10 exciting ways to explore South Africa as it slowly reopens

Chris Leadbeater
·5-min read
Cape Town might just be the greatest city in the world
Cape Town might just be the greatest city in the world

Sometimes, baby steps are as big a reason to be cheerful as great leaps forward. Especially this year when, in the world of travel, tiny tottering stutters of forward motion can often feel like a rocket ride to the moon. So the recent announcement that South Africa would be reopening its borders (from Oct 1) was certainly a cause for applause.

True, the news was weighted with all the inevitable caveats of life in 2020. For now, only tourists from selected nations are welcome – and Britain, deemed a “high-risk” country because of its viral infection rate, is not one of them. The other drawback is that South Africa (along with the rest of the continent on which it gleams) is not on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office list of places which Britons can visit without quarantining on their return. 

But the pulling up of the shutters around Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kruger et al is a start – a ray of sunlight illuminating a sliver of a brighter tomorrow. And if you are thinking of a journey to a long-haul destination whose summer is only just beginning, these holiday ideas for 2021 may help you shift from daydreaming to planning. As we said, baby steps.

Roar power 

Lions rugby 

For plenty of people, the main reason to visit South Africa next year will be the British and Irish Lions tour, which will see the best rugby union players from these shores battle against their Springbok brethren during three highly competitive Test matches. Various official ticket-and-travel deals are on sale – including a 14-night trip (Tour YW) to watch the second and third showdowns (on July 31 and Aug 7), which costs from £3,145 per person, with flights (0344 788 4070; lionstour.com). 

Top Table 

Cape Town

The absolute travel antithesis of sweaty prop forwards rampaging around a Johannesburg pitch is a lounger on the sunset side of Table Mountain, where you can doze gently, knowing that the Cape Town summer offers warmth of at least 22C (72F) until as late as April. A one-week getaway to the five-star Camps Bay Retreat, flying from London Heathrow on March 20, costs from £1,696 per person, booked through British Airways Holidays (0344 493 0787; ba.com/holidays). 

Viticulture club 

Cape Winelands

If you are of the belief that there isn’t enough wine to get us through 2020, you may also be of a mind to see how these bottles of distraction are made in South Africa’s most feted viticultural region. Scott Dunn (020 3733 2992; scottdunn.com) raises a glass with its one-week Simply Western Cape for Foodies tour – which costs from £2,700 per person, including flights.

cape - istock
cape - istock

Big cats, small crowds

Kgalagadi

As well as a gateway to the Stellenbosch vineyards, Cape Town can be the starting point for trips to an area that – amid the country’s many natural wonders – is often unappreciated. A desert zone where lions and hyenas hunt in Kalahari dust, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park spans the border with Botswana. It is the crux of the nine-day Meerkat Self-drive Safari offered by Expert Africa (020 3405 6666; expertafrica.com), from £720 per person; flights cost extra. 

Lion’s share

Kruger National Park

For those who really want to focus on the ferocious felines of sub-Saharan Africa, there is little on South African soil to match Kruger National Park – the colossal enclave in the north east of the country where lions (and cheetahs and leopards) stalk their prey. Better still, it can be enjoyed in luxury, via the Mpumalanga Self-drive and Kruger Safari – as sold by Audley Travel (01993 662132; audleytravel.com) – which spends three of its seven nights at the adjacent Sabi Sand Wildtuin reserve. From £3,105 a head, with flights.

kruger
kruger

Eastern Eden 

KwaZulu-Natal

Different in look and landscape to the western wine lands, eastern South Africa is a superb context for exploration. Not least KwaZulu-Natal, where the Drakensberg range rises, and the River Tugela pours itself into the Indian Ocean. Cox & Kings (020 3733 1343; coxandkings.co.uk) offers Mountains, Safaris, Battlefields and Beaches – a 12-day tour that dissects the province’s history and culture in depth. It costs from £4,095 per person, including flights.

Admirable Nelson 

The Mandela trail

The tale of South Africa’s political prisoner turned president is well-told, but makes for a fascinating and enlightening journey across the country. Rainbow Tours (020 8131 6328; rainbowtours.co.uk) offers a nine-day Legacy of Mandela tour which traces his footsteps through Robben Island, Soweto and Pretoria. It costs from £3,550 per person, including flights.

Capital connection 

The Blue Train

Pretoria is one of the endgames to South Africa’s most celebrated rail odyssey. The Blue Train links the capital to Cape Town via 1,000 miles of dramatic terrain and five-star finesse. It came to a halt in March, but is currently preparing to operate in a Covid-safe way that should see services resume in 2021. It is part of a 12-day break (ref BKJ21) offered by Great Rail (01904 521936; greatrail.com), from £3,995 per person, including flights.

Step back into a golden age of travel on the Blue Train from Pretoria to Cape Town - simz
Step back into a golden age of travel on the Blue Train from Pretoria to Cape Town - simz

Predator too 

Klein Bay

It may not receive the kind of love that is lavished on the lion, but the sea’s greatest predator needs just as much help to survive. Happily, the Great White Shark Project – stationed on Klein Bay, 110 miles south-east of Cape Town – does much to promote the reputation, and prolong the lives, of these impressive animals.  Responsible Travel (01273 823700; responsibletravel.com) offers 15-day breaks where participants dive in cages and gather data in aid of these fearsome but misunderstood fish. From £895 per person; flights extra.

Everything now 

The whole country

Is it possible to see all of South Africa in one  trip? The 14-night Grand Tour offered by Tropical Sky (01342 331797; tropicalsky.co.uk) makes a good stab at it. Beginning in Johannesburg, it takes in the Panorama Route, game drives and wildlife sightings in Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve  in KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, Port Elizabeth, the Garden Route, Cape Town and the Cape Winelands. From £3,799 per person, with flights.