Travel to South Africa from Cape Town to Johannesburg

 

South Africa is a fascinating country to discover. Grandiose landscapes, wildlife and tormented history create a unique blend that makes it a truly special nation. I discovered this country in 2010, traveling alone in a backpack for six weeks, during the FIFA World Cup . Apartheid, which has divided the country for a long time, has left deep traces in social relations. Insecurity and crime must be taken into consideration when planning a trip to South Africa. If I had to do it again, I would rather go with a travel agency or in a group with friends. These are the highlights of this trip, from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

Cape Town, from Table Mountain to the Waterfront

Camps Bay Beach in Cape Town

Camps Bay Beach in Cape Town

Cape Town is South Africa's loveliest city. Between the immense beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and the majestic Table Mountain, it enjoys a unique natural setting, certainly one of the most beautiful in the world for a large city, a bit like Rio de Janeiro. Like the Brazilian metropolis, it is also one of the most unequal cities in the world, with all those left behind living in the townships on the outskirts.

Table Mountain in Cape Town

Table Mountain in Cape Town

For a superb panorama of Cape Town, you have to climb to the top of Table Mountain , which rises to 1086m above sea level. It is possible to make the ascent by cable car, but on foot it makes a very nice hike and you can better enjoy the landscape after a little physical effort. The view from above is breathtaking. You can even see as far as the Cape of Good Hope.

View of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain

View of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain

To understand the recent history of South Africa and the ravages of Apartheid, I recommend the District Six Museum . Very well done, it tells the story of this district of Cape Town from where 50,000 colored inhabitants were expelled in the 60s and 70s to live in the townships on the outskirts. By moving non-whites out of town the authorities could restrict their movement while keeping them close enough to serve as labor for the well-to-do white class. Also not to be missed: Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, from 1964 to 1982. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this island located 9 km off Cape Town is now a museum and a memorial to those who fought against apartheid.

The History of Apartheid at the District Six Museum

The History of Apartheid at the District Six Museum

For a drink and a night out, go to Long Street , a beautiful shopping street in the city center with superb Victorian buildings with wrought iron balconies.

To visit in Cape Town: the Waterfront and Long Street

To visit in Cape Town: the Waterfront and Long Street

Two other districts are also worth a visit: Bo-kaap , the Muslim quarter of Cape Town with its mosques and colorful houses. This is where the descendants of the slaves brought by the Dutch from the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia live. Very different and much more modern: the Waterfront . This is where there are many shops, restaurants, bars and cinemas. It is also one of the safest areas in Cape Town.

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Colorful houses and mosques in the Bo-Kaap district

The debate: should we visit the townships or not?

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Visiting the townships in South Africa is sometimes debated by travelers. Some people reproach this approach with a voyeuristic tourism of poverty. I completely disagree with this point of view. On the contrary, going to the townships seems essential to me for a good understanding of the country. If we are satisfied with the chic neighborhoods of big cities and going to see the wild animals in the reserves, we are really missing out on a fundamental dimension of South Africa. It is by going to the townships that one sees the living conditions of the people who live there as closely as possible and that one understands a little better the divisions and the problems of the current society.

cape-town-township-house

Then there is the concrete problem of how to go to visit the townships, because due to the high level of crime, you can only go there with a trusted guide or on an organized tour. I took a local agency to go to Khayelitsha township , and that was really one of the highlights of my time in Cape Town. It's a bit awkward that feeling of traveling on a mini-bus through slum areas and slum huts, but it's a facet of South Africa that needs to be confronted. You can also walk in a small group with the guide and enjoy the joy of the children who come to meet us.

cape-town-township-children

Cape of Good Hope

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The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky promontory located at the tip of the Cape Peninsula, south of Cape Town. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the southernmost point of Africa or the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It is in fact an important landmark for navigation, because when you arrive by boat from Europe, the Cape of Good Hope marks the psychologically important point where you begin to travel further east than south. It is located at the junction of two maritime currents, a cold current, the Benguela to the west and a hot current, the Aiguilles current, to the east. Today, it is a superb nature reserve. In front of this rocky promontory facing the sea, you really feel at the end of the world.

False Bay: Muizenberg, Simon’s Town et Boulders beach

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False Bay is the bay south of Cape Town. Easily accessible by suburban train, it is a good idea for an excursion for one or more days. I really liked the town of Muizenberg with its large, sublime beach and its colorful Victorian bathhouses.
Also worth seeing: Simon's Town with its Victorian houses, its fish market and the penguins on Boulders beach.

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The Stellenbosh wine route

South African vineyards near Stellenbosh

South African vineyards near Stellenbosh

Not far from Cape Town either, are the Winelands, South Africa's most renowned wine region, with over 200 vineyards. The most famous grape varieties are Pinot noir and Shiraz for red wine, and Chenin blanc for white wine. The two stops not to be missed on this wine route are Stellenbosch , a friendly student town with also art galleries and Franschhoek , a town created by the French Huguenots 300 years ago, a real little corner of France in Africa South with lots of French restaurants.

The Garden Route

Garden route

The Garden Route, or Garden Route, is a 300km road that borders the coastline between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. The waters of the Indian Ocean are populated by dolphins and whales, and the coasts alternate between steep cliffs and immense white sand beaches. For surf enthusiasts, a stop at Jeffrey's Bay, South Africa's surfing mecca, is one of the top 10 surf spots in the world. For my part, I fell in love with Plettenberg Bay . The landscapes are sublime and you can do great hikes.

The Wild Coast and the Transkei

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The Wild Coast stretches 350 km between East London and Port Edward, with jagged cliffs, secluded coves and Xhosa villages, the majority ethnic group in this region. There, you really feel in Africa, with many traditional villages made up of rondades, round huts painted in turquoise blue and surmounted by a conical thatched roof. My favorite stop on the Wild Coast was Coffee Bay , a quiet cliff-lined beach popular with backpackers. It was quick to stay longer than expected in this haven of peace, far from the problems of insecurity and social tensions that can agitate large South African cities.

KwaZulu-Natal and Safari in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park

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After the Xhosa, here we are in the heart of the Zulu nation. For safari in South Africa, the Kruger Park in the north of the country is the most famous and popular. For my part, I preferred to discover a smaller reserve and less frequented by tourists: the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park . Less well known than the Kruger, it is nevertheless one of the most beautiful in the country and it has many hiking trails. Covering an area of ​​96,000 hectares, you can see the famous "Big Five": the black rhino, the buffalo, the elephant, the leopard and the lion.

Johannesburg and Soweto

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It's hard to fall in love with Johannesburg, more commonly known as Jo'burg or Jozi. With its urban highways, its shopping centers, its vacant lots, its skyscrapers, it is a city difficult to apprehend, a disjointed metropolis. Pedestrians are almost non-existent there, houses barricaded behind barbed wire, cars do not stop at red lights after dark. Insecurity is pervasive and restricts movement. It is nevertheless an essential step if once again we want to understand the country and its history.

The Apartheid Museum is an important visit to understand the inequalities and tensions that remain today. At the entrance we are given a card indicating our skin color and we must go through the door corresponding to it. The museum is very well done and you can easily stay there for two or three hours.

johannesburg-museum-apartheid

The other essential visit is that of Soweto (short for South West Townships), the largest township in South Africa. Soweto has changed a lot since the images of the riots against apartheid that we saw on television. With more than 900,000 inhabitants, it is a city in its own right, with its rich neighborhoods, its middle classes and its unsanitary barracks. The tourist heart of Soweto is Vilakazi Street, a street that has seen two Nobel Peace Prize winners: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. The house where Mandela lived with his first wife Evelyn, then with Winnie has become a museum that can be visited. You must also visit the Hector Peterson Museum, which describes life in Soweto and the history of the struggle against apartheid and equal rights. The Soweto uprising began on June 16, 1976, when a student protest suppressed by the police ended in bloodshed with the death of a 13-year-old boy, Hector Peterson. The following days, the township revolted and nearly 200 demonstrators were killed. Soweto has since become the symbol of resistance to Apartheid.

To prepare your trip to South Africa:

-Here is a selection of tours in South Africa from a travel agency;

-The site of the South African tourist office ;

-Apart from Cape Town and Johannesburg, I recommend that you avoid the big cities. I moved quickly to Port Elisabeth and Durban, but I didn't want to stay there any longer;

-To do: the braai (barbecue) is an institution in South Africa! Don't miss the opportunity to make one. You also have to drink a beer in a shebeens, an unlicensed bar in a township.

-Do not be discouraged by the figures on insecurity and warnings. Everywhere on your trip, you will realize that safety is South Africans' number 1 obsession. It's a very legitimate feeling and you have to be careful, but be careful not to fall into paranoia either. The most important thing is to ask the locals for advice on where to go; do not go out alone after dark and take a taxi; do not withdraw money in the evening from an ATM and during the day privilege those who are supervised by a security guard or who are inside bank branches.

Have you ever taken a trip to South Africa? Do not hesitate to share here your impressions and favorites on the places not to be missed.

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