8 South African holiday spots that resemble international destinations

Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront with Table Mountain in the background. Picture: Supplied

Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront with Table Mountain in the background. Picture: Supplied

Published Dec 4, 2023


Travelling is all about feeling and experiences. Sometimes you don’t have to stray too far from home to feel like you’ve left the country.

Forget the visa stress, soaring flight prices and headache-inducing exchange rates and spend your money closer to home. You really don’t have to go overseas for the holidays when everything you need is right at your doorstep.

According to Antoinette Turner, GM of Flight Centre South Africa, domestic travel within South Africa has seen a 41% increase this year, and for good reason.

“While overseas destinations will always be on bucket lists, South Africans are recognising that they can also experience the excitement of international travel at home, and they’re becoming really creative about it, discovering ‘dupe destinations’ right in South Africa,” she said.

Want to experience the novelty of European villages, Californian deserts or the Big Apple? Well, look no further because Mzansi has you covered with some of top-class stand-ins.

So here is where you need to go, according to the Flight Centre expert.

Swap California for the Karoo

The Valley of Desolation in the Karoo. Picture: Supplied

Looking for velvet skies studded with stars, small historic towns, windswept arid desert, startling rock formations and even ostriches? The Karoo is no doubt a dupe for California’s Joshua Tree – just without the Joshua trees.

According to the travel expert, our SA alternative has the added benefit of meerkat safaris and who doesn’t love admiring a cute meerkat basking in the morning sun?

You can browse rock formations that resemble dripping wax in the chambers of the Cango Caves, wander through Oudtshoorn and stay in accommodation built in 1880 at Queen’s Hotel by BON Hotels, where you can sit on a porch as good as any wrapped around a Californian inn.

Trading the Cotswolds for the Midlands Meander

Country views like no other in the Midlands Meander. Picture: Intagram

With its rolling green hills, picturesque farms, and quaint villages, KwaZulu-Natal’s Midlands Meander route could easily be mistaken for the idyllic Cotswolds region of England with a bit of the Scottish Highlands thrown in for fun.

As a wanderlust explorer, you’ll wind through the Meander’s many routes and its foodie stops, craft shops, antique stores and farmers’ markets in towns like Nottingham Road and Balgowan. Just be sure to grab a cream tea and scones while you’re there.

Zurich refined at the Radisson Red Cape Town

Contemporary, sleek and funky building designs at the Radisson RED Cape Town. Picture: Instgram

According to Flight Centre, Radisson Red Cape Town brings a touch of Swiss “cool” to the Mother City with its uber-contemporary, sleek yet funky geometric design and pops of robot red. Couple in the Table Mountain and V&A Waterfront views that arent too shabby, either.

“Hang out at the hotel’s rooftop bar and pool, or soak up some culture at the Zurich-worthy Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa next door. The best part?

“Radisson Red shares Zurich’s doting dog-friendly attitude, so you can bring your pooch along too,” said the travel expert.

A touch of Melbourne at More Quarters

A lady takes a stroll outside More Quarters Neighbourhood Hotel. Picture: Supplied

The travel expert also said that for Melbourne-esque vibes, go to Gardens, one of Cape Town’s oldest and most characterful suburbs.

“It also happens to be the hipster hotspot, with Kloof Street and its galleries, eateries, and nightlife running down the middle. Arty, excellent coffee, hints of Victorian architecture, and leafy sidewalks are just some of the qualities that Gardens shares with Australia’s Garden City.

“And if you are looking for a stylish base with a dash of Melbourne flair, amble down one of Kloof Street’s cobbled side lanes to More Quarters, a luxurious set of hotel apartments in gorgeously converted heritage townhouses,” she said.

Channel a charming European Town, Stellenbosch-style

Enjoy the beauty of Cape Dutch architecture and leafy avenues in Stellenbosch. Picture: Unsplash

According to the travel experts, Stellenbosch is sometimes called the ‘Little Europe’ of South Africa with its Cape Dutch architecture, leafy avenues, sidewalk cafés, and bistro restaurants.

“Spend a weekend wandering oak-lined streets, browsing art galleries and museums, and sampling vintages at its world-renowned wine estates.

“ The university atmosphere adds an Oxford-type charm to Stellenbosch’s old-world mix, especially with the student bicycles dotted around town,” said the Flight Centre spokesperson.

Big Apple energy at voco Johannesburg Rosebank

The voco, upbeat, trendy hotel in the heart of Joburg. Picture: Instagram

South Africa’s city of gold and the concrete jungle where dreams are made have long been compared to New York.

Bite into the Big Apple at voco at Johannesburg’s Rosebank. This upbeat, trendy hotel in the heart of Joburg’s best dining and nightlife district will have you feeling like you’re an extra in “Sex and the City” in no time.

Think light-filled, New York loft-style interiors and high-speed WiFi. Browse the SoHo-style galleries at Keyes Art Mile and Rosebank’s eclectic boutiques, the area’s version of 5 th Avenue.

“Don’t forget to pop into Fugazzi, a few metres from voco’s doors, for some Italo-America diner vibes and drool over their ‘Porchettaboutit Mac & Cheese’, ‘Tony Pepperoni’ pizza, and banana splits,” said the travel expert.

Tuscan Charm at Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa

A couple heads into a sanctuary of luxurious country living at Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa. Picture: Instagram

In the heart of South Africa’s picturesque Helderberg, the Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa mirrors the beauty of Tuscany.

“Framed by the majestic Hottentots Holland Mountains and surrounded by celebrated wine farms, this luxurious retreat offers a tranquil experience reminiscent of the Tuscan countryside.

“Guests can savour outdoor dining at the Oak Terrace, evoking Italy’s alfresco elegance, and unwind and reset their senses in the serene indigenous gardens,” she said.

Find your inner hobbit in Hogsback

Enjoy the magical forests and rolling green hills at Hogsback in the Eastern Cape. Picture: Instagram

And finally, if you’re looking for magical forests and rolling green hills then Hogsback in the Eastern Cape feels like something straight out of Lord of the Rings, and in a way, it is.

“This humble village in the Eastern Cape is said to have inspired the forests and Hobbiton in J. R. R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy and The Hobbit. Explore centuries-old indigenous woodlands, hike to cascading waterfalls, and breathe in the crisp, clean air. At night, cosy up by the fireplace in one of Hogsback’s traditional inns,” she added.

With all that’s been mentioned, really, there is no need to leave.

“Our country is vast, diverse, and legendary enough to satisfy your holiday wanderlust and your wallet. And where else can you fire up the braai and celebrate our rugby world champions with a new public holiday,” said Turner.