5 tips for your first time in South Africa

Don’t let its troubled history blind you to South Africa’s triumphant diversity – two decades into the 21st Century, it’s being rediscovered by more travelers each year.

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Learn about its history

South Africa’s famously tumultuous 20th Century is no reason not to visit – but those planning a trip owe it to their hosts to learn a little of what they went through. Although the country is radically different from how it was under Apartheid, such huge divides don’t disappear in a generation.

First-time visitors to South Africa will quickly see evidence of the inequality that still dogs the nation – with the 25% unemployment rate a particularly painful issue. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission provided an incredible example of how a society can learn from its past, and the government has seriously committed to redressing the last regime’s power imbalances, but it will take time and tourists should be sensitive to this.

Explore the regions

South Africa is a seriously huge land mass, and it’s impractical to think you can explore the entire country in one holiday. It is therefore recommended for visitors focus on a region (or two).

Johannesburg has been reborn as a bohemian city with an abundance of galleries and museums, although crime is still a problem, and tourists should take the appropriate precautions. Nearby, the Kruger National Park is the perfect place to see Africa’s most iconic wildlife – from lions to elephants, rhinos to giraffes.

Alternatively, head to Cape Town. The beautiful architecture here is complemented by Table Mountain, which towers over the city below.

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Pack these essentials

Although travellers should obviously pack for the heat, bear in mind that nights can be much cooler – and it’s also sometimes advisable to cover arms and legs to deter mosquitos.

If you’re planning on renting a car (which is recommended for ease of getting around), be aware you’ll need an International Driving Permit.

Binoculars are also recommended if you’re expecting to go on safari. And, depending on where you’re going in the country, anti-malarial medication may be a sensible addition.

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Get active

This is a country with a real appetite for action, so it’s no surprise there’s a massive range of outdoor activities on offer.

For the hiker, guided tours are offered through some of the safari parks themselves, which can last a few hours or – with camping in the bush included – even days. Meanwhile, South Africa is one of the world’s leading destinations for paragliding (with even long-distance options widely available).

Besides these, you can find everything from cycling to kayaking, surfing to diving – and even an indigenous form of canyoning called kloofing. If you’re planning an adventurous holiday, though, it’s always highly recommended to choose a travel insurance policy that covers you for a range of activities.

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See some culture outside the cities

As attractive as South Africa’s modern cities are, it’s worth venturing out of the urban centres to get a real sense of the country’s range of traditions.

Tours (which can include overnight stays) will allow tourists to see how the country’s townships have reinvented themselves for a new century (including Soweto, Nelson Mandela’s former home).

Or go even deeper into the country’s fabric with a visit to the villages of Zululand, where both colourful ceremonies and an older way of life can be witnessed.

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