South Africa is a land of outstanding natural beauty. The size of France and Spain combined it boasts an excellent infrastructure, enabling easy travel around the country. And a chance to take in the many types of terrain and scenery that can be found here. [See South Africa itinerary ideas]
Cape Town sits at the foot of flat-topped Table Mountain; ride the cable car to the top of the mountain on clear days for panoramic views. The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is where it all happens, with free entertainment, restaurants and bars plying their trade. Boat trips can be taken from here to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held. Go shark diving with Great Whites off the cape or bungee jump above the Bloukrans River.
Outside of Cape Town, head to Hermanus to watch whales migrate and breed, or settle down in towns such as Paarl and Stellenbosch in the heart of the Winelands to sample celebrated varieties from the 106 cellars in the region.
Follow the Garden Route along the south coast to see some exceptional coastline, excellent beaches and rugged coves. Nature reserves for dolphins and primates as well as bird watching sites act as further distractions.
The best wildlife watching though is in the Kruger National Park, which is the size of Wales and home to the Big Five and countless other creatures. With accommodation to suit all budgets and the greatest diversity of wildlife on the continent, it's one of Africa's great wildlife reserves.
Alternatively, head into the mountains and hike amidst the peaks and plunging valleys of the Drakensburg, listen to the silence in the Karoo, settle back on the warm sands of KwaZulu-Natal, visit the diamond mines in Kimberley and watch the stark landscape of Namaqualand burst into bloom during springtime.
When to go
The seasons in South Africa are a reversal of those in the Northern Hemisphere, with winter at its height in July and August. This is the best time to view South Africa's wildlife; with dry conditions forcing animals to congregate around water sources in National Parks, making them easier to spot. This is when whale watching is easiest too.
Cape Town and the Garden Route are best visited during the warmer summer months (December and January) when temperatures average 25-30°C. During winter, temperatures plummet, overnight frosts are common, as is snow in mountainous areas and the Cape Town region.
Be aware that South African summers are prone to sudden and very heavy storms, and when driving in these conditions reduced visibility can make it necessary to pull over for a time.
Capital - Pretoria
Size - 1.2 million sq km
Language - South Africa has 11 official languages. The most commonly spoken is isiZulu at 22.7%. English is widely understood, being the language of business and the media, but many people speak variations of African and Dutch languages in the privacy of their homes. 13.5% speak Afrikaans (including 60% of white South Africans), 16% is isiXhosa, 8% Setswana and 7.6% Sesotho, with the other official languages spoken by less than 5% of the population.
Population - 51.7 million (2011)
Religion - The South African constitution provides for freedom of religion. 79.7% of South Africans are Christian, with 11.1% specifically Zion Christian, while 8.2% follow Pentecostalism, 7.1% are Catholic, 6.7% Dutch Reformed and 46.6% follow another Christian faith. 15% of South Africans follow no religion at all, and 4.7% declared themselves followers of another religion, with large Muslim communities in some areas.
Currency - 1 South African Rand = 100 cents
Time zone - GMT + 2 hours
Flight time from the UK - Direct flights from London 11.5 hours (Johannesburg/Pretoria) to 12.5 hours (Cape Town).
January - Cape Town Minstrel Carnival, typically held on New Year's Day, the city's longest-running parade kicks off the New Year in style. Historically it was held on 02 January, the one day Cape slaves were given off in the year. A flamboyant collection of performers dance and sing their way through the city centre, drawing thousands of spectators every year.
February - FNB Dance Umbrella, contemporary dance festival featuring new works from South African and African choreographers and international artists, held in Johannesburg.
March - Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour, the largest individually timed bike race in the world takes place along the coast, starting at Cape Town.
March - Cape Town International Jazz Festival, hugely popular, with international and local artists taking part.
April - Klein Kagroo Nationale Kunstefees, largest Afrikaans art and culture festival, Oudtshoorn, Western Cape.
April - Two Oceans Marathon, billed as the worlds most beautiful marathon, run out of Cape Town.
April - Splashy Fen Music Festival, four days of music and fun on a farm in Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal with the beautiful Drakensberg acting as a scenic backdrop.
May - Good Food and Wine Show, Cape Town.
June - National Arts Festival is the largest arts and culture festival in Africa, Grahamstown, Eastern Cape.
July - Kynasta Oyster Festival, ten days of events along the Garden Route in the Western Cape.
August - Oppikoppi Bushveld Festival, a music festival held in Northam, North West Province, rocking the bundu (bushland) for four days and four nights.
September - Cape Town Comedy Festival.
November/March - Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts, held on the botanical garden lawns at the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town.
December - Franschhoek Cap Classique and Champagne Festival, three days of comparing and contrasting the finest local Cap Classiques with some of the best French champagne, in the pretty Franschhoek Wine Valley.
Please note that entry requirements and visa regulations can change often and at short notice. We can provide general information about the passport and visa requirements for your trip and this information may be included after the itinerary section of your quotation. Your specific passport and visa requirements and other immigration requirements are your responsibility and you should confirm these with the relevant Embassies and/or Consulates. Neither we nor the principal(s) or supplier(s) accept any responsibility if you cannot travel because you have not complied with any passport, visa or immigration requirements. Please call your WEXAS specialist if you wish to discuss entry requirements.
Passports must be valid for the duration of you stay. If you are visiting another country or countries en route to or from South Africa, be sure to check any further entry requirements.
The South African rand is divided into 100 cents. Notes come in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200; coins in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5.
Traveller's cheques (in hard currencies) can be easily exchanged in banks (these tend to close at 3.30pm during the week and 11am on Saturdays), bureaux de change and in some hotels. ATMs can be found countrywide, and all major credit cards are accepted. It's worth being aware that you can't purchase fuel on a credit card.