South Africa has been aptly described as a microcosm of the world, a place where civilisations meet. The amazing views, stunning wildlife and unbeatable biodiversity in contrast with its bustling modern cities, and vibrant economy. South Africa is often described as “A world in one country.”
The country has more than 290 conservation parks. It is home to almost 300 mammal species, and about 860 bird species, and 8 000 plant species. The annual sardine run is the biggest migration on the planet.
Location of South Africa
South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa. It is bounded on the south by 2,798 kilometres of coastline of Southern Africa stretching along the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans on the north by the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe; and on the east and northeast by Mozambique and Swaziland; and surrounds the kingdom of Lesotho.
South Africa is the 25th-largest country in the world by land area, with close to 56 million people, is the world’s 24th-most populous nation and the largest in Southern Africa. It is the southernmost country on the mainland of the Old World or the Eastern Hemisphere. About 80 percent of South Africans are of Sub-Saharan African ancestry, divided among a variety of ethnic groups speaking different Bantu languages, nine of which have official status. The remaining population consists of Africa’s largest communities of European (white), Asian (Indian), and multiracial (coloured) ancestry.
South Africa has a wide variety of cultures, languages, and religions. Its pluralistic makeup is reflected in the constitution’s recognition of 11 official languages, which is among the highest number of any country in the world. Two of these languages are of European origin: Afrikaans developed from Dutch and serves as the first language of most white and coloured South Africans; English reflects the legacy of British colonialism, and is commonly used in public and commercial life, though it is fourth-ranked as a spoken first language.
South Africa – Before 1994
The country is one of the few in Africa never to have had a coup d’état, and regular elections have been held for almost a century. However, the vast majority of black South Africans were not enfranchised until 1994. During the 20th century, the black majority sought to recover its rights from the dominant white minority, with this struggle playing a large role in the country’s recent history and politics. The National Party imposed apartheid in 1948, institutionalising previous racial segregation. After a long and sometimes violent struggle by the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid activists both inside and outside the country, discriminatory laws began to be repealed or abolished from 1990 onwards.
South Africa – After 1994
All ethnic and linguistic groups have held political representation in the country’s democracy, which comprises a parliamentary republic and nine provinces. South Africa is often referred to as the “Rainbow nation” to describe the country’s multicultural diversity, especially in the wake of apartheid.
The World Bank classifies South Africa as an upper-middle-income economy, and a newly industrialised country. Its economy is the second-largest in Africa, and the 34th-largest in the world. In terms of purchasing power parity. South Africa has the seventh-highest per capita income in Africa. However, poverty and inequality remain widespread, with about a quarter of the population unemployed and living on less than US$1.25 a day. Nevertheless, South Africa has been identified as a middle power in international affairs, and maintains significant regional influence.
Where To Go in South Africa
Cape Town: one of the world’s most beautiful cities
An unbeatable blend of stunning natural beauty and year-round fun makes Cape Town an easy city to fall in love with. For starters there are the beaches – so many you’ll struggle to single out a favourite – and then there’s hiking on iconic Table Mountain, the penguins of Boulders Beach, the ever-popular V&A Waterfront, the nearby Cape Winelands and picnics and concerts at Kirstenbosch Gardens.
Add to this a superb selection of accommodation, award-winning food and wine experiences plus a colourful collection of friendly locals and you’ll soon see why this captivating city was recently voted the “World’s #1 Travel Destination” (Trip Advisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, 2011).
Kruger Park: phenomenal Big 5 game viewing
South Africa’s largest and best known reserve, the Kruger National Park is home to the country’s greatest diversity of wildlife and includes the super-celebrities of the safari circuit: Africa’s Big 5.
Why pick Kruger for your South Africa safari? It’s where to go in South Africa for guaranteed big game sightings, there’s accommodation to suit every style and budget, and being so well connected by air, you can easily round off your Big 5 safari with a few days on Cape Town’s beautiful beaches or even a tropical island off the Mozambique coast.
Garden Route: beaches, forests & seaside towns
South Africa’s Garden Route is a natural playground of soft sand, warm sea, shady indigenous forest and laid-back little towns. Families will love the safe swimming beaches around Plettenberg Bay; adventurers can go hiking, horse riding or dolphin spotting; romantics can dine at restaurants overlooking Knysna’s peaceful lagoon (ask for the oysters!) and the wide selection of accommodation caters for everyone.
Cape Winelands: vineyard-clad valleys close to Cape Town
The green valleys and Alpine-style mountains of the Cape Winelands are a treat for both eye and palate: sip, swirl and sample award-winning wines, indulge in gourmet cuisine, or wander down oak-lined streets to local art galleries, all to a stunningly scenic backdrop. Although only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, we guarantee that a night or two in this peaceful patchwork of vineyards and mountains will dissolve any lingering city stress.
Sun City: Africa’s premier holiday resort
Under three hours from Johannesburg lies South Africa’s undisputed ‘Kingdom of Pleasure’ – Sun City. If you’re looking for true escapism and non-stop entertainment then this is without question where to go – there are championship golf courses and world-class casinos, a slide-filled water park plus nightclubs, shops, restaurants … they’ve even built their own beach! And if that’s not enough, Sun City is right next to the Pilanesberg Big 5 Game Reserve.
Eastern Cape: malaria-free Big 5 safaris
For an exciting and stress-free family safari the Eastern Cape is hard to beat: a combination of child-friendly lodges in malaria-free reserves within driving distance of the Garden Route means an unforgettable family holiday. But it’s not just families who get to have all the fun in the Eastern Cape: these Big 5 reserves also have a handful of secluded, luxurious lodges that are among our favourites for a romantic safari away from crowds and kids.
KwaZulu-Natal: beaches, safaris & historic battlefields
It’s often said that locals know best, and when South Africans go on holiday their top choice is often the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). From the broad beaches of the sunny KwaZulu-Natal subtropical coast and the luxury accommodation of its big game reserves to its soaring mountain peaks and historic battlefields – KZN is where to go in South Africa for game viewing, bird watching, adventure, history and on-the-beach relaxation.
Pilanesberg Game Reserve: great game viewing & close to Sun City
Once a volcanic crater, the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s best wildlife destinations and is centred around a large hippo and croc-filled lake. Although conveniently close to Sun City, these two top destinations feel words apart: some visitors choose to stay in Sun City and pop across for a half-day safari, but with such great Big 5 game viewing on offer plus a wide choice of excellent safari lodges, we’d highly recommend a night or two in this beautiful piece of African wilderness.
Madikwe Game Reserve: Big 5 game viewing away from the crowds
About a 3-hour drive or short charter flight from Johannesburg lies one of South Africa’s least known large reserves: Madikwe Private Game Reserve. Its Kalahari grasslands and woodlands are surprisingly full of animals and one of the best places to see the highly endangered African wild dog plus the Big 5. What’s more, if you’re looking for a family safari, the great news is that Madikwe lies outside the malarial belt and offers excellent family-friendly lodges as well as romantic retreats and honeymoon suites.
Johannesburg: restaurants, museums & an electric energy
Until recently most visitors to South Africa would whiz through Johannesburg, stopping just long enough to catch their connecting flight. Nowadays, however, Johannesburg (or Jozi as it’s known to the locals) is undergoing a revival and has become a destination in its own right with a fantastic selection of hotels and guest houses, a thriving café culture and thrumming night life. Catch the ultra-modern Gautrain straight from the airport to the heart of Sandton with its shining shopping centres filled with high-end boutiques, and give your credit card a good workout. Finally, for greater insight into South Africa’s recent past we’d highly recommend a visit to the Apartheid Museum – it’s a highly informative and moving experience.