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World TravelingMom traveled to South Africa to see lions, elephants, zebra, and rhinos in the wild on safari. She and her family loved the stunning physical beauty of Cape Town’s mountains, beaches, and sea views. And also South Africa’s version of the Grand Canyon and wine tasting at South Africa’s beautiful vineyards. Plus, South Africa’s tragic racial history is emotionally challenging but inspiring. Here are four reasons to add travel to South Africa to your bucket list!
4 Bucket List Things to Do in South Africa
My teenaged son and I visited South Africa in 2016. We loved it. And I am so happy my husband and I returned to South Africa in 2018. South Africa’s wild animals, physical beauty, and inspiring recent history all put South Africa on the bucket list.
1. South Africa Safari
Nothing says bucket list adventure like a safari. Seeing wild animals eating and playing in their natural habitats is unlike any other experience. And my teenaged son, husband, and I each loved it. We experienced a safari in both Hluhluwe Park and Kruger National Park. In both, a trained guide drove us in an open-air vehicle. The excellent guides explained how the animals work together to find water and avoid predators.
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Safari Park Guides in South Africa
Also, the eagle-eyed park guides could spot animals from a rustle in the trees or a moving shadow. Guides showed us how to spy animals. Look in the distance – is that a log in the water? No, it’s crocodile, lying in wait for its prey. Watch that tree, where branches are moving. And out walks a family of elephants. My husband and I were thrilled as an elephant family lumbered across the road, single file.
But without the guide pointing, I would have missed the hippo submerged in the river. Because, big as it was, the hippo looked like a rock. Without the guide, I would have missed a water buffalo blending into the river.
And sometimes even I could spot an animal on safari. Even I could see monkeys and baboons swinging in trees. A rhino casually eating grass next to our van. And giraffes, those improbable animals elegantly grazing while looking slightly amused. Our driver often stopped for pedestrian traffic – like baboons goofing around.
Different safari animals at different times
When my son and I stayed overnight in Kruger Park, we went out in the van to spot animals at dawn, afternoon, and sunset. That’s a lot of driving around the Park. And for safety reasons, we could not exit the van. But it was worth it because we saw different animals each time of day.
Penguins put South Africa on the bucket list
Yes, penguins live in warm sandy South Africa! A happy colony of penguins is at Boulders Beach in Simonstown, near Cape Town. They’re funny when they toddle around. Mostly, the contented crew was sunning themselves, grooming each other, and living it up on their own private beach.
The varied animal experiences that can accommodate all age groups make South Africa a perfect trip for multiple generations.
2. Natural beauty puts South Africa on the bucket list
Kruger and Hluhluwe Parks are famous for their wild animals. But the park landscapes themselves are gorgeous. Between spotting animals, we enjoyed unforgettable vistas of mountains, plains, watering holes, and spectacular sunsets.
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Natural beauty near Cape Town
Also, the natural beauty near Cape Town is stunning. For example, in Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope is a beautiful cliff and beach area. And one of the southernmost tips of Africa. At Table Mountain, the flat-topped mountain that is a symbol of Cape Town, we took a cable car to the top for gorgeous views of the surrounding area. Camps Bay Beach, lined with upscale restaurants, is at the foot of mountains. So we got both sea and mountain views from the beach.
My son and I loved the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden in Cape Town in 2016. Normally, its acres of flower gardens, winding paths, and ponds could take a full day to explore. And the view of the mountains and the city below is gorgeous. Sadly, because of the 2018 drought in Cape Town, the Garden is very dry.
3. Wine tasting and South Africa’s version of the Grand Canyon
For a fun day trip from Cape Town, we explored the beautiful winemaking region, Stellenbosch. My husband and I visited Stellenbosch winemakers with Gate 1 Tours. The tour company scheduled several wine tastings at the vineyards. And at Boschendal at Oude Bank, we tasted wine outside under the dappled sunshine of a massive towering oak. Pure delight.
Bourkes Luck Potholes
I had no idea South Africa had the third largest canyon in the world. Blyde River Canyon is South Africa’s Grand Canyon. We scrambled around the waterfalls and red rocks at a corner of the canyon, called Bourkes Luck Potholes. And I’d love to return there to hike. This time, we stopped for an hour at the Potholes on our Gate 1 Tour drive from Kruger to Johannesburg, South Africa.
4. Tragic History of South Africa
South Africa has a brutal but ultimately uplifting history of racial segregation, called apartheid. In several inspiring museums and historical sites, South Africa tells the fascinating story of its struggle to get rid of the apartheid government.
The brilliant Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg uses photographs, video, and creative exhibits to tell the story.
And in Cape Town, we visited the Robben Island prison where Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27 years in prison. Before he became South Africa’s first black President and won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Tips for Preparing to Travel to South Africa
To learn South Africa’s tragic and inspiring racial history before we visited, movies helped. Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013), starring Idris Elba, is based on the autobiography of Nelson Mandela, the South African President, and anti-apartheid leader. And Invictus (2009), starring Morgan Freeman, is about one way the new President Nelson Mandela attempted to politically unify the country after apartheid – by supporting the national rugby team.
Several books help me prepare to visit South Africa. For example, Kaffir Boy (1986) is a memoir of growing up very poor in Soweto by Mark Mathabane. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela also has a slim abridged version (150 pages). Finally, Cry, the Beloved Country (1948) is the classic novel by Alan Paton set in the 1940’s. While that was before apartheid was formally the law, the novel shows the starkly different conditions for blacks and whites in South Africa.
Do you hope to travel to South Africa one day, or to return to visit it again? Tell us about it in the comments.