5 South African Experiences To Check Off Your Bucket List

5 South African Experiences To Check Off Your Bucket List

Every event I create stimulates each of your 5 senses: What you see, smell, listen to, taste, and touch. When I travel, I strive to have the same 5-sense experience. As a native South African, I am a little biased, but I always love to share my favorite parts of my home country with others. So whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, going on adventure with friends or planning your honeymoon, South Africa has much to offer all.

Here I’ve collected my 5 South African experiences to check off your bucket list. Similar to the “Big 5” you’re sure to see on a South African safari – the African elephant, rhino, Cape buffalo, lion and leopard – these are the Big 5 experiences I feel no trip to South Africa is complete without.

1. Savor The Cuisine Of Cape Town
My favorite dish, that I simply must have every time I go to Cape Town, is spicy Peri Peri Prawns. To get my fix, I like to go to Pigalle and order their Pigalle Platter for a hearty serving of this Portuguese dish. For a view of Table Mountain dine at Bahia in the V&A Waterfront.

For an authentic African dinner, make a reservation at The Africa Café. Their menu celebrates the diversity of South Africa with an eclectic seasonal menu. 

Those who enjoy Indian cuisine will fall madly in love with Bukhara. Their interpretation of tandoori foods is barnone the best I’ve had in the world. I also suggest trying their butter chicken, served in a curry of tomato and cashew nut, alongside one of their fabulous specialty cocktails. 

If you’re seeking an upscale dining experience, consider Reuben Riffel’s restaurant at the One & Only resort. His farm to table food, inspired by Indian, Indonesian, Dutch and French cultures present in Cape Malay, is a true culinary masterpiece. By combining local ingredients with expert technique, the final result is nothing short of delectable. 

For the best nightcap, make your way to Planet Bar at the Mount Nelson Hotel. Sip on a Bond-approved martini or a crisp glass of champagne while enjoying the bar’s chic celestial décor. 

2. Listen To A Lion’s Roar On Safari 
South Africa and safari are nearly synonymous. An early-morning game ride could be one of the most exciting adventures you’ll ever take. In a country known for it’s incredible wildlife and lodges, I highly suggest including this in your trip. Some of the best places to stay are the Singita camps that are located throughout Kruger National Park. Two other options are the Sabi Sand Reserve and the Madikwe Game Reserve, which offer both luxury and more affordable lodges, depending on your budget. 

My friends at Hospitality Africa can coordinate fully comprehensive packages including flights, 24/7 concierge services and a turn-key service tour for guests. They truly roll out the African red carpet for their guests, so honeymooners will feel at ease with each step of their trip taken care of in advance. 

3. Trace The Footsteps Of History
If you’re interested in culture, look no further than South Africa, a country with a history stretching from ancient tribes to European colonization, to modern political struggles. 

Just off the coast of Cape Town is Robben Island, the island where Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid revolutionary and South Africa’s president from 1994-1999, was imprisoned for 26 years. Today, Robben Island is a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement, as well as a memorial to those who were kept there for so long. 

Durban, on the Eastern coast of South Africa, is the city where Mahatma Gandhi began his fight for freedom and equality for Indians. The Zulus are the largest ethnic group in Durban, which only adds to the unique diversity of the region.

4. Take in the Sights in Johannesburg
A trip to Johannesburg is not to be missed during your stay in South Africa. It is amazing how much this city has grown to become one of the world’s major capital cities, and it truly has earned the title of the Paris of Africa. 

My favorite hotel to stay in is the Saxon Hotel in Sandhurst - it’s the same hotel where Nelson Mandela wrote his amazing biography, Long Walk to Freedom. The contemporary African décor is light and airy, but also exquisitely comfortable and welcoming. 

Nearby Sandton City is a fantastic location for shopping. Be sure to take an afternoon to visit Gold Reef City to see one of the world’s most profitable gold mines.  In complete contrast to central Johannesburg and Sandton, visit the vibrant city of Soweto and see life before and after Apartheid. The Nelson Mandela Museum is open to the public and is an amazing place to get a firsthand look at his life work. 

5. Enjoy The Aroma Of A South African Wine 
Whether you’re a wine expert or novice, it’s worth it to venture out to a vineyard for a wine tasting. Just outside of the city, along the coast, is Constantia. Head to the Klein Constantia estate for a tour and wine tasting – their Sauvignon Blanc is not to be missed. Next, drive east of Cape Town to Tokara Wine Estate in the Stellenbosch region. Enjoy the contrast of contemporary architecture against the rolling hills and vines. Their restaurant features a terroir-focused contemporary cuisine that pairs amazingly with the estate’s wines. 

For a vineyard visit with a touch of international glamour, visit Laurence Graff of Graff Diamonds International’s Delaire Graff Estate. Situated at the foot of the most majestic mountains and featuring two outstanding restaurants, a spa and a state-of-the-art winery, Delaire Graff Estate is truly the complete package.

Turn slightly south and head to Somerset West, home of the Vergelegen Wine Estate. This is my all-time favorite vineyard and an incredible location. The estate is the original home of the first governor of the Cape, and it has been beautifully transformed into a gorgeous vineyard with two amazing, modern restaurants. Dine on the patio at Camphors for a meal you won’t soon forget, paired with absolutely outstanding wines. Don’t be shy – order one of their reserve wines to really take your experience to the next level. On your way back to the city, be sure to drive along Chapman’s Peak – the views are beyond spectacular.

-Colin Cowie

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