Caught Between World Cup Games in South Africa? Get Close to the People and the Land

  • Ethan Gelber and Crystel Carre-Hodgson
  • 30 December 2009

When the stadiums are empty, plan a tour or activity in or near the World Cup host cities to get to know the real South Africa

“This World Cup belongs to Africa!” declared Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, at the Cape Town Convention Centre on 5 December 2009, the long-awaited day of the World Cup 2010 draw. Needless to say, since then, Africa’s already considerable pride at hosting the world’s most popular sporting event grows by the day, in lock step with the excitement of soccer fanatics from all across the continent (and around the world) eagerly awaiting kickoff of the first game – South Africa versus Mexico in Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium at 4pm local time on 11 June 2010.

Supporters of Bafana Bafana, the South Africa national soccer team (photo courtesy of South African Tourism)

Supporters of Bafana Bafana, the South Africa national soccer team (photo courtesy of South African Tourism)

The success of the World Cup will however be measured by more than just the tenacity of the teams. Nearly 500,000 people are expected to visit South Africa from game 1 until the finals precisely one month later. Their presence comes as an important economic injection, especially in the tourism sector, as the hordes head out to experience the country.

So, as a primer for the independent traveller in South Africa during the games – the traveller passionate about soccer, but also about meeting and making a difference with the local communities hosting the games – here’s a quick overview of how between games you can connect with the people, just a small but important step in being a good guest.

On the World Cup Trail

Nine cities will be the stage for the 2010 World Cup: Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Pretoria, Polokwane, Port Elizabeth and Rustenburg.

The spread of destinations covers a great deal of the country, facilitating discovery of the diversity of regions and people.


The opening match, nine other first-round matches, two second-round matches, two quarter finals and the finals will all be held in Johannesburg’s two venues: Ellis Park and Soccer City stadiums. Despite its bad reputation, Jo’burg is the financial hub of South Africa and a city full of life and interesting sights.

The busy city centre of Johannesburg

The busy city centre of Johannesburg

In between games is a perfect opportunity to take them in, not the least of which are the Museum of Apartheid, Soweto or other townships, the Mai-Mai market and the botanic gardens. Perhaps the best way to get to them and understand their significance is on any of several emotion-packed Johannesburg day tours possible through Urban Adventures.

Jo’burg is also within easy reach of two other game venues: Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria and Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, both sites of five first-round and one second-round matches.

Cape Town

Cape Town’s Cape Town Stadium will welcome 70,000 spectators to each of five first-round, one second-round, one quarter-final and one semi-final matches. More commonly known as the ‘Mother City’, Cape Town is one of South Africa’s most storied cities. Naming Cape Town’s top five attractions – Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront, Robben Island, the Winelands and Cape Point – conveys some of its richness but only just scratches the surface, for there is a great deal more to see and do.

Wine tasting and cellar tours are favourite pastimes in the Cape Winelands of South Africa. These Franschhoek vineyards are a 1.5-hour drive from downtown Cape Town.

Wine tasting and cellar tours are favourite pastimes in the Cape Winelands. These Franschhoek vineyards are a 1.5-hour drive from downtown Cape Town.

As in Jo’burg, Cape Town tours are highly recommended, not only because they can help you get to places a little difficult to reach but because the accompanying guides put you in the right frame of mind to understand the important but sometimes intangible historical contexts, especially on Robben Island, where many political prisoners were incarcerated, including Nelson Mandela for over 20 years; the Cape Winelands, a perfect retreat for wine lovers; and any of several township and volunteer experiences that show you a different side of Cape life.

Cape Town is a good launch point for travel along South Africa’s famous Garden Route, an unspoiled and often inaccessible coastal corridor rich with wetlands, dunes, rivers, ancient forests, beaches, lakes, mountains and indigenous flora and fauna. Beyond its eastern reaches lies the seaside city of Port Elizabeth, whose Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will be the site of five first-round and one second-round matches, as well as a quarter-final game and the third-place playoff.


The city of Nelspruit is the smallest of the host locations, a community of approximately 200,000 people who will welcome four first-round matches to their Mbombela Stadium.

Giraffes are commonly sighted in Kruger National Park, also home to the Big 5, Little 5 and the Birding Big 6

Giraffes are commonly sighted in Kruger National Park, also home to the Big 5, Little 5 and the Birding Big 6

Nelspruit brings two of South Africa’s most tantalising natural wonders into easy reach: Kruger National Park, which is the country’s largest game reserve and a superb place for a safari; and the dramatic Panorama Route, just a short drive from Nelspruit. Both destinations offer an array of adrenalin-pumping outdoor activities, most of which are conducted in a responsible and sustainable manner involving both briefings about local flora and fauna and proactive measures to minimise impact on the environment.

Nelspruit could also be a point of departure to reach Polokwane, 300 kilometres to its northwest, where the Peter Mokaba Stadium will see four first-round matches. To reach Polokwane from Nelspuit, one could detour west across the nature-rich rolling hills of the Mpumalanga Highlands, where outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty of activities from which to choose.

Bloemfontein and Durban

Both Bloemfontein and Durban will host five first-round matches and one second-round match each in their Free State Stadium and Moses Mabhida Stadium, respectively. One semi-final game will also be played in Durban.

Bloemfontein, South Africa’s judicial capital, is popularly referred to as the ‘City of Roses’ due in part to its floral displays and annual Bloem Show (late April/early may), the largest agricultural and entertainment show in the country.

Coastal and cosmopolitan, Durban is the place to go for sun, sea and sand. Most city attraction are found along its Golden Mile of beach, including uShaka Marine World (one of the world’s largest aquariums) and Wilson’s Wharf (the trendy shopping and dining distrinct) on the Victoria Embankment, where there’s no shortage of restaurants and nightclubs.

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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adventure travel, Africa, beaches, cities, festivals & events, game reserves, human interests, local knowledge, national parks, outdoors, responsible travel, South Africa, Southern Africa,

One Response to “Caught Between World Cup Games in South Africa? Get Close to the People and the Land”

  1. Maroussia says:

    It will be great to watch World Cup 2010 – Final, i have bought tickets from
    http://ticketfront.com/event/World_Cup_2010_Final-tickets looking forward to it.

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