Located in the southern end of Africa and gifted with a privileged geography, South Africa offers countless options to the visitor. It has to offer from bountiful vineyards to kilometers of beaches, without mentioning its abundant inhabitants of the animal kingdom, and cosmopolitan cities. You will find it very difficult to have nothing to do in this country.
Traditionally, South Africa has been associated with trips centered on safaris and adventure tourism, but in recent years this country has been characterized as a destination that wants to combine the adventure with the luxury and the hedonism. Being one of the most Occidentalized countries of the entire continent, the touristic infrastructure is very developed, which makes easier its exploration.
Historically the scenario of bloody battles and power struggles, today’s South Africa looks for exorcizing its demons and consolidate as a democratic and progressive country. With leaders such as Nelson Mandela in its possession, the truth is they count with the enough inspiration and motivation to support the progress and the integration, even though there is too much left to do.
The first European settlement was established in Cape Town, reason for which now a days this city is considered the soul of this country. The Dutch were the ones who appreciated the strategically location of this territory, initiating this way its colonization. Under the direction of the Dutch merchant Jan van
Riebeeck, a group of Dutchmen disembarked in this coast for the very first time the 6th of April of 1652. The retinue was constituted by 82 men and eight women, who had instructions of supplying fresh food to the ships in their trip from Africa to Europe.
The first colonists started to harvest the land to obtain fresh food and, by the exchange with native inhabitants, they soon obtained meat and animal products. In spite of numerous calamities, the settlement prospered. Each time there were more marines that arrived to Cape Town to supply of provisions. A dock was built and shops were founded to repair the vessels and a hospital.
The accelerated growth of the harbor made suitable the need of workers. In the beginning there were mainly slaves brought from Indonesia who covered these needs, but later on other Dutch immigrants and from the rest of Europe started to settle. Remarkably, in 1688 a numerous group of French Huguenots running away from the religious persecutions in Europe, were established here.
With a population in frank growth, the colonists looked for the expansion of their territory stripping the native inhabitants, the kohekohe, forcing them to retire to the north. In spite of the resistance of the kohekohe, the colonists were imposed and continue their advance.
For the beginning of the XVIIIth century the colonization of the territory was led by the Dutch farmers, known as the Boers, who established a war and nomad life style.
The confrontations between the Bores (or Afrikaans) and the several groups of native inhabitants were constant and characterized the history of this country throughout the XVIIIth century. The wars in the distant territories had also an impact in the cities, causing an environment of uncertainty and insecurity.
The colonists started to rebel and to demand independency. The internal struggle of power finished when the English disembarked in 1795 in Cape Town taking the control of the colony. This is how the Anglo-Afrikaans rivalry which characterizes the history of this country for the subsequent years started culminating with the bloody Boers wars.
In 1910 South Africa starts to live the apartheid or segregation era that officially culminated in 1994. The election of Nelson Mandela as president in that same year reflected the wishes of compensates the injustices of the past and of the apartheid.
Framed by the picturesque view of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean, Cape City is really a place of a very special beauty.
One of its main attractions is the visit by cable car up to the top of Table Mountain, which name is owed due to its special flat form. During the ascent, the cable car rotates slowly so you can enjoy the magnificent views of the ocean and of the city.
The touristic and entertainment center of the city is the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. It is a complex of shops, restaurants and facilities for the entertainment. The boats to Robben Island also departure from here, it is where the old State prison was located. Today this is a destination favored by the tourists world wide, interested in visiting the cell where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held during the apartheid era. The view from the island is another of its attractions and an opportunity to take pictures that you must not let pass.
The beaches in this area are really beautiful. Boulder Beach is one of the most famous, since it counts with a colony of penguins. It is possible to get close to them because they seem to be used to the company, and enjoy observing their beauty and their elegant movements.
A visit to Cape Town may be complemented by a trip to the Cape of Good Hope and to the national park. The beautiful coast and the vivid colors in this place are hardly superseded. In the national park is possible to observe idyllic indomitable and natural scenery. In your way you will find zebras, ostriches and other animals.
In the surroundings of Cape Town, Haut Bay and Camps Bay are destinations you should not miss. The view from these places will keep surprising you, at the same time you may enjoy the relaxed and cozy atmosphere of these small communities so close to the city.
The Wine Route
Only a few kilometers from Cape Town are possible to visit three vineyards routes: Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl. The scenery in this region is really beautiful. The vineyards are as green and abundant as in the most fertile regions of France or Italy. The visit to this region is focused in enjoying the wines, savoring the food made with fresh gourmet ingredients and disappearing in the landscape.
Approximately half hour away from Cape Town is Franschhoek. With 20 vineyards, this area is considered the gourmet capital of the region. Among its most emphasized establishments Le Quartier Francais, whose chef Margot Janse won the prize Relais & Chateaux in 2006.
Stellenbosch is 35 minutes away from Cape Town, which counts with almost 100 vineyards. Besides the vineyards, this area has a small and picturesque town, founded by Simon van der Steel in 1679, with an attractive architecture and with its own university.
Located in the valley of the Berg River, Paarl (“pearl” in ancient Afrikaans) is other of the vineyard regions nearby to Cape Town. The city was founded in 1687 and it is home of two of the most famous wine cellars in the country: KWV and Nederburg.
The Garden Route and the National Park Tsitsikamma
Only a few kilometers away from the wine route is possible to get to the start of the so called the gardens route, in Hermanus. The scenery is very different here, now in the coast of the Indian Ocean. This area is the world’s capital in which it refers to whale watching. Still being out of season, from August to September, it is definite you can see whales and dolphins in the coast.
Continuing in this route you will pass through the Tsitsikamma forest, where you can enjoy nature in its entire splendor. The best lodging options are in Plettenburg Bay and in Port Elizabeth.
In the coasts of the Indian Ocean is the harbor city of Durban, the third largest city of South Africa. The main attractions of this city are its beautiful beaches and the aquatic activities that it offers.
Durban is also the most Cosmopolitan city of all the country. A great part of the population is Hindu. Towards the end of the XIXth century the British brought many Hindus to work in the sugar cane plantations. In 1893 Mahatma Gandhi arrived to Durban and it was in South Africa where he started his campaign of passive resistance which later on will take him to reach India’s liberation.
A visit to the Hindu district of the city is something you should not miss. The most attractive place is the spices market, where you will feel transported to India with aromas and colors. The city is in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, home of the largest tribal group of South Africa, the Zulus.
In the building of the county of the city is the Durban Art Gallery, with its South African art collection and the Natural Science Museum. The entertaining activities are concentrated in Wilson’s Wharf, with its countless bars and restaurants.
The harbor is the venue of innumerable boat races and counts with a community of nautical clubs with a tradition that goes back several years.
The financial capital of the country is Johannesburg, usually it is not part of the itinerary of those who visit South Africa, nevertheless here is possible to appreciate great part of the culture and history of this country.
Known by the locals as Joburg, the history of this city is intimately related with the gold. The gold discovery in 1886 attracted investors and miners to this area. One of the attractions related with the city’s history today is the recreation of a Victorian mine in Gold Reef City, a recreational park outside Johannesburg.
The country’s history is alive in the community of Soweto (South Western Township), the largest of Johannesburg. During the apartheid times, Soweto was built with the purpose of accommodating the black Africans that until then lived in designated areas by the government for the whites. This community is a living museum, where you can visit the old homes of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It is recommended to visit Soweto only with a certified tour.
Two hours from Johannesburg airport the most famous resort of South Africa is located, Sun City. With the luxury hotel The Palace of the Lost City, the complex is really beautiful. It presents a very unique architecture and several entertainment options South African style. In the facilities there is a hotel, a casino, restaurants, bars and two magnificent golf courses designed by Gary Player. From here it is also possible to go out in a safari in the Pilanesberg National Park.
South Africa by train
A really special experience is to make the trip by train with all the luxury and splendor of yesteryear, in the Rovos Rail. The trip from Cape Town to Pretoria lasts 48 hours, passing through the historical cities of Kimberley, visiting the diamonds museum and Matjiesfontein. The trip is by itself, of course, the main attraction.
The fusion of cultures in this country is reflected in its cuisine. The Hindu workers took the spices and the curries. The Portuguese explorers contributed with their traditional peri-peri sauce. The Dutch colonists and their Muslim slaves from Indonesia brought the characteristic Malay cuisine with light and aromatic curries. The French Huguenots brought the French tradition, while the English contributes with their fond for the tea.
Some of the South African specialties are: biltong, dried meat; boerwors, sausages to roast; bredie, meat stew; bunnie chow, a specialty of Durban, stuffed bread with curry and sosaties, kebab meat seasoned with Malay spices.
South Africa is in the south hemisphere, which means that the seasons are opposite from ours. The winter starts in June and lasts until August. The winter is the drought season in almost the entire country; the vegetation is not abundant and it is easier to watch the animal life in its natural habitat. The temperatures during the day are pleasant (over the 17 °C), but much colder during the night. The spring (from September to November) presents a nice climate for the visitors, with moderate temperatures. The summer starts in December and ends in March, the temperature is hot (over the 30 °C).
The official currency is the rand, whose symbol is R. Each rand is divided in 100 cents. The rate of exchange is 1.40 Mexican pesos for 1 rand. Most of the international credit cards are accepted and it is very easy to make cash withdrawals from the ATM machines in all the cities.
How to get there
The best ways to get there from Mexico is flying to Washington with United Airlines and make a connection there with a South African Airways direct flight to Johannesburg.
The Mexican citizens require a visa to travel to South Africa. It is also necessary that their passport is valid for at least six months from the beginning of your trip and that it has two free pages for visas.
Text: KundaliniMuñoz ± Photo: Sun International, Embajada de Sudáfrica , South African Tourism.