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?