Easy access, little time difference and an exchange rate that sees the pound travel further than most other places will keep South Africa in favour with British travellers in 2020.

Top of the world

A bird of prey floats effortlessly on warm thermals. To the right is Devil’s Peak, its green slopes culminating in a jagged peak. Ahead is the city of Cape Town, with a stadium, tower blocks and the V&A waterfront clearly visible. To the left is the pointed peak of Lion’s Head. And behind is Platteklip Gorge and the promise of flat ground – the summit of Table Mountain.

It’s a searing hot November day as I undertake this iconic city hike. I pass, or am passed by, dozens of other hikers as I climb the rough rock steps which zig-zag up the mountain. Clinging to the dry rock are brightly-coloured flowers called fynbos.

The Cape Floral Kingdom here is home to 9,000 plant species, 70% of which are unique to the area. I’m told it’s more botanically diverse than the Amazon. At the top I’m elated as I look down on the clouds and across this strange level mountain-top.

I don’t spot the elusive Cape Mountain Zebra but in just two days here I’ve already seen penguins, rock hyrax (a mammal which looks a bit like a wombat that’s been on a diet) and lots of colourful birds, including spotted guineafowl trotting across my path.

I came here for the ‘big five’ but so far the fynbos and these less coveted creatures have made a big impression.

A trio of choices

South African Tourism has announced it is to harness its plant power to combat climate change. It’s planning to use Spekboom, a succulent plant found mostly in the Eastern Cape and said to have amazing carbon-offsetting properties, to offset emissions from its many inbound flights.

Carriers contributing to emissions include British Airways, which says that Cape Town is amongst its most booked long-haul destinations for 2020, with January the most popular month for a trip. The airline also flies to Durban and Johannesburg from London.

However, the outlook for the national carrier, South African Airways, is not so encouraging: late last year it was placed under bankruptcy protection.

South African Tourism has announced it is to harness its plant power to combat climate change. It’s planning to use Spekboom, a succulent plant found mostly in the Eastern Cape and said to have amazing carbon-offsetting properties, to offset emissions from its many inbound flights.

The tourism board’s objective for 2020 is to encourage tourists to visit provinces beyond popular Cape Town and Kruger National Park by showcasing places off the tourist trail, such as Free State, North West and Northern Cape.

“Free State is popular with domestic travellers for its scenery, history and adventure activities but is relatively unknown by the UK and Irish markets,” says Kgomotso Ramothea, South African Tourism’s Acting Hub Head for UK and Ireland.

Ramothea cites several key attractions in Free State. “Clarens, a charming town at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, attracts artists and creatives who are inspired by the incredible views and vibrant colours. Visitors can travel along Artists Amble to visit galleries run by local artists, before heading into the great outdoors for quad biking, abseiling and ziplining.

“And the Golden Gate National Park is a natural playground for hiking, biking, kayaking, camping and horse-riding.”

Ramothea also mentions BA’s Durban flight as having opened up “an array of opportunities for tourists to travel to KwaZulu-Natal and the surrounding areas”.

Agents selling family holidays to South Africa received a welcome boost late last year when the South African government announced that children from the UK and Ireland no longer need to bring consent letters or unabridged birth certificates when they travel to and from the country.

South African Tourism’s fifth annual SAT School roadshow took place last November and South African Tourism trained 2,047 travel agents in 2019. “We expect to increase this figure in 2020,” says Ramothea.

“The UK and Ireland are key markets for South Africa; the UK being the number one source of international arrivals. We’ll also be hosting six fam trips to nine provinces in 2020, to provide them with first-hand destination knowledge.”

What’s new

Club Med will open its first South African beach resort in Durban this year. The 350-room and 50-villa resort is at Tinley Town, 10 kilometres from King Shaka Airport near Durban.

Wine estate Boschendal will open a new tented camp in March 2020, the first of its kind in the Cape Winelands. Situated in the Greater Simonsberg Conservancy, the seven luxury tents will feature a spacious bedroom, bathroom and private deck. Guests will be able to partake in outdoor experiences like horse riding, guided hikes and mountain biking as well as cellar tours.

A historic, refurbished train is set to open as a boutique hotel in mid-2020. Kruger Shalati Train on a Bridge will be located on the historic Selati bridge at Kruger National Park’s Skukuza Camp. The 13 historical carriages now house 24 luxury rooms for up to 48 guests, with an additional 14 beds in seven rooms on land next to the bridge.

Saseka Tented Camp, part of the Thornybush Collection, has opened in Limpopo’s Thornybush Nature Reserve, aiming for the nostalgia of a campsite but with edgy, 21st century designs. Each air-conditioned suite has its own private pool, outdoor shower and sundeck.

Samara Private Game Reserve has introduced a fly-camping experience. Guests can explore the 70,000-acre wilderness on foot before spending the night in a mobile camp. It includes a guided bush walk with an armed ranger and tracker before arriving at a private camp for sundowners and a traditional South African braai. Fly-camping is available from October to May for guests booking a minimum three-night lodge stay.

Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve has refurbished its suites at Earth Lodge. With timber fans, leather hanging sling chairs and a new full-length pool, the new-look suites are designed to encourage inspiration, rest and reflection on nature. Brookdale Estate, located in the Paarl Valley under the Klein Drakenstein Mountains, has rebuilt its manor house and rejuvenated its vineyards. The estate’s chef has designed menus using seasonal produce from the estate’s kitchen garden, and its grounds have been re-planted with indigenous trees and wild Cape fynbos, as part of plans to become fully sustainable.

A not-for-profit luxury lodge has opened in the Lapalala Wilderness Reserve, Limpopo. Lepogo Lodges will be the first luxury camp in Africa to offset every guest’s carbon footprint. On-site activities range from game drives to tours of iron-age settlements and bushman paintings in the area.

MSC Cruises plans to build a £10-million cruise terminal in Durban. The cruise line has announced it will ‘double deploy’ in South Africa for the 2020/21 season: MSC Opera will sail from Cape Town and be joined by MSC Musica out of Durban.

Africa’s longest beachfront promenade – at more than eight kilometres long – has opened in Durban.

Kruger National Park will launch the Kruger Station early this year, a new venue and reinvention of the Selati Station. Its aim is to create a theatrical ‘edutainment’ experience through food and storytelling. Contiki has a new three-day Cape Town Explorer trip, including a hop-on hop-off pass for access to the city’s beaches, mountain, Robben Island and other attractions, priced from £145pp.

Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve now offers enhanced after-dark game drives using infra-red cameras.Cheetah Plains has introduced electric Land Cruisers with almost-silent engines for safaris.

Where to book it

Titan Travel offer the 14-day Sensational South Africa tour starts from £2,699pp and includes Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, the Garden Route, Panorama Route and a Kruger safari.