South Africa Feature

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Top Experiences

Splurge for a Night

Choose a decadent luxury safari camp or a five-star hotel in Cape Town or Johannesburg—South Africa's sky-high standards of hospitality gleam at the country's top accommodations, which truly set a gold standard in terms of service. View the added expense as an investment in your travel future; from here on out you'll have the highest benchmark against which to measure all future trips.

Get to Know Some Locals

Guesthouses, many of which are of far higher standards than most other countries' B&Bs, abound throughout the country. Enjoy an opportunity to chat with the local owners and South African guests at breakfast to get a better perspective on the country and the progress it's made. On safari, ask your guide or tracker about his or her insights. Engage your long-haul driver in conversation. South Africans are warm and friendly and happy to discuss their country. You'll enrich your memories of your time if you can uncover this often hidden attraction of South Africa—the warm and friendly people throughout the country.

Get Closer to Wildlife

You can spend hours looking for cheetah to photograph on a game drive and come up empty, but The Cheetah Outreach Park at the Spier Estate in Stellenbosch lets you fulfill your desire to touch one, too. You can also get an educational view of the cats at the De Wildt Cheetah and Wildlife Trust Center between Johannesburg and Pretoria and have close encounters with monkeys, ostriches, and elephants, among others, at various places around the country.

Eat Out … Way Out

Drums beat, hyenas trill, and flames flicker as you enter the dirt-floored boma, a traditional African space open to the night skies, for an essential safari treat—a bush dinner. Sign up ahead of time for one of the organized Kruger Park evenings, where only a mere wall of thatch separates you from the lions and elephants you feared hours earlier in broad daylight. If you're staying at a luxury reserve, most will happily serve you and your partner a romantic dinner for two under the stars.

Explore Apartheid

Learn more about the legacy of apartheid at Cape Town's Robben Island, the prison colony where Nelson Mandela and others served out their sentences. Visit the District Six Museum to learn about apartheid's effects on one local Cape Town community. In Johannesburg's Apartheid Museum, hold a replica "pass card"—the document all black South Africans were required to carry during apartheid. Also worth visiting are the Mandela Family Museum, the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, and the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto.

See the Sea

Swim with the penguins at Boulders Beach on the Cape Peninsula or cage dive alongside great white sharks along the southern coast off Gansbaai, in the Overberg. Landlubbers can whale-watch from July to November from the cliff-top walkways of Hermanus or get a closer view from a boat in Plettenberg Bay. Bottlenose dolphins live in these waters all year.

Rise Above It

Whether by charter-plane transfer or hot-air balloon ride, do your best to experience the country's topography from up high. Even a trip up Table Mountain for sky-high views will allow you to see the different worlds that exist side by side, from shanty towns to luxury estates to spectacular mountain ranges all in one swoop.

Do Good

You may not have a week to volunteer in a township, but you might be able to help out struggling communities with a purchase of arts and crafts made by women who live there. Ask questions and read labels in gift shops and while taking tours. Your dollar might be able to do more than purchase your keepsake; it may help someone less fortunate. For those with more time on their hands, several groups run day- or weeklong volunteer opportunities to townships, hospitals, schools, or animal conservation centers.

Get Cultured

The Limpopo district's Sekhukhune attractions include the villages of Ndebele people, known for colorful beadwork, large geometric murals, and fanciful dress. Visit a Zulu village to immerse yourself in that distinct tradition that also includes costumes covered in beadwork and an annual ritual Reed dance. Stay overnight in the Dumazulu Traditional Village and Lodge for the complete experience, including dance and traditional foods.

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