From vast national parks and dramatic coastline to vibrant cities and stunning world heritage sites, diversity is in South Africa’s DNA. The famous Garden Route displays its jaw-dropping natural wonders, the fertile winelands of Stellenbosch offer a taste of its rich agriculture, Kruger National Park delivers a masterclass in wildlife conservation, and historic Cape Town is a bewitching melting pot of creeds and cultures. Courtesy of an abundance of cheap flights to South Africa that can whisk you from the UK in under 12 hours, there’s never been a better time to be dazzled by the Rainbow Nation.
Thanks to its temperate climate, South Africa offers generally pleasant conditions for travel throughout the year, although it’s worth checking the weather for your chosen destination when timing your visit – the southeast coast in particular can have periods of heavy rainfall, while the desert zones of the northwest experience the highest temperatures. Winter in South Africa falls between June and August, so this could be a good season to pick up bargain flights, especially if you’re planning a city or heritage itinerary that’s not weather-dependent. Major events like the hugely popular Hermanus Whale Festival in September and Cape Town’s internationally renowned Jazz Festival in late March/early April bring an increase in demand, so book well in advance if you want to get the best rates. One-stop routes frequently offer better value than direct flights to South Africa, so it pays to shop around.
The majority of flights from the UK to South Africa land at either Cape Town or Johannesburg, with journey times from London in the region of 11 hours 30 minutes. British Airways operates direct routes to Cape Town from both London Heathrow and Gatwick, while alternatives from Gatwick include Turkish Airlines via Istanbul or Emirates via Dubai. Direct flights to Johannesburg include South African Airways and Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow, with Ethiopian Airlines offering competitive deals via Addis Ababa. Other itinerary options include Emirates’ service from London Gatwick or Birmingham via Dubai to Durban, South Africa’s third city and the country’s busiest sea port.
The main international gateway to South Africa is Johannesburg’s O. R. Tambo International Airport, located about 15 miles east of the city centre. The terminal is served by a rapid transport bus network, while metered taxis are on hand to deliver you speedily and efficiently straight to your hotel. There is also a rail link from the airport to nearby Sandton and Pretoria. Cape Town International Airport has a rapid bus shuttle to the city centre as well as authorised taxis and private limo services which can be pre-booked for convenience. Durban’s King Shaka Airport offers car rental facilities and cabs as well as shuttle buses to the main visitor destinations.
South Africa’s sheer size means it’s impossible to cover it all in one visit – so do your homework and plan an itinerary that’ll make the best use of your time. Most first-time visitors can’t resist the lure of the Big 5 – Kruger National Park is one of the most famous safari destinations in the world, but there are plenty of other options: try Mapungubwe on the banks of the Limpopo, or Addo Elephant National Park with its protected herd of gentle giants. Follow the Garden Route for awe-inspiring coastal views from Mossel Bay to Plettenberg, stopping off at Knysna to enjoy its picturesque waterfront and sample some of its famous oysters. Check out contemporary South African culture in vibrant Johannesburg, then trace its storied past in tranquil Cape Town. Or head for the spectacular wilderness of the Eastern Cape, whose fabled Otter Trail is one of the most popular hiking routes in South Africa.
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