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South Africa: Escape to the Cape

By Ashley Strickland, Special to CNN
  • South Africa is rich with exciting adventures and rich cultural experiences
  • Go cage diving to see sharks and climb Table Mountain for an amazing view
  • Travel off the beaten path to soak up South Africa's true culture

Editor's note: CNN's Destination Adventure series takes a look at travel locations for the explorer at heart. This week, we're visiting South Africa. Next week, we'll venture on to Iceland. Have you been? Share your story with CNN iReport.

(CNN) -- South Africa is a destination with soul that will wend its way into your heart over the course of a few days. It can be hard to leave, and many choose to make it home after getting a taste of the culture and endless variety of new experiences. You're on the Cape now, and things are captivatingly different here.

iReporter Neal Piper considered making the move after one visit to South Africa.

"In all of my travels, Cape Town is on the top of my list of places I would like to call home. In a matter of a week you can go on a safari, cage diving with great white sharks, hike Table Mountain, learn how to surf, appreciate many types of wines in the wine region and learn about a rich culture that has seen a lot of change in our lifetime. This is only a taste of what this beautiful region has to offer."

Visiting the new South Africa

Travelers can be put off by warnings of crime or danger concerning South Africa, but as with any adventure, plan accordingly and travel with caution. It may be a vacation, but it always pays to be aware.

"Johannesburg has a reputation as a dangerous city, but reputations rarely tell the entire story," iReporter Christopher Scott Walker said. "While crime is a serious problem in the city, the locals were among the friendliest people that I have ever encountered. The wildlife in South Africa is amazing, but I encourage everyone to spend time with the amazing people as well."

Prepare to explore a country full of adventures. The hardest part will be planning how to experience the most of South Africa while you're there. Below, iReporters share their tips and favorite things to do.

Dive right in

iReporter Sara Ruedy had never left the U.S. until she ventured to South Africa with her boyfriend. The first stamp on her passport became an unforgettable adventure.

Consider an exciting brush with danger during your trip.

"Cage dive with great white sharks in Gansbaai," she said. "My boyfriend, Steve, and I spent four hours on a boat with 10 others and were given the opportunity to get in a shark cage in the water as great whites approached us head-on."

Table Mountain is considered a (tamer) must for first-time visitors to South Africa. Ruedy loved it for the panoramic views.

iReporter Jennifer Traubel encourages visitors to make the hike. "For non-hikers, taking the cable car up and down can be tempting, but it is absolutely worth the climb. You can take the cable car down as your reward!"

History is rich in South Africa, and it's worth taking the time to absorb. Robben Island, a World Heritage site, is brimming with stories.

"A ferry can be taken from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town for a tour of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was exiled as a political prisoner for 27 years," Ruedy said. "Island tours are particularly interesting because they are given by ex-political prisoners themselves who share their personal experiences."

iReporter Ethel Marie Chadwick fell in love with South Africa and Cape Town when she traveled to visit her cousins living in the area. Her tip? Explore everything!

"Visit Cape Town, the Vrede en Lust Wine Farm, Sun City and go on a safari. December is a great time to go: It's summer there!"

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Get wild with your food

The flavors can be exotic, literally. If you want a new kind of culinary experience, try the local cuisine, although some is more geared toward tourists.

"A good -- though admittedly touristy -- restaurant in Johannesburg that I made a point to eat at was Carnivore," Walker said. "Carnivore is a restaurant that serves game meat, including crocodile, giraffe, kudu and zebra."

iReporter Jennifer Traubel also recommends the warthog casserole at the Wild Fig Tree Restaurant in Sabie.

If you want a little normalcy alongside the wild cuisine, fresh seafood is a great option.

"Saul's Taverna in Cape Town is not fancy or flashy in any way, but the food is a great experience," Ruedy said. "The restaurant offers Greek, Portuguese and Italian food with an African flair, including the popular kudu and warthog meats. We ordered the best-tasting calamari we've ever had."

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Venture off the beaten path

Seasoned travelers know that making the most of your trip sometimes involves making up your own itinerary.

"The most interesting things and most rewarding are seen and experienced off the beaten path to get a real taste of how South Africans truly live and not just the typical tourist traps," iReporter Lulis Leal said.

Leal enjoyed going on a safari while she was in South Africa but recommends renting a car and making your own, especially if you want to take photos. She ventured through Kruger National Park.

"I was blown away with the natural beauty of the park and having an opportunity to see the animals in their own natural environment was a very amazing, interesting and humbling experience. There is so much to see and do in Kruger National Park that it would take weeks to see it all.

"My advice to first-time travelers would be to be patient and keep a flexible schedule. While Americans may always appear to be in a rush, in South Africa things are done more slowly. Everything is savored and relished."