Learn more about South Africa
Did you know that South Africa...
...has 11 official languages and several unofficial ones used by communities from India, Europe and Africa.
...has 5 languages in its National Anthem
...has the world's richest floral kingdom
...has more kinds of wild animals than North and South America, or Europe and Asia, together
and that South Africa is home to...
...one-sixth of the world's marine species along its coast on two oceans
...the world's largest land mammal (African elephant)
...the smallest mammal (a shrew the size of a human finger tip!)
...the tallest mammal (giraffe)
...the fastest mammal (cheetah)
...the heaviest reptile (leatherback turtle)
...the largest antelope (eland)
...the largest bird (ostrich)
...the heaviest flying bird (Kori Bustard)
...900 bird species - 10% of the world's variety on 1% of its land area
...6000 different spiders, 175 varieties of scorpion and 100 different snakes
...23,200 different plants
The people of South Africa
South Africa is a nation of diversity, with over 47-million people and a variety of cultures, languages and religious beliefs.
According to Statistics South Africa's mid-2006 estimates, the country's population stands at some 47.4-million. Africans are in the majority at 37.7-million, making up 79.5% of the total population. The white population is estimated at 4.4-million (9.2%), the coloured population at 4.2-million (8.9%) and the Indian/Asian population at 1.2-million (2.5%).
South Africa has 11 official languages, and plenty of unofficial ones besides. English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial public life - but only the fifth most spoken home language.
While more than three-quarters of South Africa's population is black African, this category is neither culturally nor linguistically homogenous. Nine of the official languages are African, reflecting a variety of ethnic groupings which nonetheless have a great deal in common in terms of background, culture and descent.
Democracy in South Africa
South Africa is a vigorous multiparty democracy with an independent judiciary and a free and diverse press.
Until 1994, the country was known for apartheid - white-minority rule. South Africa's remarkable ability to put centuries of racial hatred behind it in favour of reconciliation was widely considered a social miracle, inspiring similar peace efforts in Northern Ireland, Rwanda and elsewhere.
Now ruled by a democratic government of all races, South Africa is often referred to as the "rainbow nation", a phrase coined by Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu.
The highest law of the land is the new Constitution, considered to be one of the most progressive in the world - and with a Bill of Rights second to none.
The rights protected include equality, freedom of expression and association, property, housing, healthcare, education, access to information, and access to courts. Protecting those rights is the country's independent judiciary, subject only to the Constitution and the law.
With 16 parties in parliament, South Africa has a vibrant political system. The African National Congress is in the majority, but opposition parties remain robust and vocal.
South Africa came out tops in the BBC's 2005 Who Runs Your World? survey. While 65% of the world's citizens say their country is not run by the will of the people, 59% of South Africans say their nation is the highest score of the 68 countries surveyed.
South Africa also ranks 31st out of 167 countries in Reporters Without Borders' 2005 global index of press freedom beating developed democracies such as Japan, Spain, Italy and the US
South Africa's geography and climate
South Africa lies between 22 and 35 degrees south, flanked on the west by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the Indian Ocean, whose waters meet at the country's most southern tip, Cape Agulhas.
The long coastline stretches 2 798 kilometres from a desert border in the north-west, down the icy and treacherous Skeleton Coast to Cape Agulhas, then up along rolling green hills and wide beaches fronting the warm Indian Ocean, to a border with subtropical Mozambique in the north east.
The low-lying coastal zone is narrow for much of that distance, soon giving way to a mountainous escarpment that separates it from the high inland plateau. In some places, notably the province of KwaZulu-Natal in the east, a greater distance separates the coast from the escarpment.
South Africa is famous for its sunshine. A subtropical location, moderated by ocean on three sides of the country and the altitude of the interior plateau, account for the warm temperate conditions so typical of South Africa - and so popular with its foreign visitors.
It's a relatively dry country, with an average annual rainfall of about 464mm. While the Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is generally a summer-rainfall region.
South African time
South Africa does not change its clocks during the year, and there are no regional variations within the country. South African Standard Time is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean (or Universal Standard) Time, one hour ahead of Central European Winter Time, and seven hours ahead of the USA's Eastern Standard Winter Time.
Visiting South Africa
South Africa is a big, beautiful country, promising the experience of a lifetime. We offer hospitable people, glorious weather, spectacular scenery, a wealth of culture, wildlife and wilderness, and world-class hotels and restaurants.
The animals alone are reason to visit. One of the world's first wildlife conservation areas was South Africa's Kruger Park, more than a century old. Today it is just one part of a broad conservation area reaching across national borders into neighbouring Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
An hour's drive from such urban jungles as Pretoria and Johannesburg, you can see lions, elephants, buffaloes, rhinos and hundreds more species in the raw African bush. For birders, South Africa offers over 850 recorded species.
There are many remote places to escape to in South Africa's varied landscape, from the massive Drakensberg range of mountains, which run like a spine down the length the country, to the rock formations of the Cedarberg mountains in the west, the Northern Cape's haunting Richtersveld area, and the vast plains of the Karoo desert.
Then there are golden beaches, some of the world's best surf, ecosystems found nowhere else in the world, an opportunity to experience African culture firsthand - and one of the least expensive holiday destinations you'll find.
South African food celebrates our rich heritage and natural bounty of seafood, meat, game and plants. And our wine has been earning rave reviews internationally for 300 years.
Cultural experiences include modern art galleries, rock art centres, state-of-the-art museums, remote cultural villages, city jazz clubs and open-air festivals.
For adrenaline junkies, there's world-class rock climbing, surfing, diving, hiking, horseback safaris, mountain biking, river rafting - and a host of other adventures supported by dedicated operators.
South Africa's exciting cities
South Africa's cities are an exciting mix of first- and third-world influences, each with its own unique attractions: from Cape Town - one of the most beautiful cities in the world - to busy, bustling Johannesburg.
Cape Town, South Africa's oldest and loveliest city, lies in Table Bay on the Atlantic Ocean. Beautiful buildings, the nearby winelands, long white beaches and a rich cultural life make the city South Africa's most favoured tourist destination.
Perched between the ocean and the mountain, Cape Town offers rock climbing, surfing and diving along with a vibrant nightlife, excellent wine and endless shopping.
Highlights are the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with upmarket shops, restaurants, crafts sellers and street performers all housed in a working harbour, and a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were held during the apartheid era.
Cape Town was nominated as the world's leading destination in the 2005 World Travel Awards, and named the best destination in Africa. It was also voted the best foreign city in the UK's 2004 Telegraph Travel Awards.
The de facto capital of Africa, Johannesburg is a bustling, sprawling city of contrasts, spread across the small but densely populated province of Gauteng.
Everyone is on the move - doing business, making money, jogging, going to gym, cycling, partying till late, eating out, and attending shows, movies and exhibitions. If you're a city person, you'll love Joburg.
Johannesburg has the tallest office block in Africa, the Carlton Centre (50 stories) and the tallest tower, the Hillbrow Tower (90 stories). It's also the world's largest man-made forest, with over 10-million trees in parks, gardens and on sidewalks. Forty percent of all the world's human ancestor fossils have been found near the city, and it houses the only two polar bears in Africa, at the Joburg Zoo.
To the south of Johannesburg is Soweto, South Africa's largest and wealthiest township. Infused with the history of the struggle against apartheid and abuzz with the energy of the city of gold, Soweto is a must-see for tourists who are looking for more than sun, sea and wildlife.
If Johannesburg has a business culture and Cape Town a culture culture, Durban has a beach culture. The warm Indian Ocean and the city's tropical climate make it one of the nicest places in South Africa.
The uShaka Marine World on the waterfront offers a world-class aquarium, wild water rides and spectacular displays by trained seals and dolphins.
South Africa: sporting paradise
We're a sports-mad nation. South Africa's balmy weather and top-notch sporting facilities make it ideal for rugby, cricket, football, swimming, athletics and, of course, golf .
Our national teams are world-class. The rugby Springboks walked away with the 1995 and 2007 World Cup, football's Bafana Bafana clinched the 1996 African Cup of Nations, and the cricketing Proteas made it to the finals of the 2000 Cricket World Cup, hosted in South Africa.
When a South African team wins, a cacophony of hooting, cheering, banging of dustbin lids, blasting on plastic vuvuzela trumpets and fireworks reverberates across the cities. The national adrenaline goes into overdrive. Maybe even the GDP goes up ...
Our extensive sporting facilities can accommodate tens of thousands of spectators in comfort. And they're getting a boost from the 2010 Fifa Football World Cup, to be hosted here, which will see a R7.3-billion investment in 10 magnificent world-class stadiums.
The adventure starts here
Whatever you want, we've got it. Our adventures range from wild river-rafting and horseback riding to vibrant music and night-life, encounters with indigenous cultures and journeys back to our primal human origins.
South Africa's thousands of miles of coastline, breathtaking mountains - often side by side - and ideal climate for outdoor activities make it a rich hunting ground for adrenaline seekers.
We offer some of the best, and most diverse, rock climbing in the world. The cliffs are big, wild - and still being discovered. River trips range from mostly scenic to grade five whitewater washing machines. The art of canyoning - known here as kloofing - is another hot favourite.
There are over a hundred listed paragliding or hang-gliding launch sites, with schools in every centre. Also up in the air, there are many opportunities for helicopter rides, balloon flights, aerobatics, skydiving and microlight flights.
Thousands of kilometres of hiking trails wind around the country in desert, forest, mountain or coastal terrain, many with mountain bike trails adjacent.
At 216 metres, Bloukrans Bridge in the Eastern Cape is the world's highest commercial bungee jump, while Table Mountain in Cape Town offers the highest abseil.
And from the West Coast's wild stretches of sand to the subtropical shores of Maputaland, there's a beach for every reason. Watch the sun rise over ocean, work up that perfect tan, or get more active. South Africa offers some of the world's best surfing, windsurfing, diving - and whale-watching.
After the sun sets, there's the buzzing music, dance and theatre scene, at venues ranging from bushveld festivals and botanical gardens to dark nightclubs and posh theatre complexes.
Music is in our blood. Buy a CD, go to a club, listen to street buskers, visit a cultural village or walk past a church on a Sunday morning - however you experience South African music, you'll find it difficult to keep your feet still.
Nothing beats actually meeting people. South Africa's many cultural villages offer a close-up insight into the country's traditional cultures. And in the major centres, township tours will put you in touch with real South Africans and their history.
Our people also produce a remarkable range of arts and crafts for sale, working from the pavements and markets of the big cities to deep rural enclaves, with every possible form of traditional artwork - and then some.
And remember, no matter where you're from, this is where your roots are. It's pretty much accepted that human life started in South Africa. Most people look at the world differently after a tour of the Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg - one of the richest hominid fossil sites in the world.