A First-Timer’s Guide to South Africa

by Evelyn Medai|Nov 26 2017|South Africa
Vocational Impact South Africa Guide Feature

South Africa is a country with rich culture, stunning nature, and a checkered but fascinating history. It would take years to fully experience the whole of the country, but most people’s annual leave doesn’t last that long. For a first-time journey to South Africa, Johannesburg and Cape Town offer visitors a great insight into the country. As the nation’s two largest city, they possess much of the culture and history that is so important to South Africa. We put together a list of tips, tricks, and things to do in both of these cities, as well as a few trips outside the city, to help you make the most of your first trip to South Africa.

Things to Do in Johannesburg

Apartheid Museum – Apartheid is a major part of South Africa’s past, and the ramifications of it continue to carry out into today. The Apartheid Museum helps visitors fully understand what Apartheid was and how it affected the people of South Africa. It shows the struggles of the past but also the country’s efforts towards a better future.

Pilanesburg Natural Reserve Tour – If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, book a tour of Pilanesburg Natural Reserve. The area is full of African wildlife, including the Big 5 – lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalos, and leopards – so that’s something you can check off your travel bucket list. In addition to these, there’s lots of other things to see, from beautiful landscapes to more African animals, including zebras and hippos. Open up the top of the Jeep and be sure to keep your camera handy!

Sowetto Township Johannesburg

Sowetto Township Johannesburg

Soweto Township Tour – A short distance outside the city, Soweto is one of South Africa’s many townships. Visitors can book a tour of the township to get a strong perspective on South Africa’s history and enjoy the townships electric social scene.

Constitution Hill – Housed in a former prison that held Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and more, this museum shows South Africa’s transition into the democratic nation it is today. It demonstrates the tough road to democracy and celebrates the progress that has been made thus far. 

SAB World of Beer – After a day full of adventure and a bit of heavy history, take the edge off with a trip to SAB World of Beer. Learn about how the beer is made and treat yourself to a few.

Things to do in Cape Town

Victoria & Alfred Waterfront – This quiet spot situated in Cape Town’s harbour offers an escape from bustling city life. Enjoy the mix of shops and restaurants along with the beautiful views of the water and Table Mountain.

Table Top Mountain, Cape Town

Table Top Mountain, Cape Town

Table Mountain National Park – If you’ve looked up anything about South Africa, you know about Table Mountain. One of the most famous landmarks in the country, it’s a must see for all visitors, especially first-timers. Ride the Aerial Cableway up for stunning views of the city and the sea, and even spot some local wildlife.

Boulders Beach – This is a bit more unique than your average beach holiday. Surrounded by granite boulders and inhabited by African penguins, the white sand and warm waters are only part of the reason you’ll want to stick around for a while.

Lion’s Head Mountain – If you’re more of the sporty type and fancy getting a bit of exercise in during your trip, hike up Lion’s Head Mountain to get sweeping views of the city, Table Mountain, and the cape.

Getting out of the Cities

Take some time out of your busy travel schedule to give back to the community. Whether you’re a student on summer holiday, a recent graduate about to embark on your career, or in the midst of your career and looking to take a break, volunteering is a great way to get immersed in the culture while making a difference in the community.

Tips for Travelling to South Africa

The number one concern of people who are thinking of travelling to South Africa is safety. South Africa is notorious for high violent crime rates, and while safety is something to keep in mind, this bad rap should not discourage you from visiting. Many of South Africa’s more “touristy” locations are quite safe and as long as you stay out of the known dangerous neighbourhoods and keep your wits about it, you should not face too much trouble. However, we do have a few tips to ensure your safety.

Know where to go and where not to go – Crime rates tend to be higher in certain neighbourhoods and quite low in the safest, “touristy” neighbourhoods. Do your research before you go and know where these places are before you head off. This can also help you find the best areas to go and explore in South Africa. For example, many people recommend avoiding the townships due to having a reputation for high crime rates, but Soweto, mentioned earlier, has organised tours, friendly locals, and is quite safe for tourists.

Keep your wits about you – As with traveling to any big city, mind your intuition and use your street smarts. Don’t walk alone at night, don’t wear flashy jewellery or show off luxury brands, and keep your car doors locked when driving to avoid carjacking. Make smart decisions and try to blend in and you should have a great time!


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Tags:
cape townoptional extrasSabbaticalSouth AfricasowettoStudent TravelTravel Advice

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