5 Authentic Travel Experiences in South Africa

On the lips of many travellers are the words: ‘authentic travel experiences’ – it’s something of a hot topic, and we’re all burning to have them.

The pursuit of meaningful travel is the move away from simply ticking off a list of top attractions in well-travelled destinations.

What are authentic travel experiences?

When asked people fond of journeying the world describe authentic travel as: being able to live, eat and do as the locals do, in a foreign country.

  • Authentic travel experiences establish a profound connection with other people and places.
  • It describes an adventure that rejuvenates, excites, and reveals the undiscovered.
  • And it’s a far cry from the staged, performed or contrived experience tourism tends to dish up as an ‘experience’.

South Africa more than delivers the goods…

5 authentic travel experiences in South Africa. Simply follow instructions…

Trek a long-distance

Nothing serves to evoke authenticity quite like days spent in remote and rugged terrain.

The diversity of South Africa’s landscapes means that there is no one place to get lost in nature – long trails are no stranger through the country’s terrain.

We’re not talking the numerous incredible multi-day hikes (Otter Trail, Whale Trail, Fanie Botha, Wild Coast, Fish River Canyon, Amatola hiking Trail), which function as authentic travel experiences on their own.

These are major long-distance trails:

  • The Rim of Africa is a trek, cultural experience, and community project across more than 600 km of mountain terrain from the Cederberg to the Outeniqua Mountains of the Garden Route.
  • The Eden to Addo Great Corridor links the Knysna forest with the Baviaanskloof World Heritage Site and Addo Elephant National Park over 400 km of terrain; an annual conservation event across 7 biomes.
  • The Tankwa Camino is regarded as a ‘soul journey’ and named after its Spanish counterpart. It follows the more remote R355 between the Karoo towns of Calvinia and Ceres over 256 km of desert for 10 days.

Dine with locals

Nothing quite as authentic as culinary tourism, and whilst South Africans have yet to discover travelingspoon.com the few that have offer opportunities to sample a braai, Cape Malay food and genuine South African hospitality.

Otherwise, to dine with locals is as easy as strolling the most popular foodie ‘hoods of each city:

  • Bree Street, Kalk Bay, Kloof Street in Cape Town
  • Morningside and Riverside Precinct in Durban
  • the Parks – Parkview, Parktown, Parkwood, Parkhurst, Greenside and Melville in Johannesburg
  • Richmond Hill in Port Elizabeth

Abandon yourself to the Karoo’s Burning Man

The annual AfrikaBurn gives birth to a tent city in the middle of the desert, a few hours’ outside Cape Town. Thousands buy tickets as they hit the ‘box office’ for a week long gathering of out-there costumes, all-night parties and art installations; a gathering of free spirits and radical self-expression that engenders a sense of unity that brings the same people back year upon year.

Can’t get a ticket? Follow the Secure Ticket Exchange Programme. Or head to the Tankwa Karoo and start your own festival.

Push your limits

When it comes to authentic travel experiences facing your fear and embracing your demons give travellers a sense of striking out on your own, of overcoming the insurmountable, and of finding an inner resourcefulness.

South Africa’s outdoor lifestyle means that you can skydive, bungee, scuba dive, rock climb, hot air balloon, and learn how to surf with little effort.

Live in the Cape’s small towns and engage with the locals

I have a friend who spent a year in the Karoo. She did this by answering an advert on Gumtree, and before I knew it, she was ensconced in someone else’s home, and life.

South Africa is full of little towns. Most of them deserve a far deeper engagement than a day or weekend’s visit.

Find the time to stay for longer in any one of our suggested list below.

Western CapeFranschhoek, Simon’s Town, Knysna, Montagu, Prince Albert, McGregor, Betty’s Bay, Barrydale or Sedgefield, to mention a few.

Eastern Cape – Graaff-Reinet, Port Alfred, Hogsback, Cradock, Kenton-on-Sea, Lady Grey or Bathurst

Northern Cape – Sutherland, Loxton, Nieuwoudtville, Victoria West and Carnarvon.