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South Africa

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Continent:Africa National flag
National flag: South Africa
Capital city:Pretoria, Cape Town
Area:1,225,820 km2 ( 23. )
Population:44,344,136 Person ( 25. )
People density:36 Person / km2
GDP per capita:2,815 $ / Person ( 63. )
GDP:124,828,742,840 $
Official language:english, afrikaans, zulu, khosa, tswana, severné a

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South Africa is a large, diverse and incredibly beautiful country. The size of France and Spain combined, it varies from the picturesque Garden Route towns of the Western Cape to the raw stretch of subtropical coast in northern KwaZulu-Natal. It’s also one of the great cultural meeting points of the African continent, a fact obscured by years of enforced racial segregation, but now manifest in the big cities. Yet South Africa is also something of an enigma; it has the best travel facilities on the African continent, but also the most difficult surface to scratch. After so long as an international pariah, the "rainbow nation" is still struggling to find its identity.

Many visitors are pleasantly surprised by South Africa’s excellent infrastructure, which draws favourable comparison with countries such as Australia or the United States. Good air links and bus networks, excellent roads and a growing number of first-class B&Bs and guesthouses make South Africa a perfect touring country and – with the dramatic slide of the rand in 2001 – a cheap one too for visitors. For those on a budget, rapidly mushrooming backpacker hostels and backpacker buses provide an efficient means of exploring.

However, as a visitor, you’ll have to make an effort to meet members of the country’s African majority on equal terms. Apartheid may be dead, but its heritage continues to shape South Africa in a very physical way. The country was organized for the benefit of whites, so it’s easy to get a very white-orientated experience of Africa. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the layout of towns and cities, where African areas – often desperately poor – are usually tucked out of sight.

Some visitors are surprised to discover that South Africa’s population doesn’t reduce simply to black and white. The country’s majority group are Africans (77 percent of the population); whites make up 11 percent, followed by coloureds (9 percent) – the descendants of white settlers, slaves and Africans, who speak English and Afrikaans and comprise the majority in the Western Cape. Indians (3 percent), most of whom live in KwaZulu-Natal, came to South Africa at the beginning of the twentieth century as indentured labourers.

Crime isn’t the indiscriminate phenomenon that press reports suggest, but it is an issue. Really, it’s a question of perspective – taking care but not becoming paranoid. Statistically, the odds of becoming a victim are highest in downtown Johannesburg, where violent crime is a daily reality. Other cities present a reduced risk – similar to, say, some parts of the United States; many country areas are safe by any standards.

While you could circuit the whole of South Africa in a matter of weeks, a more satisfying approach is to focus your attention on one section of the country. Every one of the nine provinces (plus Lesotho and Swaziland) holds at least a couple of compelling reasons to visit, although, depending on the time of year and your interests, you’d be wise to concentrate on either the west or the east.

The west, best visited in the warmer months (Nov–April), has the outstanding attraction of Cape Town, worth experiencing for its matchless setting beneath Table Mountain, at the foot of the continent. Half a day’s drive from here can take you to any other destination in the Western Cape, a province which owes its distinctive character to the fact that it has the longest-established colonial heritage in the country. You’ll find gabled Cape Dutch architecture, historic towns and vineyard-covered mountains in the Winelands; forested coast along the Garden Route; and a dry interior punctuated by Afrikaner dorps in the Little Karoo.

If the west sounds a bit too pretty and you’re after a more "African" experience, head for the eastern flank of the country, best visited in the cooler months (May–Oct). Johannesburg is likely to be your point of entry to this area: its frenetic street life, soaring office blocks and lively mix of people make it quite unlike anywhere else in the country. Half a day away by car lie the Northern Province and Mpumalanga, which share the mighty Kruger National Park. Of South Africa’s roughly two dozen major parks, the Kruger attracts the largest number of first-time visitors, and is unrivalled on the continent for its cross-section of mammal species.

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Map of country South Africa

Map of country  South Africa

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