South Africa Panorama Photo

Guide to South Africa

Where is South Africa?

South Africa is a large country that occupies the entire southern tip of the African Continent. It has a long coastline with the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It is bordered to the north by Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia. Lesotho is a landlocked country within the boundaries of South Africa.

What is South Africa?

South Africa is a Republic and a parliamentary democracy. The current president is Jacob Zuma. There are three capitals of South Africa- the legislative capital of Cape Town, the executive capital of Pretoria and the judicial capital of Bloemfontein. Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa.

Why go to South Africa?

South Africa has a booming economy which makes it ideal for business travellers. The country is a major exporter of both diamonds and gold and the world famous diamond company De Beers originated in South Africa.

In terms of tourism South Africa is also thriving and another of the country's major exports - wine - is also a draw for visitors who can take tours of the famous Capelands vineyards. With miles of coastline and beaches South Africa has amazing water sports, particularly surfing. But of course the main reason why tourists go to South Africa is for safaris and the country has all of the Big Five Game animals - lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and rhinos. In fact South Africa can even claim to have a Big Seven with whales and great white sharks included. With over 20,000 species of plants as well, South Africa is rated as one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world.

South Africa is also a popular winter destination for tourists. As it is in the southern hemisphere South Africa has its summer when people in Europe and North America are experiencing winter.

Who lives in South Africa?

South Africa has a hugely varied population with many different tribes and that is why there are 11 languages spoken there. One of those languages is Swahili which is spoken by the Zulu tribe. Meanwhile Afrikaans is the adopted language of the early colonial settlers who were mostly Dutch.  Today approximately 79% of the population is black, 9% is white and 9% is coloured. South Africa has a massive unemployment crisis with around 25% of the population being out of work and many living below the poverty index. This in turn has led the country to have a substantial crime problem. However the majority of visitors to South Africa are safe as long as they stay out of the townships at night.

How do you get into South Africa

1)By Air
While countries such as Cyprus, Thailand and Poland do not need a visa to get into South Africa, countries such as Ireland, Uruguay and Zimbabwe do need a visa. Check with your consulate before travelling, visas are not issued upon arrival. Your passport must have two back to back blank pages and it must be valid for 30 days after you intend to arrive. If you are applying for a visa while in South Africa then be sure to leave plenty of time as the country is very bureaucratic and known for being inefficient.
There are 10 international airports in South Africa but the most used ones are Cape Town airport and Tambo airport in Johannesburg. They offer direct flights to all of the major cities in Europe including Paris, Amsterdam and London. South Africa also has lots of domestic flights within the country.

2)By Land
You can drive from any of the neighbouring countries into South Africa with the appropriate documentation including passport, driving licence, vehicle registration and proof of insurance. For more information on driving in South Africa see our Drive Smart South Africa page. There are also various bus services including SA Roadlink and Greyhound. Numerous train journeys can be organised through the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa.

3)By Sea
South Africa offers some cruise ship routes and individual ships going to various destinations.

What to do in South Africa

The main reason most people visit South Africa is to see the extensive range of wildlife which includes animals such as zebras and baboons as well as the Big Five game animals. The Kruger National Park is the most famous game park.

Marvel at the iconic city of Cape Town. The distinct Table Mountain looms over a cosmopolitan city which is famous for its beaches and upmarket neighbourhoods. Nearby is Robben Island which was where cultural icon Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for a quarter of a century.

South Africa is one of the world’s foremost producers of New World wine and wine tasting tours are very popular.

Archaeologists will find some of the oldest sites of human habitation ever discovered in the world in South Africa. This is truly where man began.

What to do in South Africa

See some live sport. South Africa is sports mad and hosted the football world cup in 2010 after hosting and winning the 1995 Rugby world cup. The country also has a consistently high performing cricket team.

Scuba diving in South Africa is very rewarding but conditions can be tricky and are more suitable for experienced divers.

At the border with Namibia, river rafting on the Orange River is divine. Watch out for crocs and hippos though!

See classical music performed with an African flavour by the Soweto String Quartet. The most popular new music genre is Kwaito.

See the elephants at Kruger National Park

Elephant in Kruger National Park

Rugby in South Africa

Rugby in South Africa

Quick facts
Government  Constitutional parliamentary republic
Prime Minister  
Population  49,991,300
Date Format  
Drives on the  Left
Internet TLD  .za
Dialling Code  +27
Time Zone  UTC +2
Currency  ZAR

South Africa Public Holidays

Family Day

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