africatravel

Why Southern Africa Is Worth Visiting

Bourke's Potluck in Mpumalanga (South Africa)

There is nowhere like Africa. It is a continent (NOT a country) that encompasses a wide variety of cultures, ecosystems, languages, and religions.

Although Africa continues to be exploited by foreign interests, it has the potential to be great. Wakanda is a glimpse of what Africa can be.

Countries visited: South Africa, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho*
Total time spent: 5 weeks

*Lesotho is only mentioned once in this post because I was there for 3 hours 

Journey around Southern Africa

This trip was not my first time on the continent. Nigeria is the only African nation I am familiar with. Lived there for 2.5 years at age 7 and was last there in 2015.

I quickly realized that Nigeria isn’t like South Africa. South Africa isn’t like Mozambique. Mozambique isn’t like Swaziland. Each country is unique in its own way.

On that note, let me emphasize that Black people are not monolithic. Our cultural upbringings, hair texture, skin tone, facial features, and body shape vary from nationality to nationality, and individual to individual.

This was a solo trip and a favorite from 2017. There is no way this trip would have been as amazing as it was if I explored it with friends or family. Instead of the “10 things to do in…“, here is synopsis of my journey through Southern Africa.

 

SOUTH AFRICA

Some have asked why I chose to visit South Africa. Well, why not? It has been on my bucket list for at least 7 years.

I had no specific reason for visiting, but after the failed airfare deal with Ethiopian Airlines ($272 from US cities to African cities), I wasn’t going to let it prohibit me from going.

Read: How I flew to South Africa for less than $100

I’m aware that many feel South Africa is unsafe due to crime, or that Johannesburg is off-limits, but read what I wrote here. Safety is very subjective and unpredictable. Personally, it doesn’t matter what anyone says. I’ve heard of so many stories of how a person was safe in one country and another person was not. There are various factors involved when it comes to safety. The best you can do is to be vigilant and take precautionary measures.

So please, don’t cross South Africa off your list due to fear. Click here for another perspective of South Africa in regards to safety.

View of Johannesburg from Carlton Centre in South Africa
View of Johannesburg from the tallest building in Africa (Entrance fee: R15 / $1)

South Africa felt similar to being in the US and Europe depending on where I was. They have good road infrastructure, running electricity, clean drinkable water, malls, police officers that do their job, efficient airports (*cough* unlike Murtala Mohammed Airport), decent healthcare system, good universities, a rising gig economy, and a lot more positives.

An example of healthcare: My visit to a dentist in Cape Town for deep cleaning (scaling and root planing) was $31 with no insurance. The work was performed by the dentist and not a dental hygienist. In Houston, my dentist would charge $169 with no insurance and it’s done by a hygienist. Almost 6 times the price!!

While in South Africa, all I could think about is how the country has so much existing potential. No wonder it is Africa’s third largest economy.

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point National Park

Although I’m a first generation Nigerian-American, I empathize with Black South Africans as well as Black Americans. Both have had a long history of anguish and very similar struggles. I was astonished to hear non-South Africans residing in South Africa say that Black South Africans would ask, “when are you going back to your country?” I was also told that they are lazy.

Because I am not in their shoes, I might never fathom why a Black South African would ask a person of the same skin color such a preposterous question. I know part of the frustration stems from high unemployment and consequently, the belief that foreigners are stealing their jobs. But that’s not a great excuse.

Please note that not all Black South Africans have this mindset and not all are lazy.

Another thing I found fascinating was that Coloreds (defined as a mixed race in South Africa) don’t regard themselves as White or Black. And I don’t blame them. South African Coloreds can be mixed with European, Black, and/or Asian ancestry.

Why I found it fascinating is in the States, there was a one drop rule that if you have Black blood in you, you were classified as Black. This was a law from the 1600s. Till this very day, if you look Black, you are regarded as Black.

Also, the term “colored” is an offensive, racial slur in the States. Historically, the word was used during the days of Jim Crow when Blacks were forbidden from using the same toilets as Whites, or were not allowed to drink from the same water fountain as Whites.

From the Apartheid Museum, Coloured versus White in South Africa
From the Apartheid Museum

If you don’t know anything about South Africa, just know it’s BEAUTIFUL. Every traveler and local can attest that it’s true.

I’m a sucker for pristine landscapes and South Africa was the perfect destination.

Mpumalanga province with its rolling hills, valleys, waterfalls, rivers, and streams. A nature-lover’s paradise.
The Drakensberg mountains and its magnificent mountain views.
The vast wildlife and ecosystems in Kruger National Park that is hard to rival.
Cape Town’s majestic beauty is a force to be reckoned with. Voted as one of the world’s most beautiful cities for a reason.

Each part of South Africa has its own beauty and character. I was incessantly awestruck. It felt so surreal.

Lone Creek Falls in Mpumalanga (South Africa)
Lone Creek Falls in Mpumalanga
Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains, South Africa & Lesotho
Drakensberg Mountains: On the way to Lesotho through the Sani Pass Route

FOOD

I am not 100% familiar with the history of South African cuisine but I know it’s a clash of cultures. I, however, expected to see certain West African staples like plantains and brown yams. Could not find it at any well-known grocer in three major cities.

My favorite meals were from Big Momma’s (Cape Town) and South African Indian food from Roving Bantu Kitchen (Joburg). The food was so good to my soul!!

Black South African Food
My order: Creamy samp and beans, lamb curry, chakalaka (Price: R70 / $6)
Black South African Food from Big Momma's
Friend’s order: tripe, steamed bread, fried spinach

 

 

 

 

 

 

South African Indian Food
Meal from Roving Bantu Kitchen

CITIES & TOWNS VISITED

Johannesburg, Graskop, Nelspruit, Durban, Underberg, Cape Town, Stellenbosch


MOZAMBIQUE

The city of Maputo, capital of Mozambique, will not be seeing me again.

The chaotic driving is not for the faint-hearted. It requires being meticulous and swift. Drivers create three lanes out of two.

Men will hustle you for money after they help you find a parking spot in a busy area or assist you when you’re ready to leave and join the flow of traffic. Doesn’t matter if you didn’t ask for their help.

The majority of drivers are inconsiderate. And the city looks old and hideous.

All of this reminds me of Lagos, Nigeria.

Read my instagram caption below about my journey from Maputo to Tofo. It was not fun. Tofo is a coastal town northeast of Maputo.

Driving in Mozambique…Mozambique is the third country in Africa I can cross off my list. Very different from South Africa. I will definitely pay a second visit, but not behind the wheel. Driving was rough in Maputo and from Maputo to Tofo during the afternoon and at night. Imagine driving for 9 hours (with only 1 wee-wee stop, yes, just 1) and having to deal with cops stopping you every 30 kilometers (10 miles) if you’re 5 km/h or over the speed limit AND they want you to pay cash immediately. Being overwhelmed by driving in pitch black. Cars in the opposite direction signaling to turn off your high beam lights when you can’t see a damn thing. Jaywalkers and cyclists acting like NO ONE is on the road in complete darkness. Unable to see a speed bump that sends you flying through the air. I was sooooo irked when we finally arrived in Tofo. N-e-v-e-r again!

A post shared by Ann (@anntheadventurist) on

Can we just praise God for journey mercies because there were too many close calls!

I was forewarned that cops bribe drivers on the way to Tofo, but I didn’t think much of it. I was stopped three times. At the last stop, one of the police officers requested 2000 meticals ($36) for speeding. The speed limit was 60 kmh (37 mph).

Because I’m not the most creative at formulating lies on the spot, I had to plead my case repetitively. Ain’t no way I was paying, guilty or not. I was so close to grabbing my driver’s license and running off since it was staring right in front of me. Eventually he let me go and I did not have to pay a dime.

The drive from Tofo to Maputo was much better because I left at 5 am. The cops were more chilled. I passed at least 9 posts and very few had their old-school radar speed equipment set up.

My time in Mozambique was well spent with a stranger-turned-friend so I didn’t do any major activities.

Tofo Beach in Mozambique (near Fatima's)
Tofo Beach, Mozambique

FOOD

Enjoyed every meal I was served in Mozambique, except for one place.

My favorite dish was casquinhas, which is Portuguese for stuffed crabs. I could eat it all day.

White rice with matapa (Mozambique)
A home cooked meal: White rice with matapa and lobster
Casquinhas (stuffed crabs) in Tofo, Mozambique
Casquinhas (stuffed crabs) served at Tofo Tofo restaurant 

CITIES & TOWNS VISITED

Maputo, Tofo, Inhambane


SWAZILAND

Swaziland felt similar to South Africa besides being miniature in size. The locals speak English. There is good road infrastructure. And the scenery is breathtaking.

Sibebe Rock in Swaziland
Sitting on Sibebe Rock, the world’s second largest rock after Australia’s Uluru

The currency of Swaziland, Emalangeni, is equal to the South African Rand and is widely accepted.

One element I found fascinating about the Swazi culture is their marital customs (see below). After a few unwarranted male encounters, let’s just say I would find it very hard to trust any Swazi man.

FOOD

If you’re in the capital, Mbabane, make sure to visit eDladleni. They serve Swazi cuisine and it’s scrumptious! So good that I went back a second time. A plate is R95 ($8 USD).

Meal served at eDladleni (Swaziland)
Impala stew simmered in white wine with sides: porridge (pap), mealie bread (cornbread), bell peppers, and spinach

I was astounded as to why eDladleni is the only restaurant serving Swazi cuisine in all of Mbabane. When I asked the owner (a.k.a. chef) why there were no locals dining, she said they prefer Westernized food. On Google, all I found were fast food restaurants like KFC and Nando’s, some European restaurants, and a few others.

In major cities of Nigeria, you’ll find small eateries all over the place serving local dishes. So that is the main reason why I was flabbergasted.

The more I travel abroad, the more alarming it is to see how much Westernized food has influenced many nations I wouldn’t expect it to. It breaks my heart because there is nothing good about Westernized food. I wish those franchises could collapse. I am 15 pounds (7 kg) lighter for avoiding them like a plague.

CITIES & TOWNS VISITED

Mbabane, Manzini, Malkerns, Lobamba


GETTING AROUND SOUTHERN AFRICA

  • Self Driving
    • Car Rental Price: $36 per day (includes unlimited mileage, taxes, super cover, tire and glass insurance, one-way surcharge, Mozambique border crossing fee)
    • Car Type: Group D, Automatic compact car (Volkswagen Vivo)
    • Pickup location: Johannesburg
    • Dropoff location: Durban
    • Duration: Spent 2 weeks driving between South Africa, Mozambique, and Swaziland
    • Why did I drive: Initially I was nervous about driving on the left side and by myself. I contemplated between using buses, trains, and possibly catching a ride from a hostel guest. But with the amount of research to figure out the bus/train times from one place to another could turn into a headache. And waiting to see if I would find a ride could take a while. So self-driving turned out to be best outcome because nothing else would have offered as much flexibility, convenience, and the freedom to see more.
  • Within any city, you can use the white minibus taxis. Very cheap, but you must know where to catch one and where you are going.
  • Uber/Taxify
    • Average price in Joburg: between $3 and $10 depending on the distance and destination
    • Uber and Taxify are not available in Mozambique or Swaziland
  • Train (South Africa)
    • Cape MetroRail
      • From Kraaifontein to Cape Town CBD: R10 ($0.80) one-way
    • Gautrain (Johannesburg)
      • From OR Lambo Airport to Braamfontein: R162 ($14) one-way
    • There are trains operating between major cities. Click here for more info
  • Bus
    • Within South Africa
      • Baz Bus / City to City
    • Within South Africa and to surrounding countries
      • Intercape / Greyhound / Translux
  • Fly
    • I used Mango (a budget airline) to fly from Durban to Cape Town one-way
      • Price: R857 ($61)


FINAL THOUGHTS

It felt good to “look” like a local and never feel out of place no matter where I was. Most times, the locals spoke to me in their local language.

There was not a single regret I have about this trip. At the end of the day, what I cherish the most in traveling is what made this trip unforgettable, the connections I made. The locals I met, in general, were kind and welcoming. From business owners to Uber drivers to local guides to strangers that turned friends. I was inspired by many of them who have no idea.

I am grateful and cannot wait till I return to that side of the globe.

As I mentioned earlier, safety is subjective and unpredictable. I never felt endangered wherever I went. Not in Joburg, not at night, not in Kruger, not on Cape Town’s trains, or while driving alone. I am also not the type to be worrisome about personal safety.

To the Americans reading this who have never had the desire to visit the continent, Africa has more to offer than you could imagine. You will never know until you see it for yourself.

If you are waiting to take your first solo trip, DO IT!
If you are longing to visit Africa, DO IT!

 

Have you been to Southern Africa? What are your thoughts?

Don’t forget to connect with me on Instagram and Facebook.

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26 thoughts on “Why Southern Africa Is Worth Visiting

  1. Hey Ann, it sounds like a really amazing trip you’ve done. I’m interested to know how the border crossings were? I also really enjoy that you share how you felt and what you experienced rather than ‘things to do’. Having lived in East Africa and traveled in west, northern and South Africa yes Africa is a continent and not a country!!! So many people refer to Africa but Tanzania and Burkina Faso for example are so incredibly different.

    1. Thanks for your feedback, Tanya! I would love to explore the rest of Africa some day. Maybe by car. That’s awesome that you’ve explored the continent as well. As for border crossings, it was pretty straightforward and smooth. In Swaziland, they don’t want any importation of fruits. I had some but the border control officer let me go. Only had a minor incident at the Mozambique-South Africa border (near Kruger). I’ll go into details about Mozambique in a future post.

  2. South Africa looks absolutely beautiful! I think you’re right about the safety thing, some people have issues and some don’t. It’s always a good idea to travel smart, be aware and keep to yourself sometimes.

  3. I took a class on politics in Latin America and learned that there they have the same thoughts on race as you talked about in South Africa. If you are part white and part black, you’re not considered black, but a different race depending on what the mix of both is. Love the picture of you on the rock in Swaziland! What a cool place.

  4. I have DREAMED about backpacking around Africa for as long as I can remember. I definitely think South Africa is a great place to start. Thanks for all the recommendations!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this post. It brought back my happy memories of the week I spent in Cape Town. Like you, I was interested to learn about the Colored population of South Africa because I had never heard of that before I went to Cape Town. I agree that Africa is great for solo travel and people shouldn’t let preconceived notions or fears stop them. I would like to see much more of the continent.

  6. Love reading about your experience in this part of the motherland…would never have thought of self driving! Not sure how brave I am for that. I love how you shared real details about the country, culture and customs. I hope I get to explore more African countries some day!

    1. Thanks Tayo! Appreciate the feedback. I guess I’ll write about my travels in this format. The good thing is you already know how to drive on the left and probably manual shift, right? It really isn’t that bad. You’ll find a lot of potholes in areas away from the city, but the roads in general are so much better than in Naija.

  7. Africa is still so mysterious to me! Really the two main reasons I haven’t gone yet (except Morocco, which maybe sort of doesn’t count since I’d count that as ‘Mediterranean’) is not being sure of the expense (because I don’t want to stick to the cities) and whether I could manage it all by myself.

    I also find people dynamics interesting when I travel. Most young Westernised (i.e. English-speaking) city people no matter what the country is, understand racial politics from American discourse, because it dominates cyberspace. But the reality is, speaking about race, joking about race, recognising distinction between tribes and groups, etc. – all of this varies by country, and whether it’s seen as negative, neutral, or positive is always related to how the dynamic has meant in the nation’s history. The world is much bigger and more varied than any one country’s experience.

    1. I’m not sure where you’re from or based, but if you’re from a country that has a strong currency, I think Africa will not be too expensive for your day-to-day expenses. That’s why I mentioned prices through my post (and Instagram) to give people an idea of various costs.

      You’re right about that the world is more varied than one’s country’s experience and that the dynamics of race, various tribes/groups vary from country to country. It’s a huge reason why I find traveling fascinating. There is so much to learn about the world and you can never learn that much from a book, watching a show, or from living in your own country.

  8. Lone Creek Falls looks absolutely gorgeous. A few of my friends have visited South Africa and they absolutely loved it there. Your photos are beautiful.

  9. What an awesome post Ann, I love that you went in to such detail to explain a few things and also clear up some misconceptions. I am from the Caribbean, and though it’s very different, we often face similar issues when it comes to how the rest of the world views the region. I’ve always wanted to visit South Africa and will be saving this post for future reference!

  10. I have never been to Africa, but I have always wanted to visit and explore – specifically Southern Africa. This was a fantastically informative post, and I greatly appreciated how you addressed some tough stereotypes and commonly held misconceptions that may hinder someone to travel to Southern Africa. It is a beautiful region of the world and until I get to visit, thank you for sharing your beautiful images.

  11. Southern Africa looks so beautiful through your pictures. I’ve read a few biographies written by people in different parts of Africa and that’s made me want to visit someday as well. Plus the food looks delicious 😀

  12. What an interesting journey through Southern Africa, I a region I know nothing about. It’s great that you so pointed out the differences so clearly between each country you visited. While not monolithic, it great to get an understanding of the subtle differences. Gorgeous landscapes. Great article!

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