South Africa, you put a spell on me. Never before have I visited a place before that made me feel so much all at once. I truly think that every black person should visit the continent at least once in their life. In a strange way, it felt like home. The warmth of the people, the customs and traditions, even the food, it all felt familiar.
The continent of Africa held a permanent spot on my bucket list and I finally made my pilgrimage, stopping first in South Africa. The rainbow nation is rich in experiences, culture and traditions. There is so much to see, that one visit definitely isn’t enough. Should you find yourself in South Africa just once, you should visit these standout places, at least once.
- Soweto Township – Visiting the historic township of Soweto was emotional and stirring, yet a learning experience. During the inexcusable season of Apartheid in South Africa, this southwestern township was developed as a community for blacks who were pushed out of their homes in the city by the government, in favour of whites. Hundreds of South Africans died in the Soweto streets while fighting the oppressive system of apartheid; it is here where the famous Soweto Uprisings took place, signalling the beginning of the end to the unjust system. Soweto was the home to many freedom fighters including Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, who both lived on the same, now famous street, Villakazi and is the current home of Winnie Mandela. In Soweto, you will also find the famous Regina Mundi Catholic Church, which served as a safe haven for students during the uprisings, and the Hector Pieterson Museum which preserves and celebrates the lives of the brave children that died fighting oppression in the Soweto Uprisings. The museum is named in honour of Hector Pieterson, a 12-year-old who was shot and killed by the police during the uprisings. The iconic image of his lifeless body being carried by a high school student and his sister were published around the world and helped to stir change.
- Nelson Mandela House – “That night I returned with Winnie to No. 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison. For me No. 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.’ At 8115 Vilakazi St, Orlando West Soweto is where you can find the perfectly preserved home of the former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. The home, which has now been preserved by the Soweto Heritage Trust was home to Mandela and his family from 1946 into the 1990’s. The home which seeks to preserve the legacy of the Mandela family features photographs, famous quotes, replicas of Mandela’s various awards, and the general living space like the kitchen, pantry and bedroom. Entrance fee is about R60 for international visitors.
- Apartheid Museum – This was one of my least favourite places. I get pretty upset reading and learning about the oppression of African people. While I hated the Apartheid Museum, it’s necessary to learn and digest the full extent of Apartheid and the resilience of black people. Certain moments in history should not be forgotten and the contributions of those who fought need to be documented. This museum was perfect for that reason. The Apartheid Museum, the first of its kind, details the rise and fall of apartheid in South Africa. It will take you some time to get through and I suggest you hire a guide to ensure you get the most of your experience. You can listen to phone calls, watch documentaries and trials, see never before seen footage of Mandela underground as well as learn about unsung heroes.
- Lion Park – Imagine rubbing noses with the King of the jungle. Exciting isn’t it?! A unique experience that you should not miss out while in South Africa is a visit to a lion park. Some of you may be saying, “why go to a lion park if I’m going on a safari?” Well, 9 out of 10 times, you won’t see a lion on a safari. Some people never get to see any of the Big 5 while on a safari, lions, while ferocious are lazy, like me their favourite pastime is sleeping. 😀 For this reason, make that visit. While In S.A. I visited the Lion & Safari Park in Gauteng and saw these amazing and majestic creature roaming around in their natural habitat. It’s something you just can’t put into words because of how insane of an experience it was. For those of you that are shaking in your seats, calm down. You enjoy this experience from the comfort of a caged safari bus, just keep all fingers inside the bus. If you’re adventurous, you can also pet and play with the baby lions. I must warn you, they really don’t look like babies.
- Lesedi Cultural Village – A great introduction to South Africa and a glimpse of authentic African life. Here in the Cradle of Humanity, you will be introduced to the different Africa tribes like the Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Basotho and Ndebele, and you will learn their customs and their traditions. Lesedi, while touristy carries with it an air of authenticity. I loved it because I felt as if I was transported to a different era, walking around and popping in and out of huts, learning about the great African warriors to eating traditional African food, it doesn’t get much more African than this. I think the highlight of my visit to Lesedi was the realisation that almost every single thing that we see in popular culture can be traced back to Africa, from the music to the food, dance, jewellery and hair styles. Makes you go hmmmm!
- Safari – When you think of Africa, you think wild animals. You can not go to South Africa and not experience the thrill of riding in an open top jeep while quietly waiting to see the Big 5. It is a once in a lifetime experience to see a lion, rhino, elephant, jaguar or a buffalo up close and personal. Yes, it can be a little intimidating, and scary but it is an unforgettable memory. I had a moment for life while on a safari at the Mongena Game Lodge getting THIS close to a herd of elephants. Remember, if you’re going on a safari, the best time to go is either VERY early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This will increase your chances of seeing the animals.
Have you ever been to South Africa? What were some of your favourite experiences? Drop me a line in the comment section!