Why South Africa should be your first holiday of 2021

The rain came down strong and steady in what was otherwise a mild Cape winter, washing away the fear, the smell of sanitiser. It filled the dams, the wet earth spawning the best wild-flower season in living memory. We endured one of the world’s toughest lockdowns but emerged blinking in the September sun, at Level 1.

It takes courage to make the long haul south. It’s also important to check the latest travel advice and be aware that, although international flights to South Africa has resumed, there are currently restrictions on travel from countries which the South African authorities consider to be high risk. This includes the UK, with travel for tourism or leisure from the UK prohibited unless you intend to stay in South Africa for three months or more. 

However, once those restrictions have passed (and ministers this week said they were hopeful of an easing of the rules by December), the rewards will be great: this is Big Nature country, with space that encourages you to exhale – no cliché, when breathing has become so fraught. Cape Town has always been a draw, but the proximity of its wilderness – the mountainous spine of Table Mountain National Park that runs the length of its peninsula, the golden kelp forests that sway beneath the Atlantic – has never mattered more.

The city offers a springboard into outdoor experiences, from walking the Kogelberg, in all its complex biodiversity, to swimming with flamingos in Langebaan lagoon; from diving into spring-fed pools fringed with palmiet to sleeping under black heavens dusted with a million stars in the Cederberg.

Hiking in the Cederberg


With the new challenges of travel, it makes sense to stay longer. Hire a car and meander from the Cape to the Camdeboo, staying in remote cottages and welcoming guesthouses (with protocols in place, of course). Or make yourself at home in the terroir of your choice, living like a local, wine-tasting on foot.

If you’ve dreamt of going on safari, 2021 is the year to book, with rates frozen, long stays incentivised and exclusive-use options for families and small groups. With more time, there is no reason to fly domestically – roads are mostly excellent. If you prefer, hire a high-clearance camper and plot a route that never touches tar. Trawl for art and experiences you can’t Instagram.

With the exchange rate at 21 rand to the pound, all this will be possible once restrictions lift. If we have learnt one thing this year, it is to be present. Make it somewhere extraordinary. 

The penguins of Boulders Beach


South Africa in 2021

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