The Republic of South Africa used to be perhaps best-known for its political history. Today it is a country with many assets and the developments and improvements are noticeable on an almost daily basis.
Spending your holiday in South Africa might include being introduced to various cultures, enjoying a change of landscape, from deserts to vineyards, experiencing the adventure of going on safari, hiking in enormous mountain-ranges, choosing outdoor activities from a long list of possibilities or relaxing on the beach. This diverse and fascinating country is indeed a “world in one country”.
South Africa is situated on the southern edge of the African continent. In the west, South Africa borders on the Atlantic Ocean, in the north and northeast on Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Swaziland. In the east you will find the Indian Ocean. In the middle there is the little kingdom of Lesotho. The country is divided into nine provinces each of which have their own defining characteristics.
The Western Cape is situated in the far south west of South Africa. The Cape Flats sandy soil and the Mediterranean climate make it perfect for the cultivation of grapes and stone fruit. The Western Cape is also home to the World’s smallest, but most bio-diverse ecosystem, the Cape Floral kingdom which includes Fynbos plants such as the exotic King Protea.
One of the main geological highlights of the Western Cape is the impressive Cango Caves which are situated in the Swartberg Mountains near Oudtshoorn. The caves are renowned for their beautiful natural sculptures that have been carved out of limestone over the millennia.
The Eastern Cape is the second largest province in South Africa and it is known for its wild coastline characterised by its rugged cliffs and long stretches of un-spoilt beaches. The southern coastline of is covered by a beautiful temperate rainforest called Tsitsikamma which forms part of the Garden Route.
The interior region is called the Great Karoo which is hot and dry and famous for producing the famous South African Karoo lamb. The region experiences great extremes of temperature which has created the regions unique vegetation of plants such as aloes, and euphorbia’s that can survive with very little water.
The Karoo is also known for its fossil history which stretches back in time 560 million years. There is a well known dinosaur fossil site near Kirkwood where the first complete dinosaur skeleton was found. Visitors can walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs and set out on guided fossil hunting expeditions.
The Northern Cape is South Africa’s largest province and it is known for its vast open spaces. The provinces most famous as the site of South Africa’s diamond rush when diamonds were found at Kimberly in 1866 and personalities such as Cecil John Rhodes made their fortunes in the town.
The northern areas of the province form the start of the Kalahari Desert which has red sand dunes interspersed with bands of savannah. This includes the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park which forms part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, an international park which is shared with neighbouring Botswana. Discover the beauty of this dry landscape as you search for the parks namesake the Gemsbok, or the elusive Black-maned lion.
In spring the western coastal region of Namaqualand is transformed from a semi desert into an Eden with fields of wildflowers carpeting the landscape in brilliant colours in one of the most spectacular transformations on the planet.
South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province lies in the southeast of the country. It is roughly the size of Portugal and has a long shoreline on the Indian Ocean. It shares borders with Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho.
The province has three distinct regions with the lowlands along the coast crisscrossed with nay deep ravines and rivers. This area is subtropical in nature and known as a sugar producing region. The Midlands has grassy plains and undulating hills reminiscent of the English countryside with many farms. The land gradually rises up to the dramatic peaks of the Lebombo and Drakensberg Mountain ranges.
The province is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the uKhalamba Drakensberg Park. iSimagaliso known for its incredible bio-diversity in a small area. The uKhalamba Drakensberg Park was declared a heritage site due to its exceptional natural beauty and it being the site of the largest collection of rock paintings south of the Sahara. Both iSimangaliso and the Drakensberg are the home to wetlands which are of great importance to migratory birds.
The Free State lies at the heart of South Africa and shares a border with an independent country Lesotho. The province is known for its flat rolling fields and rich agricultural land which have given rise to the nickname the breadbasket of South Africa. The province contains the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Vredefort Dome which forms part of a meteor impact site formed when 10km wide meteor slammed into the ground.
In summer one of the attractions in the Free State is going cherry picking on one of the farms around the town of Fricksburg which produces 90% of South Africa’s cherry crop. Another popular attraction in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park which gets its name from the golden colour of the sunshine reflecting of the soaring sandstone cliffs of the Brandwag or Sentinel Rock.
Gauteng is South Africa’s smallest province but contributes 10% to the GDP of the entire continent of Africa. The name aptly means “place of gold” and is estimated to be home to 40% of the world’s gold reserves. Although it is the smallest province it has the highest population density in South Africa and is mostly urbanised. The sprawling cities of Johannesburg and South Africa’s capital city Pretoria have just about joined up.
The O.R. Tambo International Airport is many visitors gateway into South Africa as most international flights land here. The province is the most affluent in South Africa and is a melting pot of cultures blending modern and traditional practices. No visit to the province should go without a visit to Soweto a vibrant township where much of the struggle against the Apartheid regime took place.
Gauteng is also home to another of South Africa’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Cradle of Humankind at Sterkfontein. Caves in this area have produced some of the highest concentrations of hominid fossils which provide evidence for human evolution hence the name Cradle of Humankind.
North West Province
The Northwest Province shares a border with Botswana to the north, Gauteng to the east and the Free State to the south. It is one of the major producers of platinum in the world.
The country is made up mostly of flat grassland scattered with thorny trees making this ideal cattle county. Indeed some of the largest cattle herds in the world can be found here. The province is also home to some of South Africa’s major tourist attractions such as Sun City, Pilanesberg National Park and the Madikwe Game Reserve.
Sun City is the Las Vegas of Africa with casinos, world class hotels, theatres and an 18-hole golf course on the edge of the Pilanesberg National Park. The region is malaria free making the Madike Game Reserve and Pilanesberg National Park great destinations for a family safari holiday.
The Mpumalanga Province is best known for its wildlife, scenic beauty and coal production. The province lies in the northeast of the country bordering Mozambique and Swaziland to the east and Gauteng to the west.
The highlands are characterised by grasslands on a high plateau that end in an immense escarpment before dropping dramatically down through thickly forested ravines and beautiful waterfalls to the Lowveldt.
The hotter Lowveldt lots of tropical fruit such as avocados, citrus, litchis and bananas are cultivated. The province includes the Blyde River Canyon, the largest Green Canyon in the World. Many visitors come to Mpumalanga to admire its breathtaking views. The province includes the southern half of the world famous Kruger National Park which has the greatest diversity of animals of all the parks in South Africa.
The Limpopo Province is located in the far north of South Africa sharing borders with Botswana to the west, Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the east. It shares provincial borders with Mpumalanga, Gauteng and the North West Province. It takes its name from the Limpopo River which demarcates the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
It is home to the northern half of the Kruger National Park as well as many private wildlife farms. The terrain is diverse and changes from one region to another from savannah grasslands to tropical forests and semi-deserts, creating varied habitats that are home to a great diversity of animal life. The region is characterised by savannah grasslands. The Drakensberg Mountain range which stretches all the way down to KwaZulu Natal begins in the province and there are many hiking and biking trails in the province.
The Limpopo Province is one of the most culturally diverse provinces in the country. The Capricorn region in the centre of the province is home to the Bapedi people, the Waterberg region is home to the Batswana people. The Vembe area in the northern reaches of the province is home to the Vhavenda and Vatsonga people.
South Africa is known for its ethnic diversity and with 11 official languages, the country’s melting pot of cultures often astonishes visitors.
Often referred to as the ‘Rainbow Nation’, South Africa is home to a fascinating mix of citizens. There are the Nguni (comprising the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Sazi people), the San people, the Sotho Stana, the Tsonga and the Venda. Then there are the people of Europeans, as well as people of mixed raced and Asian descent. There are also hybrid mixtures of different cultures, and an overarching South African culture which ensures that, no matter what a person’s cultural heritage, they are, at heart, proudly South African. Indeed, as South Africa’s democracy evolves, it is becoming a more diverse but integrated country and cultural diversity continues to be one of its strongest assets.
South Africa’s cultural diversity is expressed in a number of ways, one of the most prominent of is the different cultural influences on that goes into the food that we eat. One of the national dishes, a ‘bobotie’ is Malay in origin while Indian curries are also a favourite. Nothing is more South African than a braai, whether it is snoek on the coals or a ‘shisa nyama’ in Manguang (Bloemfontein). South Africans also love their baked rusks from the Afrikaans kitchen, the bunny show from the corner shop and their pap (maize porridge).
South Africa has a depth of history and culture that is untainted and unsurpassable. Whether you are visiting magical Table Mountain, Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was kept prisoner for 27 years, the Cango caves, the Cradle of Human Kind in Gauteng which is the world’s most important fossil site, the Wine Routes of the Western Cape, or the sleepy coastal and rural towns to learn from the locals, your experience is bound to be authentic and you will be touched and educated.
If you’re of a botanical bent, you’ll never want to leave South Africa. We have the third-highest level of biodiversity in the world, and ours is the only country to contain an entire floral kingdom.
The Cape Peninsula National Park has more plant species within its 22 000 hectares than the whole British Isles or New Zealand. Some 18 000 species of vascular plant (plants with vessels for bearing sap) occur within South Africa’s boundaries, of which 80% occur nowhere else.
Our incredible biodiversity is due to our unique physical features. Most of the country is situated on a high-lying plateau, between two very different oceans.The Indian Ocean, on the east, is warmed by the Mozambique or Agulhas Current which flows down from the tropics, while the Atlantic, on the west coast, is cooled by the icy Benguela Current which comes up from the Antarctic.
These two different oceans, the prevailing wind and the topography of South Africa combine to create lush forests and subtropical savanna on the east coast, gradually changing to desert or semi-desert on the west coast. It has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, windy summers and cool, moist winters, creating a unique floral assemblage, known as fynbos locally, but internationally referred to as the Cape Floral Kingdom.
Although lacking the spectacular array of flowering plants of the fynbos, the rest of the country has much to offer too. Afro-montane forests and grasslands grace the eastern escarpment, and lush coastal forests cloak the rugged Garden Route and Tsitsikamma coasts.
The semi-desert regions have an incredible amount and variety of succulent plants – one-third of the world’s succulent plant species occur in South Africa – many of which have a brief but bright flowering season.
You can enjoy our botanical riches in the many national parks and botanical reserves or just on the side of the road. The flower season in the Western Cape is in spring – August and September, when specialist flower-viewing trips are run and almost every small town has a flower show.
South Africa is a subtropical region, moderated by ocean on two sides of the triangle-shaped country and the altitude of the interior plateau. These account for the warm, temperate conditions so typical of South Africa – and so popular with its foreign visitors.
South Africa is famous for its sunshine. It’s a relatively dry country, with an average annual rainfall of about 464mm; the world average is about 860mm. While Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is generally a summer-rainfall region.
Temperatures in South Africa tend to be lower than in other countries at similar latitudes – such as Australia – mainly because of its greater elevation above sea level.
On the interior plateau, the altitude – Johannesburg lies at 1 694 metres – keeps the average summer temperatures below 30°C. In winter, for the same reason, night- time temperatures can drop to freezing point, and lower in some places.
South Africa’s coastal regions have the warmest winter temperatures in the country. There is, however, a striking contrast between temperatures on two different coasts, a result of the warm eastern Agulhas current and cold western Benguela current that sweep the coastlines.
In the southern hemisphere our seasons are opposite to those of Europe and North America, so, yes – we spend Christmas on the beach!
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Currency: The currency unit is Rand, R1=100cents. The banks and exchange control are well organised institutions and South Africa does not have an unofficial parallel market. You can exchange your currency in any bank with a foreign exchange department, in foreign exchange agencies and most of the larger hotels. Currency exchange rates can be found in the daily newspapers or are available at the bank.
There are 11 official languages, English, Afrikaans, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
You can communicate quite easily in English in most parts of the country. The Afrikaans language, developed from Dutch, has assimilated many words and expressions from languages such as Malayan and Portuguese and also from many African languages.
Food & Drinks:
Due to the many international influences, South Africa offers a large variety of food and drink. Wine is, of course, a well known export from the Cape. In Durban you will find a large choice of Indian cuisine and in the restaurants near the coast lots of fresh line-fish (catch of the day) is available. But Greek, Italian and Chinese restaurants are easy to find and most of the fast food chains are present.
Around Durban the specialities are mainly (hot) curries from India. In the Cape the influence of the Malayan kitchen is noticeable in boboties and sosaties. Game meat is often offered and a ‘braaivleis’ (BBQ) is very popular. Potjiekos is a complete meal consisting of meat, potatoes, onions and vegetables prepared in one cast iron pot and is cooked on an open fire. Beer is probably the national drink and can only be bought in the liquor stores. Wine is of exceptional quality and can be bought in the supermarkets. On Sundays some shops selling alcohol will be closed by law. Water is safe to drink in all parts of the country. Water can safely be taken from the tap but don’t drink water from rivers or dams. If for some reason the water is unsafe (bore-hole water) the visitor will be informed or advised in advance. Fruit and vegetable juices are usually available in supermarkets.
1 Jan New Year
21 Mar Human Rights Day
Flexible Good Friday
Flexible Easter Sunday and Easter Monday
27 Apr Freedom Day
1 May Labour Day
16 Jun Youth Day
9 Aug National Womens Day
24 Sep Heritage Day
16 Dec Day of Reconciliation
25 Dec Christmas Day
26 Dec Day of Goodwill
The currency unit is Rand, R1=100cents. The banks and exchange control are well organised institutions and South Africa does not have an unofficial parallel market. You can exchange your currency in any bank with a foreign exchange department, in foreign exchange agencies and most of the larger hotels. Currency exchange rates can be found in the daily newspapers or are available at the bank. When using a bank ATM please read the selections on the machines carefully so you choose the correct option and language. It is recommended to only use an ATM which is outside a bank, so you can ask the bank for assistance if there is a problem. In most tourist areas you can also use your credit or debit card to pay. Sometimes an extra percentage will be charged to cover administration fees.
Although many garages are now able to accept credit cards for fuel payments not all offer this facility so please ensure you ask before filling up and if necessary that you do have cash on you to pay for your petrol.
The medical services in South Africa are good. Doctors and hospitals can be found in all areas and in most of the larger towns or cities there will be a choice between a state hospital and a private hospital. The private hospitals are up to date and usually equipped with the latest medical equipment and are more expensive than state hospitals.
Many European countries do not need a tourist visa for South Africa. You need to check with your local travel agent to check if you require a visa to enter South Africa.
Johannesburg/Tambo International Airport.
Cape Town International Airport.
Durban International Airport.
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport.