South Africa is widely known as the “Rainbow Nation” because of the diverse ethnic groups that call it home. Eleven official languages are recognised by the constitution, and although English is commonly used in public and commercial life, it is only the fifth most-spoken home language. It has the largest economy in Africa, and the 28th largest in the world. It has three capital cities – Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative). It is located at the southernmost region of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 1, 553 miles and along the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. It is the 25th largest country in the world. There are a number of different landscapes including desert, scrubland and mountainous. South Africa is an exotic destination that offers lots to a variety of holiday makers including the unique range of safari trips to see native wildlife at close hand, and spectacular national landmarks such as Table Mountain.
The standard of healthcare in South Africa is considered the best in Africa, especially in the urban and coastal areas. The country has a variety of private and public hospitals, nursing homes and clinics. Hospitals and doctors often require immediate payment for their services. It is best to obtain comprehensive travel insurance before travelling to South Africa to cover medical expenses and repatriation to the UK. The tap water in South Africa is regarded as safe to drink as the water service systems are similar to those in a completely developed country. Specific health problems in South Africa include malaria, as the low-altitude assists in the spread of this mosquito-borne disease. There are anti-malaria tablets available and measures can be taken to avoid insect-bites. If you are currently taking prescription drugs, you can bring them with you in to South Africa (plus a spare prescription) as you are allowed to bring in a month’s supply for your own personal use. As a precaution, you could bring a covering letter from your doctor too. In common with other African countries, South Africa has suffered from a high number of people afflicted by AIDS and HIV.
South African cuisine has a distinctly meaty bias, and South Africans are particularly fond of exploiting their balmy climate with a braais (a barbecue) where they can enjoy Boerewors (a spicy sausage) and maybe a chilled glass of South African wine or a cooling glass of Castle beer. There are other meaty treats in store such as biltong (strips of dried meat in various flavours and types) or potjieko, which is a tasty slow-cooked meat and vegetable stew, traditionally cooked on an open fire. For desserts, those with a sweet-tooth should give melktert (milktart) or koeksisters (sweet doughy treats) a whirl. If you aren’t bowled over by the traditional fare on offer, there are also restaurants that serve Chinese, Indian and more mainstream dishes.
Electricity – Although similar in appearance, the South African three-pronged plugs are different to those used in the UK as they incorporate the original 3-pin British specification large rounded pins, adaptors are available.
Currency – the South African Rand (ZAR)
Driving – on the left
Climate – South Africa has a generally temperate climate due to its location near the equator and being surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides, but there is a variety of climates within the country. Winters in South Africa happen between June and August, so it can be an attractive destination to sunseekers in our winter time. The southwest of the country has a Mediterranean climate with wet winters and hot dry summers, coupled with a famously prevalent wind. Further eastwards on the south coast, rainfall falls more often, and it is greener. The coldest place is Sutherland in the western Roggeveld Mountains, midwinter tempertures can plummet to as low as -15 degrees. The other extreme is the deep interior, where the hottest temperature of 51.7 degrees has been recorded.
Clothing – Choose lightweight clothes for summer, with the option of covering up when needed. Also pack an umbrella or raincoat as most rain falls in the summer months. If you are in a malarial area, pack long-sleeved tops and trousers for the evenings. Summer continues from November till January. Winter starts in May. If you are planning to enjoy a game-spotting safari, wear neutral clothes to blend in to the surrounding scenery.
Where to go?
For history and culture – If you enjoyed the Michael Caine film Zulu depicting the battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879, part of the Anglo-Zulu war, you will relish visiting the battlefields of KwaZulu Natal. You can soak up the facts and the residual atmosphere whilst on a guided battlefield tour, or whilst visiting national monuments and museums dedicated to the area’s conflicts.
For kids and teens – Allow children to see ‘The Big Five’ (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) plus lots more in their natural habitat, not just on the pages of a book, or within the confines of a zoo. Look out for parks in child-friendly, malaria-free areas.
Relaxation – The small village of Great Brak is located in the scenic Green Route region which is a relaxing haven of unspoilt beaches where you can swim in the calm waters, go rock fishing and whale watching in season.
Action – It’s dramatic scenery lends itself to adventurous activities, and you can take your pick of a pastime that appeals to the thrill-seeker in you, whether it is trekking to the top of Table Mountain (and not just taking the cable car!) , taking on the world’s highest bungee jump at Bloukrans Bridge or taking on the formidable Zambezi by canoe.
Nightlife – You can enjoy a varied and lively nightlife in the South African cities of Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Port Elizabeth is famed for the welcome extended to visitors in the ‘Friendly City’.