Beyond the poverty and third world lies a fantastic opportunity to immerse yourself in many beautiful cultures and surround yourself with natures best.
If you’re a first time traveller I wouldn’t recommend Africa as your first destination as you’re most likely to experience culture shock especially when travelling from a first world country. I suggest going with someone who’s been there before.
Language is not a barrier in most countries. English is widely spoken in many beautiful accents. If you are lighter skinned you may find yourself a minority, less in South Africa but more so in Botswana and Zimbabwe. The bestie was the center of attention with his white skin and long dreadlocks but it was a welcome attention.
You generally don’t need a visa for South Africa depending on which country you’re visiting from, permits are usually granted upon arrival. Johannesburg is seen as one of the most dangerous cities on earth, however the crime that happens here can happen anywhere so it is a matter of being aware of your surroundings. If you do notice a person or car following you stay in populated areas or around people. Keep your jewellery to a minimum especially when on tour in poverty stricken areas. Wearing your Sunday best could come off as insensitive but also makes you stand out as a tourist to pick pockets.
Soweto and Johannesburg tours are a great opportunity to learn about the apartheid, to see how far the country has come but also how far it still has to go. Soweto is filled with such a vibrant atmosphere. Take a step out of your comfort zone and sip on umqombothi (African beer) while enjoying a braai (barbecue) in the shebheen (local bar).
If you are driving in Johannesburg make sure you have a GPS. It is so easy to get lost with the many overpasses and exits. Have a night between flights? Then check out The Safari Club in Kempton Park. It is a 10 minute car ride from the airport with complimentary transfers to and from the International terminal. The lodge is in a convenient location, secure, affordable and very comfortable. Johannesburg OR Tambo airport also offers a fantastic selection of souvenir shops should you need to buy presents for those waiting at home. I highly recommend ‘Out Of Africa’, there is something for everyone’s budget.
Kruger National Park is an hour flight from Johannesburg and gives you the opportunity to camp on site so you can spot the big 5 during the day and at night. Be careful if you’re self driving though, elephants are known to charge at cars.
Cape Town is another city that requires a GPS as the highways are not clearly marked with exit signs. This gorgeous city is known for it’s lively party atmosphere. Table Mountain towers over the city. The mountain blends to a seaside Camps Bay with the ocean and amazing restaurants at your doorstep, and Lion’s Head mountain to the right. Your ticket to the Table Mountain cable cars is valid for 3 days each side of the date you book. Strong winds force the closure of the cable cars so this ensures you have plenty of time to take the sights in. Alternatively you can climb the mountain.
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a beautiful mall on the harbour front with stunning views. V&A boasts some amazing restaurants, I personally recommend Mugg and Bean for bunny chow (local Cape Townian dish), no actual bunnies are harmed in the making of this meal. From here you can get the ferry to Roben Island which is the prison where Nelson Mandela served his time, another opportunity to learn about the history of apartheid, and the chance to humble yourself at this man’s amazing journey to freedom.
Another mall to check out is Century 21 Canal Walk. This mall has such a large variety of stores. You could get some new ink, add a new gun to your holster and grab some groceries on the way out.
One more recommendation is An African Villa located centrally to Table Mountain, V&A and the airport; in the gorgeous suburb of Tamboerskloof. The Victorian exteriors with modern interiors make you feel right at home with a touch of then and now. The villa also makes the best damn breakfasts in Cape Town.
Stellenbosch wineries is a must for the grape enthusiasts. Make sure you act responsibly and book a tour so you don’t have to drive. The wineries are only an hour out of Cape Town so you won’t find yourself wasting your day travelling.
If you’re an adventurous person be sure to check out the Harley tours and ride to the most Southern point of Africa.
Zimbabwe is a beautiful country unfortunately over shadowed by the political and economical turmoil. It will come down to checking the travel status when planning a trip. A visa is required and granted upon arrival, USD30 since 2008.
Chinhoyi Caves is located approximately 2 hours from Harare and offers breathtaking views of one of the oldest caves in Zimbabwe. There is a small area open to the general public however skilled scuba divers and cave climbers have the opportunity to explore more of the caves. There are also camping grounds to spend the night under the stars. Pack your mosquito repellent!
Victoria Falls is a must when travelling to Zimbabwe. The road trip is long and monotonous, you’re better off flying. The hotels in town cater for everyone’s budget; camping to comfortable 3 star to luxurious 5 star properties. There are complimentary shuttle busses to and from the Falls every hour. There is an entrance fee to view the Falls and this is charged depending on whether you’re a local or a tourist. The walk takes about 2 hours and only half of this is under cover of the rainforest. Take a hat, sunscreen and water! For a fee you can cross the bridge that divides Zimbabwe and Zambia, you will also need your passport. Victoria Falls has better views from Zimbabwe as only a small portion lies in Zambia. This is not a biased comment. Amazing activities can be booked on the day; bungee jumping, white water rafting and the flying fox just to name a few.
Southern Africa is an incredible place to visit but it is a destination that needs research, time and lots of mosquito repellent. Book with a travel agent and see your doctor for vaccines and anti-malarial medication.