South Africa woke up with a smug smile on her face last week after The Telegraph and 27 000 of its readers voted her the best country in the world and Cape Town the best city to visit. This placed the Mother City and her homeland in top places in the 2023 Telegraph Travel Awards.
But as South Africans, we know all about our country’s appeal. We have wildlife that spans the cute – klipspringer, the famous – Big Five, and the weird – the black rain frog is the Grumpy Cat of amphibians. Our history and its leaders who have changed the world is written in the shape of our cities and warm people.
Cape Town is a looker, but our other cities in SA are just as fabulous, and frankly, our landscapes just show off.
We’re familiar with South Africa’s crown jewel attractions, so why not celebrate our country’s moment in the award spotlight with her hidden gems?
We present… seven travel experiences that every South African knows about … and seven only the insiders know.
Ostriches have been demoted; the meerkat is Oudtshoorn’s new sweetheart and a surprising rival to the Kruger’s Big Five. Meerkat safaris in the Klein Karoo are winning rave reviews with their unique insight into the lives of these endearing, social animals. Begin your safari at dawn, joining the meerkats for morning rituals – you drinking coffee and tea, and the meerkats standing and warming their bellies adorably in the sun. Observe the colony, and learn all about their rituals, behaviours, and intricate burrow systems with this charming, easy-going safari experience.
- You know about luxury hotel stays in Cape Town, but did you know about… the airstream trailer park on a rooftop in Long Street?
At the Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel by BON Hotels in Cape Town’s CBD, the best suites in the house are on the roof, and they are far from typical. Take a ride in the hotel’s Victorian 128-year-old elevator to the roof, where the city skyline and seven polished silver bubbles await you – authentic airstream trailers imported from the USA. These trailers only bring up connotations of luxury, each with its own South African theme brought to life by local interior designers. The adjacent mini open-air cinema and rooftop braai – you can order Wild Peacock Gourmet Braai Boxes (meat and vegan options) from the hotel – is the cherry on the quirky (roof) top.
- You know about driving along the Garden Route, but did you know about… Route 62?
So much more than just the world’s longest wine route, Route 62 starts in Cape Town and ends in Gqeberha, serving up not only befountained wine farms and pinotage but a fine selection of ‘pampoenne’ at Die Pampoen Padstalletjie and Zoo cookie milkshakes at Diesel & Crème vintage diner and motel. Travel from the freezing tidal pools of Cape Town to the warmer waters of Knysna and Gqeberha, driving through mountains, forests, along the coast, and through quintessentially-karoo dorpies. And you haven’t done the Karoo right until you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up – head through the Swartberg Pass, with its ghostly legends (apparently, the cries of lost convicts can be heard in the wind) and stay in the third oldest hotel in South Africa – Queen’s Hotel by BON Hotels in Oudtshoorn – where you can relax on her stately stoeps like the Victorians once did (while you are there, go on the meerkat safari).
- You know about climbing Table Mountain, but did you know about… Climbing the Amphitheatre in the Royal Natal National Park?
Also flat-topped and awe-inspiring, the Northern Drakensberg’s Amphitheatre is just as photogenic as its Capetonian sister, perhaps even more so with its waterfall, Tugela Falls, cascading over its edge. Located in the Royal Natal National Park, this impressive five-kilometre-long crescent of basalt cliffs is a paradise for hikers, offering numerous trails with extraordinary views, including the challenging but rewarding hike to the Tugela Falls, the world’s second-highest waterfall.
- You know about God’s Window in the Drakensberg, but did you know about… the Karoo’s Valley of Desolation?
Views that stretch for miles are not limited to the Drakensberg. The Valley of Desolation is just outside of Graaff-Reinet and boasts never-ending views of the arid, haunted landscape of the Karoo, framed by giant Jenga-like dolerite columns, the result of volcanic action over 100 million years ago. Situated in the Camdeboo National Park, the area is full of life, home to 220 species of birds, including the black eagle and the Kori bustard – the largest and heaviest flying bird in Africa, and the endangered Cape mountain zebra. It is an amazing place to go hiking and contemplate the meaning of life as you gaze out over the most biologically diverse desert in the world.
- You know about wine tastings in the Winelands, but did you know about… the pig that paints like Picasso in Franschhoek?
You can experience the wine and art of the Winelands in a very unexpected way in Franschhoek. Head to Farm Sanctuary SA and meet Pigcasso, the pig that paints on canvas with a paintbrush that she holds in his mouth. Pigcasso’s artworks sell for up to R160,000, hang in art collectors’ homes worldwide, and are exhibited around the globe, currently showing in galleries in the French Riviera, the UK, and China. Pigcasso has even collaborated with Swatch to design their Flying Pig watch. Her paintings inspire viewers to consider their relationship with food, animals, and climate change, and all profits go to Farm Sanctuary SA in Franschhoek, Pigcasso’s home and a non-profit that rescues farm animals.
Visit this sanctuary to meet Pigcasso in person, view her paintings at OINK Gallery, enjoy wine tastings, stay in barn accommodation, and eat at the plant-based café.
- You know about the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, but did you know about… Constitution Hill?
Also known as ‘The Robben Island of Johannesburg’, Constitution Hill was once a prison complex that held notable political activists like Nelson Mandela, Bram Fischer, Winnie Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi.
The cells are also famous for their sinister occupants, perhaps most notoriously Daisy de Melke, whose life and trials have been thrown back in the limelight as recently as May this year in Ted Botha’s new book (Daisy de Melke, Hiding among killers in the City of Gold).
Visitors at Constitution Hill can explore the old prison cells, witness the court in session, and learn about South Africa’s journey towards democracy and human rights.
Pigs might not fly, but they do paint in South Africa. Nowhere else can you step off the beaten track and greet the rising sun with meerkats, contemplate your existence in a living desert, learn the dark secrets of the City of Gold, and drift off in an airstream trailer in the sky.
If you are itching to tick the above off your bucket list this winter, you’re in luck – BON Hotels is running a winter special where you can stay at The Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel by BON Hotels or Queen’s Hotel by BON Hotels and get up to 30% off their standard rates. Pack your bags and leave!