The books you should read before coming on holiday to South Africa

If you’re coming on holiday to South Africa, these are the books we recommend you either read before your trip or pack in your suitcase. From bird books to history, the heart-breaking to the page turner, we hope you enjoy this selection.

1. Sasol Birds Southern Africa

Sasol Birds

We are lucky to have incredible bird life here in South Africa so if you have booked a safari a good bird book is a must. The Sasol Birds of Southern Africa is a great option as it is super easy to use.

2. Pocket Guides: Mammals of Southern Africa


Again, if you have booked a safari then taking a mammal book along with you is highly recommended. All the useful information is included in this Pocket Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa and it’s small and easy to carry with you on your game drives. If you are looking for something more comprehensive, then the Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals is worth considering.

3. Long Walk to Freedom


Long Walk to Freedom is a must-read for anyone interested in South African history and the great man himself, Nelson Mandela. Try fitting in a trip to Robben Island if you get the opportunity too whilst in the Cape.

4. South Africa: History in an Hour (Kindle ed)

South Africa history in an hour
Whether you know a little or a lot about South African history, it’s worth spending just an hour brushing up or learning about the modern history of this complex nation. South Africa: History in an Hour – a quick overview of the ‘rainbow nation’ and how it came to be what it is today.

5. Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa

Diamonds gold and war

Martin Meredith is well known for his books of epic proportions on African history. For those looking to delve deep into the history of South Africa, this is the one. Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa – not a ‘light read’ but a worthwhile one.

6. The Power of One

The power of one

If you’re looking for a page-turner set in South Africa, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is the one. Set in the 1930s/40s, in a land divided by racism and hatred, you’ll just need to be careful that you don’t bury your head so far into this book and forget to look at the view.

7. A Game Ranger Remembers

A game ranger remembers

If the African bush speaks to your heart, then A Game Ranger Remembers might be your holiday read. This is a collection of stories from Bruce Bryden about 30 years as a conservationist and game ranger in the Kruger Park – perfect for anyone with an interest in wildlife.

8. Wilbur Smith

When lions feed
How could a book list such as this be complete without Wilbur Smith? He has written over 30 novels, many of which are based in South Africa – expect adventure and to not want to put the book down. Is that a good thing? Start with When the Lion Feeds, the book which launched Smith’s career.

9. J.M Coetzee

If literary fiction is what you are after, J.M. Coetzee is your author. The first author to win the Booker Prize twice and with a Nobel Prize for Literature under his belt, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace is a good place to start. ‘This examination into the sexual and political lawlines of modern South Africa as it tries desperately to start a fresh page in its history is chilling, uncompromising and unforgettable.’

10. Cry the Beloved Country

Cry the beloved country

Published in 1948, Cry the Beloved Country, is a classic when it comes to South Africa. Heart-breakingly sad and so compelling, it should be read today as a reminder of the horrors experienced in a South Africa gripped by Apartheid. “The greatest novel to emerge out of the tragedy of South Africa and one of the best novels of our time” – The New Republic.

11. Jock of the Bushveld

Many South Africans today will remember this classic from their childhood. Jock of the Bushveld is a story about a faithful Staffordshire Bull Terrier, set in the gold rush days of South Africa. A great read for old and young alike.

12. Bang Bang Club


South Africa’s history is not pretty. Bang Bang Club is not for the feint-hearted but it is an excellent read and gives an insight into the lives of four young war photographers and correspondents and what they experienced in the last violent years of apartheid.

13. Spud


Hugely popular here in South Africa and abroad, the Spud books are written from the point of view of a pupil at a South African private school in the 1990s. A book that is hard to put down. Read it on the plane.

14. The Elephant Whisperer

Elephant whisperer
Written by Lawrence Anthony, the Elephant Whisperer is a story about a group of rogue elephants and Anthony’s challenge to rehabilitate, build trust and connect with them. Lovely read for those who love the South African bush.

15. The Covenant


James A. Michener’s epic tale, The Covenant is hugely ambitious in its scope but a masterly chronicle of South Africa’s history. ‘A prodigious endeavor . . . Nowhere else could an American reader unfamiliar with South Africa get so full an understanding of its problems in so engaging a form.’ – The New York Times Book Review

Inspired to get reading? We hope so. Download this book list and do let us know if we have missed some of your favourites.

About the Author
Richard is the Founding MD of Greatest Africa & Richard Hilton Vineyards. He lives in Somerset West with his wife and two daughters. He is passionate about the Cape, travel, global wines, wine education and sharing his experiences of this beautiful country that he calls home.

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