Often described as ‘a world in one country’, South Africa offers the visitor a breathtaking variety of scenery, from desert and lush forest, to soaring mountains and vast empty plains.
Culturally as diverse as the landscape, many visitors are drawn to experience for themselves the miracle of the peaceful overthrow of apartheid. Others are attracted by the endless golden beaches, big game, and activities such as diving and snorkelling, or bird-watching. Whatever their reasons, visitors will find South Africa positively inviting, with world-class infrastructure, transport and accommodation.
The contribution of tourism to South Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) increased from R137.6 billion in 2006 to R159.6 billion in 2007. Almost 5.5 million foreign tourists visited South Africa in the first seven months of 2008, a 7.8% increase over the 5.1 million foreigners who visited the country in the same period in 2007.
The number of jobs created directly and indirectly in the economy through tourism increased by 5% from 896 900 in 2006 to 941 000 in 2007. Analysis of the arrival figures for January to July 2008 showed that growth from South Africa’s traditional tourist markets remained strong, boosted by increases in arrivals from new markets. North America recorded an increase of 11.7% compared to the first seven months of 2007. The figures for Europe showed growth of 7.3%, with France recording an increase of 16.8%. Arrivals from Australasia grew by 10.9% and Asia showed an increase of 5%.
Tourism has the potential to achieve Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) goals, which are to boost economic growth to 6% by 2010 and halve poverty and unemployment by 2014. The strategy has identified tourism as one of the key economic sectors, with excellent potential for growth. As part of the growth platform targeted by AsgiSA, tourism has been set some very steep goals for the next five years: 500 000 new jobs; 8.5 million international arrivals annually; and a contribution to GDP of at least R100 billion a year.
- foreign visitors should check before arriving whether a visa is required. Visas are free of charge
- visitors must have at least one blank page in their passports
- tourists must have return or onward tickets
- visitors from yellow-fever areas must have proof of inoculation
- foreign tourists may have their value-added tax refunded upon departure.
- for safety, emergency and other information, tourists can phone 083 123 2345 (24 hours a day) when they are in South Africa.
2010 host cities
Bloemfontein is the judicial capital of South Africa, the provincial capital of the Free State and the largest urban centre in the Mangaung Local Municipality. Bloemfontein is popularly known as ‘The City of Roses’, owing to the abundance of these flowers and the annual rose festival held there.
Cape Town is known for its beaches, sports, mountain walks, day-trips, wine-tasting, sunsets and ne dining. Cape Town is the provincial capital of the Western Cape and the legislative capital of South Africa. Cape Town is the economic hub of the Western Cape. It also has the primary harbour and airport in the Western Cape.
Durban, South Africa’s third-largest city in area, is an exciting hub around a busy harbour on the edge of the warm Indian Ocean. The city is well known for its pleasant climate and welcoming beaches. It also boasts top sporting facilities, world-class resorts and nature reserves. Its port is the busiest in South Africa and the busiest container port in the southern hemisphere.
Johannesburg lies in Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa and forms part of the City of Johannesburg municipality. Locals have nicknamed the most populous city in South Africa ‘Joburg’, ‘Jozi’ and ‘eGoli’. The City of Johannesburg is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world, with a population of just over three million people.
Nelspruit, the capital city of Mpumalanga, is nestled on the Crocodile River, about 60 km west of Mozambique. Mpumalanga (which means ‘the place of the rising sun’) is the primary gateway to the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which stretches over three countries and encompasses global wilderness icons such as the more than 100-year-old Kruger National Park. With its subtropical climate, abundant sunshine and lush hills and valleys, Nelspruit forms the ideal base from which to explore Mpumalanga.
Polokwane is the capital city of Limpopo. It is the largest city in the north and a major economic centre. Wide streets, jacaranda trees, colourful parks and sparkling fountains characterise the city. Polokwane, which means ‘a place of safety’, is situated 60 km south of the Tropic of Capricorn and is home to just over 500 000 people. It encompasses the vibrant communities of Seshego, Mankweng and other surrounding townships.
Port Elizabeth is one of South Africa’s important sea ports. The city, the largest in the Eastern Cape, lies on the south-eastern coastline of South Africa. It is known for its sunshine, temperate climate, exhilarating sea breezes and magnificent golden beaches. The city forms part of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, which unites Uitenhage and Despatch and is named after South Africa’s former President, humanitarian and world icon, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who was born and spent his formative years in the Eastern Cape.
Pretoria is a progressive city whose charm lies in its harmonious blend of African roots and European traditions. It is a city where history meets 21st century style and development, and where vibrant township scenes complement modern shopping centres. Pretoria is an important industrial centre, with heavy industries, including iron and steel casting as well as automobile, railroad and machinery manufacture. The city has the second-largest number of embassies in the world after Washington, DC. It serves as the executive (administrative) capital of the country.
Rustenburg is a large town situated at the foot of the Magalies mountain range in the North West. Just outside the town are the largest platinum mines in the world and the largest platinum refinery, which processes about 70% of the world’s platinum. The town is surrounded by fertile farming land.
Tourism in the provinces
The Western Cape continues to be one of the destinations most favoured by foreigners. Everyone wants to see Cape Town, one of the world’s most beautiful cities. Some attractions in Cape Town are:
- the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
- the Company’s Gardens
- the District Six Museum
- the houses of Parliament and the South African National Gallery
- a boat trip to Robben Island, the place where former President Nelson Mandela spent most of his 27 years in jail.
South Africa is home to the world’s largest individually timed cycle race (the Cape Argus Cycle Race), the world’s largest open-water swim (the Midmar Mile) and the world’s largest ultra-marathon (the Comrades Marathon).
Table Mountain is a popular site for visitors and provides a majestic backdrop to the vibrant and friendly ‘Mother City’. The top of the mountain can be reached by an ultramodern cableway. Newlands is home to the world-renowned Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and a well-known rugby stadium.
Cape Point, part of the Table Mountain National Park, offers many drives, walks, picnic spots and a licensed restaurant. The park has a marine protected area encompassing almost 1 000 km2. Hout Bay is well known for its colourful working harbour, seafood outlets, round-the-bay trips to the nearby seal island, and a harbour-front emporium that attracts many visitors. The wine routes outside Cape Town offer the chance to taste first-class wines in arguably the most beautiful winelands in the world. Superb accommodation is available in historic towns such as Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, as well as on many estates and farms.
Adventures by Disney has chosen South Africa as one of eight new destinations for its list of family-friendly adventures in locations around the world in 2009. Launched in 2005, Adventures by Disney offers guided family-vacation experiences to destinations in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia. Adventures by Disney’s 12-day, 11-night South African trip starts in Cape Town before visiting the Western Cape Garden Route, and the towns of George and Knysna and venturing into safari country at Kapama Game Reserve next to the Kruger National Park. Families are accompanied from start to finish by two Disney-trained adventure guides, who are experts on their destination. Also on offer in 2009 is an even more luxurious version of the standard itinerary on two Adventures by Disney tours – one being the South Africa trip. Known as Disney Signature Trips, these will offer an enhanced travel experience, including upgraded accommodation, special amenities and events not offered on standard departures.
The Garden Route has well-developed tourist infrastructure, spectacular scenery and a temperate climate, making the region popular all year round.
Not to be missed
- the city of George is at the heart of the Garden Route and the Mecca of golf in the southern Cape. It is home to the renowned Fancourt Country Club and Golf Estate.
- Knysna, nestling on an estuary, is one of South Africa’s favourite destinations, famous for its indigenous forests, lakes and beaches.
- just 20km from Oudtshoorn, the ostrich-feather capital of the world, at the start of the Cango Valley lie the Cango Caves, the only show caves in Africa that offer a choice of tours in various languages. The remarkable caves are a series of 30 spectacular subterranean limestone caverns. The cave system is 5.3 km long.
The Central Karoo forms part of one of the world’s most interesting and unique arid zones. This ancient, fossil-rich land, with the richest desert flora in the world, also has the world’s largest variety of succulents.
- Matjiesfontein, a tiny railway village in the Karoo, offers tourists a peek into the splendour of colonial Victorian South Africa.
- Prince Albert is a well-preserved town, which nestles at the foot of the Swartberg mountains. The Fransie Pienaar Museum offers interesting cultural-history displays, a fossil room and an exhibit of gold-mining activities in the 19th century.
- The museum in Beaufort West, birthplace of heart surgeon Professor Chris Barnard, depicts the story of the world’s first heart transplant. The Karoo National Park on the outskirts of the town is also worth a visit.
The Augrabies Falls National Park, with its magnificent falls pressing through a narrow rock ravine, remains the main attraction of the Northern Cape. Game drives reveal a variety of birdlife and animals such as klipspringer, steenbok, wild cats and otters.
- the Kimberley Mine Museum is South Africa’s largest full-scale open-air museum. Underground mine tours are a big attraction. The Freddy Tate Golf Museum at the Kimberley Golf Club was the first golfing museum in Africa. The Kimberley Ghost Trail has become a popular tourist attraction.
- the Robert Sobukwe House in Galeshewe was once the residence of Robert Sobukwe, an important figure in South African history and a major role-player in the rise of African political consciousness.
- the Orange River Wine Cellars Co-op in Upington offers wine-tastings and cellar tours. The South African Dried Fruit Co-operative is the second-largest in the world.
- Moffat’s Mission in Kuruman is a tranquil place, featuring the house of missionary Robert Moffat, whose son-in-law was explorer David Livingstone.
- Namaqualand, the land of the Nama and San people, puts on a spectacular show in spring when its floral splendour covers vast tracts of desert in a riot of colour.
- a cultural centre at Wildebeestkuil outside Kimberley features !Xun and Khwe artwork for sale and a tour of rock engravings by these indigenous people.
- the 100m high, 9km long and 2km wide white sand dune at the Witsand Nature Reserve near Postmasburg should not be missed.
In the capital, Bloemfontein, the Eerste Raadsaal (First Parliament Building) was built in 1849 as a school and is the city’s oldest surviving building that is still in its original condition. It is still used as the seat of the Provincial Legislature.
The National Women’s Memorial is a sandstone obelisk, 36,5m high, which commemorates the women and children who died in concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer/South African War.
Not to be missed
- Clarens, the jewel of the Free State, is surrounded by spectacular scenery and boasts many art galleries.
- the Golden Gate Highlands National Park outside Clarens has beautiful sandstone rock formations.
- The King’s Park Rose Garden in Bloemfontein boasts more than 4 000 rose bushes.
- the Vredefort Dome, a world heritage site, is the oldest and largest meteorite impact site in the world. It was formed about two billion years ago when a giant meteorite hit Earth.
The Eastern Cape is the only province in South Africa, and one of the few places on Earth, where all seven biomes (major vegetation types) converge.
What to see and do
- the rugged beauty of the Wild Coast, including Hole-in-the-Wall
- Port Elizabeth, the sunshine capital of the Eastern Cape, with its friendly people and excellent beaches
- the Red Location Museum of the People’s Struggle in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth – winner of three international awards
- the Tsitsikamma National Park, forests and rivers
- East London, South Africa’s only river port, originally established as a supply port to serve the British military headquarters at King Williams Town
- the village of Qunu, former President Mandela’s childhood home
- the world’s highest bungee jump (216m) at the Bloukrans Bridge over the Storms River
- outstanding and varied game reserves, including the Addo Elephant, Mountain Zebra and Mkambati parks
Limpopo is well endowed with cultural diversity, historical sites and tourist attractions, and is an excellent destination for get-away-from-it-all luxury holidays in the bush.
Not to be missed
- the Mokopane vicinity has several nature reserves. The Arend Dieperink Museum offers a fine cultural-historical collection, while the Makapan caves are famous for their fossils. The Makapan Valley is the only cultural-heritage site of its kind. It reflects the history of the Ndebele people and resistance wars dating back 151 years. The fossil hominid sites of Sterkfontein include Makapan Valley.
- with its outstanding game reserves, the Thabazimbi district is one of the fastest-growing ecotourism areas in South Africa.
- Bela-Bela is well known among South Africans, and increasingly foreigners, for its hot-water springs, fun water slides and scenery.
- the Waterberg mountain range is rich in indigenous trees, streams, springs, wetlands, birdlife and dramatic vistas.
- The Modjadji Nature Reserve, north of Tzaneen, is named after the legendary Rain Queen, Modjadju, who inspired Rider Haggard’s She.
- Phalaborwa has one of the country’s top-rated golf courses – just watch out for animals on the fairways.
- the Schoemansdal Voortrekker Town and Museum, a short drive west of Makhado, are built on the site of an original Voortrekker village and depict their lifestyle in the mid-18th century.
- the Big Tree in the Nutale district is one of the largest known baobabs in southern Africa.
The province abounds with attractions, including wild animals and fun nights at the famous Sun City and Lost City resorts.
- the historic Route of Mafikeng includes the town of Mafikeng, which was besieged by the Boers during the Anglo-Boer/South African War.
- the Groot Marico region, mampoer (moonshine) country, is associated with author Herman Charles Bosman.
- the Hartbeespoort Dam and surrounds are popular for weekend outings, yachting and golf.
- the Pilansberg National Park supports over 7 000 head of game, including the Big Five, and 350 bird species.
- Sun City and the Palace of the Lost City are hugely popular tourist attractions, offering gambling, golf, extravaganza shows, water sport and an artificial sea.
- the Taung skull fossil site is an extension of the Sterkfontein hominid sites. The site marks the place where the celebrated Taung skull – a specimen of the species Australopithecus africanus – was found in 1924.
- Madikwe Game Reserve, one of South Africa’s largest game reserves, is home to 66 large mammal species, including the Big Five, and about 300 resident and migrant bird species.
Mpumalanga the place where the sun rises lies in the north-eastern part of South Africa, bordered by Mozambique to the east and the Kingdom of Swaziland to the south-east. Scenic beauty and wildlife are abundant.
- historical sites and villages, old wagon routes and monuments mark the lives of the characters who came to Mpumalanga seeking their fortune. The town of Pilgrims Rest is a living monument reflecting the regions gold-fever period.
- the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve hear Graskop has striking rock formations and a rich diversity of plants.
- within the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, the Bourke’s Luck potholes were formed by river erosion and the action of flood water. The spectacular Blyde River Canyon is a 26-km long gorge carved out of the face of the escarpment. It is the world’s third-largest canyon and the only green canyon.
- the region includes the southern section of the Kruger NationalPark, which draws a million visitors yearly.
- South Africa’s largest freshwater lake.
- Dullstroom is popular with trout and fly fishing enthusiasts
Gauteng, the economic heart of southern Africa, offers a vibrant business environment and many tourist attractions, including a rainbow of ecological and cultural diversity.
- the Vaal Dam covers some 300km2 and is a popular venue for water sport. Numerous resorts line the shore. The dam is also popular with birders and anglers.
- the Sterkfontein caves near Krugersdorp are the site of the discovery of the skull of the famous Mrs Ples, an estimated 2.5 million-year-old fossil. and Little Foot, an almost complete hominid skeleton of more than 3.3 million years old.
- the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden has a 70m high waterfall, stunning indigenous plant displays and a breeding pair of black eagles.
- there is a ring of hills a kilometre in diameter and 100m high just 40 km north of Pretoria. These hills are the walls of the Tswaing Meteorite Crater, left by an asteroid 200 000 years ago.
- the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria is considered one of the 10 best in the world.
- the Constitution Hill Precinct is set to become one of South Africa’s most popular landmarks.
- the old mining town of Cullinan is where the world’s biggest diamond, the 3 106-carat Cullinan diamond, was found.
- a guided tour of Soweto leaves a lasting impression of this vast community’s life and struggle against apartheid.
- the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg tells the story of the legacy of apartheid through photographs, film and artefacts.
- the Union Buildings in Pretoria was the venue for the inauguration of presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.
Also known as the Zulu Kingdom, KwaZulu-Natal is a combination of natural wonders, fascinating culture and ultra-modern facilities.
Durban’s Golden Mile skirts the main beaches of the Indian Ocean. Drawcards include an amusement centre, paddling pools, paved walkways and fountains.
- the uShaka Marine World theme park comprises an oceanarium, dolphinarium and oceanographic research institute situated on Durban’s Point.
- spot dolphins or laze the days away on the coastline between the Umdloti and Tugela rivers the Dolphin Coast.
- the Hluhluwu-Umfolozi Park, one of the largest game parks in South Africa, is home to the Big Five, as well as cheetah and wild dogs.
- the eMakhosini Valley, birthplace of King Shaka and the Valley of Zulu Kings give visitors insight into the Zulu nation’s history and culture.
- the iSimangaliso Wetland Park (formerly the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park) is one of the highest forested dunes in the world, and has an abundance of fish and birds.
- the Banana Express runs between Umkomaas and the Wild Coast.
- the Royal Natal National Park offers many scenic highlights, including the Amphitheatre, Mont-aux-Sources and the Tugela falls.
- the Battlefields Route in northern KwaZulu-Natal has the highest concentration of battlefields and related military sites in South Africa.
- every year around June or July, millions of sardines leave their home on the Agulhas banks and move up to the coast of Mozambique. Thousands of dolphins, Cape gannets, sharks and game fish follow the ‘sardine run’ northwards.
Things to see and do in South Africa
Just a few of the attractions that make South Africa an exceptional destination:
- breathtaking Cape Town with its laid-back, welcoming attitude and vibrant nightlife, nestling at the foot of Table Mountain
- Cape Point
- the delights of Sun City and the Lost City and many other
- first-rate casino resorts
- walking in the spectacular Drakensberg mountains
- the chance to learn how to say ‘hello’ in 11 official languages
- the country’s Blue Flag beaches
- the variety of national parks and transfrontier conservation areas
- seven world heritage sites
- the lilac-breasted roller, the blue crane and the other 900 bird species to be spotted in southern Africa
- the Big Five and other wild animals found in the many parks and game reserves
- the strange halfmens (half-human) and the exotic baobab, just some of South Africa’s many amazing trees and plants
- battlefields on which imperial Britain fought Zulus, Xhosas and Boers
- the dazzling floral displays which carpet Namaqualand yearly
- the mountains, forests and beaches of the Garden Route the silence and solitude of the Karoo’s wide-open spaces
- country hospitality (and home cooking) in hundreds of picturesque towns and villages across South Africa
- the endless golden beaches of the Eastern Cape
- fly-fishing in stunning scenery with first-class accommodation
- fabulous golf courses that produced the likes of Gary Player, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen
- an array of cultural villages, arts festivals, rock paintings and museums
- the adrenaline rush of the man adventure-tourism opportunities available in the country.