Why We Love South Africa

The Republic of South Africa offers a great introduction to the many jewels of the Dark Continent. Tourists here will find classic African scenery: golden savannah, great gaping gorges, and hauntingly beautiful deserts, as well as their favorite African creatures – and, as a bonus- the creature comforts. Apart from the big-name game parks of Kruger and the Kgalagadi (Kalahari) Transfrontier Park, Wildlife lovers come here from all corners of the globe in search of the “Big Five”: lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino, and elephant, and often they find it, and so much more.

Top Destinations in South Africa

Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park is one of the world's most famous safari parks. One of the oldest game reserves in South Africa, the park is a four-hour drive from Johannesburg and offers visitors the chance to see the "Big Five": lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino, as well as an astounding diversity of other wildlife. It's also home to bushman rock paintings and archaeological sites. Visitors can explore Kruger on the large network of sealed roads; organize a walking safari; or soar over the vast grasslands, gallery forests, and river systems in a hot air balloon.

Cape Town

One of the planet's most breathtaking cities, Cape Town is, by population, the second largest settlement in South Africa. Nature surrounds this multicultural city, which nuzzles between a rugged range of mountains and the sea. For a spectacular overview, hike to the peak of flat-topped Table Mountain, or glide up on the cableway. One of Cape Town's top attractions is the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Reminiscent of Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, visitors come here to shop, dine, and enjoy the many entertainment venues.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

A merger of South Africa's Kalahari Gemsbok National Park and Botswana's Gemsbok National Park, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the largest wilderness areas in the world. Gnarled camel thorn trees, red sands, golden grasslands, and deep blue skies provide a bold backdrop for photographs and game viewing. Among the huge diversity of wildlife, this vast conservation area is home to the famous black-maned Kalahari lion, stately gemsbok with their V-shaped horns, the sprawling nests of sociable weavers, meerkats, and many birds of prey. Other predators such as leopard, cheetah, and hyenas are also found here.

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch is one of the most picturesque towns in South Africa. A mosaic of farms, old oak trees, and white-washed Cape Dutch dwellings, Stellenbosch is one of the best preserved towns from the era of the Dutch East India Company. Today, it's a university town with a vibrant feel and fantastic scenery. Stellenbosch is home to some of South Africa's best restaurants as well as many sidewalk cafes.

The Garden Route

Along the country's southeast coast, the Garden Route runs for about 200 kilometers through some of South Africa's most breathtaking coastal scenery. The route stretches along the Indian Ocean from Mossel Bay, in the Western Cape, to the Storms River, in the Eastern Cape. This popular driving route passes through rolling green hills, pretty coastal towns, lagoons, lakes, and coastal cliffs.

Robben Island

In Table Bay, World-Heritage-listed Robben Island is a haunting reminder of the horrors of apartheid. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years imprisoned in a tiny cell here along with other political dissidents and social misfits. Perhaps the best part about this experience is that ex-prisoners are usually the guides, sharing poignant first-hand accounts of the atrocities they endured. Tours to the island begin with multimedia exhibits in the museum at the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Sightseers then board boats to Robben Island, often braving rough swells on the 30-45-minute ride. Be sure to book early as the tours can fill up fast.

Durban

Durban's sweeping waterfront promenade, the Golden Mile, is a legendary tourist magnet and a great starting point for a tour of the city. Long blond beaches lure swimmers, surfers, and anglers, while the bustling promenade feels like Miami Beach with its high-rise hotels, shops, restaurants, and flashy entertainment complexes. Visitors can stroll along here or rent a bike or Segway. Besides the beach scene, top attractions along this stretch include uShaka Marine World, a wonderland of sea-themed attractions; Moses Mabhida Stadium; and Mini Town, a tiny replica of Durban with a miniature rail network, airport, and harbor scene.

Johannesburg

Johannesburg, also known as Jo'burg, is the largest city in South Africa by population and a gateway for many travelers on safari. Named the "City of Gold" for its rich deposits of the precious metal, it's also the economic engine and vibrant heart of the country. Top historical attractions include the Apartheid Museum, a poignant look at the oppression of apartheid to the birth of democracy; Constitution Hill; and Gold Reef City, which traces the region's history through mining-themed attractions. If Johannesburg is the heart of South Africa, the shanty towns of Soweto, are its soul. An abbreviation for "southwestern townships," Soweto birthed the freedom movement, which created South Africa's new democratic constitution.

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Overview

More than 10 million visitors every year have made South Africa the vacation capital of the African continent. And why not? With its gorgeous beaches, rugged mountains and national parks teeming with wildlife, this is the Africa of the imagination.

The country’s national parks and wildlife preserves teem with an incredible variety of landscapes that are home to every manner of species ranging from lions and elephants to great white sharks and penguins. Those landscapes include rolling plains, towering mountain peaks, arid deserts, coastal shrubland and beautiful beaches.

The cities of South Africa are also eminently explorable. Underneath the iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town spreads out in a peaceful valley and offers gorgeous beaches, a diverse and vibrant collection of neighborhoods, wonderful vineyards and a cultural scene to rival any European capital. Johannesburg is equally cosmopolitan and in seaside Durban, the hot sun is matched by the equally piquant curries of that city’s large South Asian community.

Safari goers find ample destinations in South Africa. Leading the way is the massive Kruger National Park, where one can find the Big Five: lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos along with hundreds of other species in the wild.

And the people of South Africa, a nation still moving towards national unity, are quite a diverse lot. The country has 11 official languages and more than a dozen different tribal peoples living peacefully among communities from Africa, Europe and the Indian subcontinent.

It’s little wonder that South Africa today is known as the Rainbow Nation.

Quick Facts

The official languages are Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. English is the language of the cities, of commerce and banking, of government, of media, of road signs and official documents. Road signs and official forms are in English. Afrikaans, the second-most used language, is a derivative of Dutch.

The official currency of South Africa is the rand (R). One U.S. dollar is approximately equal to R 14.76.

Electricity in South Africa is 230V, 50hz. Plugs consist of two or three round prongs.

Internet connections and WiFi spots are found throughout the country. Most major hotels provide good accessibility.

Travellers from most Commonwealth countries (including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK), most Western European countries, Japan and the USA are issued with a free, 90-day visitor's permit on arrival.

High-quality tap (faucet) water is available in South Africa's urban areas, but not all water in rural areas is safe to drink straight from the tap.

South Africa is on South Africa Standard Time (GMT +2). The country does not observe daylight savings time. When it is noon in New York, it is 6 p.m. in Pretoria.

Although visitors arrive year-round, South Africa’s peak tourist season is in its summer months: December through March.

Average High and Low Temperatures

Things To Do in South Africa

Blyde River Canyon

Beautiful Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve (also called Motlatse River Canyon) is a favorite stop on the drive between Johannesburg and Kruger National Park. The park is home to Africa's second largest canyon as well as a rich diversity of wildlife and plants. Lush subtropical foliage, waterfalls, glistening rivers, and lichen-covered rock formations create a striking canvas of color and texture. Boat trips and whitewater rafting are also available on the rivers.

Dive with sharks

Climb into a thick iron cage, plunge into the ocean, and come face-to-face with a great white shark. Believe it or not, this is one of South Africa's top attractions - for thrill seekers. The best time to try the dive is April through October. Cape Town tour operators organize shark cage dives to areas such as Simon's Town, Seal Island, Dyer Island, Mossel Bay,and Gansbaai, the self-proclaimed "Great White Shark Capital of the World."

Drakensberg

Ancient Bushman paintings can be seen in many parts of South Africa, especially in the Drakensberg mountains. The Bushmen, or San, are thought to have been the first modern human inhabitants of southern Africa. Only a few thousand survive today, living mostly in the desert regions. Their art tells of their ancient lives, with particular emphasis on hunting and the animals around them.

Vineyards

Tourists may spend a day or more visiting the vineyards in Worcester, Paarl, Stellenbosch, Olifants River, Robertson, and other regions. Most wine estates offer tastings and several have excellent restaurants. Like the building in the picture, many of the estate houses and outbuildings are elegantly built in the Cape Dutch style of architecture.

Whale Watching

One of the best places to view breaching whales is at Hermanus, a few hours' drive from Cape Town. The town has its own whale crier, an official who keeps a lookout and blows a horn whenever whales come in to the bay, sometimes only yards away from the shore.

Table Mountain National Park

One of Africa's most famous landmarks, Table Mountain has welcomed seafarers to South Africa for centuries. The sandstone mountain is some two miles (three kilometers) wide and 3,500 feet (1,000 meters) high, offering magnificent views of Table Bay, Robben Island, and the Cape Town metro area, which completely encircles it. Visitors may hike to the top (a challenging climb that can take several hours) or ride a revolving cable car.

Shakaland

Get a glimpse of traditional Zulu life at the Shakaland Zulu Cultural Village, north of the city of Durban. Today the village is used as a showcase of traditional tribal life, staffed by guides and docents in traditional attire. Visitors may visit traditional huts and other structures in a Zulu village, drink traditional beer, watch dancing, and listen to Zulu folklore and history.

The Palace of the Lost City

Yes, it’s utterly kitsch, but also good fun. The Palace of the Lost City is a giant casino, entertainment, and leisure complex built in the bush. The theme of the resort is that it is a palace in the African jungle inhabited by a lost tribe of gentle people.The nearby Pilanesberg National Park is the third largest game reserve in South Africa and a good place to see big game and thousands of other animals in their natural wilderness setting.