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Rural is lekker! Top 5 rural tourism destinations in South Africa

Workers harvest grapes at the La Motte wine farm in Franschhoek, outside Cape Town. File picture: Mike Hutchings

Workers harvest grapes at the La Motte wine farm in Franschhoek, outside Cape Town. File picture: Mike Hutchings

Published May 4, 2022


South Africans love to travel but seldom do you hear about rural destinations being the main attraction.

Mzansi has a wealth of cultural and breathtaking scenic destinations located outside the cities. If you are looking for authentic tourism options this Africa Month, you don’t have to look further than our borders. Here are some of the top rural destinations in South Africa:

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Bakone Malapa Open-Air Museum

Bakone Malapa Open-Air Museum is a reconstructed village in the style used by the Northern Sotho tribe, inspired by the lifestyle of the Bakone people about 250 years ago. The Bakone are a highly sophisticated subgroup of the Northern Sotho tribe.

The village is just outside of Polokwane on the R37 road towards the South and it offers a totally different experience to what the big city has to offer. The indigenous lifestyle elements on display at the bush enclosed village include traditional cuisine, poetry, fashion involving beads, and different types of animal skins, architecture, music and art.

Bakone Malapa Open-Air Museum is about as rural and indigenous as it gets. This is a destination where tourists can experience age-old activities like fire making with sticks and straws.

Outdoor activities during winter, Mzansi style

Rural tourism in South Africa involves a wide variety of destinations and activities, with some seasonal and some available throughout the year. For example, as winter approaches, it’s a great opportunity to go back to our roots of storytelling around open fires.

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If you are not up for a boma fire in a village set-up, then snowboarding and skiing in the Free State or Eastern Cape’s wilderness might tickle your fancy. One destination to try out this winter could be the snow-drenched Tiffindell Ski Resort in the Eastern Cape.

Tshepo Matlou, who is head of marketing and communications at online booking, Jurni, says: “These provinces have destinations that offer activities to travellers, which is something many people wouldn’t associate with South Africa because of our country being on the Tropic of Capricorn. South Africa is a truly unique travel destination with world-class activities offered across all seasons and it is worth exploring.”

Musangwe: The beauty of Venda

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Musangwe in Venda is a 200-year-old tradition that makes it possible for tourists to enjoy the beautiful scenery and rugged terrains in and around Venda, while being able to watch bare-knuckle boxing bouts.

Musangwe is a bare-knuckle boxing competition that has been taking place in late December since the 1800s. It has evolved into a ritual that is now used to enhance the grit of young men and test their bravery. However it’s been reported that combatants range from 9 years old to 90 years old, at times.

Music is food for the soul

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If you are a music lover, the Diturupa Festival is the destination for you!

“Diturupa” is a local word derived from the English word “troops”. The borrowed word fittingly describes the drum majorettes’ festivals that feature groups from villages around Hammanskraal in Gauteng, Makapanstad in North West and Marapyane in Mpumalanga.

The contests, which are normally held around the festive period, commemorate the sinking of the SS Mendi Ship - a troop ship that sank after a collision, causing great loss of life in 1917 and they are Visual narratives to pay tribute to the role of black South African soldiers in World War 1.

This is why they involve military themes like marching and drum majorettes. And this is also why some groups dress to resemble soldiers while many dress in Scottish kilts, where groups of men fling their skirts around to the rhythm of the drums and trumpets.

Matlou advises accommodation providers in areas around such activities to leverage these fun festivals by collaborating and co-packaging.

Cape Winelands

You can literally pick and choose where you’d like to sip on some wine and enjoy mesmerising views.

The Western Cape is renowned for some of the finest wine in the world and many winemakers have opened their doors and gates to visitors who want to witness how the wine is made.

The drive to the Cape Winelands, which features Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch is around 45 minutes from Cape Town’s city centre. These are the heavyweight rural wine-making spots in the Cape.

Wine tours are some of the more fun activities for thirsty South Africans and they also give great insight into how this region got its great reputation among wine connoisseurs around the world.

This Africa Month, Mzansi’s rural and indigenous destinations are still some of the best on the continent.

The fun doesn’t just lie in these kinds of events but in the trips themselves. Matlou adds “when you travel, the fun isn’t just in the destination but the journey itself - the experience between your house and the destination. If you travel in a 4x4, Venda is one of the most enjoyable driving experiences because of the landscape and amazing scenery.”