Part of the fun of visiting another country is buying a keepsake to remind you of your trip. And South Africa is not lacking unique foods, beverages and knick-knacks that will be appreciated for years to come — or that will impress your friends and family back home. Here are 10 uniquely South African souvenirs to grab before you leave the country, from tasty rooibos to quirky ceramic art.
Please note: Some of these items are food and animal-related, which means that some countries may not allow you to import them. Check your home country’s customs regulations before buying to ensure that you are legally allowed to bring them home!
There’s really nothing quite as quintessentially South African as rooibos. Technically it’s not tea — its an infusion made from the leaves of the rooibos bush, which is only found in one region of South Africa (and nowhere else in the world). If you want to buy it at its source, head to the Cederberg, specifically the town of Clanwilliam, which is the heart of the rooibos industry. If you can’t make it that far, it’s also available alongside the usual tea bags and coffee sachets in hotel rooms across the country; flavoured versions line supermarket shelves; top chefs use it to enhance some of their dishes; and it is even found in a host of beauty products, thanks to its many health-giving properties. Click here to buy it online.
Amarula is one of the world’s top-selling cream-based liqueurs, usually served over a couple of chunks of ice. The base spirit, distilled from the marula fruit, is aged in oak for two years before being blended with cream. You can can buy it pretty much anywhere around the country. Tip: Don’t pack this in your carry-on luggage – it will be confiscated at airport security!
Soda can art
These figures made from discarded soda cans are fun, colorful and eco-friendly. Rather than buy one from a pricey hotel gift shop, browse the local street markets to find an item made and sold by a local resident — your purchase makes a difference in their livelihood.
South African wine (and wildlife wine glass markers)
You can either buy wine directly from a wine estate, or from any reputable liquor store. The majority of wineries lie in the Cape Winelands of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, a trio of towns about an hour east of Cape Town, but there are also winelands in the Darling or Swartland regions to the north, the Elgin or Hemel en Aarde valleys further east, and around the town of Plettenberg Bay. You can have your wine shipped home, or you can take a small quantity with you in your checked luggage (packed in bubble-wrap or an equivalent container, to avoid breakage). Wine glass markers with an animal theme are a nice accessory to help you remember your trip. Click here to buy South African wine online.
You can buy almost a dozen different types of pate in South Africa, made from the meat of various native animals such as the zebra, crocodile, springbok, impala, ostrich and wildebeest. These are usually carried in gourmet markets or specialty stores.
Wooden tribal carvings
Wood carving is an ancient art practiced by many of the indigenous tribes of South Africa. Souvenir wood carvings range from small figurines like the hippo above, to massive free-standing sculptures, to elaborate tribal masks. You can buy them in pricey art galleries, scrappy street markets, and everywhere in between. Which piece you choose will depend on your budget, your tastes, and how much space you have in your luggage. Here’s where you can buy carved wood curios online.
A fun, inexpensive and colorful item to get at craft markets is bead art. Items available include bracelets, coasters and animal figures. Make sure to bargain for the best price, because the first price you’re offered will likely be well above what the item is really worth. One of our favorite markets is the Rosebank Sunday Market at the Rosebank Mall, which is located on the top floor of the parking structure.
There are numerous shops and markets throughout South Africa where you can buy unique handmade ceramics, but one of our favorites is Ardmore, in KwaZulu-Natal. Ardmore employs over 60 local artisans who make one-of-a-kind, whimsical pieces that display African themes and elements, such as the rhino pitcher, above. You can even watch them while they work. Here’s where you can buy Ardmore Ceramics online.
Ostrich leather products
The area around Oudtshoorn in Western Cape is where the majority of South Africa’s ostriches are raised, so naturally it’s where you can find the biggest selection of ostrich leather products such as handbags, wallets, and feathers. However, you can also buy them in other parts of the country, such as Cape Point Ostrich Farm on the Cape Peninsula, south of Cape Town (pictured above). If you don’t want leather you can also buy painted ostrich eggs, but these don’t travel well in checked luggage, unless packed very carefully! Here’s where you can buy free-range South African ostrich leather products online.
Known for its gamey texture and flavors stronger than your average beef jerky, this South African dry cured meat is traditionally spiked with black pepper and coriander. It’s a must-buy for every carnivore who craves the pleasure of its savory taste. Though biltong is traditionally made with beef, varieties made from dozens of other meats are also available, as are many different cuts and styles. Buy real South African biltong here.
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