South Africa:

a week between Johannesburg, Cape Town, and the safari

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A rainbow nation. The expression, coined by Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu when describing post-apartheid South Africa, is the ideal way to illustrate the many hues of a country with 11 official languages, three capitals (Pretoria, Bloefontein, and Cape Town) and bathed by two oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian. A multiethnic place, with 56 million inhabitants and one of the richest biodiversities on the planet. A nation with a turbulent history, but one that embraces the future without forgetting the past. Maybe there isn’t enough time to understand all of South Africa’s shades, but a week in Kruger Park, Cape Town, and Johannesburg is all it takes to surrender to the diversity of a country of all colors.

 

Day 1

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9 a.m. - Top of Africa

Johannesburg is the biggest city in the country and one of the best places to take it all in is Carlton Centre, a 731-foot [223-m] skyscraper whose observation deck has been nicknamed the “Top of Africa.” From there, head on to Diagonal Street, home to short Victorian buildings containing shops that sell ethnic fabrics and medicinal herbs.

 

Carlton Center: 150 Commissioner Street

 

10 a.m. - Independent and delicious

On weekends, independent food markets pop up in the neighborhoods. This is the case of Market on Main (Sundays in Maboneng) and Neighbourgoods Market (Saturdays in Braamfontein). On weekdays, the tip for lunch is the Immigrant Bar, with platters of chicken fingers to be shared.

 

Market on Main: 264 Fox Street & Berea Road

Neighbourgoods Market: 73 Juta Street

The Immigrant Bar: 90 De Korte Street

 

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3 p.m. - The present past

In 2019, South Africa completes 25 years apartheid-free, but memories of the regime are everywhere in the country: the photos displayed at the Old Fort, an old prison where Mandela and Gandhi were both incarcerated, reinforce the importance of equality, while Nelson Mandela Square honors the South African leader with a complex that’s home to a shopping mall and restaurants.

 

The Old Fort: 11 Kotze Street

Nelson Mandela Square: 5th Street, Sandown

 

Day 2

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All day - Untamed nature

Kruger National Park, one of South Africa’s 21 national parks, is a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Johannesburg. At 5:30 a.m., visitors are given picnic baskets with breakfast, made on campsites during the safari.

 

There are high expectations to see the Big Five – lions, rhinoceroses, elephants, buffalos, and leopards, symbols of the African savanna –, but there are other majestic animals too, such as hippopotamuses, zebras, and giraffes. Every morning, the guides get updated on information on locating them, but the luck factor is essential and there’s no guarantee of actually finding the animals. You can only travel through Kruger Park on the roads. To explore the interior of the savanna, the best thing is to stay at one of the private reserves annexed to the park. It’s there that game drives take place in the mornings and late afternoons.

 

Day 3

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9 a.m. - Necessary introduction

It’s a two-hour flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, one of the destinations with the greatest natural beauty on Earth. Some 6.8 miles [11 km] from the coast, Robben Island allows you to view a place that is beyond the lush nature. During apartheid, hundreds of political prisoners (including Mandela) were held there. The visit relates how the island served as a space of exclusion. Inside the penitentiary, tourists are guided by a former political prisoner and the account reveals a unique point of view on racism and the importance of freedom.

 

1 p.m. - Sign of the times

Back on the peninsula, the destination is the old industrial suburb of Woodstock, now revitalized with graffiti-covered walls, galleries, breweries, and design shops. Symbolic of the new phase, the complex The Old Biscuit Mill is home to cafés, coworking spaces, and restaurants. On Saturdays, it hosts the Neighbourgoods Market, where vendors peddle food, clothes, and handicrafts. From there, head on to Bo-Kaap, a neighborhood of Malaysian immigrants known for its colorful houses.

 

The Old Biscuit Mill: 375 Albert Road

 

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5 p.m. - The top of the world

With an altitude of 3,556 feet [1,084 m] in its highest section, Table Mountain is the main landmark on the peninsula. Try to get tickets ahead of time and go in the late afternoon, but set aside more than one time slot: weather variations can block visibility. If the sky is clear, you’ll have a marvelous view guaranteed.

 

8 p.m. - Night at the port

The revitalized port Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a big entertainment center. Head for the Food Court: the booths sell such dishes as biltong, a seasoned dried meat snack. The place for dinner is Belthazar, a beef restaurant that offers Argentine cuts and dry-aged steaks harmonized with local wines served on tap.

 

Belthazar: Victoria Wharf, V&A Waterfront Shop No. 153

 

Day 4

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9 a.m. - From the source  

Much of South Africa’s wine production takes place in Stellenbosch, which neighbors Cape Town. With over 150 farms, it’s home to such places as Babylonstoren, a wine resort, and the winery Boschendal, where you can enjoy tasting sessions harmonized with cheeses or chocolates. Try the Pinotage, a combination of Pinot noir and Hermitage grapes – a specialty in the region.

 

Babylonstoren: Klapmuts Simondium Road

Boschendal: Pniel Road Groot Drakenstein

 

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12 p.m. - Homemade

Installed in a 1706 mansion, the restaurant Stellenbosch Kitchen only uses ingredients produced in the Western Cape region, serving distinct dishes such as mushroom risotto and aïoli burgers. A culinary find in a locale famous for its wine.

 

Stellenbosch Kitchen: Dorp Street & Andringa Street

 

6 p.m. - Africa reunited

Back in Cape Town, a typically African dinner. Gold Restaurant offers a single menu which pays homage to several of the continent’s countries through 14 dishes, like the tomato soup of Zanzibar and the Congolese chicken. Traditional dances performed by the staff top off the experience.

 

Gold Restaurant: 15 Bennett Street

 

Day 5

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8 a.m. - March of the penguins

Near the entrance to Boulders Beach, a little over 25 miles [40 km] south of Cape Town, you’ll see a curious example of African fauna crossing the street. Penguins first appeared here in 1983 and the great food offer gave rise to a well-adapted colony. You can glimpse the creatures up close at the beach, but don’t try to touch them – they may look cute, but they aren’t as friendly as they seem.

 

11 a.m. - The limit

Further south on the peninsula is the Table Mountain National Park, home to the south-westernmost tip of the continent: the Cape of Good Hope. There, a funicular railway climbs up to the Cape Point Lighthouse, which has a vast array of observatories. The restaurant nearby, Two Oceans, specializes in seafood: enjoy your lunch with a view of the endless ocean. 

 

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3 p.m. - The other side of paradise

You can get back to the city by Chapman’s Peak Drive, which crosses the eastern side of the peninsula. Overlooks facilitate the view of the scenario of the steep mountain that is abruptly interrupted. The road leads to Camps Bay, a beachfront suburb framed by the Twelve Apostles, the “back” side of Table Mountain, where you can swim in the saltwater pool and enjoy a drink by the ocean at such restaurants as Zenzero or Umi.

 

Zenzero: 2A Victoria Rd

Umi: 201, The Promenade, Victoria Rd

 

7 p.m. - High style

An enormous dining room, heavy furniture and a live performance by a big band: at first sight, everything seems over the top at the restaurant Pigalle, and surprise never seems to fade. Inspired by international cuisine and Portuguese dishes, the restaurant specializes in beef and seafood. And for anyone who likes it: there’s dancing involved!

 

Pigalle: A, Somerset Square, 57 Somerset Rd

 

Day 6

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9 a.m. - On the path of liberty

Back in Johannesburg, the itinerary continues through Soweto (short for “South Western Townships”), synonymous with the country’s turbulent past. It also stops at Freedom Square – a landmark in the struggle against Apartheid – and Vilakazi Street, once home to two Nobel Prize-winning South Africans: Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela writes about his house, now a museum, to which he returned after his release in 1990: “It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison. For me No. 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.”

 

Freedom Square: 99 Union Ave

Nelson Mandela Museum: Corner Nelson Mandela Drive & Owen Street

 

LATAM has direct flights to Johannesburg from São Paulo.

Special thanks: Kobo Safari