A Second Gold Rush

South Africa is experiencing a tourism boom

By: Jimmy Im

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Table Mountain is visible from almost
every vantage point in Cape Town.
When I announced I was taking a trip to South Africa, the first thing my friend told me was: “Don’t sleep with anyone.”

At the airport, a travel agent I sparked a conversation with advised: “Don’t walk on the streets alone. And lock all your valuables in your hotel safe.”

Rather than accepting awed responses or cheerful farewells, I was dismayed to receive several precautions. But I can’t say I was completely surprised. Having suffered through decades of Apartheid, South Africa sometimes comes with an unfavorable stigma. However, even though the country struggles with poverty and AIDS, when you get there you learn this ambitious and inspiring destination is radically changing.

South Africa is experiencing a second gold rush and the optimism is clear. On the streets billboards proclaim the CVB’s supportive advertising campaign “It’s Possible” and the economy is booming. Tourism has increased 18 percent from 2006 and by the time the World Cup takes place in 2010, the country anticipates 10 million visitors yearly. With growing attention, rich culture, important history and ample diversity for visitors from thrilling safaris to sublime beaches travelers are flocking to a new, progressive South Africa.

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“Africa Footprints” is a staple of the
Johannesburg art scene.
As we navigated the streets of Johannesburg, I admired the historic attractions and immediately noticed the walls surrounding many of the buildings they were high and seemingly out of place.

Aware of my curiosity, our tour guide, Joe, said: “They are from the Apartheid days. They were used for protection, to keep black people out.”

Despite its apparent obstruction and futility, the walls remain physical evidence of a history marked with struggle that unfortunately continues to echo throughout the city but primarily concentrated in Soweto (South Western Township).

Comprised of approximately 3.5 million black residents, the shantytown of Soweto was an area I was reluctant to explore I was nervous of making the locals feel like they were on exhibition especially in Motsaoledi, the squaddie camps, where the poor live in truly rough conditions.

But Joe renewed my confidence and once there, I didn’t feel as though we were imposing. Soweto is obviously not the most sought-after excursion, but entertainment wasn’t our purpose.

The experience stirred a range of emotions as we glimpsed the poverty that millions of people live through today. The residents were affable, and they invited us into their homes. A worthwhile excursion, clients visiting here will find no indications of animosity or bitterness and, in some of the homes, they will see well-kept gardens and a sense of optimism that is overwhelming.

Chock full of historical interests, Johannesburg, “The City of Gold,” is best explored on wheels. Clients can drive to Sandton, which is a vibrant, trendy area that has everything from local designer boutiques to popular restaurants. Bukhara, featuring gourmet Indian cuisine, is a favorite for locals and tourists alike. Affluent travelers should head to Gold Reef City, a coliseum of entertainment where you can discover traditional dishes at Back of the Moon restaurant (owned by Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, the “Oprah” of South Africa) and catch the buzzing show, “Africa Footprints,” a staple of the Johannesburg art scene.

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Durban is known for its beautiful beaches.
“I want you to be my wife!” the tribesman cried in native Zulu, clad in warrior gear including headpiece, loincloths and a beaded belt. He raised a spear high as the tribeswoman he courted accepted his proposal by offering her necklace. Behind him, in the vast, unspoiled landscape, the other tribesmen performed their ritualistic song and dance.

This reenactment of the Zulu tribe was in honor of their rich heritage at pheZulu Park, an homage to the important Zulu culture (of which leader Shaka Zulu initiated) in Durban.

Dubbed the Miami of South Africa, Durban is perhaps the most laid-back, and is known for its street markets, terrific beaches and world-renown curry. Durban is also one of the least expensive cities in South Africa and clients can bargain for handicrafts or try a traditional Bunny Chow (curry in a bread bowl) for $6 at local favorite The Oriental.

Unlike the relaxed pace of daytime, Durban boasts one of the most riveting night scenes in South Africa. Nightlife is limited, but thriving, particularly on Florida Road a strip of buzzing restaurants, bars and clubs where the trendy set flood the street.

Tell clients to try some bitong (beef jerky) at Butcher Boy and have a local beer at Monsoon Lagoon. Who knows? They just might rub elbows with Prince Henry or Alicia Keys, who are regular visitors to the city.

Cape Town
The oldest South African city, Cape Town is also the most diverse, with at least 20 different ethnic groups. The draw, perhaps, is the impact of its endless natural features: the commanding Table Mountain, visible from virtually any standing point; sublime beaches in Sea Point; the historic Robben Island; and sprawling vineyards.

In addition to miles of unspoiled environment, the wildlife is just as enticing to travelers. It’s not rare to find signs telling people to avoid feeding an animal group, or to drive out to the rustic vineyards and see zebra and ostrich grazing on the same farm.

Cape Town is also a base for hundreds of safaris just outside its city limits an essential feature to any itinerary. But with the friendly cosmopolitan flair of Cape Town complete with great cuisine, attractions and accommodations, you may find it hard to leave.


JOHANNESBURGSandton Sun InterContinental
This hotel, located at the corner of Fifth Street and Alice Lane is a luxurious property in a prime location.

DURBANHilton Durban
This five-star hotel is conveniently located near the convention center and is just a short ride to the beach.

CAPE TOWN12 Apostles Hotel
This five-star luxury boutique hotel is located in Camps Bay, a popular area for oversees visitors.