Celebrating South Africa’s wide open spaces

Man raising hands in wide open space in south africa

While international travel is going to take a long time to recover, South Africa ticks all the boxes as a sought-after post-Covid-19 destination, where visitors can explore the great outdoors and reconnect with nature (and with social distancing guaranteed).

Just follow any story with the #SouthAfricaIsTravelReady hashtag and you will know that the South African travel and tourism industry is ready to welcome international guests (with stringent safety protocols in place). The Tourism Business Council of South Africa (TBCSA) continues to lobby the South African government for an early opening and the industry waits in anticipation for international travellers to return to South Africa.

Recently, booking company Tourlane did a survey and almost 600 of their travel community (mostly European travellers) voted South Africa as the most popular post-Covid-19 escape.  

As the website states: “The results of the study show that destinations outside of Europe are most popular. South Africa, New Zealand and Canada are the three most popular destinations within the Tourlane community of travellers, followed by Costa Rica and Namibia, which close the top five.”

“Unsurprisingly, after many weeks of confinement indoors, an escape to the great outdoors is what travellers want the most…”

Topping their list were adventures in the great outdoors, safaris and beaches, and South Africa has an abundance of all three. Whether you give online travel polls the time of day or not, the fact is that South Africa has so many beautiful and inspiring places where travellers can revel in the great outdoors. Here are just a few suggestions:

iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Maputaland (KZN): This incredible reserve was declared South Africa’s very first World Heritage Site in 1999, and it is a wild and rugged place. Game drives into the park are a highlight and night drives are fascinating (go searching for luminescent chameleons and spot a sleeping Kingfisher as you track for nocturnal wildlife). Highlights of the region include Cape Vidal where visitors can access the incredible biodiversity of the Eastern shores of Lake St Lucia; the vast stretches of sand at Kosi Bay and diving at Sodwana – an incredible marine habitat. The laid-back fishing town of St Lucia offers deep-sea charter fishing and estuary boat cruises, and don’t be too concerned if you hear stories about hippo walking around the streets at night - it’s just that kind of place.

Beware of Hippos sign
Credit: Ryan James

Northern Cape:  For travellers who really want to get away from it all, the Northern Cape province is a great choice. It’s South Africa’s largest province and big skies, incredible wildlife and a rich cultural heritage are part of the experience.  Northern Cape is great for road trips that should be taken slowly. The Tswalu private game reserve in the Green Kalahari is a major highlight, with only two camps and a maximum of 28 guests at any one time. And for those who love roughing it, the Richtersveld and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park offer wide and wonderful adventures with affordable and comfortable accommodation. Flower season in Namaqualand attracts tourists, but there’s certainly room for everyone.

Relaxing on a day bed
Credit: Tswalu Tarkuni

Walking and hiking trails and safaris all over South Africa are very popular, from the gorgeous Cederberg mountain range in the Western Cape to the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park(another world heritage site), to hiking along the beaches of the Wild Coast and to the many safari walking trails available in the Greater Kruger National Park and beyond. At Crookes Corner in Pafuri (far Northern Kruger) guests can stand with one foot in South Africa, one foot in Zimbabwe and with their shadow reaching into Mozambique.

Hiking in the drakensberg
Credit: SA Tourism
Elephant by the river
Credit: Ryan James

Small-town treasures: Charm, character, history and authentic South African experiences are on offer in South Africa’s many small towns. Hogsback in the Eastern Cape is a favourite for those who love nature and a spot of spiritual whimsy. There are wonderful cosy places to stay, beautiful forests walks and birding opportunities. The Free State towns offer the best of small-town life, and while Clarens might be the best-known town, there are real gems in Parys, Ficksburg and Fouriesburg. The Western Cape’s West Coast is another option for self-drive holidaymakers, known for its wind-swept beaches, fishing villages and authentic Cape cuisine.

Karoo wanderings: One can’t mention road trips and wide-open spaces without a mention of the Karoo. Writers Chris and Julie Marais gave up life in Johannesburg many moons ago for a slower life in Cradock, and have never looked back. As Chris writes in an article titled  12 reasons to holiday in the Karoo: “This is not a place of glitzy casinos, cavernous shopping malls or cheap tourist traps. The Karoo specialises in “authentic”, from the donkey cart driver to the sheep-shearers hard at work in the shed to the blacksmith to the stockman who is pleased to share his fireside stories with you”.

Safari-time in South Africa:  The Tourplan survey noted that going on safari was number two on the list, just behind outdoor adventures in the number one spot.

Dave Bennett, MD at Wilderness Safaris says there the African safari market will continue to be a big drawcard for international visitors.

He says, “As people rethink how they travel going forward, we strongly believe that the luxury of space and the ability to explore pristine wilderness areas in relative privacy will make an African safari one of the most appealing options for travel during this time.”

It’s always a good idea to go on safari in South Africa, says Cindy Sheedy Walker, who heads up Extraordinary Marketing which includes a number of properties, including private concessions in the Kruger National Park through to the North West and Limpopo safari areas.

“Extraordinary has embraced the world-class travel protocols developed by the TBCSA and their stakeholders, and is prepared for the imminent arrival of what is most likely domestic guests within the next weeks, followed by the phased arrival of international travellers.”

She says taking a post-Covid-19* holiday in South Africa makes perfect sense – quality time in the great outdoors viewing wildlife and enjoying nature, a limited number of tourists and the opportunity to truly relax and unwind in nature.

Making a difference: Cindy also points out that having our international tourists visit South Africa sooner rather than later will make a big difference to the lives of people living in and around South Africa’s wilderness areas.

“Most of the funding for conservation comes from the tourism sector and game lodges in particular. With no revenue in this sector, many protected areas are without an operational budget for anti-poaching surveillance and other activities,” she says.

“Tourism in these rural areas, such as the Greater Kruger, account for a large number of jobs. Each job takes care of at least 10 people. We need to get our communities back to work safely but soon.”

#SouthAfricaIsTravelReady

*The term post-Covid-19 relates to the easing of international travel restrictions. It is acknowledged that the global travel industry will need to operate within the safety protocols and parameters of the pandemic for many months to come.

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