For the first-time traveler to Africa, South Africa is not a bad place to start: the infrastructure is constantly improving, the climate is kind and there are few better places to see Africa’s wildlife. But if you want to understand the country, you’ll have to deal with the full spectrum. Poverty still exists alongside riches, the AIDS pandemic is devastating and violence remains a problem. It Is necessary to take some precautions: keep money and valuables out of sight; take care when using local public transport and around railway stations and note that car hijackings and armed robbery are risks in parts of the country. While the political violence that was threatening to engulf the country in the early 1990s has for the most part disappeared, racial and cultural divisions remain entrenched.
Full country name: The Republic of South Africa
Area: 1,221,037 sq km
Population: 43.1 million
Capitals: Pretoria (administrative); Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative)
People: 77% black, 10% white (60% of whites are of Afrikaner descent, most of the rest are of British descent), 8% mixed race, 2.5% of Indian or Asian descent.
Languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Pedi, English, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Swati, Venda, Ndebele.
Religion: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and traditional religions.
Government: Republic and independent member of the British Commonwealth
President: Jacob Zuma
GDP: US$146 billion
GDP per head: US$ 2,133
Annual growth: 0.9%
Major industries: Mining, finance, insurance, food processing
Major trading partners: USA, UK, Germany, Japan, Italy
Time: GMT/UTC + 2
Telephone: Country code 27; international access 09
Money Rand: US$1 = R7.4
Population: 46.9 million
Budget : $ 25 to US$ 50 a day
Visas: Free, 90-day entry permits issued on arrival to citizens of most Commonwealth countries (including Australia and the UK), most Western European countries, Japan and the USA . If you aren t entitled to an entry permit, you will need to get a visa (also free) before you arrive.
Health risks: Malaria is mainly confined to the eastern half of South Africa, especially on the lowveld (coastal plain). Bilharzia is also found mainly in the east but outbreaks do occur in other places, so you should always check with knowledgeable local people before drinking water or swimming in it.
Electricity: 220/230V (250V in Pretoria), 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric\
When to go
Seasons: Cape Town: cold & wet (May to August); sunny & warm (September to May); Durban & Johannesburg: dry (May to September); wet (October to April).
Holiday-makers stream out of the cities from mid-December to late January: resorts and national parks are heavily booked and prices on the coast can more than double. School holidays in April, July and September can clog up beaches and national parks.
Active bods will have no trouble wearing out their sneakers in South Africa: the country offers everything from ostrich riding to the world s highest bungee jump! There are excellent hiking trails, usually with accommodation, although the intrepid might find them a bit overpopulated.
Mountain biking is getting more popular and it s even possible to cycle through some of the wildlife parks. If that sounds a bit hairy, it s easy to plan safaris in South Africa s national parks and reserves.
Airborne pursuits are popular: hang-gliding is a buzz off Table Mountain and there are ballooning and parachuting operators at the beach resorts. South Africa isn't known for its rafting and canoeing - it s more floating through landscape than testing out your life jacket - but there is some beautiful desert wilderness to glide through on the Orange River in the far north.
Bird-watchers and flower sniffers love it here: for diversity, colour and sheer quantity, it s hard to beat. South Africa also has some of the best, least-crowded surfing in the world. Most surfers will have heard of Jeffrey s Bay, but the east and south coasts tube right the way along.
Attractions - Cape Town
Good-looking, fun-loving, sporty and sociable. If Cape Town was in the dating game that's how her profile would read, and - for once - it's all true. The Mother City of South Africa occupies one of the world's most stunning locations, with an iconic mountain slap-bang in her centre.
As beautiful as the surrounding beaches and vineyards can be, it's the rugged wilderness of Table Mountain, coated in a unique flora, that grabs everyone's attention.
The capital of Western Cape province and the parliamentary capital of the republic, Cape Town works in a way that so few cities on the African continent do. Historic buildings have been saved, businesses are booming, inner-city crime is coming under control and you'll seldom be stuck for a parking space. Factor back in those stunning mountains, magnificent surf beaches and outstanding vineyards and you'll soon
discover - like many before you - that it's easy to lose track of time while exploring all the wonders of this unique Southern African city. Now don't you think it's time you made a date with Cape Town?