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10 Best Gifts to Buy in South Africa

When you’re about to swan off to some exotic location, it’s all too easy to make wild promises to all and sundry that you’ll bring them back a present from Paris or a gift from the Galapagos Islands.

Or, for that matter, something special from South Africa.

But, honestly, as much as you love your friends and family, who wants to go shopping for other people when it’s YOUR holiday? And what on earth can you buy?

We’ve tried to take some of the pain out of present-buying with this list for those of you visiting ‘sunny South Africa’ and needing to take gifts back for the poor suckers you left behind in rainy Europe. Here are our top 10 must-buys you simply have to get during your visit:

1. For your lover / husband / wife

Amarula is South Africa’s best-loved liqueur, made from the exotic Marula fruit. It's great served over vanilla ice cream, on the rocks, in coffee, or even as body paint for an after dinner, ‘welcome home babe’ treat. The gold label showing an elephant adds to the ‘African-ness’ of the gift.

2. For mom

Pamper mom with a range of skincare and beauty products made from SA's world renowned Rooibos Tea. Contact African Extracts for details of their products and store locations.

3. For your dad / uncle / father-in-law

A bottle of fine South African wine will be appreciated by most of the gentlemen in your life. Don’t forget about gifts while enjoying a day in the Cape Winelands – you’ll be able to hand over the welcome gift with a story of the estate where you bought it. Most wines sold in the Winelands will be wrapped for travel at your request. Find out from your travel agent / airline what the rules are for travelling with alcohol in advance to avoid confiscations at check-in. Take it round when you go have dinner on your return so you can enjoy a glass with the lucky recipient.

4. For your BFF

You'll want to get something extra special for your closest friend. How about some unique and exquisite beaded jewellery pieces, designed and hand made by Anna Richerby and her team from Beloved Beadwork, at Montebello Art Centre in Newlands? This is both quintessentially South African and beautiful - something they'll be sure to cherish.

5. For the little ones

A wire push-along car makes a great gift for the little boy in your life – if you can fit it into the luggage! South Africa is also renowned for its wide range of unique children’s clothing at stores such as Naartjie. You’ll be able to find something adorable and different for the 0 to 10 year olds in your family. Visit the website or head for the factory store in Hout Bay.

6. For the teens

Teens love cool clothes. Don’t fall into the trap of buying poor quality tourist T-shirts with naff wording such as ‘My Mom went to South Africa and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’ blazoned across it. For super cool, public-designed T's, check out uber-trendy Springleap.com’s offerings and for wearable satire, SA-style, look out for Laugh it Off’s social commentary T’s that deliver a message with a smile.

7. For trendy friends

South Africa is renowned for its arts and crafts created by local talent. I love these papier-mâché bowls made from pilchard tin labels which will surely add some shack-chic to your trendy friend’s London loft. Great for keeping keys in, or those bits and bobs around the house that don't have anywhere to go. Buy them at the Pan African Market, incidentally an excellent place for Africana crafts of all kinds.

Alternately, how about a colourful chicken made from recycled plastic bags? Hey, if Obama can hang a chandelier made from South African rubbish in the White House it’s clearly cool to feature recycled SAffer garbage in your home – and it’ll add some colour to a blah, Zen type interior fo' sho. Plus, you’re supporting fair trade and keeping the planet green.

8. For someone you need to impress

Think: future mom-in-law, boss, major client… Buy a piece of homeware from Carrol Boyes, our very own designer and creator of divine and unusual, handmade, avant-garde kitchen utensils and home accessories. You can buy in gift stores throughout SA, or online.

9. For colleagues

Probably the hardest group to buy for, but you rashly promised everyone a taste of SA and you can’t go back to the office empty handed. I wanted to suggest biltong, but flying with food, unless purchased at duty free stores at the airport, is often problematic.

I recommend something cheap and cheerful for this group, such as the bead and wire key rings sold throughout SA at roadside stalls and traffic light intersections. Colourful, fun and typically South African, as well as useful and usually inexpensive, these make fun gifts for colleagues you’d like to show you thought about while you were away relaxing and they were picking up the slack in your absence.

10. For yourself

You have to do it – you know you do. You have to get the ubiquitous wooden giraffe. Don’t fight the urge. It’s like buying a marionette in Prague or a hubbly bubbly in the Middle East: the pain of lugging it around airports and trying to stash it on planes will be worth it for the whimsical conversation piece and large as life memory-stirrer it will become in your lounge back home.

Now you know exactly what you need to be on the hunt for when it comes to the perfect gifts on your trip to South African shores. Happy travelling and happy shopping!