Lonely Planet guide to South Africa

Published: 07 November 2007

South Africa is an exhilarating and complex country. With its post-apartheid identity still in the process of definition, there is undoubtedly an abundance of energy and a sense of progress about the place.

Travellers are returning to a remarkable land that has been off the trail for way too long.

The infrastructure is constantly improving, the climate is kind and there are few better places to see Africa's wildlife. But if you want to understand South Africa, you'll have to deal with the full spectrum; poverty, the AIDS pandemic and violence remain a problem.

When To Go:

South Africa can be visited comfortably any time. Winter (June to September) is cooler, drier and ideal for hiking and outdoor pursuits.

This is also the best time for wildlife-watching. Spring is the best time to see vast expanses of Northern Cape carpeted with wildflowers.

More of a consideration than weather are school holidays when waves of vacation-hungry South Africans stream out of the cities, with visitors from Europe and North America adding to the crush.

Accommodation is heavily booked, and prices can more than double. It's essential to book in advance. On the plus side, the high summer months offer some great festivals, including the Cape Town New Year Karnaval, and Swaziland's Incwala ceremony.

South Africa – Fast Facts:

  • Full Name: The Republic of South Africa
  • Capital City: Pretoria (official); Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative).
  • Area: 1,233,404 sq km / 476,217 sq miles
  • Population: 43,800,000
  • Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2 ()
  • Daylight Saving Start: not in use
  • Daylight Saving End: not in use
  • Languages: Zulu (official), Xhosa (official), Afrikaans (official), English (official), Tswana (official), Sotho, Southern (official), Swati (official), South Ndebele (official)
  • Religion: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and traditional religions
  • Currency: Rand (R)
  • Electricity: 220/230V 50HzHz
  • Electric Plug Details: South African/Indian-style plug with two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin
  • Country Dialing Code: 27