No Passport Needed: 8 South African Holiday Spots That Feel Like They’re Overseas

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5 min read

With an exchange rate that makes you stress-sweat, visa gymnastics, and flight prices that continue to soar, going overseas for the December-January holidays just doesn’t have the same pizazz as it used to.

“Domestic travel within South Africa has seen a 41% increase this year, and for good reason,” says Antoinette Turner, GM of Flight Centre South Africa. “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’ (places that mimic popular destinations) right in South Africa.”

Who says you need a passport to experience the novelty of European villages, Californian deserts, or the Big Apple? Some of the world’s top destinations have stand-ins right here in South Africa. Read on for eight holiday spots that will make you feel like you’ve jetted across the globe – without crossing a border.

1. Swap California for the Karoo

Velvet skies studded with stars, small historied 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. Our SA dupe has the added benefit of meerkat safaris. Who doesn’t love admiring a cute meerkat basking in the morning sun? See 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 California inn.

2. Trading the Cotswolds for the Midlands Meander

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

3. Zurich refined at the Radisson Red Cape Town


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. And the Table Mountain and V&A Waterfront views aren’t 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.

4. A touch of Melbourne at More Quarters

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.

5. Channel a charming European Town, Stellenbosch-style

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

6. Big Apple energy at voco Johannesburg Rosebank

New York, New York! Bite into the Big Apple at voco Johannesburg Rosebank. This upbeat, trendy hotel in the heart of Jo’burg’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 5th Avenue. Don’t forget to pop into Fugazzi (a few meters from voco’s doors) for some Italo-America diner vibes and drool over their ‘Porchettaboutit Mac & Cheese’, ‘Tony Pepperoni’ pizza, and banana splits.

7. Tuscan Charm at Erinvale Estate Hotel & Spa

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.

8. Find your inner hobbit in Hogsback

Magical forests and rolling green hills – 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.

Don’t fasten your seat belt; stay in SA. 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?

Please feel free to reach out to Kim Taylor at kim@bigambitions.co.za for any media queries or should you require any additional assets.