11 Reasons Why I Fell in Love with South Africa

misty cliffs cape town

I’ve been to South Africa only twice and both visits were far too short. But even after my first day in this beautiful country I knew that it had me hooked for life. People always ask me why I love certain countries and up until now I’ve given fairly generic answers. Well, I decided that wasn’t good enough for South Africa and so I sat down to properly hash out what it is about this country that has me so enthralled. Rather than broad themes though, I wanted instead to highlight key moments that all had a role to play in my love affair.

 Sunset Apostles Edge

1. Waking up at Camps Bay – I was fortunate to stay in a beautiful short term rental in the posh area of Cape Town known as Camps Bay. With amazing views looking over the ocean, I awoke each morning to a brilliant and beautiful landscape at my doorstep. I love nature and especially anything near the water, so this was a perfect house for me. It also provided a calm almost pastoral retreat after a long day of sightseeing in and around the Mother City. This view though, this view is still something I think about even if the moment of joy it created may never be replicated.

 

2. Biking around Soweto – Soweto is well known around the world as a symbol of the brutal apartheid era. Still the largest township in South Africa, the scars of those decades of repression are visible even today, but so is hope. I was led around the township on bike by a young resident, too young to remember anything before 1994. He showed me a city that I didn’t expect. As dynamic as anything other with all strata of society and one that I felt comfortable exploring. It’s an experience everyone should try, not just to learn more about the country’s history but to see the promise of its future.

 cape point

3. Climbing up to Cape Point – I can’t explain why, but visiting Cape Point, the extreme southern tip of Africa, moved me in a way that is simply inexplicable. Standing there watching the waves crash on shore around the Cape of Good Hope, a watery graveyard for thousands who tried to make the trip was at the same time moving and inspiring. The ocean has always inspired me though, there’s something about its beauty and magnitude that I find amazing. It was hard to leave, even amongst the crush of tourists, but it remains a special moment for me.

 africa sunset

4. Sundowner in Kruger – Many people make the long trek to South Africa not for its wine or urban escapes, but for safari and the promise of untamed beauty. On most evening game drives in the famous Kruger National Park, guides stop the Jeeps and everyone hops out for a cocktail as the sun sets below the grassy horizon. Sundowners aren’t only for safari drinks, but they are absolutely best enjoyed in the bush listening to the sounds of nameless birds flying past and wildlife at a sometimes uncomfortably close proximity.

 Monarch Hotel JoBurg

5. Boutique hotels in JoBurg – I’m a luxury guy when it comes down to it so I feel compelled to mention how impressed I was with the five-star, luxury boutique hotels in Johannesburg. I’m not normally a big fan of small hotels, I can never be sure of their quality, I was nevertheless surprised by the service and comfort at all the hotels I experienced in Johannesburg.  While each was very different from one another, they found ways to carve their own niche and introduce style, design and of course service to my stays with them. They were an unexpected highlight on trips that featured so many others.

 Hout Bay, Cape Town South Africa

6. Driving Chapman’s Peak Drive – Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the areas surrounding it along the Cape Peninsula are just as stunning. For a good overview of the opulence of this natural beauty, there is no better excursion than driving along Chapman’s Peak Drive. The 9 kilometer drive features 114 curves as it runs between Noordhoek and Hout Bay and offers views almost unparalleled in the world. There are also plenty of places to stop and admire the views or to enjoy a picnic in the middle of the natural beauty.

 Lion South Africa

7. Watching lions in the wild – Part of South Africa’s promise to visitors is that of wildlife experiences that are unique in the world for their variety and shear numbers. The ultimate for many safari goers is the opportunity to see lions in the wild. My first safari experience left me wanting for the king of the jungle, but on my second attempt I got my wish and finally saw them. It was a small group of juveniles, lounging in the high grasses of the bush waiting for their parents to return with something to eat. We got so close to them I felt I could reach out and touch them and their beauty and majesty in the wild far exceeded anything zoos or reserves can match. It was a priceless moment of wonder that just can’t be quantified.

 

8. Hot air balloon ride over the Magalies River Valley – Hot air balloon rides are magical, they just are. Maybe it’s the fact that one is usually intensely sleep deprived, but I imagine it’s more to do with the rising sun and the quiet floating of the balloon that creates this magic. I felt especially privileged to see South Africa from the air as I floated effortlessly above the ancient Magalies River Valley at sunrise. Farmlands extended in every direction to the large lake in the distance. It’s a special experience anywhere, but there just seemed to be something extra special about ballooning in this beautiful country.

 

9. Learning how to cook in Bo Kaap – Food is an indelible part of traveling, and learning how to make new dishes at home is a great way to relive favorite travel memories. Cape Town is well known for its unique Cape Malay cuisine, a mélange of cultures and styles that has evolved into the delicious food it is today. I joined a tour that took me into the home of a Bo Kaap resident who taught us recipes passed along through her family, including her neighborhood-famous samosas. I still use those recipes at home and every time I make roti and curry I can’t help but think of that special day and smile.

10. Making new friends – One of my favorite aspects of the travel experience is meeting new people, and there are few places where this is as easy and enjoyable as in South Africa. Their complicated history and misconceptions around the world have instilled in South Africans a fierce desire to share the wonders of their massive country with the world. They are deservedly proud of their nation and that is quickly passed along to even the most casual of visitors making every tourist there an ambassador for the rest of their lives. When you go be sure to take the time to meet with some locals and learn about them and their own personal reasons for loving South Africa as much as they do.

 Bunny chow Durban South Africa

11. Eating bunny chow overlooking Durban – A popular seaside retreat, Durban is also well known for its culinary side, especially influenced by the large Indian population who call the city home. Indian cuisine has had a defining aspect on Durban’s food perhaps best seen in the iconic dish known simply as bunny chow. Originally a working man’s food, bunny chow is simplicity defined. A hollowed out loaf of bread is filled with your choice of delicious curry and served in a nondescript brown bag. One of the best take away foods in the world, this spicy meal is filling, delicious and cheap ticking all the boxes of great street food. I enjoyed my first bunny chow experience in a small park overlooking Durban, the contrast of the modern city with the humble meal the perfect metaphor for this sometimes underrated city.

 

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

37 Responses

  1. Raj

    Be careful and try not to get mugged or shot – That’s my impression of SA unfortunately

    Reply
    • Di Brown

      Hi Raj,
      Perhaps a little more research will change your perception. Trying not to get mugged or shot is a reality in any large city in the world. South Africa is no different. We have a lot to offer if you get some more info I am sure it will allay your fears and convince you to come and experience holiday magic,
      Kind regards,
      Di

      Reply
    • Matt Long

      Well that impression is pretty wrong. Go and visit and then report back.

      Reply
    • Travis

      Exactly, it’s your impression – why don’t you wake up, climb out of your shell, and see for yourself? You’re just as likely, if not more so, to get mugged or shut in NYC or Chicago, as in SA.

      Reply
    • Craven Coetzee

      Yup, Raj. I’m 100% with you on that, mate.
      Beautiful country. Absolute sh*thole of corruption, racism, crime, litter, violence and a very backward culture of self-entitlement. Had a home invasion in May this year. Fortunately, we were both armed.

      Reply
  2. Di Brown

    Hi Matt,

    For someone who has only visited our wonderfully enchanting country twice, you certainly are capturing the magic of Mzanzi.
    With so much more to offer apart from your excellent highlights in this post, you will be warmly welcomed when you return.
    You will return, as it is evident that Africa has crept into your soul.

    Our country has a lifetime of stories to tell and cities, towns and beautiful open spaces to wow you with.

    I hope you come back to discover more of South Africa, feed your soul and have a life changing experience in the process.

    Your article swelled my heart with renewed pride for South Africa, place of hope, fun, the unexpected and general awesomeness as the norm.
    Kind regards,
    Di

    Reply
  3. Dave

    I’ll be there for two weeks next May! I’m very excited, and glad that I have your numerous posts to add to my stack of research.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Awesome Dave! Let me know if you have questions.

      Reply
  4. Chanel @ La Viajera Morena

    What beautiful photos! I was sincerely considering doing SA in the spring as Air France now has an outrageous sale. Now I am thinking of it more than ever! 😀

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      You should! I’m plotting a return next summer 🙂

      Reply
  5. Marilyn Cattell

    Agree with everything you said. The scenery is mind blowing. The people’s are welcoming and friendly. The food and drink utterly superb. The wildlife and the bush leave you hungering for more. Plus there is a hope and a vibrancy that’s in the very fabric of the place. And it’s great for wheelchair travellers too. A really wonderful place. Oh yes and their hospitals are fabulous and modern with some of the best and nicest doctors and nurses you could ever wish to meet. Can’t wait to go back.

    Reply
  6. Kobus_LifeRemotely

    Matt, you sure know how to make me miss home. After the two years driving around Latin America we are heading back to South Africa in hopes to rediscover what it is that we miss.

    Thanks for the stunning photos! Now off to make some Bunny Chow!

    Reply
  7. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    Yes yes yes! I love all of these reasons to visit SA. Such an awesome country!!!

    Reply
  8. Gisele Klein

    I am a Canadian, met an expat that immigrated to Toronto back in ’77. He took me to visit his family in Cape Town back in ’99-’00. Oh my!!!!! I fell in love. So much that we moved there from ’01 – ’04 such a beautiful country. We toured as much as we could. Best memory was staying in a B & B in Rooi Els…sitting watching the waves crash against the rocks. We’re now very good friends with the owner and have a place to stay whenever we want to go back for a visit. I have scenes playing in my store constantly and many of my clients want to visit because of the video.

    Reply
  9. Adelaida Laguer

    Thank you Matt for the beautiful pictures and words to go with them. I haven’t been to South Africa yet! Going in December for 9 weeks! Part touring, part Volunteering at orphanage/childcare in CapeTown. I have been researching South Africa for almost 4 years! It took my heart from the beginning. I know seeing and expierencing it will take my breath away. I would love to find a way to stay there. People always ask me…”Why South Africa? You can volunteer here!” My answer……”Why not?” I then posted pictures for them to see. I hope to capture some pictures like yours that really tell the story of South Africa, and make others think about going there! I can’t explain it, but South Africa is in my Heart!! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Wes

      You are always welcome 🙂

      Our country is not perfect, but no country is. We are trying our best to move forward and become a success, despite our past. I love SA and my city Cape Town. There is no other place like it.

      Have a great time when you are here 🙂

      Reply
  10. Alison Wilson

    Wow, Matt – you certainly managed to capture some of South Africa’s essence – beautifully and empathetically. Look forward to seeing you back more and more often. South Africa certainly is addictive.

    Reply
  11. Wes

    Cape of Good Horn?

    Anyway, next time you come, you MUST explore the Garden Route… if you haven’t already 🙂

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      typos are the bane of a 1-man publishing shop 🙂

      Reply
  12. Pam Jones

    Hi Matt,
    thank you for publishing such an enthusiastic revue of SA on the net! As a resident of over 30 years now I am still blown away by the sheer beauty of this place.Next time you come try hiring a car and take a look at the most amazing passes through the Swartberg mountains….for a taster try googling mountain passes of SA as there is a brilliant site that takes you down all the passes! Also the wilderness area of the Cedarberg is incredible if you enjoy “far from the maddening crowd” places. I could name many more in the western cape area where I am very privileged to live. Once you are bitten by the SA “bug” there is no going back!! 🙂

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Oh don’t I know it Pam! I am definitely bitten and can’t wait to return to explore even more.

      Reply
  13. m simon

    My list includes: cuddling baby lions at Lion Park outside Joburg, hanging on the beach in Durban, amazing seafood in Cape Town, riding horses in a winery in Stellenbosch, traveling the Garden Route, Green Market in CT, ziplining in Tsitsikamma Forest, riding elephants in Knysna, braais in the afternoon, eating biltong all the time, the awesome incountry airlines ….and the people. Such beautiful, proud people. One of the most stunning countries on the planet. I love the Rainbow Nation and hope I get the chance to return!

    Reply
    • Emily

      Please don’t cuddle the baby lions… you’re promoting the canned hunting industry… 🙁

      Reply
      • Matt Long

        not at the facility I visited

  14. Bridget @ A Traveling B

    11 more reasons to visit South Africa! I’m hoping to visit next year and will be bookmarking this for my visit! Great suggestions, thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  15. Claudia

    Thank you for this awesome post highlighting the beauty and wonder of our country 🙂 Just a note though: the southernmost tip of Africa is situated at Cape Agulhas, not at Cape Point.

    Reply
  16. Charlotte

    Awesome blog! Although I’m not a true South African, as I’m marrying one I’m probably as close as you can get! Have had a love affair with SA since first visiting in 2010, and certainly have the ‘bug’. Something about SA gets your soul, and you leave a different person, it is a life-changing place. Can’t wait to show it off to my family and friends when we marry there next year! Happy Travelling!

    Reply
  17. melly

    I’m from the UK and I was sent to Cape Town for 6 months with work last year, and fell in love with the scenery,the people, the lifestyle. Still has lots of troubles but I want to move there and am applying for a visa now.

    Reply
  18. Emily

    Hi Matt…
    this is a lovely write-up on our beautiful country! 🙂 Next stop should be around the Eastern Cape, my home province.

    Keep well and happy travels!

    Reply
  19. David

    Great depiction of South Africa. I once read the byline “South Africa, A World in One Country” . . . so true!
    Just returned from 2 weeks in Kruger and Cape Town . . . LOVE IT!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Thanks and so glad you had a great time!

      Reply
  20. David

    Of course, being married for 40 years to someone who was born and raised in Johannesburg doesn’t hurt either. Once I visited for myself after hearing about the wonderful country for many years, the African bug had bitten me and I look forward to the next time!

    Reply
  21. Ave

    I’ve been wanting to travel to SA for a very long time and have spent some amount of time studying Afrikaans (on and off over the years). I’m looking at maybe heading down there next spring from Seattle but will be on a budget, was wondering if anyone could give me a realistic frame of time which I should plan for my visit. I’m not really a fan of wine so not sure i’d be interested in that so much, but i’d love to see Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town as well as visit Kruger national park. How much time is realistic for doing all of this?

    Reply
  22. Genevieve (south African)

    nicely summarized!

    Reply
  23. Jean Gael

    I’ve been to South Africa for the first time this August,

    Before going there I was very concerned about safety (newspaper horror story mixed with anxiety of going to a new place I guess). Whilst safety is definitely an issue you must be aware, it was nowhere as bad as people imagine. Generally I found South Africans of all communities, refreshingly friendly, straight talking, and strangely enough, I’ve seen different races getting on as I’ve never seen before, including in my country which is supposed to be a multicultural society. It is a wonderful country with wonderful people. I hope they sort out their problems, as it’s really a very very beautiful country. Been to Melbourne recently, and can really say, I’d choose South Africa any day.

    Reply
  24. Sheba

    Would anyone on here recommend living the states to move to Africa???

    Reply
  25. Marcelo

    Hi Matt,
    It’s very helpfull! Thank you for your blog. I´m from Argentina, next summer me and my family are going to SA and we’ll stay in a lot part of the country, I’m very excited.. well we’re very excited!
    I’m reading so much about SA and I think is a great, amazing and beautyful place. The people, the food, the nature… the Springboks etc etc.. and that thing about crime that some people talk, is just another thing of big cities in any country.. look at North and South America, Europe and Asia. I mean any parts of the Globe.
    Regards!

    Reply

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