Travel to South Africa

Travel to South Africa

Ravishingly beautiful cities, internationally renowned wineries, grand concentrations of wildlife, and an intricately multicultural heritage: Accept the invitation to adventure in South Africa!

South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg, is a global financial center and one of Africa’s most happening urban areas. Besides taking in its impressive hustle and bustle, you can also check out attractions such as the Johannesburg Art Gallery and Nelson Mandela Square. Durban on the Indian Ocean coast welcomes you with the Golden Mile, a glorious belt of beaches dotted with entertainment and shopping centers. On the Atlantic side, Cape Town enjoys one of the most dramatic backdrops of any city on Earth, framed by Table Mountain and a postcard-perfect harbor. Sun worshippers and nature lovers treasure Cape Town’s sand, surf, and rugged hinterland, and the city’s also a great launch pad for exploring the fantastic mosaic of vineyards characterizing the country’s southwest. South Africa harbors some of the continent's most famous national parks and wildlife preserves, offering excellent opportunities to spot on safari the "Big 5": lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and Cape buffalo. And the Drakensberg peaks along the Lesotho border are, in a word, otherworldly.

One of the unique factors of South Africa is the mix of various ethnic and language groups within the country. The biggest ethnic groups include the Zulus, Xhosas and the Sotho, followed by a number of smaller minority groups. In addition to native Africans, there are millions of people of mixed race, descendants of Dutch, German and French immigrants and locals. There is also a large population of Indians whose forefathers came to the country to work on the sugarcane plantations.

The many cultures of the country are best expressed through its art, dance and music. South Africa's arts culture dates back to the ancient rock art of the forefathers of the Bushmen. The apartheid years of the country stirred great diversity in the nation's art in which a variety of art forms and schools co-existed. After WWII, returning soldiers brought European ideas of art back with them while at the same time African forms of art began to influence white South African artists. In addition, new forms of art evolved that made use of materials at hand in the townships and mines, such as bicycle spokes and plastic strips and wires.

As with much of the country's arts, music was shaped by the country's history and diverse cultures. Musical instruments such as the ramkie and mamaokhorong were a fusion of Western musical instruments and indigenous music. Jazz music, particularly popular in the townships, evolved into three distinct genres: Township jazz, Marabi and Black Jazz. In the 1980's a form of music referred to as 'bubblegum', a type of dance music influenced by American disco, became very popular in the townships and a style known as kwaito, an African spin on international dance or club music swept the country in the 1990's. Today the latter rivals gospel music as one the two best-selling genres of music in the country today.

Post-apartheid Africa has resulted in a renaissance for dance as an African art form. Dance companies have been evolving away from classical ballet towards a more contemporary style known as Afrofusion. Afrofusion marries the formal techniques of dance with an African spirit.

Soccer is everyone's favorite sport; in 2010 the country hosted the first World Cup ever held on the African continent. Cricket and rugby, a legacy of Indian and British settlers, are next in popularity. The country has both hosted and won the Rugby World Cup.

South Africa's coastline blesses the country with superb seafood. A good climate and fertile soil provides a variety of vegetables and agricultural products, though the country's gastronomy is heavily starch and meat based. In fact, braai, or barbecue, goes beyond cuisine and is more about social tradition than food.

Because of its history, South African cuisine is truly multicultural. Foreign influences by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, Malaysians, Indians and French mixed with native culinary traditions. Boerewors, hand-made grilled sausages made with beef, pork, coriander and vinegar, is one example of Dutch influence. Bobotie, a curried meat casserole, has Malaysian origins. Indian samosas are a popular snack food. Some dishes have true African roots; pap is a dish made with maize, similar to polenta. Biltong, is a type of dried, salted meat and Chakalaka, a spicy dish consisting of tomatoes, beans and onions was born in the townships.

Adventurous eaters might want to try restaurants that offer game such as crocodile, impala and warthog. The truly adventurous might seek out local dining opportunities such as fried caterpillars or sheep heads.

Although South Africa has been producing wine for some time, only recently has it received true recognition for its wines. It was the Dutch, followed by the French, who started cultivating vineyards in the southern part of the country where the climate and topography are the best match to those of traditional wine producing countries. Chenin blanc is the most widely planted varietal.

Located on the southernmost part of the continent of Africa, South Africa is bordered by Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe Mozambique and Swaziland, and it surrounds the nation of Lesotho. The country is one-eighth the size of the United States. South Africa's coastline extends over 1,500 miles touching both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and visitors enjoy relaxing on the country's many beaches.

The most iconic sight is Table Mountain in Cape Town, named for its distinctive flat top. Getting there is part of the experience with most choosing a cable car ride, though adrenaline junkies enjoy rock climbing to get to the top to admire the spectacular views. The Drakensberg Mountains are considered to be the most impressive mountain range in the country and the caves of the northern peaks contain Bushman paintings.

Johannesburg is the economic heart of the country and the largest city South Africa in terms of population. This modern city is also home to Africa's tallest structures yet is also full of trees, parks and gardens. The next most populous city, Cape Town, is South Africa's most popular tourist destination due to its beaches, dramatic Table Mountain, Two Oceans Aquarium and the Victoria & Albert Waterfront with its many shopping and entertainment opportunities. Durban contains the busiest port in South Africa, attractive beaches, a new casino and a bird zoo.

Most visited cities: Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth

For thousands of years, this part of Africa had been home to the Bushmen people and the Hottentots, or Khoikhoi people, before there were even written histories. The arrival of European seafarers in the 16th and 17th centuries had serious repercussions to the native population who were ravaged by the smallpox the Europeans brought. European settlers, who became known as Boers or Afrikaners, formed a colony at Cape Town and eventually tried to establish an independent republic. However, after the Napoleonic Wars, the British took control in 1815 freeing the slaves and bringing thousands of additional settlers to the area. The Boers were unhappy with the slave trade being declared illegal and the "Groot Trek" began in which over 10,000 Boers left the colony and headed north.

The disgruntlement of the Boers along with the discovery of diamonds in the 1860's sparked the Boer War. After the Boer's loss, the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910. With the founding of the South African Union, the foundations of apartheid were laid as only the white population could vote and almost 90% percent of the land was off limits for blacks to purchase. The African National Congress protested these and other oppressive measures initiated by the Union. South Africa's entry into WWI supporting Britain further antagonized anti-British Afrikaners.

In 1944 the ANC formed a Youth League and a young Nelson Mandela served as its secretary. Nevertheless, it was the Nationalist Party which gained power in the 1948 election and enacted further oppressive measures and apartheid ideology became official policy for approximately the next fifty years. During the 1970's and 1980's escalating violence led to a state of emergency and sanctions by other nations. The year 1990 was a landmark in South African history; FW de Klerk lifted the restrictions on opposition groups such as the ANC and Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years in prison. Finally in 1994 South Africa held its first democratic elections and Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President.

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