Cruising around South Africa is for many travelers the ultimate journey simply because of the great distance from either Europe or North America where the vast majority of those who regularly cruise live. At first glance it seems like a daunting journey, especially when one views the long flights to South Africa and returning home. There are of course longer cruises that begin and/or end in Europe. Unless you are retired, it is not that convenient to spend between 45 and 80 days onboard a ship to either circumnavigate the African continent or to travel one way between a European port and South Africa. The last time I made such a journey in 2013, I left Civitavecchia, Italy in mid November and left the ship in Cape Town on January 3, 2014 after having first cruised from Cape Town to Richards Bay and back.
Only a few major cruise lines, primarily high-end companies, include southern Africa in their annual itineraries. Silversea, Seaborne, Regent Seven Seas and Holland America have such cruise offerings for 2015 or 2016. The best time of the year to book such a cruise is between mid November and the end of March. Remember that in the Southern Hemisphere this time of year is summer, and it is a good time of year to travel around South Africa. Most people initially think of Africa in a tropical context, but the map will clearly reveal that the Republic of South Africa is a sub tropical country, most of its territory being in temperate latitudes. You could compare the climate of the west coast to that of California and to its east coast to that of South Carolina or Florida, but without hurricanes. The interior of South Africa is semi-arid grassland much like the south central Great Plains of the United States.
Many cruises around South Africa will often include one or two ports in neighboring Namibia on the Atlantic side of the continent. Namibia is an arid country, north of the Tropic of Capricorn. It is very sparsely populated, but yet has a modern infrastructure very similar to that of South Africa. Both of Namibia’s ports of call are also included in this book following the material on South Africa.
This traveler’s companion is designed for those visitors who are planning or considering a cruise to South Africa. It will provide you with information regarding the major ports of call from the Atlantic around to the Indian Ocean side of the country. And since the majority of visitors then remain and travel into the interior, normally to visit a game park, there are chapters on the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria as well as information on the major interior game parks.
I trust that this traveler’s companion will be beneficial in helping you to become acquainted with the landscapes, history and cultures of the two countries to be visited. And you come to gain an understanding of the rich history and diversity of the cultures that make the region so fascinating
This is not a typical guidebook such as Fyodor or Frommer’s. You will not find restaurant or hotel recommendations, but rather concise descriptions of the ports of call, showing you their major highlights. The primary focus is to offer you an overall introduction to the lands and peoples you will be seeing. For the more detailed information on places to eat or specific shore itineraries, your cruise line’s shore excursion desk is the best place to ask. And many cruise lines bring local representatives on board to provide very detailed information on the morning of arrival in each port. This traveler’s companion will give you a very good working knowledge of the historic and cultural details of each place to be visited. Essentially you will be a well-informed visitor before you even reach the shores of South Africa and Namibia.
The Republic of South Africa is without question one of the world’s most dramatic and beautiful countries. Situated at the bottom of the African continent, it is a land guarded by two oceans, the Atlantic on the west and the Indian Ocean wrapping around the south and east coast. Most of South Africa sits above the cliffs and mountains that wrap around its western, southern and eastern shores, giving the country a landscape of breathtaking vistas.
South Africa is a large country, occupying 471,443 square miles. By comparison, this makes it the size of France, Spain and Portugal combined. The national population is just over 54,000,000, but by European standards it is not overly populated. Unlike most other Sub Saharan countries, South Africa is quite mixed when it comes to ethnic composition. The bulk of the population, 79.2 percent is Black African, the two largest national groups being the Xhosa and Zulu. The European population accounts for 8.9 percent, primarily a mix of Dutch Afrikaans and English, but with other immigrant groups making up a small percentage. There is a group called Cape Coloured accounting for 8.9 percent of the population. These are people of mixed European, African and Indian heritage from the days before strict segregation under the Apartheid laws. The Asian population is 2.5 percent, but the vast majority are descendants of Indians who were brought over by the British to work in the sugar cane fields of what was then Natal Province.
The government is democratic with an elected legislature and president. South Africa is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, but it does not accept the British crown as its own, preferring the republican status, which some other Commonwealth nations have also adopted. This decision was by referendum back in 1961 when only Europeans were able to vote. Because of its strong racial policy known as Apartheid, the country was pressured into leaving the British Commonwealth of Nations, but it was permitted to reenter in 1994 after holding its first universal election with the end of Apartheid.
The transition from a system of strict racial segregation that was implemented in 1948 was peaceful as both the white dominated government and the African National Congress led by Nelson Mandela negotiated the terms of the first free election in which all citizens could participate. At the time most nations had predicted that the country would plunge into a civil war along ethnic or racial lines before it would ever stand a chance of emerging from Apartheid. It came as a great surprise to the world that this did not happen. Today the country struggles with high unemployment, a slowly rising black middle class and a slowly rising white impoverished class. The government has attempted to establish a policy of redistribution of some of the nation’s wealth, building homes for the poor and stabilizing the economy. Fortunately for South Africa, the ANC under Nelson Mandela and with the encouragement of Bishop Desmond Tutu established a Commission of Truth and Reconciliation to insure that the European population did not voluntarily flee or be forced out of the country, as has been true in neighboring Zimbabwe, the former Southern Rhodesia. It has been a successful policy and today the European population is very content to be a fully integrated and vital part of the national economy and political system. The belief is not forgetting the indignities and atrocities of Apartheid combined with total forgiveness has been a cornerstone of South Africa’s success. And among the younger generation there is a feeling of racial harmony that could even become an example for the United States, which still struggles with the concept.
If you like this introduction, my entire book plus many other traveler’s companion books are all available here.
I would also invite you to join me in 2015 and 2016 during the summer months, as I will be cruising the Baltic Sea with Silversea Cruises.
For more information about joining Dr. Lew Deitch on one of these cruises, contact us.
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