you will realize that this is not the norm. It is amazing to walk the streets of South Africa where a young democracy is in the midst of blooming. In the U.S., we read about how the 13 colonies ratified the Constitution in 1787. In South Africa, they adopted their Constitution in 1996 and it is remarkable to watch its progress. Nelson Mandela and the others will be remembered in the future as some of the world's greatest freedom fighters. Today you can visit Robben Island, where Mandela and many of the ANC leaders were once imprisoned, and take a tour led by former inmates.
This is also home to the Cape of Good Hope. This landmark has a special place in history. It was the point that every 15th century European explorer wanted to round in order to get to the East Indies. When Bartholomew Diaz finally rounded it in 1488, this marked the beginning of a new era of exploration. Bases were established here on the Cape Peninsula in order to provide goods for passing sailors on their way to the East Indies and without it history may have unfolded differently. This is also where the Dutch and British began their push into the interior of southern Africa. The Cape of Good Hope is one of the spots that helped shaped history.
Reason 16: South Africa has a great climate
In general South Africa is a very sunny country, with many areas experiencing over 300 sunny days per year. The Western Cape, where Cape Town is located, has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The interior of the country is generally temperate and the northeast region, where Johannesburg and Kruger National Park are located, has sun-drenched, hazy summers. This northeast region, much of which is subtropical, has mild winters with chilly mornings and warm afternoons. This is actually the best time of year for viewing game since the animals love these temperatures.
As you can see, South Africa really does have a warm, inviting climate, even during the winter months. Also, because South Africa is located in the southern hemisphere, its seasons are opposite to what they are here in the U.S. This means that our autumn and winter months are the perfect time for basking in South Africa's warm, summer sun.
Are you interested in traveling to South Africa with Lark Tours? If so, be sure to check out our trips.
This article was written by Lark Tours staff members. We reserve all rights to this article.