Whether it's your first or tenth safari, there's always something new to discover on a trip to South Africa. And now that the dollar is holding up strong, an African voyage just got that much sweeter. From the food and wine scene in cosmopolitan Cape Town to the beaches in Durban, we've found just a few of the many reasons to book a trip now to South Africa.
Walk with lions at Ukutula Lodge & Lion Research Centre — Photo courtesy of Lane Nieset
1. Animal Research Projects
If you're lucky on a game drive, you may spot one of the Big Five lurking in the bush. But it's much harder to get up close and personal with these wild animals, unless you head to a reserve like Ukutula Lodge & Lion Research Centre. Known for its animal research projects on lions, the reserve, located about an hour from Johannesburg, gives visitors a chance to learn more about the native wildlife and how to save them. One of the real gems of this spot is actually getting to walk through the bush with lions and playing with the smaller cubs.
Local crafts at the Green Market Square flea market in Cape Town — Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
2. U.S. Dollar on the Rise
As the U.S. dollar is on the up-and-up, it's a great time to get more bang for your buck when it comes to travel, especially in South Africa. The priciest part of the trip is the airfare, but once you're here, it's easy to enjoy affordable meals, hotels, safaris, and outdoor activities. This even goes for shopping at boutiques and markets, like at the Old Biscuit Mill and classic Green Market Square flea market in Cape Town.
See how Nelson Mandela and the other freedom fighters lived on Robben Island — Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
3. 20 Years of Democracy
This year marks the 20th anniversary of democracy in South Africa and the best way to see how the country is growing is by looking at its past. From Cape Town, travelers can hop on a ferry to Robben Island and see where Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters were imprisoned.
Tour Stellenbosch on the Cape Wine Route near Cape Town — Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
4. Wine tastings
With vineyards so close to Cape Town, it's no wonder the city is full of an incredible selection of wines (and at affordable prices). The wines are on par with those from other top regions like Bordeaux, but it takes some trying to know which ones are for you. Visit wine country in Stellenbosch, just a 30-minute drive from the center of Cape Town through vineyards filled with stunning estates perfect for tastings.
Some of South Africa's regional specialties like Bunny Chow — Photo courtesy of Lane Nieset
5. Thriving Food Scene
When it comes to playing with their food, South Africans have no fear of experimenting. Foraged, raw, and local ingredients are thrown into the mix of ethnic cuisines making up South African fare. For a truly local dish, try street food favorite Bunny Chow, a bun from Durban filled with curry that's a mix of Malay, British, and Indian cuisines. These dishes taste even better when paired with local wines.
Pilanesberg National Park is one of the largest in South Africa and home to the Big Five — Photo courtesy of Lane Nieset
6. Safari Season
While summer (November through February) is the rainy season bringing thick, green foliage and great bird watching, the winter months (June through August) are dry season. Thanks to the lack of leaves in the trees, this is actually prime safari time meaning you're more likely to spot one of the Big Five during a game drive.
Microlight flight over Victoria Falls in Zambia — Photo courtesy of The Royal Livingstone
7. No More Yellow Fever Vaccination Requirement
Until a few months ago, South Africa required travelers visiting Zambia to show proof of yellow fever vaccination, despite the area being a low risk for yellow fever. Now travelers can visit the country without having to worry about the vaccination and disease, free to explore the stunning scenery like Victoria Falls. Even better, Zambia and Zimbabwe recently started a joint visa, the KAZA UNIVISA, giving travelers unrestricted access between the two countries.
The SunStar installation on Signal Hill — Photo courtesy of Lane Nieset
8. SunStar Installation
It's been a little over a year since the death of Nelson Mandela and Sun International has commemorated the former president with an installation and "beacon of hope" on top of Signal Hill in Cape Town. Created with fence from Robben Island, the SunStar temporary art installation looks beautiful when lit up at night and can be seen out the window of the famous Table Bay Hotel.
View of Table Mountain from Camps Bay in Cape Town — Photo courtesy of Lane Nieset
9. Natural Beauty
If the vineyards and rolling hills aren’t stunning enough, maybe the beaches will have you falling in love with South Africa's natural beauty. Cape Town's Table Mountain is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and it's an incredible site to see. If you're looking more for sand and sea, make your way over to Durban and its "Golden Mile" of beaches that's popular with surfers.
Hike Table Mountain in Cape Town — Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
10. Outdoor Activities
If you like extreme sports or light adventure, South Africa is home to both. Get started in Cape Town by hiking up to the top of Table Mountain or Signal Hill, where you can snag a paraglider and fly back down to the bottom for a more extreme option. Those who would rather soak in the sights at a leisurely pace can opt for a cable car ride and picnic up at the top of Table Mountain.