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. 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. 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. 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.

  3. Thank you so much for this! In September I am leaving for a year long trip to South Africa, and I have been increasingly apprehensive about it. All I seem to hear from every direction is how dangerous it is, and it has been easy to let my excitement dwindle into fear. Thank you for transforming my fear into excitement once more!

  4. hi, I am a South African. I don’t mean to be rude or bad mouth my country, but I don’t think South Africa is a very nice n cool country. It has changed from better to worse, it is a corrupt country everywhere u go u hear how bad a child, a woman, boy or a man was raped, murdered and tortured even the President is corrupt himself. There’s no peace in our country. Let us work together to change our country for the better.

  5. I arrived in SA from the UK in 1995 for a 6 month stay to travel and see the sites. Still have so many places to see that I have never left. It’s a great country full of life and amazing places and people. So glad you came and saw it for yourself.

  6. Hey Earl
    So glad you had a good time in our country, its really special to us whe tourists say they had a good time. I hope you had some biltong 😛 you can’t come all the way here and not eat biltong;p

  7. Earl – Thank you for sharing this story. It is important for people to be aware of South Africa’s natural beauties and kind local people. The world of travel and tourism is learning to look past the horrible stories displayed on mainstream social media and people are finally beginning to appreciate countries of Africa for what they have to offer. – Emme @ Green Global Travel

  8. first I just want to say I am also van Zyl jah but im not related to deon. A lot of people in south Africa have a bad and negative feeling about our country. I have a deep love for my country because it has a bad history but the rich history of our country is much more beautiful if u understand what I mean. many people say that we are the next Zimbabwe but I don’t care because the people, nature, love and warmth that I get in my country will never make me move to Australia. what I actually wanted to say was we have a beautiful country so do yourself a favour and google harlem and then new York and after that google tokhoza and then sandton. the first two ar from America and places close to each other and the second is from south Africa. I just want to let the people know that all over the world there are poor people, murderers, thiefs, corruption and gangs. so don’t judge a country by a news report or just one photo you see. I have lived in south Africa all 18 years of my life and am learning to love it more each day. you just gotta see the beautiful nature behind the corrupt poepol on tv. thank you for giving our country a thumbs up but jah do yourself favour and come visit again and get someone who lives in the country to take you on a tour to get to know the local people and not only the rich tourists (no offence) if you enjoy them then you will love it to have a braai with a down to earth “Boer”.

  9. hi Earl.My name is Mujtaba.Im indian.born and bred in Cape Town.I love the work you are doing and the good comments about my Cape Town.We have a diverse culture whites , blacks , Indians,mixed race….we are the best

  10. I really enjoyed reading this. As a South African from Joburg, it’s always nice to hear someone who has enjoyed the country and references the fact that they were under the frighteningly common misconception that SA is hell on earth. You should, if you ever return to SA, travel further up into the interior. The highveld probably doesn’t have as many obvious tourist things as the coast but from my own biased opinion, is far more interesting if you want to understand the country.If you can love the highveld then you’re a true lover of South Africa. I’ve travelled quite a bit and I reckon SA is quite similar to countries in Eastern Europe and perhaps Brazil in terms of social issues. But please, judging from the comments above, less of the hippos in the street lest that old adage of Africans living with lions and crocodiles in their backyard becomes even stronger.

    Again, nice post.

  11. Exactly what do you know about a country by visiting it once and cherry picking spots to visit? Live in it for three years. Then come back to me. I suggest you start in Johannesburg.

    1. Hey Deon – You’re right, as far as what I know about living in South Africa, I don’t know anything. But I am not living there, I am going there as a visitor and this blog is about travel. So I’m talking about your country, and every other country I visit, in terms of the experience that travelers can have there. And as far as that goes, everything I thought about your country as it relates to the travel experience one can have, was indeed proven wrong to me during my trip.

  12. South Africa was one of our favorite countries out of the 34 visited on our world trip. Such diversity in beauty, nature, culture – all at a reasonable price and many options for budget travel. We felt it was a perfect country for an inexperienced (Western) traveler to get a great experience without completely overwhelming them (i.e. India).

  13. Exceptional article! I’ve been twice and loved every single moment. Capetown is majestic, magical and very cosmopolitan. Also, some of the very best wines in the world come from South Africa. Game viewing is absolutely a life changing experience; as is, Bungy jumping from Bloukrans Bridge at 216 meters! (World’s highest: according to the Guinness book of world records:) Would I do it again? Absolutely!!!! 🙂

  14. Hi Earl, thank you so much for posting this. I was planning a trip to South Africa a few years ago. As part of the trip planning I started reading the south african news papers online and those totally freaked me out. There were the most horrific crimes happening every day. And the safari’s I looked into were expensive and not comfortable at all (who wants to be in a bus 8 hours a day for 8 out of 14 days?) I have always wanted to go there and I am so glad to read your story about your experience. And I think I’ll wait until I get there to book that safari!

    1. Hey Anne – I can understand how that would freak you out but I always think, just look at the online newspapers from the US (not sure where you’re from of course). Those websites are full of an equal amount of insane crime as well but nobody warns people to avoid the US because of potential violence.

      And yes, definitely wait until you’re there to book a safari. You can learn about your options at any hostel or hotel near the game parks and it will cost significantly less money in the end 🙂

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  16. I think this is the first article about South Africa which gave me a different perspective. Just like you prior to your trip to the country, I always got this impression of South Africa being a nice but not that safe country. It is repeatedly said that crime rate is staggering. But after reading your own experience, now I am more convinced that things are not as bad as I usually hear. Thanks for bringing this up, Derek!

    1. Hey Bama – Glad to hear that as I think many people would be completely surprised if they were to visit South Africa. It’s one of those countries that when you leave, you already want to plan your next visit!

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  18. Great post! I completely agree. I went to South Africa with the intention of spending 3 weeks, ended up spending 3 months. amazingly friendly people, most beautiful scenery, beauty animals and amazing food/drinks!! It was my first solo trip and I thrilled with the great time I had. Even now when I tell people they are amazed that I made it home safely after traveling alone for 3 months … you really need to see it to believe it!! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey Emma – I can easily understand how 3 weeks could turn into 3 months in South Africa. I wish I could have stayed longer myself! And I think you’re right, it is one of those countries that you just need to experience in order to believe it as it is generally so different than what most of us imagine.

  19. Some friends are leaving soon to move to South Africa, and I’ve already let them know I’ll be passing by towards the last-third of 2012 as part of my RTW. I had a few thoughts about South Africa, and reading your post, Earl, has helped to make the case even stronger. Thanks!

    1. Hey Henry – I’m glad you’ll making it there in 2012! And with friends living there, you’ll have an even better time I’m sure. I wish I had some friends moving there so that I could visit them often!

  20. I completely agree South Africa is an amazing country (despite its many problems) and I travelled independently there without incident for 7 weeks. On my second to last day I went on a township tour in Cape Town and was held up at gunpoint, having my camera stolen. The main point about this is that going on a tour makes you a target! My positive view of South Africa was not sullied, you just have to take extra precautions.

    1. Hey Natasha – Extra precautions are needed in some areas and I do see how being on a tour could make one an easier target. But I think it’s great that you didn’t allow this one incident to destroy your positive views of the country in the general. Such things do happen all over the world but it certainly is not a reflection of the entire country.

  21. I don’t know much about the cities in South Africa, but I always think of the safari type stuff you can do there. Like most places I haven’t been to yet, I would really like to get there some day. I really love the picture of the zebras!

    1. Hey Ali – That’s one of my favorite photos from my entire trip 🙂 And the safaris are amazing. I thought I would be sick of it after one or two 4-hour game drives but I could have kept on doing two per day for at least a week! Seeing these animals in the wild does not get old at all…

  22. We can’t wait to go to Africa but, honestly, I always pictured South Africa as somewhere between the stereotypical safari and what I had seen in “District 9”- probably not the most accurate view, lol.

    1. Hey Shaun – Ha…definitely far off with those ideas! I guess you’ll have to get there soon and find out what it’s really like!

  23. Great post. It just proves once more that traveling isn’t as expensive ot difficult as many believe. I am inspired that you still find contradictions and surprises even after traveling for so long.

    1. Hey Candy – I think the day I stop finding surprises while traveling will be the day I decide to stop! That’s why I’m out there, to discover a world that I believe is far different than what we learn growing up or through the media.

  24. I will admit that I still think of Johannesburg as being relatively dangerous thanks to violent crime, although recently someone told me that’s less and less the case. Other than that though, I’ve talked to several people who’ve gone to the country over the past couple of years, and they’ve all talked about the amazing variety of activities and scenery. I’d love to see it for myself and form my own opinion!

    1. Hey Emily – That’s the way to go…wait to make any judgments until you get over there and see it all with your own eyes! Although, I’d be surprised if you don’t find it as rewarding a place as I did 🙂

  25. Great message and glad you are being able to see an abundance of Hippos! I’ve never been to South Africa, but I lived in Nairobi for quite a few years and throughout my life I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the security of the city. And of course, it does have it’s problems, there are tons of areas to avoid, and one does need to take safety precautions…but…the majority of people are extremely kind and hospitable, Nairobi is a beautiful city and when I just returned last year for a vist, even safety has drastically improved. I guess what I’m saying is that places often sound bad to the world, but when you’re actually there the reality is quite a bit different.

    Really cool to read this. I have a deep love for the entire continent. Keep having an amazing time!

    1. Hey Mark – I agree completely and one does need to accept that fact that there are issues and potential dangers in many cities and countries. But as you mentioned, it doesn’t mean we need to avoid those destinations altogether, we just need to be a little more cautious. But usually, we’ll be completely surprised, in a good way, by our experiences and the reality of what a place is truly like.

      And perhaps Kenya needs to be my next Africa adventure!

    1. Hey Stephanie – Seeing those hippos in the town at night was something I will never forget. It’s not even as if they just walk out of the water and start eating grass. They actually walk down the streets, through neighborhoods, to get to fields or yards with good grass. And you can just stand there watching them all night, from a safe distance of course!

  26. You had the right idea at the beginning of the article when you said to collectively throw all of your thoughts of South Africa into a trash bin. I’ve always heard nothing but bad things about the country and the media definitely doesn’t help in setting a good example. I would love to visit the areas that you went to, specifically on a safari. Only $395 Rand?? I was picturing AT LEAST $1,200 USD…thanks for another great write up!

    1. Hey Ron – I know, that’s about the price range I thought as well. Even in the main Kruger National Park you can get a more than affordable safari, making the experience so much more accessible than most people would ever believe. Zebras, hippos, rhinos and giraffes for $50!!

  27. He asked “what pops into your head upon hearing the name of this country”. I answered honestly rather than being politically correct. What in the world is wrong with that?

    You might not LIKE it, but the data speaks for itself. And it is by far NOT nonsense. While it may be true that that is not the entire picture, it’s certainly a *part* of the picture and one that people should consider.

    The entire point of my comment was that Earl’s observations have inspired me to see beyond the ugliness to the things that are interesting.

    #1 of 57 countries in violent crime.

    40% of the urban population living in slums:

    5.6 million people with HIV/AIDs. 1 in 3 women aged 25-29, 1 in 4 men 30-34

  28. Thank you, thank you Earl, for a breath of fresh air when it comes to the (nonsensical) persistent negative blather about how “dangerous” it allegedly is to travel in RSA (Republic of South Africa).

    Seriously. As a solo lass, I backpacked for 6 weeks there five years ago, and had nothing but wonderful experiences everywhere I went. Even “Joburg” (uh-oh! horrors! legendary for d.a.n.g.e.r. and C.R.I.M.E. at every blessed turn!!!) was welcoming and friendly. Surely no more dicey than any large city on the globe.

    In short, I traveled the length and breadth of it, alone, with backpack via public transport (save for a magnificent – and cheap – 5 day camping safari in Kruger National Park – with fabulous photos of an entire pride of lions munching on a fresh wildebeest kill on our dawn walking safari)… Ah but I digress. Joburg, Swaziland, St. Lucia, Zululand, Lesotho, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Oudtshoorn, Capetown. ALL most diverse and fantastic places to visit.

    “Violent crime, vast slums, and the highest density…” nonsense. Honestly, I don’t understand why those who’ve never stepped foot there seem to have so much to say about it. Yes indeed, “Perhaps one might reconsider.”

    1. @Dyanne, I am mostly with you. A big city anywhere has its dangers. But I think it is disingenuous for people on here to act like Capetown and the like have the same safety level as Pretoria or Joburg. Just like in the USA I don’t say Orlando is like Los Angeles for safety. You can have an amazing time in all places and the vast majority of visitors will have no troubles, but it only makes sense to point out where the danger level increases within a country, especially when that danger is violent.

      Armed robbery and carjacking are more prevalent in Joburg and Pretoria. In Joburg there are signs on the highway saying do not exit here, too dangerous. It is legal to run a stop light if you are threatened with a car jacking. We visited friends in the Peace Corps, stationed in both cities and the surroundings for two-year stints. They yelled at us for taking out a cell phone on the street (something you can do in a majority of the cities on the planet without worrying about being robbed at gun point). These were not bigoted people telling us to put our phone away. Many of them had already been robbed/mugged at gun point. So I mean it is not some vast conspiracy. There are dangers. I naively put valuables in my packed luggage and it was misplaced for two weeks by South African Airways before reappearing without my valuables. You just gotta be aware of what things are like in a place instead of acting invincible and saying all the talk of danger is rubbish.

      For sure don’t be afraid. Visit Joburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town. South Africa is amazing. Travel safe and you’ll travel well.

      1. Well I surely don’t want to quibble with a lad who uses the same nifty “Roam to Rome” theme in their blog header as TravelnLass 😉

        But, I stand by my (stated) PERSONAL experience of 6 weeks solo backpacking across the country, and I just grow weary of the perpetual one-sided “dangerous” moniker that is applied to THE ENTIRE NATION of South Africa. Sure, use common sense in all your travels, and of course be cautious when wandering amid any big city (trust that there are – despite no kindly signs to warn you – areas of my beloved Seattle that one would be reckless to wander into after dark). But to paint a picture that the entire nation of RSA is somehow too dangerous to visit, sorry but in my personal experience, that’s just utter nonsense.

        Case in point: Re: your friends who admonished you: “They yelled at us for taking out a cell phone on the street…”. I’m now living here in Saigon and trust that cell phones are stolen REGULARLY here. It’s simply part of the Southeast Asia urban landscape. So why should Pretoria or Joburg be somehow immune to such shenanigans? That’s my point. The repeated singling out of one city – indeed an entire nation, when such can likewise be applied to most any urban setting on the globe.

        As you said yourself “There are dangers. I naively put valuables in my packed luggage and it was misplaced…” Sure, but putting valuables in your packed luggage at ANY airport is foolish at the very least, no? I mean, why single out that example to prove that RSA is somehow more fraught with corruption and danger than say… Mozambique, or Rome or Delhi?

        1. That is too funny about the header. Mine is actually a free WordPress theme called sliding door ( 😉

          I hope you know I wasn’t trying to change your opinion, and like I said I mostly agree.

          Maybe foolish, but I like to see it as wishful. There are luckily places left on the planet where I still can leave my valuables in my luggage and use my cell phone without danger. Let’s hope that it spreads back to the rest.

    2. Hey Dyanne – This country certainly does get a bad image and I think Rob was just sharing his honest thoughts about pops into his head when he thinks of South Africa. And those are pretty much the same thoughts that popped into mine before making this trip. Hopefully, when more people share their positive experiences, as yours clearly was as well, it will encourage more people to think of this country as a rewarding destination and not a crime-ridden no-go land. Thanks for sharing!

  29. Violent crime, vast slums, and the highest density of AIDs-afflicted people in the world pretty much encompassed my view South Africa. I had never given a moment’s thought to visiting.

    Perhaps one might reconsider.

  30. Great article, mirrored my thoughts exactly. I grew up in SA but have since emigrated and have heard (quite often) the misperception that the country is a warzone. Ngiyabonga brother:)
    Protip: If you have the time and inclination , visit Tembe Elephant Park on the border of Kwa-Zulu Natal and Mozambique, you will not regret it. The rangers, locals and regulars there are fantastic and have a generosity of spirit that will leave a lump in your throat. Do you plan on visiting any other countries while you are in that neck of the woods? Thank you again!

    1. Hey Brandon – I won’t be able to make it to Tembe Elephant Park this time but you are not the first person to recommend that place. I’ll be back and that will definitely be on my itinerary. And I don’t plan to visit any other countries during this trip as I had some other plans in place that require me to be elsewhere. But like I said, this will not be my only visit to this country or continent for that matter.

  31. South Africa is in my top 5 places that I want to visit, so I’ve done quite a bit of reading and dreaming about it already. So when you asked me to close my eyes and think of South Africa, I thought of colorful cities, great white sharks, wineries, wildlife, beautiful scenery, and an interesting (if controversial) history. It’s fantastic to hear that what you experienced included a lot of this!

    Your photos look beautiful… I’m so envious! Also, it’s great to hear that safaris aren’t only fit for the rich and famous. That’s encouraging!

    1. Hey Amanda – That’s excellent that you have those ideas in your head before you even get here! And trust me, you can find an incredible safari for prices that you would never believe. Hope you make it here soon!

  32. Earl, it’s an incredible experience when you visit a country expecting something and it completely unravels in another way you would never have imagined. I felt that way about Bangladesh.

    1. The most beautiful parts are generally along the coast, from Cape Town up to Mozambique. Grew up in Jo Burg and surrounds and have a great love of the area but would not recommend it for a tourist (safety and bang for buck being the two main criteria). Make the trip!

    2. Hey Geoff – Thanks for the comment and you can be assured that my posts are ALWAYS my own personal opinions based upon my own personal experiences. They are never influenced by any other person and/or organization. Even though this is a sponsored trip, I have no responsibility at all to the tourism board to write positive posts about South Africa. If that were a requirement to participate on this trip, I would never have agreed to join. This trip really has opened my eyes to what it’s actually like to travel here, and it really is much different than what I expected! I’m sure if you do make it here in Feb or March, you’ll discover that you’ll have mostly positive things to say as well.

  33. S.A. is awesome. It was my first out of North America travel experience and it was a place I would love to go back to if at all possible. I travelled with my niece and we drove from Joburg to Cape Town by ourselves with zero problems. It did not seem expensive to me at all compared to North America, you could spend a lot but it is not necessary to having a good time. We stayed in hostels some ok some fantastic. I would highly recommend a trip to S.A.

    1. Hey Jodi – You definitely don’t have to spend a lot to travel well down here and most people that do visit, run into zero problems as well. Hopefully you’ll have a chance to get back here at some point for another visit!! Thank you for sharing your experiences…

  34. I have just come from a 6 week volunteer trip to South Africa this summer, and it was nothing like what I expected at all! When I was preparing for the trip, I had endless, ‘be careful’, ‘don’t care anywhere alone’ and ‘don’t go out after dark’ talks from my family and friends, and after hearing a few horror stories I was actually very on edge about going! When I got there my opinion couldn’t have been more different. I flew into Cape Town and travelled down the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth (stopping along the way to do the Bloukrans Bungy in Tsitsikamma National Park, the worlds highest bungy bridge, I definately recommend it!!) and then travelled on to Port Elizabeth to volunteer at Kwantu Private Game Reserve, taking lots of trips out at the weekends.

    I was so surprised at how welcoming and friendly the South African locals where, and I felt more than comfortable to walk around at night and on my own, taking only as much care as I would do wandering alone at night in my home town. I found the taxi drivers where extremely different that British ones, a lot more friendly, I even had one taking us on a quick tour of his ‘favourite places’ in the city, and refused to take any extra money of us for doing so!

    I highly recommend South Africa to anyone considering it, all it takes is a bit of common sense when travelling about and I’m positive you’ll be extremely, pleasantly suprised!

    1. Hey Jay – Your last line is a great summary and is exactly how I feel as well. Common sense will help us avoid most problems and I also think that travelers to S. Africa will find that their experiences are as similarly positive as both yours and mine!

  35. Hi Earl, I really enjoyed your article. As a South African and involved in the tourism industry, I often feel that impressions overseas of South Africa are completely baseless and untrue. It can be quite insulting, especially when I am so proud of the country I come from and all that we have achieved since 1994.

    Therefore I really liked reading what you have written, as it gives a more accurate and informed impression of the Rainbow Nation. South Africans are all realistic, we know that we have our problems, much like any other country in the world. However, the good far outweighs the bad, and I wouldn’t give up our outdoor lifestlye, great weather, incredible wildlife and amazing food for an other country on earth. Thanks for the positive article! 🙂

    1. Hey Tracy – The good does seem to outweigh the bad, that’s for sure. And don’t worry, with all the traveling I’ve done, I’ve come to realize that most people all over the world have completely wrong ideas about what it’s like to live or visit countries they have never seen themselves. That’s just the way it goes, which is why I travel, in order to discover the world for myself.

  36. Great post Earl. So glad to hear it has been so pleasurable so far. We have never been to Africa before, but we are heading there for a 5 week journey from South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania & Kenya. And you post TOTALLY has us excited to get there and start exploring.

  37. Great post Earl. So glad to hear it has been so pleasurable so far. We have never been to Africa before, but we are heading there for a 5 week journey from South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania & Kenya. And you post TOTALLY has us excited to get there and start exploring.

    1. Hey Mike – That’s great to hear that you’re headed this way for 5 weeks! You should really be excited because, as Caz said below, Africa gets under your skin and the experience is unlike any other on the planet.

  38. If it weren’t for the crime South Africa would sound like the Galapagos of Africa. Though as somebody who has never traveled overseas before but wishes to, South Africa still isn’t my first choice. I would probably go to New Zealand or Bali first before spreading my wings out further.

    1. Hey Matthew – I can understand that perfectly well. First time travelers don’t usually think of South Africa for their initial trip, but hopefully it will make an appearance somewhere on your wish list at some point!

  39. Thank you, Earl, for such a wonderful depiction of our country 🙂

    I’ve spent some time away from my home and couldn’t believe the bad reputation we had. We’re all smiles and beauty here and it’s awesome to hear someone experienced South Africa the way I do.

    I’m sitting in my ‘office’ watching the Durban sea, as I write.

    Thank you again for telling everyone what a wonderful country we have!

    1. My pleasure Sez! And I wouldn’t be describing it that way if it wasn’t true. I’m actually on my way to the Durban airport right now, so I say wave goodbye as we fly over your ‘office’ 🙂

  40. So love this post. Cape Town is my fave city, South Africa one of my fave countries and st Lucia one of my most magical travel experiences.

    Happy to hear you are discovering just why Africa gets under your skin

    1. Hey Caz – It absolutely does get under your skin and I loved St. Lucia as well. I even started asking around for monthly rental prices in that town 🙂

  41. I always felt it was strange how in Jo’burg people would all go in just before dusk. It was almost like they expected the night walkers or some ghouls were going to appear. Mix that with all the armed guard response signs showing machine gun clad soldiers…it was enough to freak me out a bit while there. You cannot beat the wildlife in that part of the world, though.

    1. Hey Jacob – There are definitely some things to be careful of and to watch out for, but I think if you don’t go looking for trouble, it’s much easier than people think to avoid it altogether.

  42. Sounds like a wonderful place. I’ve never really been worried about the danger side of South Africa – it has always felt like the easiest choice for an African visit. Maybe that’s because it’s more common for Brits to visit than Americans?

    I love that Zebra photo! And I’m glad to hear that safaris are affordable, as I did get the impression it was quite an expensive country.

    1. Hey Erin – The safaris are more than affordable and budget travelers will have dozens of choices, which really makes a huge difference. And you’re probably right about Brits visiting more than Americans. Back home I think hearing the name of any country in Africa unfortunately leads to some negative thoughts, even though most of us really have never been to this part of the world.

  43. Hi Earl,
    Great post. Glad that you’re enjoying my amazing country. You’ve only just scrached the surface, there are so many stunning places to explore. I am so lucky to live here! Just a note its ‘springbok’ not ‘springboek’.
    And in case you haven’t yet, you should try a springbok shot, which involves a very special way of drinking it 🙂

    1. Hey Meruschka – Thank you for correcting me on that! And you’re right, I have only touched the surface, which is why I know I’ll be back to experience more, including a springbok shot, which I unfortunately have missed out on this time around…

    2. Mmm, springbok shot.. Correct me on this because I’m sure I will spell it incorrectly, but in it is one of my new favorite liquors, amarulla. It was also the demise of my most beloved (and only at the time) scarf 🙁 the only qualm I have is that the shot glasses in your country are so tiny! 😉

      1. Hey Samantha – We actually had quite a bit of amarula during our trip. It is certainly good stuff, although, not when it ends up on your scarf in some form or another 🙂

  44. Wow, those photos are amazing! I have good friends who moved to Cape Town and I’ve been wanting to go, but you just sealed the deal. If only South Africa weren’t so far away…

    1. Hey Ellen – It’s a bit far away but not terrible. If you’re in Turkey, it’s only a 9 hour flight 🙂 I’m actually boarding a flight this evening to fly to Bucharest via Istanbul so I’ll let you know how it goes…

  45. Love this post. I do have the impression of SA being dangerous after reading some not-so-comforting articles. The bad things you hear are the hardest to overcome. I’ve also always assumed that safaris are for the rich.

    Thanks for reminding us that there is tremendous benefit in keeping an open mind.

    1. Hey El – Those are two very widely held beliefs about this country which is why I am honestly so happy that they both turned out to be untrue, in terms of what the average traveler will encounter here!

  46. I saw an advertisement for South Africa in a movie theatre in France six or seven years ago, and I remember just being astounded by the images–I had absolutely no idea what it was advertising until it flashed South Africa at the end! Since then (and since making friends with a girl who studied in Capetown and stalking her photos), I have been wanting to make it to South Africa…perhaps in 2012! Lovely piece, glad you enjoyed yourself.

    1. Homesick! make that a definite Christine. You won’t regret it. You will find it life-cahanging! Earl is correct: It doesn’t need to be expensive either as you can book accommodation in BnB’s, Safari lodges etc direct. Most of the Safari Lodges offer trips out with experienced trackers and rangers.

  47. The Safari sounds amazing. Those zebras are so cute; how exciting that you got to see them! I always knew South Africa was a beautiful and scenic country (Capetown comes to mind), but wasn’t aware of the wildlife. I hope to see this country one day.

  48. Great wrap up of your trip to SA Earl, Lekker!

    The safaris sound fantastic. I’m hoping that you didn’t skip South Africa’s number 1 draw card, Ouma’s Rusks?

  49. I visited South Africa in October and found it nothing like I thought. Very safe. Friendly people. Part of the problem is touts infesting forums like Trip Advisor, ratcheting up the fear factor, hoping to frighten people into taking their services to be “safe” – and at 4 times the going rate. I even found game viewing at a great value. Though I met others who weren’t so lucky, only seeing critters in the distance.

    1. Hey Ken – That tout problem does make sense which really is a shame when the reality is so very different. Game viewing really is a great value. I was absolutely shocked by how cheap an amazing safari experience can be. Not what I expected at all and I think that’s one of the main things that keeps budget travelers away, which again, is a shame.

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