With safaris, mountains, wineries, an endless coastline, and cities like Cape Town, South Africa is a magical place. Everyone wants to visit South Africa and, for those who do, they are well rewarded. This country is a great place to travel around as it’s inexpensive (thanks to a very weak currency), there are a lot of work opportunities, and plenty of adventure activities to keep you busy.
True, the country isn’t perfect with high levels of corruption and petty crime (be sure to watch your stuff!), but the country’s rich history, natural beauty, and international culture make it a hotspot with travelers from around the world.
This guide to traveling South Africa can help you plan the perfect trip there without breaking the bank.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in South Africa
1. Enjoy Cape Town
2. Learn about Apartheid’s tragic past
3. Visit Kruger National Park
4. Drive the Garden Route
5. Day trip to eSwatini (Swaziland)
Other Things to See and Do in South Africa
1. Partake in extreme sports
South Africa offers over 100 extreme exploits including bungee jumping, sandboarding, skydiving, parasailing, jungle zip-lining, scuba diving, and other adventure sports! Prices will vary, but expect sky-diving to cost around 2,300 ZAR ($122 USD) and bungee jumping to cost around 900 ZAR ($49 USD). I don’t recommend anything that has to do with animals, like shark diving, as it’s just not good for the wildlife you’re interacting with.
2. Explore KwaZulu-Natal
People flock to the South African province of KwaZula-Natal (KZN) on the east coast to relax, tan, ride the waves, eat amazing food, drink, and spot animals. KwaZulu-Natal’s game-rich Zululand and Elephant Coast in the north provide great wildlife spotting. This is also the birthplace of so many famous, powerful South Africans, including former presidents, the founder of the African National Congress, anti-apartheid icons, and one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom, Shaka Zulu. In KZN, you’ll find a diverse landscape, differing activities, city-life and rural-tribal life, but one thing you’ll find in common is the level of pride for the Zulu culture.
3. Surf the waves
Dungeons, near Cape Town, is a great place to be if you have experience riding gigantic waves. Here’ you’ll find cold water, unpredictable and sometimes hazardous waters, so only surf here if you’re a seasoned professional. Beginners should visit Jeffreys Bay (J-Bay), about 47 miles (75 kilometers) west of Port Elizabeth, which is famous for its awesome right-hand point breaking waves! Muizenberg on False Bay is one of the best options for winter long boarding when the north-westerly wind picks up, and Durban has waves ideal for newbies and pro surfers alike. Surfing lessons will cost around 250 ZAR ($14 USD) with wetsuits supplied.
4. Explore the Cango Caves
These caves in the Swartberg Mountains in the Western Cape Province are 20 million years old. You can see the exquisite stalagmite formations during the subterranean tours and learn about its history from the Interpretive Center. The standard tour costs 150 ZAR ($8 USD), while a more adventurous (and longer) tour is 220 ZAR ($12 USD). Wear sensible footwear when visiting.
5. Hike Table Mountain
One of the best things in Cape Town is the hike up Table Mountain. It’s a steep, tiring climb that takes around two hours but the views are definitely worth it. There’s a nice little cafe, WiFi lounge, and cobblestone area to walk around at the top too. There is also a cable car, so you can take it down once you successfully reach the summit. A one-way ticket is 200 ZAR ($11 USD) for adults or 300-360 ZAR ($16-20 USD) for round-trip tickets. Discounts are available for students, seniors, and kids. Be sure to dress appropriately and bring water as the weather can change quite quickly.
6. Stand in awe under the Big Tree
Estimated to be about 800 years old, this majestic Yellowwood tree stands 36.6m high and has a trunk circumference of 9m (which takes about 10 minutes to walk around). There is a 500m wooden walkway through the indigenous forest leading to this tree, and from there, you can journey onto a 2.6-4.2km long walk if you follow the Ratel Nature Walk signposts.
7. Sleep in Gandhi’s house
Did you know that Mahatma Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa? While he was there, Ghandi’s close friend and German architect Hermann Kallenbach designed and built this farmhouse in 1907, which then served as Gandhi’s South African base from 1908-09. The house is called Satyagraha House and is situated in Orchards, Johannesburg. It’s the spot where Gandhi developed his plan for passive resistance against the British Empire. It’s been beautifully restored and provides free day visits or overnight stays in one of its seven rooms (prices from 3,080 ZAR / $170 USD).
8. Drive the Namaqualand Flower Route
The Namaqualand Flower Route is a 404-mile (650-kilometer) drive from Yzerfontein to Richtersveld National Park. While you can drive it in one day, most people break it up into sections and take a few days to do it. This region bursts into a sea of color every spring (mainly mid-August and mid-September, peaking in August) when over 4,000 species of flowers bloom. Head north to Springbok, and then make your way down in a southern direction so the flowers will be facing you. The flowers are best viewed on non-overcast days between 10:30am-4pm, so plan your day trip accordingly. The Goegap Nature Reserve provides picnic areas and overnight facilities as well. Expect to pay between 200-1,200 ZAR ($11-65 USD) per night.
9. Visit the wineries
South Africa is one of the biggest wine exporters in the world, exporting over 300 million liters of wine each year. Visit the vineyards to taste some incredibly fresh wine against a serene, mountainous backdrop. Cape Town is most popular for these tours, but there are great wine regions all over the country, including in the Coastal Region, Klein Karoo, Breede River Valley, Olifants River, and Cape South Coast. Jump on an 8-hour day tour that will take you from winery to winery, sampling all sorts of wine while learning all about the history of winemaking in South Africa starting at 950 ZAR ($52 USD).
10. Drive the Sani Pass to the Roof of Africa
Drive the Sani Pass mountain route in Lesotho — the only route over the Drakensberg escarpment into the Kingdom of Lesotho. Since 1955, the Sani Pass has offered an exhilarating journey as it twists and turns upwards through rocky cliffs that peak at 2,873m above sea level (aka the “Roof of Africa”). Afterward, bask in your victory as you enjoy a drink at Sani Mountain Lodge, known for being the highest pub in Africa!
11. Visit Durban Beachfront
For decades the Golden Mile beachfront in Durban has been popular with cyclists, joggers, and leisurely strollers. Here you can also explore the Indian District, where dealers in traditional kurtas and saris hawk incense, ornately embroidered fabrics, and aromatic spices; visit the KwaMuhle Museum, the Durban Botanical Gardens, the Tala Game Reserve, the Inanda Heritage Trail, or see a Sharks rugby game.
12. Riemvasmaak Community Conservancy
In 1973, under apartheid policies, 1,500 people were forcibly removed from this land. After the elections in 1994, they were able to return and now welcome visitors to their community. The park is located in the Kalahari, making for some stark — but beautiful — landscapes. You’ll find 4×4 and cycling trails here as well as plenty of hot springs.
13. See the penguins
The African penguin is the only penguin to breed on the continent. You can see them at Boulders Beach or Betty’s Bay, both locations a short drive from Cape Town. You don’t often get to see penguins outside of zoos, so it’s definitely worth the drive to see this colony of penguins living their best lives on the beach. Try to arrive before 11am to get the best view of the penguins with the least amount of crowds. Entrance fees range from 35-70 ZAR ($2-4 USD).
14. Surf the waves at Muizenberg Beach
Known for its iconic multi-colored huts on the boardwalk, this is a laid-back neighborhood with a multi-cultural vibe. If you want to hit the waves, you can rent a board for as little as 250 ZAR ($14 USD) and wetsuit 150 ZAR ($8 USD) for the day (also available for cheaper by the hour). If you don’t know how to surf, you can also register for SUP or surf lessons at one of the surf shops nearby.
15. Safari in other national parks
While Kruger gets all the love, check out Pilanesberg National Park, Addo National Park, Umfolozi National Park and the St. Lucia Wetlands. Without the crowds of Kruger, you’ll have ample opportunity to get up close to elephants, lions, leopards, rhinos, and more. From Johannesburg, the Madikwe Game Reserve, Pilanesberg Game Reserve, and the Dinokeng Game Reserve are just some of the options for nearby safaris.
South Africa Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostels will cost you about 170-230 ZAR ($9-13 USD) per night for a 10-20 bed dorm, or around to 250-360 ZAR ($14-20 USD) per night for a 4-8 bed dorm.
A private double room will cost between 390–650 ZAR ($21-36 USD). Free WiFi is standard, and many hostels also include free breakfast. If you have a tent, most will let you camp on their grounds for cheaper rates.
If you are looking for a hotel, budget hotels range from about 750-1,200 ZAR ($41-65 USD) for a twin or double in big cities and get cheaper in more rural areas. For a hotel with free breakfast, expect to pay at least 900 ZAR ($50 USD). Generally speaking, the accommodation prices will be higher in Cape Town and Johannesburg and inside of any national parks. If you want to cut your prices, think about staying away from the city center, in lesser visited towns and outside of the national parks when you’re going on a safari.
In the low season, you can find hostels and hotels for10-20% cheaper.
Airbnb is also an option around the country, though it’s most commonly available in larger urban areas. Prices for shared accommodation start around 190 ZAR ($10 USD) per night (while the average price is about 300-350 ZAR/$16-19 USD), while an entire home or apartment will cost at least 900 ZAR/$50 USD (though average prices are closer to 1,600 ZAR/$87 USD).
For those traveling with a tent, campgrounds can be found all around the country. Expect to pay between 100-400 ZAR ($5.50-22 USD) per night, depending on the facilities and location.
Food – Restaurants in South Africa are pretty cheap. A meal at Nando’s or another fast-food chain will cost you about 50-75 ZAR ($2.70-4 USD) per person. There are also easy-going cafes where some coffee and a small meal set you back 75 ZAR ($4 USD).
South Africa is known for its meaty meals. A favorite pastime of South African’s is the braai, or barbeque that originated in the townships of Johannesburg. Prices for one person are usually between 30-100 ZAR ($1.70-6 USD). Be sure to try biltong (thinly sliced air-dried meat), droewors (air-dried sausage), and boerewors (farmers sausage) if you’re a meat-eater. A delicious dish that originated in the Indian community that’s worth trying is bunny chow (spicy curry served in a bread bowl) and this can be served vegetarian. Prices cost between 15-50 ZAR ($1.15-3.75 USD).
At a nicer restaurant, a 3-course meal with wine costs about 250 ZAR ($14 USD) per person, and you can find some main dishes less than 100 ZAR ($5.50 USD). Expect to pay around 30-35 ZAR ($1.60-1.90 USD) for a beer and 11 ZAR ($0.60 USD) for a bottle of water. A bottle of wine at a restaurant or bar will cost 65-120 ZAR/$3.50-6.50 USD (for the bottle, not a glass!).
The low-cost alternative to eating out is to buy groceries. A week’s worth of groceries for one person will cost around 550 ZAR ($30 USD). If you want to keep costs low, avoid expensive items like chicken, beef, and cheese.
Backpacking South Africa Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker’s budget you’ll pay 600-850 ZAR ($33-46 USD) per day. On this suggested budget, you’re staying in a hostel, cooking most of your meals, doing lots of free activities, keeping your drinking to a minimum, and using local transportation.
On a mid-range budget of about 1,200-1,600 ZAR ($65-87 USD) per day, you can stay in a budget hotel, eat out anywhere you want, take private tours and private transportation to and from the cities if you want!
For a luxury budget of 5,000+ZAR ($270+ USD) per day, you’ll be able to stay in any hotel you want, eat at all the fancy restaurants in the country, fly between destinations, and take any private tour you want. The sky is the limit.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily (some days you spend more, some days you spend less):
South Africa Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
It doesn’t cost a lot of money to travel in South Africa as the exchange rate works in everyone’s favor and, outside adventure sports and tours, everything is relatively cheap. But that doesn’t mean you can’t save more money! Here are tips for saving money in South Africa:
- Pitch a tent – Most hostels have yards that they allow travelers to pitch a tent in. It costs much less and you still have the option to use the bathroom, kitchen, and other amenities.
- Work for your room and board – South Africa has plenty of farms and an active WWOOFing community. If you’re looking to stay for a while, cut your food and accommodation costs by spending some time working on a winery or farm.
- Sleep on a train – The Shosholoza Meyl train service connects Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London, Komatipoort, and Musina. Backpackers traveling together in tourist class can sleep on the train and skip paying for a hostel for the night. Prices will vary depending on where you are going, but a one-way sleeper ticket from Cape Town to Johannesburg will cost around 690 ZAR ($38 USD).
- Rent a car – Renting your own car is the best way to get around South Africa since the buses can be quite slow. Prices will vary depending on what sort of vehicle you get, but they can be as low as 260 ZAR ($14 USD) per day.
- Drink in hostels – Most hostels have a small bar where socializing after a day of sightseeing is the thing to do. Local beer and wine can be purchased cheaper here than most bars and restaurants.
- Cook your own food – Purchase groceries at supermarkets like Pick n’ Pay or Checkers and to prepare meals at your hostel. This will cut down your costs significantly!
Where To Stay in South Africa
Looking for a place to rest your head in South Africa? Here are some of my favorite places to stay in South Africa for your next visit:
How to Get Around South Africa
Public Transportation – Public transportation is available in the larger cities, though it is notoriously unreliable (and I actually wouldn’t recommend taking buses or vans within the cities for safety reasons). I also definitely don’t recommend taking the metro around Pretoria or Johannesburg as they’re not safe. If you must use public transportation, I only recommend MyCiTi buses in Cape Town (costs about 30 ZAR/$1.60 USD for 12-19 miles/20-30 kilometers) and the People Mover in Durban (5.50 ZAR/$0.30 USD per ride).
Taxi – Instead of buses, minibuses or shared taxis, I suggest calling for a private taxi. Rates are generally low and vary between cities. In Cape Town, rates average 10 ZAR ($0.50 USD) per km, often with a minimum charge of 30 ZAR ($1.60 USD) or more.
Ridesharing – Even safer is Uber. It’s also available in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth. This is how I recommend getting around if you’ll have phone service while you’re there.
Intercity Bus – Greyhound and Baz Buses (a hop-on hop-off backpackers’ bus) offer the most reliable public transportation and cost anywhere from 25–700 ZAR ($1.50-38 USD). Shorter fares are, unfortunately, disproportionately inflated. A bus from Cape Town to Johannesburg, for example, will cost around 500 ZAR ($27 USD). The most popular operators are:
- City to City
- Baz Bus
City to City offers a less expensive, no-frills service that goes to many off-the-beaten-track places, including townships and mining towns. Greyhound has an extensive network and also operates other lines like the Citiliner buses. Intercape has and extensive reach in South Africa and, for a price, offers a more comfortable reclining seat on their overnight Sleepliner bus. Translux is the main long-distance train operator.
Baz Bus offers a hop-on, hop-off option for backpackers between Cape Town and Johannesburg (via the Garden Route), Port Elizabeth, Mthatha, Durban, and the Northern Drakensberg. Hop-on hop-off fares from Cape Town can cost at little as 2,300 ZAR ($125 USD) to Port Elizabeth, and up to 5,400 ZAR ($295 USD) to Johannesburg. They also offer one-week (2,600 ZAR/$140 USD), two-week (4,100 ZAR/$225 USD), and three-week (5,100 ZAR/$280 USD) travel passes for backpackers who want to travel around the country.
Train – Train rides are less common but more comfortable and safer than buses. Tourist class tickets have an overnight journey available from Johannesburg to Cape Town is a gorgeous ride with a dining car, showers, and accommodation in a two- or four-berth compartment (if available, couples are given coupes and single travelers and groups are put in compartments). If you are traveling alone and you want a coupe to yourself, you’ll need to buy two tickets. You can pay 60 ZAR ($3 USD) for bedding too.
The economy class is fine for shorter daytime trips; however, it doesn’t have sleeping carriages and is not a comfortable or safe option for overnight travel.
Both tourist and economy class are affordable options. Fare for a first-class sleeper carriage is around 200–300 ZAR ($11-16 USD), depending on the distance. Johannesburg to Cape Town in tourist class would cost you 690 ZAR ($38 USD) and economy class for 440 ZAR ($24 USD).
Tourist-class sleepers can get fully booked a month or so ahead, especially on popular routes, so plan for that.
Flying – Depending on the route, domestic fares are generally affordable. You can get a ticket for 1,000 ZAR ($55 USD) from Cape Town to Johannesburg. Budget airlines I’d look at are Mango, Kulula, Fly Safair.
Car Rental – If you plan on exploring a lot a small car can be rented for as little as 200-260 ZAR ($11-14 USD) per day, including insurance and the fee to drop it off in a different city. Check with your hostel to see if they recommend a certain company to book from. Otherwise, Around About Cars, Avis, Budget, Hertz, and other car rental companies exist in South Africa. Make sure you get insurance and keep all of the paperwork.
You can use your driving license from your home country, provided it is in English (or you have a certified translation). However, if you get stopped by the police, they’ll usually ask to see foreigner’s passports too so keep at least a photocopy in your car.
Hitchhiking – Absolutely do not hitchhike!! It just isn’t safe to do so.
When to Go to South Africa
The best time to visit South Africa’s parks is from May to September. This is the dry season and animals congregate around waterholes and rivers. As this is winter, mornings and nights are cold. May and September are wonderful because it is less cold and, especially in September, the wildlife viewing is excellent.
The dry season (winter) runs from May to September. Wildlife is easier to spot because there’s less vegetation around waterholes so you can see the animals as they gather to quench their thirst. Most days are sunny, there’s little to no rain and very few mosquitos. The winters are mild and produce average highs of approximately 63°F (17°C). This is actually the low season, so the parks are not crowded (save for Kruger during school holidays). It does get cold at night and in the mornings so you’ll have to dress in layers.
The wet season (summer) runs from October to April. This is after the first rain so the scenery turns green and the country looks so fresh. This is the best time for bird watching because most of the migratory birds are around. When it does rain, it doesn’t rain for long so you can usually wait it out. Seeing animals is harder since there are more lush landscapes and more places for the animals to be hidden or blocked by trees and bushes. Parts of South Africa see summer highs get up to 81°F (28°C), with averages closer to 77°F (25°C). Prepare for much larger crowds in the national parks when there are school holidays.
Generally speaking, temperatures are more consistent throughout the year at the coast, while the arid/mountainous areas of the interior see the greatest fluctuation in seasonal temperatures. Even in the Kalahari Desert, nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing. It’s a good idea to pack for all occasions, often people joke about how you can experience all four seasons in one day in South Africa.
How to Stay Safe in South Africa
South Africa requires extra vigilance because, well, there’s a lot of crime here. While you’re unlikely to ever be in any real physical danger in South Africa, petty crime and harassment is rampant and you’ll want to avoid carrying expensive gear and lots of money, especially late at night.
Don’t walk around alone late at night. If you have a rental car, keep your doors locked to prevent theft and carjacking.
Crime rates are higher in the townships (settlements established during apartheid for forced racial segregation), but that doesn’t mean avoid them altogether. Just visit during daylight hours, especially with a local guide.
Be extra careful in Johannesburg, where crime rates are the highest in the country (although again it’s mostly petty crime). If you’re driving, pay attention to what’s happening behind your car as well as in the front. If someone exits a car and starts approaching you, move on quickly. If you’re going to visit Hillbrow, Berea, Joubert Park and Yeoville make sure you do it with a local as these are riskier neighborhoods to explore on your own.
Be on the lookout for people trying to rip you off. You can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct and make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in South Africa!
For more in-depth coverage of how to stay safe in South Africa, check out this post we wrote that answers some frequently asked questions and concerns.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
South Africa Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to South Africa. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around South Africa, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
South Africa Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
South Africa Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela, by Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela was one of the great moral and political leaders of his time: an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. After his triumphant release in 1990 from more than a quarter-century of imprisonment, Mandela was at the center of the most compelling and inspiring political drama in the world. As president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s antiapartheid movement, he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. Long Walk to Freedom is his incredible autobiography.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah, the hilarious host of The Daily Show, was not always so fortunate. Born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison, this is Trevor’s coming-of-age story as he tries desperately to find his place in a world where he was never supposed to exist. He tells hilarious and affecting tales of growing up in poverty, being thrown from a moving car during an attempted kidnapping, and trying to date in high school. This book is surprisingly honest and you’ll want to read it before you visit.
The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World, by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
The story of the end of apartheid was not how everyone thought it would go. What was predictable: bloodbath. What actually happened: forgiveness. The Book of Forgiving was written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Chair of The Elders, and Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, along with his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu. This is more like a manual on the art of forgiveness, and how it’s actually the path to healing and transformation. Read this to understand the psyche of a country that was so segregated in recent history, and has been transformed into what is it today.
No Future Without Forgiveness, by Desmond Tutu
President Nelson Mandela named Archbishop Desmond Tutu as Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These are the reflections from the leader in the center of this profound and painful experience that South Africa underwent. He reminds us that true reconciliation can be attained by first acknowledging the past, forgiving the wrongdoers, and retaining a sense of idealism about reconciliation. With an undeniably clear tone, Tutu shows us how to build a newer more unified world.
Cry Freedom: The Legendary True Story of Steve Biko and the Friendship that Defied Apartheid, by John Briley
Steve Biko is one of the black activists that was fighting against South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime. He was working for years to change the system when he meets white journalist Donald Woods. Biko reveals to Woods the true extent of police atrocities in the black townships once he sees it with his own eyes, Woods makes a courageous stand on Biko’s behalf. This is a story of racism, horrific truth and how putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can make all the difference. This book will stick with you for a long time.
Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
This is said to be the most famous and important novel in South Africa’s history. When it came out back in 1948, it was an immediate worldwide bestseller. Poet and novelist, Alan Paton describes what it’s like to have a black man’s country subjected to the laws of white men. It’s a touching story of the Zulu pastor and his son living in a country torn apart by racial injustice. This classic read is a story tied together with themes of love, hope, courage, and endurance.
South Africa Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling South Africa and continue planning your trip: