Surprising South Africa: Beyond Safaris

Set your sights on Cape Town, Johannesburg and less-traveled hotspots.

Sept. 24, 2008 — -- South Africa is one of the ultimate safari destinations, but the country offers much more than just safari camps and wildlife. It is continually evolving, making it a part of the world to explore if you're willing to get off the beaten path and for new experiences.

Check out this list of some of South Africa's best finds. It could result in the most memorable vacation you'll ever take.

Cape Town

Cape Town is by far South Africa's most popular city, and it's often called one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Known as "The Mother City," it's where you can find unique world-class hotels, spas, gourmet restaurants and wineries. Cape Town also hosts some of the most popular tourist attractions in the region. Plan to stay at least three days because this is one destination you won't want to leave.

Where to Stay

While Cape Town's waterfront has a long list of hotels to choose from, if you're looking for a more unique, authentic escape try one of these award-winning properties.

The Relais & Chateaux Ellerman House in Bantry Bay takes top honors with travelers looking for impeccable service, gourmet dining and a luxury spa. Room No. 1 is a favorite, in part because of its wraparound patio overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. In the mood for a splurge? Rent the new Villa!

The Ezard House is on the slopes of Table Mountain, perched on the hillside above Camps Bay. With only 10 chic suites, all facing the sea, this private escape has just been remodeled making this boutique property even more special.

Hout Bay Manor in Hout Bay is where you find 21 individually designed rooms all with a distinct South African flair. The hotel just opened after an 18-month refurbishment and the changes are impressive.

Daddy Long Legs Art Hotel on Long Street is a funky alternative to your typical hotel because each room is designed by a different South African artist. Edgy and extraordinary, this is one hotel you have to see to believe.

Where to Eat:

It's hard to go wrong because the area has so many sensational options, but there are a few standouts you shouldn't miss. Pure is the new hip restaurant inside Hout Bay Manor where the atmosphere, cuisine and service is phenomenal. Other popular favorites include Myoga, Aubergine, Africa Cafe, Marco's and African Palace. If you love high tea, head to the Mount Nelson Hotel for a buffet-style treat.

What to Do:

With so much to do in Cape Town, it's best to prioritize. The top five trips to fit in are Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain, Robben Island, Township Tour of Cape Flats and Wine Tasting.


Where to Stay:

The Saxton Boutique Hotel & Spa is one of Johannesburg's most famous addresses. It's where Nelson Mandela wrote his autobiography, "The Long Walk to Freedom," after being released from prison.

The 26-suite property consistently gets top honors as one of the world's leading boutique hotels. Throughout the property you'll see pictures of celebrity guests, such as Oprah, who have also enjoyed the Saxton's fantastic spa.

The Westcliff is in the northwestern suburbs of Jo'Berg and is a favorite landmark because the pink luxury hotel is built up a winding hillside overlooking the city. Make sure you get a room with a view, and stop at the Polo Lounge to toast your stay in Johannesburg.

What to Do:

For a true feeling for all that South Africa has been through, schedule a stop at the award winning Apartheid Museum. Plan to spend at least three hours touring this impressive facility. This museum will tug at your conscience and your heart. The Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto also gives you a glimpse into South Africa's troubled history. While you're in Soweto, the largest township in South Africa, consider signing up for a private tour so you can see where Nelson Mandela once lived and visit other historic sites. Another interesting trip is to the Cradle of Humankind, a World Heritage Site, where it's said the remains of humans living more than two million years ago have been found.


More than a dozen designated wine routes exist, and you can spend your day idly driving through the countryside stopping at some of the top wineries in the country. The best part? It's very affordable! For your wine tasting, you'll want to plan your trip carefully, factoring in where you want to spend the night, because wine tasting days have a way of slipping away from you. Here are some favorite picks for areas to visit, and don't forget to try South Africa's own pinotage.


This picturesque wine valley is known as the gourmet capital of South Africa so come with an appetite! It's also a fantastic place to find a hotel for the night after a day of sipping and sampling some of South Africa's best vintages.


Stellenbosch is known for its beautiful oak-lined streets in the hilly region of Winemaker. This is also the home to the University of Stellenbosch. There are dozens of wineries to tour in this area, and some cute guest houses and boutique hotels if you want to stay over.


If you don't want to venture too far from Cape Town, head to Constantia. This winemaking valley is just minutes from the city and boasts the oldest growing wine area in South Africa. Don't miss a stop at Groot Constantia. This historic winery is known as the oldest and most well-known winery in all of South Africa. It was established in 1685 and today still produces award-winning wines.

Travel Tips

Getting There: Fly to either Johannesburg or Cape Town

Language: Almost everyone speaks English

Driving: Left side of the road

Time Zone: 7 Hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time

Immunizations: Check with CDC

Electricity: 220/230V (for U.S. plugs converter needed)

Internet: Most major hotels have Wi-Fi

Seasons: Winter in the U.S. is summer in South Africa

For more on visiting South Africa and other unique off the beaten path destinations check out Karen Schaler's TRAVEL THERAPY Web site at