The Republic of South Africa
1,221,040 sq km
Cape Town (Legislative)
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.
Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Pedi, English, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Swati, Venda, Ndebele.
Republic and independent member of the British Commonwealth
The region's flora is spectacular, with wildflowers from peaceful lilies to raging red-hot pokers in the grasslands, weird succulents blooming after spring rains, and one of the world's six floral kingdoms - the Cape Floral Kingdom - prettying up the Western Cape. Large areas in the north are covered by savannah-type vegetation, characterized by acacias and thorn trees, and there are forest remnants along the southern coast and in the north-east.
When it comes to land mammals, South Africa hogs the superlatives: it's got
the biggest (the African Elephant), the smallest (the Pygmy Shrew), the tallest
(the Giraffe) and the fastest (the Cheetah).
The country is also home to the last substantial populations of black and white rhinos - with horns intact. You're most likely to encounter these critters in one of South Africa's national parks
No slacker when it comes to bird life, South Africa is home to the Ostrich (the world's largest bird), the Kori Bustard (the largest flying bird), as well as Sunbirds, Flamingos and the sociable Weaver birds who live in 'cities' of woven grass.
The awesome Drakensberg (Dragon Mountain) is a basalt escarpment forming the border with eastern Lesotho. Although people have lived here for thousands of years - there are many San rock painting sites - some of the peaks and rocks have only been tackled by Europeans in the last few decades.
Much of the range is taken up by national parks, perhaps the most spectacular of which is Royal Natal National Park. The southern boundary of the park is formed by the Amphitheatre, an 8 km stretch of cliff that is spectacular from below and even more so from the top.
Heavily promoted the Garden Route runs along a beautiful bit of coastline in southern Western Cape. The narrow coastal plain is well forested and is mostly bordered by extensive lagoons which run behind a barrier of sand dunes and superb white beaches.
The Garden Route has some of the most significant tracts of indigenous forest in the country - giant yellowwood trees and wildflowers - as well as commercial plantations of eucalypt and pine. The area is a favorite for all water sports and the weather is kind year-round.
Durban is a big subtropical city in the north-eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal. It has been a major port since the 1850s and is home to the largest concentration of Indian-descended people in the country. Today the city is better known as a holiday-makers' fun parlour with a happening nightlife.
The weather (and the water) stays warm year-round drawing the crowds to Durban's surf beaches. Apart from the waves, 'Durbs' has much to offer. The city hall houses a gallery with a good collection of contemporary South African art and a natural science museum
In this beautiful city even transient visitors can't help but devote a few million brain cells to storing images of its grandeur: its striking Table Mountain backdrop, its glorious beaches and enchanting vineyards, its rugged landscapes, its strange and wonderful plants and animals.
There are great walks and spectacular views from Tabletop Mountain as well as ocean swimming, boating activities, and plenty of ways to get out into the wilderness areas around Cape Town. Whether you're up for a heart pumping abseil, sand-boarding or sky-diving, you won't have to look very far. Indoors, the city boasts a wealth of interesting museums.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
This park is the result of a merger between the former Kalahari-Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and the Mabuasehabe-Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. About twice the size of Kruger, Kgalagadi is not as famous as many other African parks but it is, nonetheless, one of the greatest.
The size of the park is crucial for the unhindered migration of antelopes which are often forced to travel great distances to reach water and food. Although the countryside is described as semi desert, it is richer than it appears and supports large populations of birds, reptiles and small mammals.
Kruger National Park
As well as being one of the most famous wildlife parks in the world, Kruger National Park is among the biggest and oldest. You can see the 'big five' here (lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos) as well as cheetahs, giraffes, hippos, all sorts of antelope species and smaller animals.
Although most people will have seen African animals in zoos, it's hard to exaggerate how extraordinary and completely different it is to see these animals in their natural environment.