Capetown, South Africa

Everything I Thought About South Africa Was Wrong

Derek Uncategorized 99 Comments

Capetown, South Africa
Please take a moment, close your eyes and repeat the words “South Africa” three or four times. The goal of this short exercise is to see exactly what pops into your head upon hearing the name of this country because, after all, everybody has their own idea of what a trip to South Africa would entail.

Then, once you have a handful of ideas of what you think South Africa is like, kindly gather almost all of those ideas, wander over to the nearest trash bin and toss them inside.

You see, I’m willing to bet that your view of South Africa is so utterly different from reality that if you travel here and find that I’m the one who is in fact wrong, I’ll personally cook up a braai in your backyard and send you over some of the best springbok biltong along with a case of Castle Lager.

How can I be so sure? Well, even after 12 years of travel, I still came to this country myself a couple of weeks ago with a few strongly held ideas of my own, ideas that I was certain would prove to be true. Yet, I was indeed so very wrong.

It turns out that South Africa has surprised me, not once or even twice, but several times, every single day of my trip. In the end, this will perhaps rank up there as the destination with the widest gap between what I assumed to be true about a country and what turned out to be the actual situation once I arrived.

Franschhoek, South Africa

Before I made my way here, I simply thought a trip to South Africa involved an encounter with significant crime everywhere you go, shockingly expensive safaris, maybe a little natural beauty and some cities that I would be afraid to walk around, even at noon. That was the idea I had.

Of course, just like any country on the planet South Africa has its issues and there are always places in every city that are best avoided, but the truth is, that is not something that I have spent even one minute thinking about. And if you were to visit, you too would spend all of your time having a safe and intensely rewarding experience that will simply amaze and impress you with every new activity, sight and interaction.

My current trip has taken me from Capetown to Franchhoek to Hermanus to the Garden Route to Durban and to St. Lucia so far, and I have really encountered nothing but undeniably genuine hospitality in every location.

In fact, far from having to constantly worry about my safety, the biggest thing I’ve had to worry about are the hippopotamuses that wander around the town of St. Lucia at night, looking for grass to eat. Yes, every night there are actually 2500 kg hippos grazing in front of the hotel where I’m staying and this has now become so normal, that I didn’t even go outside to look at them last night because I was too busy cutting my toenails in my room.

Hippopotamus, South Africa

The point is, traveling to South Africa is not what you think.

Instead of wandering around in fear the entire time, you’ll instead be enjoying absolutely beautiful and vibrant cities, encounters with penguins, baboons and ostriches, wine regions that will blow you away in terms of the scenery as well as the quality of the wines, lush jungle-filled mountains that lead straight up to a coast lined with some of the highest quality beaches in the world, a diversity of cultures that creates a wildly unique and energetic atmosphere, opportunities for adventure everywhere you go, a cuisine that is guaranteed to suit your tastes (especially those who love a little Indian-influence in their food) and, perhaps most surprisingly, game reserves that are full of zebras, giraffes, rhinoceros, hippos, hyenas, wildebeest and more, that a traveler can visit for less than $50 USD per day.

Hermanus, South Africa

Zebras in South Africa

I don’t know about you but I always thought safaris were out of reach for the average traveler who wasn’t interested in paying for a giant splurge. But that simply isn’t true, at all. (We did a full day game drive in the iSimangaliso Game Reserve that cost only 395 Rand, including lunch.)

And so, if an extensive game safari is within reach for even the most budget of travelers, then the entire idea of traveling to South Africa should not only seem infinitely more appealing, but suddenly, much more accessible as well.

I’ve really been sitting here the past two weeks thinking about why I’ve never traveled to this country before. Sadly, however, I know perfectly well why this has been the case. And it all comes back to the idea I had that traveling to South Africa would be extremely difficult, expensive and quite dangerous.

Now I feel a bit silly that I once thought all of that because, again, I am honestly thrilled to report that my assumptions could not have been farther from the truth. As a result, I will be recommending this country as a destination as often as possible, especially to any person whose goal it is to experience first-hand the best of what this world, and the people and animals who inhabit it, have to offer.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about what you think South Africa is like and whether this post matches or contradicts those thoughts?

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Comments 99

  1. Emily

    Hi earl,
    I am in the process of planning a trip to SA and I was wondering what hotel you stayed at with the hippos. Also is there anything that you would recommend besides a Safari?

    1. Post

      Hey Emily – That place was in the town of St Lucia and it was called the Umlilo Lodge. Apart from a safari, there’s endless things to do in SA – wine regions, coastal towns like Hermanus, caves, adventure activities, Cape Town of course, township tours and on and on!

  2. Marie McNamara

    Hi Earl,
    Just came across your article about South Africa.. I’m planning to return there later this year or January 2017.
    I lived there way back in the 80s after doing an overland from Cairo to Cape trip, and being a nurse, I could walk into a job there. I lived in Jo’berg for a short time and then Cape Town for over a year.
    Of course I fell in love with cape town and had the most wonderful working/living/playing experience of my life. Of course it was in the bad old days of Aparteit , which was truly horrible, and I fell foul of the law once or twice myself when I saw its nastiness close at hand. But it did give me a very realistic insight and viewpoint at the time in the face of those who criticised me for even being there back at home in Ireland.
    Anyway, I want to go back there, I’m a very different (older..!) traveller these days; I want to visit places with a purpose, live local for short time and just ‘Be’ there. I’m very interested in viewing the changes.
    I’m looking at the House-Sitter websites and thinking that might be just the ticket for me. My time is very flexible.
    I was so glad to hear that it’s still the friendly easy place it always was.. but I am somewhat concerned about travelling as a solo woman.
    I don’t want to do a lot of gallivanting around the country, rather, exploring locally around the Cape Area. ( I may have house sitting in either/or/both Strand, on False Bay or in Hermanus around the coast) .I am a bit worried about public transport though and finding myself in unfamiliar areas alone, especially as evening falls.
    House sitting involves pet minding, which suits me well and will keep me grounded and a good way to meet people locally, but at the same time, I do want to get around the Cape Area a bit too.. I’ll have about 6 weeks or so.

    Thanks.. Marie

    1. Rowan Koni. (Cape Town, Western Cape Province - South Africa)

      Hi, Miss/Mrs. Marie McNamara. After reading your comment, I became touched by your keen concern about the public transportation system in Cape Town…and in the republic as whole. However, I have to assure you not to be worried at all about that. South Africans have come a long way from totally diverse societies into an amazing melting pot of extraordinary rainbow unity. Along the industrialization processes, South Africans have built a strong investment core on a number of modern-world skills, high-quality-possessiveness of innovation and reconstruction programmes, and a number of world class devepmental sectors. Those sectors include the “transportation industry” as whole. Visit all the tourism-related web pages you could possibly relate to South Africa and learn all about the republic’s transportation system and more. You don’t need to worry. Cape Town has as much public transportation system as London, Los Angeles, Belfast or any other world class city does.

      Thank you.
      Hope you’ll enjoy your stay in our city…and our beautiful country.

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