South Africa is situated in the southern-most part of Africa, with neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. Its coast is shared by two oceans, with the South Atlantic on the west and the Indian Ocean on the east.
The great variety in plants affords the country is the result of a large number of different types of land, from grasslands in the Highveld, bush savannah to a small area of forest in the Cape. Also found in the Cape is the Fynbos Biome which is in the Cape floristic region, one of the six global floral kingdoms. This is endemic to South Africa and there are over 9000 species of the Fynbos in the biome, which takes up most of the area of the floristic region and is one of the most florally diverse areas in the world.
This incredible biodiversity in the Cape makes it one of the most fertile places in the world, and as a result there are a huge number of vineyards and fruit farms to explore, and wines to sample. Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek are particularly old and beautiful towns, and there are luxury hotels to stay in as well as lodges where exquisite cuisine and fine wines are the norm.
A particularly scenic stretch of the coast from Mossel Bay to the Storms River is known as the Garden Route, and this can be explored at your leisure. One must see town along the way is Knysna, a small resort town on a lagoon with famous art galleries, woodcarvings and exquisite freshly caught oysters to try. A remainder of extensive forests that used to cover the entire area are in the mountains near the town, and these deserve a look.
In the bay of Hermanus some of the best whale-watching in the world can be experienced; this is one of the first bays between Antarctica and the coast, and here Southern Right whales come to mate, give birth and raise their calves. Other activities available include shark cage-diving, sea-kayaking, canoeing and horse-riding, and the coast is immensely wild and beautiful. There are some wonderful areas to stay here, including the Grootbos Nature Reserve which has a beautiful lodge overlooking the bay.
Staying with the Cape, the city of Cape Town is one of the most popular destinations, with luxury hotels on the waterfront, and stunning views of Table Mountain from the around the city. The mountain can be ascended in a cable car although the more adventurous can climb it; the panoramic views from the top are stunning, and there is a small restaurant, several shops and walking trails on the plateau. There are plants and animals to view on top of the mountain as well, such as the rock hyrax or dassie, and 2200 species of the Fynbos mentioned earlier.
For those interested in nature, there are a large number of wildlife reserves and national parks, including the famous Kruger National Park in the Limpopo Province. The more common African mammals can be found here, including lion, leopard, blue wildebeest, kudu, elephant, hyena, hippopotamus and giraffe, as well as rarer animals such as white rhino and African Hunting Dogs. The park is divided into six eco-systems; baobab sandveld, mopane scrub, lebombo knobthorn-marula bushveld, mixed acacia thicket, Combretum-silver clusterleaf woodland on granite and riverine forest. It has 517 different species of birds, along with eagles, and there are luxury safari lodges to stay at. Lake St Lucia and Madikwe Reserve are some of our favourite destinations in the country – far quieter than the Kruger and offering especially good wildlife. The former has marvellous birdwatching. Horse riders and scenery enthusiasts are never disappointed by the Drakensburg Mountains.
A more historical side of South Africa can be experienced in the Battlefields of KwaZulu Natal. This area has the largest concentration of battlefields in South Africa, with a well documented history from around 1836 onwards. Famous battles that have taken place here include the Battle of Blood River (16 December 1838), the war of Isandlawana in 1879 and the Anglo-Boer war, in which Winston Churchill served as a young journalist. To get the most out of touring these battlefields there are trained guides to bring the history to life, although there is the option of guidebooks, maps and self-driving if you would prefer to do it at your own pace. There are a number of first class lodges and hotels to stay in, making your stay comfortable and exciting.
The history of South Africa has had much more modern consequences that can be seen in the mixed cultures that exist. With a huge variety in language, religious beliefs and cultural practices, the streets of the cities and towns are bustling with different shops, people and sights, completing any trip to the country.
Adventurers would love the North West Province, which has a huge collection of extreme and adrenalin sports; sky diving, paragliding, hang-gliding, climbing, and a multitude of water sports, amongst others. The Cape Winelands also have a generous share of exciting activities, well combined with wine tasting and touring the countryside!
Hluhluwe buffalo – photo courtesy of Noel Smith
Spring – September to October
Summer – November to March
Autumn – April to May
Winter – June to August
Although snow does fall in higher elevations, the winters overall are generally mild although on the highveld (Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein), the temperature can drop to as low as -9C! Summers are generally quite hot, especially around Durban and Kwa-Zulu which are particularly humid when it rains. The best time to visit Cape Town is between November and March; game viewing is best June to November.
Summers can get quite hot especially around Durban and KwaZulu-Natal where summer rains make it humid and muggy. The winters are generally mild with perhaps a dusting of snow on higher elevations. Click here for today’s weather forecast and average annual temperatures.
There’s not really a bad time to go to South Africa but depending on what you would like to do, some seasons are better than others.The best time to:
- Go on safari is June to September (dry season)
- Visit Cape Town is November to March (summer)
- Go rafting is December to February (rainy season)
- See flowers is August to September (spring)
- Go whale watching is June to December
Note: Most South Africans will plan their vacations during the long school holiday from mid-December to the end of January so hotels, tours, and lodges book up quickly during that time.
South Africa is perfect for anybody wishing to visit Africa, whether it is the first visit or the latest in a long line of trips. The variety of things to do means that you will never get bored, and will be able to undertake a tour of the country that is both informative, breathtaking and ideally relaxing.
It is really easy to get to South Africa by air, with international airports at Cape Town and Johannesburg. For those doing the Garden Route, it is easier to use the airports and George, Durban and Port Elizabeth.
If you are coming from the rest of mainland Africa it is very easy to travel by road (although this is a more lengthy option given the size of the country) and this is often the best way to see Africa up close and personal.
Finally, it is also possible to get to South Africa by boat from any of the Indian Ocean islands, whether it is a chartered yacht or a cruise ship from the Seychelles.
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