What to Expect on Your First Time in South Africa.

south africa photos, south africa travel blog

First time in South Africa? Because just a few days into my trip, I fell head over heels in love – with the natural beauty, food and people of South Africa.

In late April, I left the pristine wilderness of Spreewald in Germany, and arrived on the world’s wilder side – South Africa. Even before I stepped out of the airport, a local, seeing my sleep-deprived self looking for an ATM, offered to buy me coffee! Dramatic mountains shrouded in mist greeted me as we drove into the Rainbow nation.

Over two weeks, I’ve travelled with a group of international and South African travel bloggers, on invitation from the South African Tourism Board, eager to discover a gorgeous yet complex country. These are my first impressions:

South Africans are open-minded and so much fun!

south africa people, south africa culture
First time in South Africa | Hanging out with the kids at Matjiesfontein, with a full moon rising behind.

For a country where apartheid was officially abolished only in 1991, I was cautious of treading the fine line between being sensitive and learning about the way life has evolved. I soon realized I was being too serious.

Making friends here is as easy as a short and deep conversation, realizing you’re on the same wavelength, swapping contacts and keeping in touch! I’ve had open and honest discussions with local bloggers on my trip, but also with people I met briefly on my first day in Cape Town and have kept in touch with over Whatsapp – on everything from the apartheid struggle to being born into “white privilege”.

While walking on the train tracks in the quirky village of Matjiesfontein, a group of young teenagers from the local community invited me to join them. They held my hands and made me feel the electricity passing through the railway tracks. They taught me secret hand gestures, dance moves I couldn’t quite follow and Chris Brown songs! It was in that moment that I promised myself I’ll be back on a slower, longer trip to discover the true soul of South Africa.

Also Read: IndiKate by Kate and Mzansi Girl by Meruschka for a South African perspective on travel within the country.

The natural beauty is mind-blowing (the most important answer to why you should visit South Africa)

south africa natural beauty, south africa travel blog
First time in South Africa | Chilling on the road, this calm Ostrich couple!

I didn’t even need to step out of Cape Town, the second biggest city, to sail out on the sparkling blue Table Bay or eat in the backdrop of Table Mountain. A short drive away, I watched in awe as African penguins swam ashore to their colony on Boulders Beach, and wild ostriches casually strolled along the road in Table Mountain National Park.

The natural beauty blew me away even before I hit the countryside with rolling olive farms, jagged limestone mountains and the roaring Indian Ocean!

Also Read: 50 Epic yet Offbeat Things to do in Cape Town

[Update 2019] South African cuisine is largely meat-based, yet vegan food is easy to find in the cities.

It’s true that braai (barbecue) is a HUGE part of South African culture. But I learnt that in many local homes, the staple food includes paap (maize meal), lentils cooked with local spices, morogo (spinach) and a somewhat spicy tomato relish!

Big cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg are at the core of a growing vegan movement. During my recent trip in end 2019, I feasted not only on vegan / veganized South African food but also vegan delights from across Africa!

Also Read: How to Travel as a Vegan and Find Delicious Food Anywhere in the World

I’ve felt safe during my trip but heard scary stories

south africa people, south africa culture, south africa travel advice
First time in South Africa | Living in the Western Cape is like being in a postcard.

I’ve travelled in a bit of a bubble with fellow bloggers and a pre-planned itinerary, but managed to sneak away from the group enough times to know I want to come back and travel here by myself. I felt apprehensive at first, when people tried to talk to me the moment I was alone, but I quickly came to realize that it’s just their culture and curiosity – much like in India – and I’ve loved these serendipitous encounters.

But I’ve heard of mugging incidents in my neighbourhood as recent as yesterday, and been warned not to venture into the townships (the native settlements) and street markets by myself. Since I’m not traveling on my own, I can only say that just like anywhere else in the world, it’s important to do your research and keep your wits about you while traveling in South Africa.

Also Read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears

What are you most excited about for your first time in South Africa?

I travelled to South Africa on invitation from the South African Tourism Board, as part of the #MeetSouthAfrica campaign. See a glimpse of our trip here!

Also read:

How we *almost* got stranded at the South Africa Lesotho border

Bittersweet feelings in South Africa’s Mamelodi Township

South Africa visa for Indians: Practical tips

Get Paid To Travel

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  1. Srikari Kancherla says:

    Hey Shivya! You have no idea what an inspiration you are to me! I am not kidding. I have been wanting to travel the world since I was 5 and then I stumble across your blog one day while researching how to make travel your career. I am a 12th grade student now and the more I read your blog posts the more I know this is what I want to do with my life, I want to see every place on this planet! I love your work Shivya! And this post, as always was filled with so much excitement! 🙂
    Lots of love,

    1. Hi Srikari, thanks for your heartwarming comment 🙂 I wish I had that kind of clarity from age 5 onwards, haha. Don’t let people tell you that this path in life is impractical. Dream big, plan well and live life the way you want. Let me know if you have questions I haven’t yet answered on my blog. All the best!

  2. રીતેશ મોકાસણા says:

    Very nice potos with such usuful information provided. Thanks for sharing your dreamed experience.

  3. The Traveloholic says:

    very nice post mam. you are an inspiration to many like me. you are the reason i have my blog today. so please visit my blog and give some valuable feedback. Thanks 🙂

  4. Love the photograph of the Malva Pudding! Makes me hungry even though it has hardly been 30 minutes since my breakfast 😀

    1. Haha, oops! I’m not much of a desert person unless its chocolate, but that soft spongy melt in your mouth malva was something else!

  5. pragatibidkar says:

    Hey Shivya, I don’t know what’s more mesmerizing. The photos or your writing. Nice to know that there are lots of vegan/ vegetarian options. The Bunny Chow was after all created by veggie Desis.
    Looking fwd to reading more about this trip.

    1. Haha, that’s true! The bunny chow was an interesting, messy, yummy piece of work 😉 But ya, was delighted that there’s a vegetarian movement taking birth in the country. Glad you liked my photos and writing 🙂

  6. Chaitali Patel says:

    Gosh to live in such beauty must be special! Fantastic photos… looking forward to reading more about your trip.

    1. Right? I always wonder how life just goes on amid such spectacular beauty. One of the most beautiful cities I’ve set foot in!

  7. Wow what an amazing experience. you really put in your soul in that blog. very nicely done. looking forward to reading more such amazing experiences.

  8. Hey Shivya,

    A neat Write up giving me a glimpse as how it would be there in SA. BTW you are an inspiration to me to travel. I am more of a pre-planned traveller aiming things locally as of now and one day may be global. Thank you for inspiring Shivya

    1. That’s a good place to start Sumathi; experience your own backyard before venturing further 🙂

  9. Thank you for sharing your experiences Shiva. You are such a great inspiration for travel. South Africa looks like a lot of fun 🙂

    1. It sure was! Glad you found reading about it inspiring. Hope you get to go soon 🙂

  10. South Africa is such a beautiful country! And you provided some soulful peeks into a nation that is complex yet simple at the end of the day. I LOVE that Matjiesfontein rail track picture. Oh, and thanks for introducing me to Kate and Meruschka’s insightful blogs into South African life and travel – perfect for my next visit to South Africa, whenever that is! 😉

    1. Isn’t it? That rail track moment was one of my absolute favorites, wish I didn’t have to leave! Glad you’re on their blogs now, lots of great tips and stories there 🙂

  11. BABASHREE says:

    hiii shivya ,can you tell me which type of visa is required to work as a wwoofer in europe

  12. Akshat Narang says:

    Finally managed to read your SA travel blog. Honestly I want more. Know this was a whirlwind trip and waiting for you to do an extensive travel. At the same time these are crisp and fresh readings. Love your blogs. Keep travelling.

  13. Haris T M says:

    Hi Shivvya,
    I am surprised to see that you quit your corporate job for travelling.How could it become possible?How did you manage to get money for travelling,especially travelling abroad?
    I started my India Tour in 1989,visiting North East,Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram.
    Hope u will respond.

  14. Outside of India, Durban is home to the largest Indian population in South Africa. You will find all types of Indian vegetables available in the Victoria Street Market as well as others markets in and around Durban.

  15. Hi there! I was introduced to your blog by reading the Minority Nomad’s post on South Africa! Looks like you all had an amazing time! I will be visiting there in November and cannot wait!

  16. “Hello Shivya Nath
    I was always very intrigued by South Africa and I have already booked my tickets for a vacation there. After reading your blog, I know what I should expect as a first timer to the place. I was also surprised to see pictures of wild animals and birds on the road. “

  17. I want to travel the entire South Africa for the rest of my life. Even if it’s my home country. Glad I saw your post. Inspired me even more.

  18. Your photos are great, I want to travel south africa soon, thanks for your post 🙂

  19. Maureen Govender says:

    So glad you had the opportunity to travel our beautiful country. You have to come back soon for another visit. There’s so much more to see and experience. We did a road trip from Durban to Cape Town between December and January, it’s a must. You get to go through all the beautiful towns along the way. Take a trip to the Drakensberg. The best time there is closer to winter when you feel the crispness in the air. There are some incredible places to stay as well. The bunny chow is a must for anyone travelling through our country. The best bunny chow is found in Durban. We are a very warm rainbow nation despite all that our country has been through. We have travelled outside the country but love coming back home to South African hospitality. Let us know when you plan your next visit, I will be happy to help you in any way possible. See you soon.😊😊

  20. Love your blog posts, you describe everything so beautifully, and your choice of words is just too good.

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