I've had several people ask me what I'd tell people about South Africa after my time there, would I recommend them going there, what stood out the most, etc. It's not a straight forward answer and it's hard to put into words.
South Africa, and Africa in general, wasn't a place I'd been dying to go to. In fact I hadn't really thought about going there anytime soon. Sure someday I wanted to, but what most people go to Africa for, seeing lions and elephants, wasn't high on my list of things to do. It was really the World Cup that got me down there. When I would tell people I was going to South Africa most would ask if it was to go on a safari. I'd tell them it was for the World Cup, to which many would respond, 'oh right, what sport is that for again?' Even going in to the trip I had no clue what I'd do after the World Cup. I figured I'd see a lot of the country while travelling with my friends and then decide where to go based on that. And more or less thats what I did.
First off, my time in South Africa was amazing. It's a beautiful and diverse country. Each part of the land has something different to offer. But it is a long way and an expensive plane ticket from the States. If you want to see impressive mountains you won't find anything rivalling the Rockies in South Africa. Warm sandy beaches with fewer sharks can be found much closer along the Gulf or in the Caribbean. If you want to tour some wine lands there's always Napa valley, and even France is cheaper to fly to. But South Africa is more than just a place to see and some things to do.
There's an incredible diversity as you travel across the country, and each place has a different vibe that eludes description. It can be felt in the earth, heard in the trees, and seen in the wildlife. My travels have been defined more by the people I've met than by the places I've seen and the things I've done. And the people I met in South Africa we're amazing, hospitable, friendly, and open. To give you a sense, I basically didn't pay for lodging since travelling with 3 other friends in June. Sure a month of that was on a farm, but in general people were very welcoming. It's interesting how you can know one person for months and just be acquaintances and spend less than a day with another person and become quite close. There were many such people that I encountered on my journey.
Should you go to South Africa? Yes, I think so. It's a country that we rarely hear about, but when we do it's only the worst things (which is true of news in general). You'll find South Africa is different, it's beautiful, it's diverse, sure there are problems, but the people are wonderful, and there's lots to do and see! I couldn't tell you where to go or what to do though. There's so much in the country so that everyone's experience will be different. Unless you have 3 months to wander around you really need to pick and chose where you'll go and what you'll do.
So would I return? I definitely think so. I'd do it differently though. South Africa is a big country and, like America, it's best enjoyed with the freedom of a car. I did alright busing around from region to region, but then mostly relied on my feet or my hosts to get places locally. I would also make sure to take an extended trip into the bush. I had a little self-guided day safari with friends and saw lots of animals, but never really got the complete experience of living in the bush. I would go a different time of year, our summer months are their winter months. Winter is fairly mild there, but can still be quite cold and, depending on where you are, wet. The plus side to going in their winter is that it's definitely less crowded.
I wouldn't say I fell in love with Africa, but it's perked my interest a lot. It's a massive continent and I've just seen the southern tip. I now have a lingering curiosity to see more. This trip is a first in terms of my wanderings, and I'm learning a lot as I go.
Added lots more picture:
Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Day 1
Outeniqua Forest Adventure - Day 2