Whenever I meet someone new they almost always invariably ask me the same question, they want to know my favorite places in the world to travel. While it’s a difficult question to answer, a few places always come to mind. One of those top few is South Africa, a country I never expected to win my heart, but which did so almost from the beginning. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to South Africa on three separate occasions; each trip very different from the other, and each showing me yet more reasons to fall madly in love with this large and I think endlessly fascinating country. I want to share my top reasons why I think everyone should visit South Africa, but more than that I want to offer you a way to actually visit Africa yourself.
Today I’ve teamed up with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines to share a new sweepstakes they started where one lucky winner will get the African adventure of a lifetime. All you have to do is visit this site, play the Pack Your Bags game and then enter to win a six-day luxury safari in the Serengeti courtesy of KLM and Asilia Africa, including flights to and from the U.S. The total value of this trip of a lifetime is $18,000 and the itinerary includes activities and experiences that are truly remarkable. Reaching Africa from the U.S. via Amsterdam is easy and convenient and from my recent personal experience, the onboard service is one of the best I’ve seen. KLM flies from several U.S. gateways to Amsterdam where the easy connection onward to major African cities including Kilimanjaro, Nairobi, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam couldn’t be more convenient. In this post though I want to talk about the country where two of those cities are located – South Africa.
So why should South Africa be near the top of your travel bucket list? For these reasons and more.
I’m a luxury adventure traveler, so for me it’s always about combining the thrill of a fun experience with the relaxation of luxury accommodations. Few countries offer the best of both travel styles like South Africa. I’ll talk more about safari in the next section, but for many that is the chief draw to the country and with good reason. Did you know though that in addition to seeing some of the world’s most beautiful animals, you can do so in style? All around the country, including inside the famed Kruger National Park, there are many luxury options that are routinely named amongst the best in the world. So head out on a game drive in the morning, but then prepare yourself for the ultimate in luxury in the afternoon.
There’s a lot more to South Africa than safari though and if you are looking for an adrenalin rush, then visit the town of Hermanus, an easy drive from Cape Town, for a wildlife experience you’ll never forget. One of the main draws in this part of South Africa, Hermanus is a cute beachside town with great shops and restaurants and during the season is one of the best places in the world to watch whales, either on a boat or right from the shore. For something a little different though, head half an hour south to Gansbaai, home of another iconic South African adventure activity – diving with Great White Sharks. Now, this is where you have to be careful. Not all tour operators are created equal and in order to help preserve the species it’s vital you choose one that is ethical and contributes to the well being of the sharks. The best one out there in my own opinion is Marine Dynamics. The leader in shark dives, they’re also a leader in the conservation movement and frequently work with institutions around the world to study the sharks’ unique behavior in the waters just off the coast. Join Marine Dynamics for a Great White Shark dive experience and boat out close to the famous Shark Alley where the sharks have been known to breach the water as they hunt seals. There is nothing like getting into the water with these beautiful animals and I still count it as one of my favorite experiences of all time.
Going on safari is near the top of most people’s bucket lists and South Africa is one of the best places to enjoy this unique experience. There are many places to go on safari around the country, but one of the most famous is Kruger National Park. A massive refuge, there are many lodges and resorts within the park itself but one of the most luxurious is without a doubt the Lukimbi Safari Lodge. Lukimbi is a five-star facility featuring private villas each with amazing views of the bush and situated to ensure total privacy. As at many lodges, the rates include three meals a day, tea and coffee, two game drives a day and a safari walk. While the lodge was incredibly comfortable, the main draw is of course getting up close with nature. It’s hard to convey the incredibly humbling experience that safari game drives can be, driving around the park with an experienced guide and getting within just a few feet of animals usually relegated to zoos like rhinos, elephants and even lions. If this isn’t already on your travel bucket list, add it now.
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 about them around the world have instilled in South Africans a fierce desire to share the wonders of their massive country with visitors. 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.
I enjoy being out in nature, but I also love a great city and South Africa is home to two of the world’s greatest – Cape Town and Johannesburg. Routinely named to the Best in the World lists, Cape Town is unlike any other city you’ve visited before. In a quirky mix of European and African sensibilities, it’s easy to forget that you’re in southern Africa as you stroll around this colonial city. Days could be spent exploring the historical and cultural treasures of The Mother City, as well as admiring the natural beauty that is all encompassing. From the omnipresent Table Mountain to Chapman’s Peak Drive, your jaw will drop many times as you survey the beautiful landscapes that define this area of South Africa.
Johannesburg is not Cape Town, but it’s easy to fall in love with this metropolis, albeit in different ways. What brought me closer to the people of South Africa, and ultimately helped me fall in love with Jo’Burg, was an afternoon I spent in 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 when apartheid ended. He showed me a city that I didn’t expect. As dynamic as any 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.
I’ve used this phrase before but it is one I use sparingly because I believe it to be so very special. I define travel umami as something that is impossible to define, but rather the combination of all elements of a destination that culminates in a sort of perfection that has to be felt to be properly understood. That’s Cape Town. That’s Johannesburg and that is certainly South Africa. Long before my first trip to Southern Africa I was told that there is something in the air, something that latches onto your soul and refuses to let go. I naturally didn’t believe them until my first time experiencing it firsthand and then I understood, I got what they were talking about – this special travel umami. That’s simultaneously my top reason why everyone should visit but also the only one I can’t prove. So just trust me, plan a trip and go, go see and feel and taste South Africa and then I dare you to come back and say I was wrong.
So there you go, I hope I’ve tempted you enough to put South Africa on your bucket list. More than just South Africa though, all of Africa is I think interesting for one reason or another. While it’s a far cry from still being a “Heart of Darkness” there remains though a certain mystery to this massive continent and places to be discovered that have to be seen in order to be believed. Remember, you have a chance to live out your own African travel dreams through the KLM Pack Your Bags Sweepstakes. Go, play the game, enter the sweepstakes and cross all of your fingers and toes that you win the amazing $18,000 Grand Prize. Even if you don’t, traveling to Africa from the U.S. on KLM is easy, comfortable and convenient, so winner or not start that travel planning today.
(Full rules as well as terms and conditions can be found here.)