Every four years, the World Cup, perhaps the most popular sporting even in the world, draws in hundreds of thousands of fans from around the globe. Next year, South Africa will become the first nation on the African continent to play host to soccer's premier tournament. For travelers in search of an epic trip next year, consider joining the hundreds of thousands of soccer pilgrims set to make the journey.
Even if you aren't a soccer nut, there's plenty that South Africa has to offer for those looking to book that once-in-a-lifetime trip for World Cup 2010. Here are some reasons you should brave the crowds and pay the steeper prices next June.
1. Fans from everywhere will be there. At first glance this one seems a bit odd - the high volume of tourists here will create a logistical problem for many of the traveling fans in South Africa. However, within that lies the beauty of it all. People from all over the world will converge on one destination, giving you the traveler a chance to meet and hang out with Dutch, Germans, Brazilians, English, French - well, you get the picture. Meeting travelers en route is a highlight of many trips, and during the cup it will be a gold mine of foreigners in one place.
2. Be a part of history. No African nation has ever hosted the World Cup, and the entire continent is fired up to welcome the entire world in June. But this tournament, for perhaps the first time, is much more than about a game. The country itself is just 15 years old, having only recently come out of the shadows of apartheid in 1994. That element adds a sense of added lure to those interested in learning about the cultural history of the rainbow nation.
3. Hospitable hosts on a united front. As a nation, the people of South Africa stand on a united front, and will be ready to receive thousands of guests next year. Because of the amount of attention this will create, the host nation is going to be prepared to ensure a smooth ride.
4. Beautiful scenery. The country itself is right up there in terms of beauty. Cape Town, the most tourist-friendly destination, is a breathtaking sight to see. Driving down to Cape Point, where the Cape of Good Hope is situated, reveals a winding road reminiscent of the California coast. KwaZulu-Natal, the bush region in the southeast, is the sparse yet gorgeous reminder of the country's primal origins. And Johannesburg, while sometimes known for infamous reasons, is a sprawling metropolis that will make any city dweller feel right at home.
5. Safari. No matter what major metropolitan area you happen to be in, there's a chance to head out on safari in pretty much any one of them. Options are plentiful - there's even choices near Cape Town, in the southwest of the country. If you can't make it up to Nespruit for a match and pop into Kruger National Park, there are a number of private game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal that can satisfy your appetite for lions, elephants, rhinos and giraffes.
6. Sparkling new stadiums. Ten stadiums throughout nine cities are primed and these modern-day coliseums would make the ancient Romans burn with envy. While they are not without controversy, the architecture and design of these structures is stunning. Moses Mobhida Stadium in Durban, for example, has an arch rising over the top that carries curious observers to an observation deck and a brilliant view of Durban. And Soccer City in Johannesburg will be packed to the gills with 93,000 adoring fans, opening and closing the tournament.
7. Wine toursObviously an interest in wine is required here, but South Africa is one of the worldwide leaders in wine production. As a result, scores of vineyards (mostly in the southwest) are within driving distance of Cape Town. Head out on a tour and get an idea of what the South African wine industry is like, and for the right price, enjoy a tasting and a delicious lunch.
8. Watch some top-class soccer. Soccer fan or not, there is no comparison to watching a football match during the World Cup. It's where passion is at the highest, as a win, loss or draw has a huge impact on the mood for the evening. Soccer fans are sport's most passionate and die-hard lot - where else will you see thousands of people on their feet, screaming and chanting in hopes of three points?