Johannesburg, South Africa – When most people think of South Africa, they reflect on the nation’s tremendous apartheid struggle, the liberation movement and its status as the birth nation of one of the world’s greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela.
However, in addition to its rich history, a recent visit to South Africa exposed me to some of the most beautiful landscapes, cities and attractions. It is a land filled with eye-opening experiences, few of which are found anywhere else in the world. Here are five compelling reasons that make South Africa a must-see destination for all globetrotters:
1. Beautiful views and wonderful weather
Spanning over more than 470,000 square miles, South Africa’s vast land is filled with far-stretching farmland, heavily peppered with lively inner cities and surrounded by gorgeous coastlines.
The weather is pleasant and refreshing year-round, but the months following August are ideal times of the year to visit as the country recovers from its mild winter season.
Take a drive through Durban – the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal – and gaze at the scenic views of lush green fields, rolling mountains and stretches of the popular umbrella thorn trees. Or visit the beautiful blue bay in Port Elizabeth, a quick flight from Durban and home to 67 public art works honoring Mandela’s 67 years of work dedicated to the freedom of South Africa.
Booking through South African Airways is highly recommended, as I found they offer great service and allow travel within and outside of South Africa to be fun and affordable. One particular must-see is a trip to the flat-topped Table Mountain in South Africa’s popular — and my personal favorite — city, Cape Town. Drive up the winding roads of the mountain and take a break to admire the breathtaking views overlooking the city and Robben Island.
2. Admire the country’s cultural diversity
Among many of Africa’s wondrous countries, South Africa is recognized for its great cultural and ethnic diversity. Nearly 52 million people make up the population, with blacks as the overwhelming majority at 79.2 percent. However, both “coloreds” (people of mixed descent) and whites comprise close to 9 percent of the population each, while the Indian/Asian population stands at 2.5 percent.
The diversity is reflected in big cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town, where city occupants are of various ethnic backgrounds comparable to large American cities like New York and Chicago.
Meanwhile, many other surrounding cities like Soweto (a town where Mandela once lived along with Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu) are bustling with businesses and homes owned by black South Africans. There are a total of 11 different languages spoken throughout the land, with many more villages and townships homes to various tribes, making it a country of great diversity and yet still one of unity.
3. Amazing activities, attractions and food
From wine tasting in the scenic Cape Winelands to bungee jumping from the Orlando Towers in Soweto, Johannesburg, you will never fall short of options for exhilarating experiences.
Don’t worry about spending too much money — items and activities are all very affordable in South Africa, where the U.S. dollar goes a long way. Splurge on participating in fun activities and dine at some of the most popular restaurants in the region, including Carnivore, a delectable restaurant in Johannesburg where a variety of exotic meats are cooked in a large, open fire and served on spears to voracious visitors.
Gold restaurant in Cape Town is also a local favorite, as servers offer a variety of amazing local dishes and entertain restaurant-goers with special performances throughout the feast.
4. Be inspired by the country’s history and pride
The pride of the South African people is exhibited throughout a number of installations and monuments around the country that celebrate its tumultuous yet inspiring liberation movement.
Visit the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and get a better grasp on how the apartheid struggle caused ambitious leaders of the African National Congress — like Mandela and Oliver Tambo — to speak out against the oppression of its people and find justice along the way.
Or take a trip to Liliesleaf, a place of liberation where prominent leaders of South Africa’s liberation struggle, including Mandela, sought shelter to secretly plan ways to combat apartheid. That is, until police raided the farm in 1963 and captured and tried 12 men in what is known as the Rivonia Treason Trial. Today, the site is still open and serves as a historical landmark for those who are curious to learn more about its history.
5. Moving tributes honor Nelson Mandela
South Africa is undoubtedly a land of rich history, where stories of battle, triumph and pride are exhibited in the journey of Nelson Mandela and those who fought alongside him.
As a tireless and fearless leader, Mandela is celebrated as a man of great resilience and strength who fought for the justice of his people. His inspiring journey is one that draws admiration from all those who revisit it. Witnessing the ways in which he is celebrated in his homeland is empowering, as many of the places he visited and occupied throughout his fight for freedom are now commemorated as national landmarks that honor the late president.
Take a trip to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory where you can actively engage in his legacy and visit the office he held following his presidency. Or travel to the capture site outside of Durban where an impressive, tall steel structure marks the land where Mandela was captured by police and began his 27 years of incarceration.
Regardless, wherever you travel throughout South Africa, you will be reminded in many amazing ways of Mandela’s inspiring journey that later came to be known as his long walk to freedom.
So, if your visions of vacations are filled with sandy beaches, tropical weather and exotic experiences that make leisure a priority — don’t cross South Africa off your list.
Consider a trip to this captivating land, and you’ll quickly discover that not only does it have all the aforementioned amenities but it is home to a historical landscape and a rich culture that makes it a must-see destination for all travelers.
Follow Lilly Workneh on Twitter @Lilly_Works.