There was once a story of a gentleman who by the age of 40 had travelled to most of the provinces across South Africa. When friends and family asked what his experience of each province was like he responded by saying ‘very similar actually’. His experience was one of staying at the same hotel and eating meals at the same restaurant chain in every area he visited.
Although enthusiastic to explore South Africa, by repeatedly opting for the same experience, this traveller unknowingly forwent the opportunity to have the new and exciting experiences that choosing differently creates.
It’s a dilemma many travellers face. By sticking to big cities and well-known restaurant and hotel chains you know what you’re getting and don’t run the risk of spending hard-earned money on an experience that may disappoint. But new things in life can be delightfully rewarding, so how can travellers ensure that they try authentic travel experiences that will still deliver?
South Africa is a culturally diverse country, with world-renowned biodiversity and scenic views. As a result, authentic experiences are unique to specific regions and times of year. For example, bare-knuckle fist fighting tournaments will be an authentic experience for travellers going to Venda during Musangwe bare-knuckle boxing season in late December.
Head of Marketing and Communications at online booking platform Jurni, Tshepo Matlou says,“When picking the kind of vacation you’d like, consider the cultural diversity of the country as a whole to get the most authentic experience, because authenticity includes regions and seasons as major factors. For example, if you want to experience the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival, you may want to book accommodation and a trip in sync with the Minstrel season, which is during the festive period. Should you go to a theme park or museum with the parade on display at any other time of the year, you won’t get the authentic experience of streets packed with colourfully dressed locals and the thump of the music that comes with the actual carnival. You’ll get a less vivid showcase when it’s out of season.”
In order to get an authentic experience of South Africa it is important that your itinerary includes a range of experiences during your stay. Food, art, nature and culture are all important parts of an authentic South African travel experience, and easy-to-use online tools can help you to plan the most intriguing and memorable itineraries. A wonderful way to immerse yourself in SA’s cultural heritage is by booking a cultural tour in the city you are visiting. Cultural walking tours of Durban for example, as suggested by Cheapflights, are filled with a range of architectural, culinary and historical facets that one is experiencing on the ground as they walk through the city.
Across the country, various places capture the spirit of South Africa’s creative culture. “South Africa is rich in art and architectural discoveries,” notes Sandra Kneubuhler, District Director for Radisson Hotel Group in South Africa.
“At our hotels, we often recommend that visitors spend time exploring the attractions of the city they are staying in. We believe guests should take a street art tour through the streets of Maboneng, visit Vilakazi Street in Soweto, use the morning for strolling through the many art galleries scattered within Cape Town’s CBD, or take a trip to Robben Island, which can be seen from the ocean-side of Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront. There is no shortage of ways to authentically celebrate South Africa’s unique creative culture.”
Hotel concierges are a great resource to help guests explore the area outside of the hotel. Before travelling to your destination and after making your booking, concierges can be contacted to help you plan your itinerary outside of the hotel. Ask them to guide you through experiences that will give you a taste of the area’s culture.
Fauna and flora
The Kruger National Park is known for being one of the most iconic wildlife safari destinations in the world. It not only offers an excellent escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but it’s also where you can find some of the best wildlife on the continent.
“The Kruger National Park has more large mammal species than any other park in the world,” comments Anton Gillis, CEO of Kruger Gate Hotel. “It is also one of the biggest nature conservation areas in the world, covering almost 20 000km²,” says Anton Gillis, Kruger Gate Hotel CEO.
For those visiting the area who want an authentic bush escape, the Kruger Gate hotel encapsulates the country’s hospitality in the most authentic way. The Lapa Restaurant on site is anchored around the warmth of South African dining heritage.
Meeting locals in whichever area one travels to is one of the best methods to immerse oneself in a new city. Walking tours, outdoor activities and cooking classes give travellers an opportunity to experience the friendliness that South Africans are famous for.
Airbnb Experiences are experiences by locals for anyone to book and take part in, and are a great way to explore the range of cultures within South Africa. Consider new experiences like sunset architectural tours of Pretoria, Cape Malay or African food tours, and one-day African print clothes design classes.
To sample the best things in any area you visit, do thorough research about what’s on offer and read what other travellers have to say. Then, armed with curiosity and a spirit of adventure, step out of your comfort zone, and experience the thrill of trying something new!