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Often referred to as the world in one country, South Africa is blessed with the lion’s share of sights and experiences.

See the ‘big five’ on a wildlife safari in Kruger National Park, experience the dizzying heights of the Drakensberg Mountains and stand on Table Mountain with Cape Town at your feet. Taking up the entire southern tip of the continent of Africa, this giant of a country is monumental in both its scale and its beauty, from the Limpopo River meandering through the great plains of the northeast, to the fertile wine regions of the Cape and the sheer drama of the Blyde River Canyon.

With people as diverse as its landscapes, experiencing the Rainbow Nation’s cities is every bit as exhilarating – dine out in sophisticated Cape Town, experience the buzz of booming Johannesburg or promenade along Durban’s revamped waterfront. The food and wine are big-hitters too – we recommend the deliciously fresh seafood and a bottle of chilled Chenin.

 

Things to do

Wildlife enthusiasts will be in their element in South Africa – from spotting the ‘big five’ on safari across the savannah, to whale-watching tours off the Western Cape, there are so many creatures and habitats to visit. Saga’s Stay & Relax holidays allow you to spend time in South Africa’s national parks and nature reserves without rushing around. You can take things easy at your comfortable hotel and join excursions as and when the mood takes you.

For a little more action, join one of our guided tours that whisk you around South Africa’s many great sights, whether it’s the glorious beaches and verdant forests of the Cape’s Garden Route or the highest peaks of the Drakensburg Mountains.

Alternatively, if you’re up for a serious adventure, book a place on our overland truck and travel from South Africa into neighbouring Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

Western Cape

The Western Cape is one of South Africa’s most visited regions, and with good reason. This is where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean, and along its wild and beautiful coast you’ll find the city of Cape Town. With its spectacular geography, life here revolves around the great outdoors – you can hike to Table Mountain in the morning, lounge on the beach in the afternoon, and as the sun sets find yourself a rooftop perch for sun-downers or a barbecue.

Table Bay is home to notorious Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was once held captive, while along the coast you can feast your eyes on the glorious Garden Route trail, which winds its way from Mossel Bay to Plettenberg.

Many of South Africa’s vineyards are to be found here too, luxuriating in the sunshine around the historical towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

Eastern Cape

Stretching from the Western Cape to the border with KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape has many stunning landscapes to explore. The dramatic Indian Ocean coast is popular with surfers, while the Drakensburg peaks beckon walkers to their highland valleys and tumbling waterfalls.

The Wild Coast is the historical home of the Xhosa people and is culturally fascinating, while the two largest cities in the province also lie on the coast – Port Elizabeth and East London.

Limpopo

The vast, landlocked province of Limpopo borders Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique. It’s famed for its wildlife reserves, including the northern portion of Kruger National Park. Across endless grasslands, and that famously lazy Limpopo River, you’ll spot a diversity of wildlife, from lions and rhino, to meerkats and hippopotami.

 

Culture and history

The Rainbow Nation encompasses a broad spectrum of cultures, from different tribal groups to the descendants of the colonising Boers and British, who together form a unified South Africa. Most towns and cities in this country are well developed but many of the suburbs highlight the divide between rich and poor, and in rural areas such as KwaZulu Natal’s Zululand you're more likely to see clusters of rondavels – traditional South African huts – where people still live and work the land.

This is very much a country of contrasts and you'll no doubt be tempted to take lots of pictures, but please remember to ask permission before taking photographs of people. Head and shoulders above everyone else on the list of famous South Africans is, of course, the late Nelson Mandela. Others include golfer Ernie Els, actress Charlize Theron and Carry On star Sid James, who was born in Johannesburg.

The history of South Africa dates back to around 40,000 BC when small groups of hunter-gatherers roamed the wilds. They were known as the Khoi and the San and much later, in the 4th and 5th centuries AD, they were joined by the Bantu. The 17th century heralded the arrival of the Europeans, firstly the Dutch, who originally came to set up a supply statiom for the ships of the East India Trading Company. There were also French, German and British settlers, the latter establishing rule over much of the Cape region.

Various factors, such as the abolition of slavery and the discovery of diamonds and then gold, led to the Boer wars of the 1800s. The British eventually gained sovereignty in the early 1900s and in 1910 the Union of South Africa was established, encompassing present day Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Dutch and English became the official languages and new laws were brought in severely restricting the rights and freedoms of black South Africans. Over the coming decades a movement representing Afrikaner interests (the descendants of the Dutch) grew in popularity. Then in 1948 their political group, the so-called National Party (NP) came to power on the back of their main policy – Apartheid.

The ANC (African National Congress), who represented black South Africans and which was the political group Nelson Mandela was a part of, encouraged resistance and campaigned for equality. The protests and reprisals escalated throughout the 60s and 70s, becoming increasingly more violent. The ANC were banned and in 1964 Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Finally, following pressure from the international community, the government repealed the Apartheid laws in the early 90s. In 1994 there were free elections in South Africa: the ANC, led by Mandela, won by a clear majority, thus establishing the fledgling Rainbow Nation that we know today.

 

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