As a travel destination South Africa has a few key advantages and disadvantages
The main disadvantage the country suffers is violent crime. This is balanced out, however, by the fact that the South African travel industry is finely tuned, highly efficient and well regulated. The chances are thus very slim that dusk might ever find you stranded on a street corner in Hillbrow with ne’er a taxi in sight.
Crime also tends to inhibits a little bit the freedom of a self-drive tour of South Africa, which is a shame because South Africa is the one country in Africa with a comprehensive highway system, however it can be done, and is a good way to see the country if you have well developed travel smarts and a high level of special awareness.
The last point is actually quite an important one if you are considering South Africa as point of access to Africa. The industry is competitive here, and so prices in general tend to be quite reasonable. Other destinations in Africa trade far too much on the hyper-luxury market, which is, by its nature, quite narrow, and by which, one supposes, local authorities are able to achieve maximum dollar in exchange for minimum impact. Check out the Price of Travel for Cape Town, which should give a sense of prices elsewhere in the rest of the country.
In the meanwhile, I am interested here in setting the tone for an exploration of the more cerebral aspects of South Africa travel – things that are very often not available anywhere else on the continent, and which combine into a richer collage of what the continent offers than just the tne plains and the thundering hooves.
Wine Tourism in South Africa
I am tempted to say that very few people are aware that Africa is home to one of the most celebrated wine industries in the world, but of course anyone in the know will obviously be aware of this fact, and those not in the know will not be contemplating a trip to the Cape to sample the Wine of Origin in its home setting.
The concept of wine in South Africa is an odd one bearing in mind the birth pains of the majority who are still fighting for the very basics of dignified life. The history of the South Africa wine industry has its roots in the very earliest European settlements on the Cape Peninsular. The mid-17th century saw the first Dutch ship supply depot land and establish vineyards for the victual supply of passing Dutch East India Company vessels. The project was later advanced by the arrival of French Protestants fleeing the Counter-Reformation who developed a handy-craft into an art form and a supply depot into a sophisticated and cultured port town.
And so it continued. By the beginning of the 20th Century the Western Cape and surrounds had matured into a fully fledged wine region with brands and marques respected and sought after globally.
The Industry suffered a little, but not excessively, during the years of isolation that marked the end of the anti-Apartheid movement, but was quick to exploit the opportunities that re-entry into the world family offered. An entire branch of the South African tourist industry is geared towards spa/wine/gastronomic travel in one of the most sublimely beautiful corners of the world. Anywhere you travel in South Africa the food and wine are routinely of a very high standard, but there is something about sipping a rare and frosted Sauvignon blanc under the shade of a Stellenbosch oak tree.
Spa and Alternative Healing in South Africa
The Cape hospitality industry work very hard, and very successfully, to cultivate an air of first-world elegance and sophistication. This is less noticeable elsewhere in the country, but it is nonetheless reflected in countless pockets here and there where, against a variety of Africanesque backdrops, the usual spa facilities can be enjoyed along with one or two local specialities that may, or may not advance the art, but which add something to the experience nonetheless.
Music travel in South Africa
South Africa has thrown up some big names in the past, and continues to do so. The biggest I think remains Miriam Makeba, but some would argue this title belongs to Hugh Masekela, but either way these two are major international artists. For the music and culture traveler, however, South Africa has it all. The festival scene is varied, with a great many different styles crossing both race and language barriers in a way that reflects the unique race dynamic of South Africa.
Monuments and Battlefields of South Africa
Having had a virtual world war fought on its shores, and with the dynamic, and sometimes acerbic mix of races, south Africa has one of the most, if not the most, diverse and vital history of any nation in Africa. From a battlefields perspective the two main points of focus are the Anglo/Zulu War of 1879 and the Anglo/Boer War of 1899. There are significant battle-sites and monuments associated with both episodes, with the Anglo?Boer War probably enjoyed the most concentrated commemoration. Both of these attract visitors from accros sthe world who have some among the best battlefield guides in the business to choose from.
In addition there are many other monuments, sites and museums that pertain to everything from the history of the South African armed forces to the many aspects of the liberation struggle. Check out the Voortrekker Monument and the Apartheid Museum and Robben Island.