Aggiornamento: 22 apr 2020
South Africa, August, 2019
After so many years, I decided to go on a trip with my parents, with whom I was lucky enough to share many adventures around the world. And we decided to go to South Africa, where I lived for 4 months in 2015. This post combines the two experiences and I want to suggest you a 4-weeks trip from one coast to another of this land, visiting some of the most beautiful parts and interesting, aware of the fact that it is a vast and beautiful territory, impossible to explore in such short time !! If you have less time, you can also take some domestic flight, of course.
Before going on a trip to South Africa, one should know a little about its history, because it is important, in my opinion, to go there aware of the long years of apartheid which, finished in 1991, continues to determine and affect the current reality. The economic and social difference between whites and blacks is devastating, there is still a lot of discrimination due to the fact that whites have never returned anything stolen from black communities. The slums around the larger and industrialized cities, such as Cape Town, and therefore where there are more jobs, are huge and raging in conditions of deep poverty; then there are the provinces only inhabited by blacks or whites and city centers, such as the one of Durban, where I lived, which are abandoned to the poorest black families, migrants or whites who have ruined themselves with drugs, while the rest of the population live in neighborhoods from the most to the less bourgeois, closed in houses with gates, barbed wires, alarms and guardians.
South Africa has approximately 53,000,000 inhabitants, 75% blacks, 13.6% whites, 8.6% colored and 2.6% Asians. Almost all the things you'll do will finance the pockets of the white people or the black bourgeoisie, and there are few situations where you will see a real life melting pot. You will see injustice, segregation, anger and also a lot of resilience and resistance. South Africa is a wonderful, powerful, musical land, it steals your soul, but I think it's very important to keep our eyes always wide open and critical.
I will go quickly enough to avoid making it too long, so I will give you the main info and advices (for any further information, you can write me in pv to the email or the blog, I'll be happy to tell you more and help you to organise your trip). We loved the coast and the parks, we arrived in Johannesburg and we left from Cape Town. In the interior, however, there are many truly beautiful regions you can ask me about (for example the mountains and parks of the Drakensberg). As for the BUDGET and COSTS, you will find a table at the end to get an idea of the costs and how to save. When I was traveling alone I managed to spend much less, while with my parents we went to nicer accommodation and restaurants, but still...South Africa is not that expensive, if you know how ;)
THE BEST TIME to go there really depends on you, your holidays and what are your desires. Seasons are opposite, of course, to our boreal emisphere. No matters which period you'll decide to, there are some positive and negative sides, but you can always enjoy it, and swim, with some courage! Here some tips to see which period would best fit you =) :
Beach life and summer time: December to February.
Spring and rich vegetation (which means beauty, but less visibility for animals): September to November.
March to May: probably the best period to go and satisfy all your plans.
Kruger National Park: taking into consideration safaris and the weather, the best time is from June to August (it might get quite cold at night). In the summer season it's hot and humid and it can rain a lot.
THE ARRIVAL Day 1: arrived at the Johannesburg airport, we easily and cheaply rented a car that would take us to Cape Town, where we would return it (around 20-30 euros per day). We rented a beautiful house, a loft, on Airbnb (705- The perfect penthouse in Maboneng) in the artistic district of Maboneng Precinct, where I strongly recommend to go, because it is two streets where you can walking by foot even in the evening, full of art galleries (Arts on Main: https://www.tripadvisor.it/Attraction_Review-g312578-d6280167-Reviews-Arts_on_Main-Johannesburg_Greater_Johannesburg_Gauteng.html), local brand and craft shops , restaurants (I recommend the Pata Pata) and bars, an independent cinema, clubs with live music (on weekends) and an alternative atmosphere during the day, coloured by artisans' stalls and graffiti in the streets. In the afternoon I recommend a visit to the Museum of Africa and the lively Newtown district (local craft and fashion shops, restaurants and bars here as well).
HISTORY OF APARTHEID Day 2: a must visit (and take a full morning) to the Apartheid Museum. From here you can go to Soweto, the neighborhood where the greatest city and student riots took place and where many people and very young children died, including Hector Pieterson, hit during one of the biggest riots in 1976. In Soweto you can decide whether to rely on one of the tours, those organized by the inhabitants of the township (once made of mud houses and sheet metal, today a huge municipality consisting of many neighborhoods), or go around on your own going to the main points of interest: the house of Nelson Mandela and Winny Madikizela-Mandela, the Hector Pieterson Memorial, the Regina Mundi Church (where many protesters hid during the protests), the market and the Walter Sisulu square and Vilakazi street where there are several craft stalls and restaurants buffet, where you can sit and enjoy the music and voice of the street artists, to whom it is recommended to give a tip. Returning home, go to the two huge silos (which were previously covered with beautiful murals that told the history of the neighborhood, while now they have been sold to telephone companies, including Vodacom). There is also a bar and restaurant here and you can watch a wonderful sunset over the infinite horizon of Soweto.
KRUGER PARK AND THE BIG FIVE (elephant, rhinoceros, lion, leopard and buffalo) Day 3: we left at dawn for Kruger park, where you have to enter by 4 pm and then reach, by 6 pm, the Letaba camp site where we slept 2 nights (each park and camp site has its own schedule times, I recommend you always check on it, otherwise you risk being out with the animals in the park at night, and although it may seem adventurous, it is not at all safe). There are several park entrances and many camp sites, some are very expensive and some a little cheaper (surely this will be the most expensive experience of your trip). The most beautiful camp site we have found, but it was full booked, check largely in advance, is the Olifant Camp. In the Letaba camp sites you'll find a supermarket (quite expensive) and a restaurant (cheap), from which you can enjoy a beautiful view of a valley crossed by a river and where elephants, hippos, monkeys and various types of antelopes, such as impala, go at night to drink and rest.
You can camp, rent chalet-style houses or, as we did, sleep in a typical round house (rondavel) with bathroom and kitchen and a space outside with a barbecue. What to do during the day? The park is huge and you can go around autonomously with your vehicle, it is not difficult to see the animals, just go slowly looking around, or stop when you see other cars stopped. Always calculate the round trip times because you drive very slowly in the park and the distances are enormous. Otherwise you can participate, obviously paying, in one of the safaris proposed by the camp: a ride in an open truck at sunrise or sunset or a night walk. To see lions, lionesses and leopards, rely on the expert eye of the local guides, but if you are lucky you will see them alone. We have not been lucky enough to see the leopard or herds of lions, but we have seen two really close lions.
TRAVELING TO DURBAN
Day 6: We left very early because we had a long road to ride in front of us inside of the park, and so very slow. Along the way we saw other animals (in the morning, when you go out, always remember to look on the board/map, near the bar usually, where the animal sightings are placed and marked on the map). We stopped in a camp to eat (the ones in the south are much more touristy and full of people, so I don't recommend them) and then by leaving the park, we passed on a bridge over a river full of hippos and crocodiles. In the evening, we stopped in Nelspruit, in a beautiful place, at the Nature Luxury Cottage (https://www.booking.com/hotel/za/nature-luxury-cottages.it.html), immersed in a natural park, where you can spot animals who come to drink right under your terrace and take long walks (price for a private house: 20 euros per person per night).
Day 7: We got back on the road and reached the amazing St Lucia, a seaside town overlooking a natural park. If you do not have the tent to go to the campsite in front of the walkway that takes you to the beach, stay at Monzi Safari, the one in the city center, it's cheap and you can rent a large and nice cabin-tent close to the pool and kitchen. Take the car and go for an aperitif at the Ski Boat Club, which overlooks the beautiful lagoon of St Lucia, as well as a beautiful atmosphere and panorama, you can spot pink flamingos in the red sunset lights, in contrast with the colours of the sand, vegetation and dark water of the lagoon. The next day, before leaving, arrive by car shortly after the Ski Club, park and continue by foot towards the beach, walking on the wooden walkway and paying attention to the passage of crocodiles and, behind the beach, of hippos as well ;) If you have time and can stop for an extra day, you can visit one of the two parks (always to see the animals) or both, the Imfolozi and the Isimangaliso. Where to eat: Fisherman's Restaurant and Pub !!
Day 8: slow arrival to Durban, after a nice lunch break at a seaside restaurant in Ballito, and then we settled in an Airbnb rented house in the neighborhood ofWindermere, which is, together with Morningside, Berea and Glenwood, among the best places to stay for the liveliness of bars and restaurants, comfort and safety (unfortunately you have to think about it, avoid the city center, cause you need to know it quite well, but where you can visit in the main and interesting areas, where you can go safely during the day, always paying attention, as in any part of the world. These are the Victoria market, interesting industrial construction, like many others in the city, from the late XIX century, where you can find jewelers, handicrafts and typical South African clothes and several spice shops, a mix of South African and Indian traditions: in fact in Durban it lives the second largest community of Indians after India. Then you dedicate some time at the largest Herbs Market in the world that develops for at least 5 km of stalls above and below the Warwick Triangle bridge, a two-storey outdoor maze, which in addition to the herb market gives space to all kinds of basic necessities, huge mamas dresses and house utensils. Truly an experience to do and photograph. Be careful, but if you behave normally and not as tourists, you will have a good connection with this place and these people.
For lunch, move to the sea and go to visit the Bat Center, a beautiful independent cultural center: on the first floor galleries and art laboratories, a library and a space for theatre and scenic arts (when we were there there was an audition in progress), and upstairs there is a bar and restaurant, where you can eat looking at the harbor, and in in the evening there are concerts and live music.
Go to the Kwazulu Natal Society of the Arts (KZNSA), a craft shop and gallery space with art exhibits and a café with a nice outdoor space, in the Glenwood neighborhood where there are beautiful restaurants and cafes in old industrial buildings.
Last but maybe most important, go to the BEACH !!! Durban is the perfect place to learn how to surf, because there is a very long beach with all types of different waves that satisfy professionals and beginners, and it has anti-shark nets so you will see dolphins jumping near you in the middle of the
ocean but no risk of being bitten =) Durban has a very long seafront, built on the occasion of the football world cup in 2010 (year of Shakira's Waka Waka and my maturity). If you want to rent a board or learn to surf, write to me and I will send you the contact of Sheldon, my trusted instructor, who gives 1 or more hours classes near the Ushaka water park. He's super good and nice, and then you sit together to chat looking at the ocean and drink a great coffee from a man with his van-cafeteria! In short, a real ocean movie experience!
I have many friends in Durban who will remind me of the unforgettable places where we went (and that I wrote in a notebook that I closed in the garage before leaving for Colombia and that now I will only be able to recover after the quarantine). So if you are interested, tell me and we'll get a lot more info !!!!
Where to eat: African Peninsula (Durban South, you eat fish looking at the ocean and whales and, incredible but true, it's fancy but cheap (like going to eat a pizza in Italy).
PARADISE DIRECTION: Mtentu
Day 11: we left early, as always, to reach a dirt road surrounded by wild nature for 4 hours (you'll need a 4by4 car here, otherwise you can get there by walking 10 km on the beach and then another 15 on horseback, leaving your luggage in a bus that meets up with the owners of the hostel where you absolutely must go). You will arrive (with the help of a detailed map that you will find on the website, once you've booked, otherwise you will get lost) at Mtentu Lodge, one of my favorite places on earth, and although I have not seen everything nor most of it yet, I am sure it will remain one of my best. Walks, trekking, relax, swimming, waterfalls, diving, canoeing, evenings around the bonfire looking at the ocean.... there is not much to explain with words...
THE EASTERN CAPE: CHINTSA Day 13: we wanted to leave and arrive early in Chintsa to enjoy the sunset on the beach, but, for the second time during the trip, we had a flat tyre due to a wide and long nail on a paved road! We pulled over to a gas station, where 3 well-dressed guys tried to scam me and steal my money (saying that I had to withdraw a ticket from a kind of ATM), while my parents were busy with 3 super drunk but really kind guys who were helping us! We went, with one of them, to a mechanic friend of his in the middle of nowhere. He fixed the wheel with some very alternative techniques, helped by our drunk mythical friend. In the meantime, some girls had arrived and we had a snack with coffee thermos that we always had, essential for these long journeys, biscuits and a lot of laughter. In short, really fun, and then we finally arrived to Chintsa, a lagoon with a river taking its name and an immense crazy beautiful beach. You can rent surfboards at the fantastic Bucaneers Lodge and Backpackers hostel, swim in the river lying on the board, walk a little on the beach and jump into the waves (https://www.booking.com/hotel/za/buccaneers-lodge-amp-backpackers.it.html). It's really worth it, go there during the warm season (summer, so from December to April), and enjoy the swimming pool, the bar, the volleyball court, the park, the morning yoga sessions and surf school. Here the VIBES are very high. There is an excellent restaurant where you can have all your meals on a breathtaking terrace, otherwise do your shopping, buy the necessary for the barbecue and enjoy the sunset from your cottage overlooking the ocean and lagoon, but watch out for the monkeys !!
(Pictures from the web, cause I lost mine of this amazing place...sigh!)
THE ADDO ELEPHANT PARK Day 14: from Chintsa, flowinglo the coast for 4 hours, you arrive at the gates of Addo Elephant Park, a large park on the southern coast of South Africa. Do your shopping before entering (by 16.30) and enjoy a barbecue (braai) in the cottage you have chosen within the park, this time there will be no supermarkets and restaurants. During the day, take a ride with your car and look for unique animals and exciting naturalistic moments. Here there are mainly elephants, but you can also find the other big 4.
TSITSIKAMMA NATIONAL PARK
Day 16: we arrived around lunch time to one of the most beautiful places in South Africa, at the mouth of the Stormsriver. It is an incredibly beautiful national park, where you can do a lot of activities, there is something for everyone. There are multi-day trekking routes, famous all over the world, long walks in the woods, hikes to panoramic points on top of the cliffs, kayak, swimming, snorkelling, diving, climbing, mountain biking, sailing, bungee jumping. Unfortunately, we had such short time, but it is worth stopping several days. The cottages are wonderful, with large windows overlooking the ocean, but they are quite expensive here (check prices and activities on http://www.sanparks.org). You can also stay outside and come in the day (there is a fee entrance as well).
(Pics from the web)
LAST STOP BEFORE ARRIVING TO CAPE TOWN
Day 17: after a beautiful lunch break in Mossel Bay at Kaai 4 Braai Restaurant (absolutely recommended: tables on the sea with a huge barbecue always on), a surprise was waiting for us that day, we would have arrived to a small seaside village, Witsand, and we would have stayed 3 nights in an absurdly beautiful house with huge windows by the ocean (Baby Bliss Whale on www.airbnb.com).
Why? whales, lots of them. It was August, a good time, because the whales are all there, but they breastfeed, so they come out of the water but they jump very rarely. You can take long walks on the beach, and in the evening eat at the old tavern on the beach, at the Anchorage Pub and Restaurant: fish, lobsters, prawns and South African wine (which is excellent. Near Cape Town there is the wine region, beautiful, but we didn't consider it as a priority !!). From Witsand you can also reach the nature reserve The Hoop Reserve, so there is a lot to enjoy =)
THE ARRIVAL TO CAPE TOWN Day 19: 2 hours journey to Cape Town. If you have time, stop one night in Cape Agulhas, another whale watching spot, apart from being the southernmost position of all Africa !! Otherwise, take a lunch break in a restaurant on the beach in Hermanus (I do not recommend visiting the town because it is too touristy, even though there is a very old little nice harbour) or in another little town on the coast.
Regarding Cape Town, I'll talk about it in the next post =)
BUDGET and COSTS
Backpacking: Hostels (6-12 €)
Comfortable trip: Hostels (private apartment o room for 10-15 €), Airbnb (private house for 10-20 € ). Camp sites in the national parks (40 € or more).
Backpacking: You can spend from 8 to 20 € per day, but Street food and supermarket are way cheaper).
Comfortable trip: 15-30 €. It really depends on you, but you just need to know that you can go to restaurants and have a good meal for 10 €.
Flight: 600-800 € (two ways)
Backpacking: Bus (Use Baz Bus- 8 days ticket for 100 €, https://www.bazbus.com).
Comfortable trip: Rent a car for 20 € per day, petrol for 0.70/L.
***Prices are per person per day/night.