Highlights from South Africa
5 of the biggest and best things to do in South Africa
Monica has just returned from a whistle-stop tour around South Africa, proving that you can see so much of this diverse country in just one week. She began by taking in the stylish city sights in Cape Town, wildlife spotting in Kruger National Park and ended the trip by exploring the townships of Soweto.
Here are the highlights from Monica's trip to South Africa.
Table Mountain is the one of the most iconic landmarks in South Africa, sitting like a protective older brother overlooking the city of Cape Town. You can see the mountain from every corner of the city and it provides the perfect backdrop for any photo opportunity.
To reach the peak of Table Mountain you can either don your hiking boots and trek up or hop in a cable car and admire the scenery as you zip to the top. I opted for the revolving cable car and was blown away by the incredible views as well as the incredible winds.
Shark Cage Diving
When I was told that I would be diving with Great White Sharks I think I actually laughed. Nobody would be stupid enough to jump into shark infested waters out of choice, right? Wrong.
Shark cage diving with Great White Projects was actually a much calmer and enjoyable experience than I ever thought possible. Within the safety of a cage you feel perfectly secure and after 10 minutes I was even brave enough to push my face to the front of the cage to get a closer view of the shark. The sharks gather around as soon as you enter the water and are lured towards the boat with bait. They don't stick around for long but a brief glimpse of these powerful creatures leaves you buzzing for days.
Safari in Kruger National Park
As soon as we drove into the Greater Kruger National Park in our 4x4 I felt like I was stepping inside a David Attenbourgh documentary. We visited Thornbush Private Game Reserve and within an hour had seen four out of the Big Five. Elephants clustered together with their families as they munched on leaves and plants. Buffalos soaked up the sun's hot rays as they bathed in watering holes while rhinos lurked dangerously in the distance. We watched lions laze in the shade with swollen bellies full from their latest kill. It wasn't until we entered the main national park that we managed to see the elusive leopard but this beautiful animal was well worth the wait.
Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon is the third biggest canyon in the world, standing at an impressive 16 miles long and 762 metres deep. The word 'blyde' means 'happy' in Dutch and this is exactly how you feel when standing at the top of the canyon and looking over the lush green cliffs, the Three Rondavels and the river running below.
This is also the perfect spot to break up the long drive between Kruger National Park and Johannesburg.
Cycling in Soweto, Johannesburg
Soweto, an abbreviation for South Western Townships, is a huge urban area of Jo'burg with five million inhabitants. A township is an area where 'non-white' residents were segregated and forced to live. There are still massive communities living here and the townships form a huge part of the South African culture and history. Parts of Soweto are clean and tidy but a lot of the township is in need of repair with basic infrastructure and poor sewerage, little water and a sporadic electrical supply.
It was really interesting to see how millions of people in South Africa really live. As a tourist it can be easy to block out the truth and only visit the popular hotspots designed for tourists. Seeing the township emphasised the fact that there is still a class barrier that follows the old racial lines, despite the fact that we've been told for years that there is hope and promise for the people of Soweto.
Whilst in Soweto I took a cycle tour through the different areas, through the houses and to Nelson Mandela's old home. We akso visited a 'shebeen' which was once an illegal bar. They're no longer illegal but they continue to thrive within the community. They're small shacks built with corrugated iron where homebrewed beer is served. They have no windows so outsiders and the police couldn't see alcohol being served and it would be served in a traditional ceremony style to cover up the fact they were just having a few drinks.
If you fancy a trip to South Africa, check out Andrew Tipp's Guide to South Africa, Swaziland and Lesotho and you'll definitely want to read our interview with Ingrid Marson who talks about spending three months in South Africa.
Have you ever wanted to teach abroad? Ben Smith tells us about his experience teaching in South Africa.
Let us know in the comments below if you know of any other awesome things to do in South Africa.
About the Author: Monica Stott
Monica is the social media specialist and content writer for gapyear.com. She's a Twitter addict, travel blogger, iphoneographer and all-round travelaholic. She took an extended gap year after uni, spending eight months in South East Asia and over a year travelling and working in Australia. She worked on a diving island and drove all the way around the coast of Australia in a rusty old campervan. Her favourite destination is Thailand where she spent two months scuba diving, practising yoga, parting during full moons, half moons, quarter moons, black moons (any excuse for a party) and eating far too much Thai red curry.