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DK Eye Witness Guide to South Africa
WHAT DO YOU GET?
They are usually in a heavy paperback form with a good solid cover which has flaps like a hardback book might have. They are all in the same format with DY Eyewitness Travel at the top and under that is the name of the city or country, a photo below that and then a summary of the main topics inside the book is found at the bottom of the front cover.
Their catch phrase is, " The guides that show you what others only tell you." And that pretty much is true and summarises their guide books. You can buy them for cities and also for countries but sadly they don't cover all cities and countries, usually the more popular ones.
OPENING THE GUIDE
Inside the front cover of this one is a very simple map of South Africa showing the main areas in different colours and this is how the book is broken up too, into the six main areas of the country. A photo , the name of the area eg Gauteng and Mpumalanga and page numbers of where each different section can be found is also on this inside front cover so it is a sort of extra index too.
There is a proper index or contents page as well and as well as the area by area guide you find things covered like " Malay Culture in Cape Town" and ' Further Afield' which takes you beyond the city of Cape Town and into the places nearby.
We used the Wine area of Stellenbosch and Paarl to choose which vineyards to visit. The guide had double page spreads on many of the big or different vineyards.
The maps in the book are really good. They have the whole country by area, then the entire country with main roads but again within each section you get more detailed maps with photos and a few notes as to what is there.
In CapeTown there are individual maps and guides within the section on, Table Mountain', 'The Centre' 'The Victoria and Albert shopping area' and so many more. What I particularly like about their maps of the smaller areas is that the sights to see of special interest are pointed out on the map with a small symbol ( picture) and around the outside of the map there are photos of these with an arrow pointing to where they are on the map. It is so simple a child could use it and it does mean if you take it out and about with you there is no difficulty map reading as they are clear and printed on sensible sized pages so you are not flipping backwards and forwards with flappy bits of paper that blow in the wind trying to read street names.
As well as the maps at the start of each area with a summary you will find at the back of the book after the index pages there are street maps of all around the main part of the main cities with very clear street names marked on there so you can walk street by street around the city if you want to.
A BIT OF BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE
Most people visiting a new place want to know a bit of history about the place and this guide gives a very good history run down explaining different aspects of this amazing country. We have pages on a quick history and a bit about the general climate and culture. We then have information on the 'Contrasting Coasts', 'The landscapes and Flora', 'The wildlife', 'Literature', 'Architecture. 'Multicultural South Africa, and 'Sport' all with pictures and simple but useful explanations. You get the information quickly and it is accessible to all.
There is an entire section on the History of the country from ancient footprints through colonisation, apartheid up to modern day.
Just to give you an idea of how each section works I will go through the Cape Town section more closely. The first double page gives you an overview with the major must see sights round a map. The next takes you further and shows The Cape Peninsula with the most impressive sights once again with photos shown around a map.
The City Bowl is then shown in greater detail. Street by street guide of the downtown area with information and photos. When there is something special such as Castle Good hope there is a separate double page 3D cut out of the building with photos around to show you what you are looking for and where to find it.
Table mountain gets the same treatment , map, photos and information as does the Victoria and Albert Waterfront which has about 6 pages of detailed information. Robben Island has a further few pages so all in all the detail is there but put forward in a very user friendly approachable manner.
At the end of the section on Cape Town are several street maps so you could find you way in all areas of the city
AREA BY AREA
This is the main part of the guide and the sections we used most while we were there include;
The Western and Southern Cape as we had a week in Cape Town with a car we spent the days either around the city or further afield in the Winelands of Stellenbosch and Paarl or going to the Cape of Good Hope and out to swim with penguins near Simon's Town.
We then followed the Garden Route for some time and drove to Oudsthoorn where we stayed on an Ostrich Farm. There are several pages about the things to see and do in this area and which are the best ostrich farms to visit, a bit about the history of ostrich farming and all kinds of interesting facts about the area.
Other sections we used were Parts of the 'East Coast and Interior'. We were nowhere near the coast as we were heading in the direction of Lesotho so we headed towards the mountains. We then drove through Lesotho and back into South Africa and this same section of the book into Ficksburg.
The section we moved onto and used most after the Western and Southern Cape was the Gauteng ans Mpumalanga which was where we stayed in Kruger National Park and then went on to explore Blyde River Canyon before heading to Johannesburg.
In each section the information is detailed and once again there are plenty of diagrams and 2D pictures as well as photos of sights you can see or what wildlife you should look out for.
Within the book nested in the sections that surround these countries are separate sections on Lesotho and Swaziland and we did make use of the Lesotho information even through my husband had lived there for five years and we had an agenda he wanted to follow. We stayed in the mountains and then drove through Maseru and on to Ficksburg.
Krudar National Park had its own pages as did the Blyde River Canyon area so really everything was covered in great detail once again but inan approachable way for all users.
OTHER ASPECTS COVERED
There are sections on where to stay, where to eat, shops and markets as well as entertainment so really everything you need to know is well covered. There are helpful tips and advice for disabled tourists as well as other practical pieces of information such as what the sign looks like for 'Tourist Information', where to find public toilets, what electricity plugs and voltage is used and a list of consulates and embassies. A tram map and instructions on how to use a public telephone and photos of what the police look like should you need one are also in the book.
How to get to South Africa and which airlines get you there. Which trains and buses serve the country, how to drive on the roads (Left hand side) and some guidelines for emergencies and using public transport
SO WHAT DO I THINK?
I think you might have gathered that I am a fan of this guidebook. It has everything you would need to know for a visit to this country set out in a simple, interesting and informative way. It doesn't bore the pants off you by long lectures on ancient history, it covers the main features and should you want to delve deeper then you can get the books on that subject to follow that aspect yourself.
I like the way the book is set out, broken into areas and different topic we find the maps are excellent. It is just so nice to be able to see what you might want to visit in a photo with an arrow pointing to where you can find it on the map. It makes it easy to plan what you might want to do once you get there.
We didn't vist all parts of this country as it is huge and I would love to go bvack again. I am keeping this book as it will be one we can use again should we be lucky enough to return to explore other areas of the country.
It is also not too heavy so you can carry it around with you. I love the way it shows you photos so that you know exactly what you are looking for when you are somewhere. For example for the churches you get a sort of 2D diagram and photos which point out where to find each thing of interest and under the photo is a short piece about the item.
As I said at the start this is always our first choice of guide book as they are so very well written and have great maps and photos as well. It is informative without being too heavy going. I don't always want to know the entire history of something I am visiting, a potted version suits me. If you are student of history or architecture or want to look really closely at the wildlife in the National Parks then you may indeed want to know more but there are other books you can go to for that sort of in depth knowledge it isn't need in a guide book in my view.
Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.