Hotels in and around the Free State province
The Free State is defined by its vast expanses of golden ‘mielie' (corn) fields, flat countryside crisscrossed by miles of tar road and punctuated by sandstone mountains, and almost 340 days of sunshine every year. The Free State is also home to Grey Bloem, an elite school from which many of the country's Springbok rugby players hail.
The Free State's two main cities are Bloemfontein (“Bloem”) and Welkom. Bloem is the country's judicial capital and is also known as the City of Roses. This region is steeped in political and cultural history as well as natural beauty and an ambience of modernity, fun and hospitality. This combination makes for the ideal destination for families, couples and corporate travellers alike.
Before the late 18th Century, the area above the Orange River was the residence of the local African people, including the Bechuana, Korannas, Khoekhoes and Bushmen. In the early 1800's, the Griquas also arrived. While some Europeans did visit this area, they were generally only there for hunting or missionary purposes and did not disrupt the lives of the locals. Then, from 1817 to 1831, Chief Mzilikazi and his Matabele troops arrived. They killed many of the locals, eventually crippling their population completely. During this time, the Boere (farmers from the Dutch, French and German settlers) arrived in the Free State in search of more fertile land. In 1936, the Boere that were fleeing British rule in the Cape Colony (in and around the region of Cape Town), arrived in this area too. After negotiations with the African inhabitants, these ones were given the area of land between the Vet and Vaal rivers. Soon, however, the Boere and the Zulus began to fight over territory, and the Zulus were eventually defeated in 1837.
The Free State is close to the commercial capital of South Africa, Johannesburg, taking a drive of about three to four hours. It is 634 km from the coastal town of Durban and just over 1000 km from Cape Town.
Bloemfontein has a busy airport that is only 15 km from the city centre. This airport flies nationally and is supported by South Africa's official airline, SAA. For international flights, the nearest airport is OR Tambo in Johannesburg.
The roads in the Free State are generally safe and the signage good. There are taxis or cabs, and hired cars are available. Visitors are advised not to make use of the minibus taxis unless they are familiar with the local languages and customs. These vehicles are not always roadworthy.
The natural beauty and charm of this area has lured travellers from all over the world. It also holds much historical import, as is evidenced by the numerous remnants of rock art, left by ancient Bushmen. The Eastern Highlands are home to many of these, as well as stunning sandstone mounds and traditional Sotho houses.
The northeast boasts the stunning Maluti Mountains that are guaranteed to humble even the most sceptical. This area is where the popular Golden Gate Highlands National Park is situated. Here, tourists and locals enjoy the plethora of fauna and flora that are distinctly African. The rare vulture and ibis, as well as the Black Wildebeest, Oribi, Springbok and Burchell's Zebra are amongst the fascinating residents.
South Africa's summer extends from December to March and winter from June to August. The Free State is particularly hot and dry, with sunshine for almost 340 days per year! The summers are hot with afternoon thundershowers, which cool and refresh the earth. Winters are cold, particularly in the morning and evening, but do not experience as much rain as other areas of the country. Summers reach over 30 degrees Celsius at noon, while the maximum temperature on a winter's day averages at about 8 degrees.
The Free State is considered to be a low-risk area in terms of Malaria incidents. It is advised, though, that you consult with your tour operator and travel clinic regarding your trip as some of the nearby game farms and regions have been susceptible to infection. Even in areas where Malaria is not a factor, it is wise to use insect repellent and to sleep under a mosquito net.
Sunscreen is essential, particularly in the Free State, which experiences so much sunshine. In addition, wear sunglasses, a sunhat and light clothing that covers your neck, shoulders, arms and legs.
Visitors are urged to remember their prescriptions for spectacles and medication so that they can restock at a local pharmacy, rather than having to get another prescription, at extra cost, from a doctor.
It is wise to ensure that tetanus shots are up-to-date as some areas are fraught with litter, including broken glass, cans and metal.
There are many hiking and walking trails available in this area of South Africa. Make sure that you are able to enjoy these safely and responsibly. Take along plenty of sunscreen, as well as water. Have a fully charged mobile phone with you, as well as the number of the local emergency services. It is also wise to take flares and matches or a lighter.
As with any other destination, there are areas within the cities that are not safe. Consult with your tour operator and/or hotel so that you may be aware of which places to avoid. When walking around the city or using public transport (including tour busses), be aware of your personal belongings. Do not leave anything unattended, and do not accept help from strangers if it requires handing over your bank cards, photographic equipment, etc…