South Africa occupies just over 1.2 million km², spanning about 1,600 km from north to south, and the same from east to west. It is roughly the size of France and Spain combined.
South Africa is the southernmost tip of Africa. To the North, is bordered by Botswana and Zimbabwe. From its desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast to its subtropical border with Mozambique on the Indian Ocean, South Africa’s coastline spans over 2,500 km. South Africa completely surrounds Lesotho and almost completely surrounds Swaziland.
There are nine provinces in South Africa;
- The Western Cape is arguably South Africa’s most popular tourist destination with its incredible beauty and diverse attractions such as the Table Mountain National Park and the Cape Peninsula, to mention a few. It is flanked by two dramatic oceans: the Atlantic to the west and the Indian to the south. The capital city, Cape Town is the province’s largest city with a population of approximately three million people. The entire province is home to about four and-a-half million people. It is also the country’s legislative capital.
- The Eastern Cape (capital city Bisho) is an untouched region that offers miles of white sandy beaches and the incredible, yet unforgiving terrain of the Baviaanskloof. It is flanked by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean and it is a popular holiday province thanks to its beautiful beaches (some wild and secluded), its game parks and semi-desert regions.
- The Northern Cape (capital city Kimberley) is one of the least populated of the South African provinces. The Northern Cape is known for its serene semi-desert landscapes, game reserves, wild flowers, diamond diggings and clear starry nights. Kimberley is home to the largest man-made hole in the world, the diamond mine known as the Big Hole. Covering 17 ha, it was closed as a working mine in 1914. The largest diamond ever found, the Cullinan, is a Kimberley diamond and the city pays tribute to its heritage in the form of an open mine museum, with a quaint museum village.
- The North West Province (capital city Mafikeng) offers visitors a great deal of diversity, from an authentic bush experience to boasting the spectacular, opulent gaming and holiday resort of Sun City, 170 km north of Johannesburg.
- The Free State (capital city Bloemfontein) offers wonderful panoramic landscapes and vistas, from the flat corn and sunflower fields to the dramatic sandstone canyons located on the Lesotho border. This landlocked province has a population of 2.7 million people and is known as the City of Roses.
- Gauteng (capital city Johannesburg) is the smallest province, but it has the highest population of 9.5 million people. Situated on the Highveld (a high plateau), it is bounded by the North West, Free State, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. Here in the heart of South Africa’s Highveld, highly urbanised Gauteng is the economic powerhouse of South Africa. The world’s richest goldfields are found here and are known as Igoli – the Place of Gold.
- KwaZulu-Natal - KZN (capital city Pietermaritzberg) has unspoilt coastlines and a rich cultural heritage. It is known as the kingdom of the Zulu and is one of South Africa’s premier holiday destinations. KZN is on the east coast and borders Mozambique, Swaziland and Mpumalanga to the north, Lesotho and the Free State to the west and the Eastern Cape to the south-west. A total of 9.3 million people live here.
- Mpumalanga (capital city Nelspruit), ‘the place where the sun rises’, lies in the eastern part of South Africa. About 3.2 million residents live in Mpumalanga. The province is characterised by stunning scenery (mountains, forests, canyons and wild animals) and its premier attraction is the Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest and most renowned national park. This famous game park, roughly the size of Wales, is easily one of the best in the world and one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country.
- Limpopo (capital city Polokwane), is an attractive, disparate landscape made up of dusty flat bushveld, rolling hills, lush savannah and dry bush. The ancient baobabs, lush wooded mountain valleys and scorching bushveld make this a place of romance and intrigue. Located in the northernmost province in the country, it is named after the Limpopo River, which forms the border between South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
History & Background
Nine of South Africa’s 11 official languages are African, reflecting the cultural and linguistic diversity of the African people, comprising of the Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swazi), the Sotho-Tswana (Southern, Northern and Western Sotho), the Tsonga and the Venda.
The white population – largely descendent from the Dutch, German, the British and French Huguenot, were colonial immigrants from the late seventeenth to the nineteenth century. These peoples are divided into English and Afrikaans speakers.
The so-called coloured people, who mostly speak Afrikaans, are of mixed race. The mixed race peoples are a combination of descendants from eastern and central African slaves, the Khoisan (indigenous people who were the earliest inhabitants of the Cape), Africans and white people.
The roots of the South African Asian population are Indian. They mainly speak English as their language of origin, and are traced back to indentured workers brought to work on the sugar plantations of the then Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) in the nineteenth century.
With so much ethnic diversity and a richly layered past, South African culture is far from homogenous. Rural culture is well represented and there are several cultural villages in which visitors can experience the traditional African way of life.
Nelson Mandela is one of the great moral and political leaders of our time. He is an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country.
After his release from Robben Island, Nelson Mandela, as the first democratically elected President of south Africa, received many gifts from the South African and international community. These gifts were in recognition and appreciation of the role he played in the struggle for peace, freedom and democracy in South Africa and the world.
Nelson Mandela accepted these gifts on behalf of the South African people and wished that the gifts be displayed for the benefit and appreciation of the nation, near his home village, Qunu – in the Eastern Cape. It is for this reason that the museum comprises the impressive Bhunga Building in Mthatha, the Qunu component and the open-air museum at Mvezo.
Safari Attraction in South Africa
The Western Cape offers a rich floral kingdom, pristine beaches, a globally renowned wine industry, award winning conference venues, hotels, restaurants and a unique history and heritage. Table Mountain dominates the cosmopolitan hub of Cape Town – known as ‘The Mother City’.
This province has a lot to offer. You can take a trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, enjoy a wine-tasting sojourn to the Winelands, soar to the top of Table Mountain on the aerial cableway or simply bask on one of the many Blue Flag beaches.
You can go further afield and visit the West Coast National Park, enjoy a gourmet safari along the Garden Route or go whale watching in the Overberg.
The Eastern Cape is what the locals call The Wild Coast. It covers over 820km of pristine coastline and is a Big 7 destination, which means you can view lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, buffalo as well as whales and Great White sharks. There are numerous game reserves in the Eastern Cape including the well-known Addo Elephant National Park and the world-famous Shamwari Game Reserve.
The province is known for its adventure activities. You can visit Bloukrans for the world’s second highest bungee jump, hike the Otter Trail or take a 4 x 4 drive into the spectacular Valley of Desolation.
The Northern Cape is largely desert and semi-desert and features an exotic lunar landscape with unique flora and fauna. Kimberley the capital is known as the Diamond Capital of the world. The Big Hole is a major attraction that pays tribute to a turbulent past obsessed with diamonds and obscene overnight fortunes.
Looking at the historical spectrum, the San, known as Africa’s First People, provide a fascinating insight into life in this harsh landscape.
The Northern Cape is known for its precious artefacts, rock-art and fossils that date back to time immemorial.
The North West Province with its vast mineral wealth is known as the ‘Platinum Province’.
This is the home of Sun City - Africa’s most famous entertainment and conference complex, themed to portray the mythical Lost City of an ancient African kingdom. The Pilanesberg Game Reserve is minutes from Sun City and not far off is the Madikwe Game Reserve. Both these reserves offer the Big 5 and luxury lodges.
You will find the Magaliesberg mountain range in the North West –a great place for hiking, mountain bike trails and bird watching. Further down is Hartbeespoort Dam, known for its fun water sports and relaxed holiday mood.
The Free State is known as the ‘bread basket of South Africa’, due to its thriving agricultural industry. The province is renowned for its fascinating history and glorious landscapes.
Bloemfontein/Mangaung is the provincial hub. The name Bloemfontein means ‘a spring of flowers’ and the city offers the most spectacular gardens.
You can visit one of the local townships and get to know a bit more about the local culture.
Further afield there is much more to be enjoyed such as the spectacular Golden Gate Highlands National Park. Explore the Basotho Cultural Village as well as Phuthadichaba.
Gauteng, for many, is the exciting entry point onto the African continent - Johannesburg. It’s where business and culture meet and is cosmopolitan in every way. The urban hubs of Gauteng offer non-stop entertainment with restaurants, shebeens (local bars), jazz clubs, concerts and clubs. There are shopping centres offering international designer labels and bona fide African arts and crafts.
You can visit museums, galleries, nature reserves and botanical gardens.
There are also great attractions on the outskirts of Gauteng such as The Cradle of Humankind, the old mining town of Cullinan (where the world’s largest diamond was found). Also worth a visit are the Magaliesberg mountain range and the Vaal River.
KwaZulu-Natal is the Zulu Kingdom – a heady cultural, historical and natural mix of attractions. This was once home to the legendary King Shaka and has one of the largest Indian communities outside India, and also has a strong British colonial heritage.
Its major city is Durban – known as ‘South Africa’s Miami’ is a favourite spot for local holidays, enjoying sunshine (320 days a year), sea and sand! The city hosts fantastic restaurants, pubs, clubs and world-class hotels spread across its Golden Mile and Durban’s Florida Road is the main spot for fun and entertainment.
Away from the city, along the North Coast you’ll find the Big 5 game reserves and wonders of the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Inland from Durban you’ll find the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) boasting the highest mountain range in Africa – next to Kenya’s Kilimanjaro.
Mpumalanga is home to the Kruger National Park and the exclusive Sabi Sand Reserve – both teeming with wildlife and home to the Big 5.
Mpumalanga has the world’s largest green canyon – the Blyde (Motlatse) River Canyon, including other attractions such as the Three Rondavels, God’s Window, Long Tom Pass and Bourke’s Luck Potholes.
The province is renowned for its colourful Ndebele and Shangaan cultures and a visit to a Shangaan Cultural Village will give some insight into traditional life in this part of the world.
Limpopo is the one province where you’ll find the legendary Rain Queen, the site of a bona fide African Kingdom and ancient baobabs – upside-down trees’.
Home to the growing city of Polokwane, Limpopo is the perfect stepping stone to the wonders of the Kruger National Park.
A notable attraction to visit is the Mapungubwe (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), where the remains of a thriving African kingdom offer insight into a rich cultural heritage that has stood the test of time.
For nature lovers there is the Nylsvley Nature Reserve – famous for its birding opportunities.
To combine nature and leisure visit the Waterberg for walking and hiking trails.
If you are a lover of art, then the Venda artists in the Soutpansberg region is well worth a visit.
We have other South Africa Attractions that you might want to visit on your South Africa safari. Please contact us for further details.