South Africa, adoring the southern tip of Africa, rightly defines the word 'variety'. Stretching from the hippos in the Limpopo River to the penguins waddling on the Cape, takes some beating with more types of terrain than photographers can shake their zoom lens at.
There is the deserted Kalahari, Namakwa’s springtime symphony of wildflowers, iconic Table Mountain and Cape Point, Kruger National Park’s wildlife-stalked savannah (scene of the famous lion-buffalo-crocodile battle watched more than 75 million times on YouTube) and, running through the east of the country and into Lesotho, the Drakensberg. KwaZulu-Natal’s iSimangaliso Wetland Park alone has five distinct ecosystems, attracting both zebras and dolphins.
The country is not only a jumping off point, it is itself a superb destination rich in culture, fauna and flora and history, apart from being renowned for its wines and its fertile lands producing vast amounts of gold.
Outsiders' views of South Africa are colored by the same stereotypes as the rest of Africa but the "rainbow nation" proves, for most of the part, otherwise, especially with the major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg.
THINGS NOT TO MISS
Soweto: A tour around the vast, sprawling township – South Africa’s largest – provides a graphic idea of how the majority of black South Africans live.
Indian culture: Durban, Africa’s busiest port, boasts a large Indian population, brightly colored Hindu temples, buzzing markets and zinging curries.
Cape Point: The rocky promontory south of Cape Town is one of the most dramatic coastal locations on the continent.
Table Mountain cableway
The most spectacular way to ascend Cape Town’s famous landmark is also the easiest – the revolving cable car.
Wild flowers: Following the winter rains, Namaqualand’s normally bleak landscape explodes with color.
Wine routes: The Cape’s wine estates combine stunning scenery, Cape Dutch architecture and some fine vintages.
De Hoop Nature Reserve: Slide down mountainous dunes or watch whales from the high vantage point they provide.
The Sani Pass: The most precipitous pass in Southern Africa, connecting Lesotho to KwaZulu-Natal.
The Bo-Kaap: Cape Town’s oldest residential area is filled with colourful Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture.
Vernacular architecture: Beautifully decorative Basotho huts are characteristic of the eastern Free State’s Maloti Route.
The Drakensberg: Hike in the “dragon mountains”, which harbor South Africa’s highest peaks, plus waterfalls, rock art and awesome panoramas.
Addo Elephant National Park: Encounter elephants and the rest of the Big Five at the end of the Garden Route.
Game trails: Spot wildlife on a guided hike in Kruger National Park.
Storms River Mouth: The Garden Route’s most spectacular coastline, where you can cross Storms River Mouth by footbridge.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: View cheetahs, meerkats and other desert dwellers amid the harsh beauty of the Kalahari.
Kruger National Park: Get spine-tinglingly close to lions and other big game at Southern Africa’s ultimate wildlife destination.
Richtersveld Transfrontier: Fierce, rugged and hot, the Richtersveld has some of the most dramatic mountain-scape in the country, sparsely populated by science-fiction vegetation.
Whale-watching: Regularly visiting the southern Cape Coast, whales often approach surprisingly close to the shore.
When it is time to reflect on it all, do it over seafood on the Garden Route, curry in Durban’s Indian Area, a sizzling Cape Malay dish, or a braai (barbecue) in the wilderness.
Le Must Country Restaurant: Upington’s best restaurant does a lively trade in South African specialties: think Kalahari biltong soup and Kalahari oysters (grilled lamb liver parcels) for starters and bobotie (delicately flavored curry with a topping of beaten egg baked to a crust), springbok shank and lamb with feta for your main course. Towards the end of the week, book ahead.
Traditional arts and crafts: Find traditional handicrafts in rural and urban areas alike, such as the Venda region of Limpopo.
Africa Nova: One of the most stylish and desirable collections of contemporary African textiles, arts and crafts. Find potato-print fabrics made by women in Hout Bay, Karin Dando’s mosaic trophy heads, Ronel Jordaan’s handmade felt rock cushions (which look like giant pebbles) and a wonderful range of ceramics and jewelry.
Live music: Johannesburg offers the best nightlife in South Africa, attracting top musical performers from around the country and abroad.
For a night out in Cape Town's centre, head to buzzing Long Street. This is its most diverse thoroughfares, lined with colonial Victorian buildings that house pubs, bistros and nightclubs, from whose wrought-iron balconies you can catch glimpses of Table Mountain and the sea.
A night at P&G’S: If you want to see the hipster side to Cape Town, this is the place to go. On any night of the week “PnG’s” (The Power and The Glory) is a magnet for Capetonians sporting neatly trimmed beards, checked shirts, red lipstick and vintage dresses. But don’t worry too much about fitting in, Cape Town is one of the world’s friendliest cities after all.
During the day you can grab a coffee in the well-styled bistro, kitted out with old-school metal chairs and botanical drawing prints, then it blends seamlessly with a cozy bar at night.