Travel Guide and Tips for Traveling in the Heart of South Africa

South Africa is one of those travel destinations that is so diverse that one can only come surprised from here. I did not think it was a so large and diverse country. Across 2700 km, we have gone from dry and arid landscapes of the savanna to green meadows and waterfalls that reminded us of Ireland and the endless expanses of pine trees.

The fauna is no exception, as you can see the big five and many other animals in the national parks, spotting whales and penguins along the coast overlooking the Indian and Atlantic oceans. In South Africa there is everything and more.

We first rented a car and left on the road. The streets are kept very well and is easy to navigate. Our first stop was the Blyde Canyon, a mix of sights, views overlooking the river and the meeting point of many local watering holes, waterfalls and lush meadows. We begin to worry when we find ourselves immersed in fog and wonders but are we not in South Africa? As we were passing through we stopped at Pilgrim's Rest, a village that has developed in the days of the gold rush and has remained as it once was with tin houses and the classic saloons.

After this lesser known South African side, we go to the Kruger National Park, one of the largest parks and famous for safaris. The distances are very large, and in a distance of 600 km it is difficult to break the movement with intermediate stages. The Kruger Park can be visited by your own car, and the highway is paved and the secondary ones are are unpaved but motorable.

In any of one of the nine gates of the park you can pay in the entrance and on demand a very detailed map is available with all possible routes and a nice checklist to mark when animals are spotted. Inside the park there are many government camps and some private lodges to stay.

There are several accommodation options out of the gate also. In the Savannah scattered in the park there are picnic areas where you can stop, and some are equipped with a small shop where you can buy something to eat while others have only coffee tables and chairs and barbecue points called braai and very common in South Africa.

We were lucky enough to see lots of animals and all of the Big Five (leopard, lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino). Big Five. In late December, all the species have the babies (born in October-November) and it was even better. The variety of birds is amazing, and their colors jaw-dropping. In the park there are numerous opportunities for safaris either by car or by the many jeep safaris organized by the various camps and lodges. The Safari can be done at dawn, dusk, night or on foot.

The possibilities are endless from watching animals in their habitat is a spectacle of nature, and so getting up early and going on a safari, taking a break in one of the staging points, returning to the lodge in the evening after a safari at sunset, having dinner under a starry sky that seems so close enough to touch, chatting around the fire and watching the shooting stars after a full day, and falling asleep happy and satisfied.

In the last three days we moved to Saint Lucia across the Indian Ocean. Here you can choose to lie on the long dune beach where turtles come to lay their eggs or enjoy the many activities the area offers. We spent a whole day in the Isimangaliso Wetland Park. Entering the gate of Saint Lucia and going through it all you can get to Cape Vidal. There are various sights of the ocean and the lakes or what remains of it in view of the drought. The coast goes from the rocks to the fine sand. In this park you can spot the animals.

At Cape Vidal you can swim with the current is strong enough but just stay where the water is shallow and with the mask you can see some fish close to a small part of the reef. On the second day we went to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park for another safari with our car.

The concentration of whites and blacks rhinos is high here and we see the white one but it was really warm and the ones we see were lying in some puddle. Coming back we stop at the Zulu village just outside of Saint Lucia, where the dances and costumes are beautiful but for our taste is a bit too touristy and maybe you should look for something more real.

At Saint Lucia you can also make a boat trip on an Estuary to spot hippos and crocodiles. One night we found Hippos in a flower bed in the city that was intent on eating the grass. In the streets, there are several signs that remind us to pay attention to the hippos at night and even the girl of our lodge recommended us to move by car because the attacks are really dangerous.

It's time to go back to Johannesburg for the return flight and in the remaining time we decide to take a guide to visit Soweto. In this township people were exiled during the apartheid period. Unfortunately, when we visited, both the Nelson Mandela house museum and the Apartheid museum were closed but they are definitely a must-visit place in Soweto.

We only saw a part of this great state, and we will have to come back to continue to explore it and definitely make a stop in Cape Town. Goodbye South Africa!