Every country in the world displays some diversity, but South Africa, stretching from the hippos in the Limpopo River to the penguins waddling on the Cape, takes some beating. It truly befits its position at the southern end of the world's most epic continent.
Welcome to the deserted Kalahari, Namakwa's springtime symphony of wildflowers, iconic Table Mountain and Cape Point, northern Swaziland's hills and ravines, Kruger National Park's wildlife-stalked savannah and, running through the east of the country and into Lesotho, the Drakensberg.
If you're interested in another kind of wildlife, hit the nightclubs on Cape Town's jumping Long St, or sample African homebrew in a township shebeen (unlicensed bar). Fill up on seafood along the Garden Route, curry in Durban's Indian Area, a sizzling Cape Malay dish, or a braai (barbecue) in the wilderness - accompanied by a bottle of something nice from the oldest wine industry outside Europe.
From Xhosa villages and Indian Ocean horizons to trunk-swinging elephants and baobab trees, the southern tip of Africa offers a vast array of unforgettable experiences. Lace up and discover the top five ways to see South Africa on foot.
Navigating the South African landscape - from national parks and snowy mountains to sunflower fields and sandy beaches - will send you round the bend in the best possible way. Hit the tarmac with these top South African road trips.
South Africa's oldest port city has hosted sailors and swashbucklers since the Dutch set up shop in 1652. Discover today's Cape Town, where the eyepatches and anchor tattoos have made way for a uniquely vibrant and diverse nightlife.
This delightful itinerary will take you 1000km on good roads through some of the most beautiful country in Southern Africa. You could whiz along in about 10 days, or relax along the way and stretch things out to three weeks or more.
Even if you can't squeeze everything in on this 5000km plus journey, you'll gain an excellent overview of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Six weeks is the bare minimum (more by public transport); give yourself at least two months to allow time for detours.
4 - 6 weeks
After travelling some 2500km through South Africa's vast, open northwest, settling back into an urban lifestyle won't be easy. Consider a 4WD for |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld, Kgalagadi and Augrabies Falls parks, and allow six weeks to include more hiking and activities.
Got questions? We've got answers. Here, experts from Lonely Planet and Visa answer commonly asked questions about travelling to South Africa and managing your money while you're there. Have more questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: If the shopkeeper offers to charge me in my home currency instead of the local currency, is that a good idea?
Answer: [Visa expert] When you travel internationally, some merchants may offer you the option to convert your purchases into your home currency at the register. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and means the merchant - not Visa or your issuing bank - is converting the currency. While you may appreciate the convenience of knowing the exact price in your home currency at the point-of-sale, you should be aware that the merchant may charge you for this service. Visa requires that you be given a choice to either accept or decline DCC. In addition, Visa requires merchants offering this service to inform cardholders of the exchange rate including any applicable commissions or fees being charged. Only agree to this do this if you think you are getting a good deal.
Question: What's the best time of year to visit South Africa?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] South Africa is a year round destination. For Cape Town and the beaches the best time to visit is in summer (November to March). For wildlife viewing, the drier winter season (May to October) is the best bet.
Question: Should I be worried about crime?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Violent crimes tend to take place away from major tourist areas and most visits pass without incident. Don't walk the streets after dark, lock car doors and close windows while driving, keep valuables out of sight and take care when using ATMs.
Question: Where's the best place for a safari?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Kruger National Park is popular, with excellent infrastructure and a wide range of accommodation, but it can get busy. Malaria-free Madikwe is quieter, and elephants are found by the tonne in Addo National Park. Luxurious private game reserves are a popular option for those with cash to flash.
Question: What do I do if I lose my card?
Answer: [Visa expert] Call your bank immediately to cancel your card. In an emergency, you can get a temporary card replacement or cash disbursement in 24-48 hours with the help of Visa's Global Customer Assistance Service (GCAS).
Question: How can I get around?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] South Africa has good roads and self-drive is a practical and popular option. There are also reliable coach services, trains, hop-on-hop-off backpacker buses and budget airlines such as Kulula and Mango flying between major cities.
Question: What's the standard of accommodation like?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Fantastic. South Africa has everything from luxury safari lodges and international chain hotel to well-equipped camping grounds and raucous backpacker hostels. There's also a high quality and very popular network of B&Bs.
Question: What is the best way to access cash when I am abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] With your Visa card you can access local currency from 1.8 million ATMs worldwide - just look for the Visa or PLUS sign. All ATM transactions require a PIN so make sure you know yours prior to leaving on your trip. Your PIN should be 4 digits as many international ATMs do not accept longer PINs. It's a good idea to contact your issuing bank before you leave and ask if your cards have daily cash withdrawal restrictions.
Question: What exchange rate will I receive when using my Visa card abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] Exchange rates on Visa cards are competitive and may be better than rates available from other sources. You can research Visa's current exchange rate for your destination using the Visa exchange rate calculator. This will allow you to compare it to the exchange rates offered by foreign exchange bureaus. Do remember that there is always a charge for changing currency, no matter where you do it – at a bank, hotel, bureau, online or by buying travellers' cheques. Visa cards are no exception.
Question: Do I need to let my bank know that I'm traveling before I depart? And who at the bank should I tell?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes, it is good practice to let your bank know you will be travelling so they don't decline any of your legitimate transactions. Call your bank's credit card customer service centre - the number is usually on the back of your card.
Question: Can I use my Visa credit, debit or prepaid card in South Africa?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes. Most tourist areas are well populated with ATMs that accept internationally issued Visa cards - just look for the Visa logo. Similarly, all retailers who accept Visa will clearly display the Visa logo in their stores.
Question: Will I be charged a fee for using my Visa card while overseas?
Answer: [Visa expert] Fees are dependent on your issuing bank and whether they will just charge you the foreign exchange conversion rate or include an additional service charge. Some banks charge an ATM access fee as well. For more details, contact your issuing bank.
From January 2nd
Dating back to the early 19th century when slaves enjoyed a day of freedom over the New Year period, Cape Town's most colourful street party runs for a month from 2 January. It's a noisy, joyous and disorganised affair with practically every colour of satin, sequin and glitter used in the costumes of the 1000-plus marching troupes!
January/February and April/May
This major Hindu festival is held twice a year. It honours the god Muruga, who heals and dispels misfortune and, is accompanied by body piercing with skewers as a sign of devotion.
Cape Town's biggest jazz event, attracting big names from both South Africa and overseas, is usually held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre at the end of March. It includes a free concert in Greenmarket Sq. http://www.capetownjazzfest.com/
The annual Easter weekend features this long-running music festival of gentle, alternative styles including rock, pop and jazz with a fringe; held at Splashy Fen Farm, about 20km north of Underberg in the foothills of the southern Drakensberg. http://www.splashyfen.co.za/
1st - 5th May
Little Karoo National Arts Festival dedicates itself to the 'renaissance of Afrikaans' and showcases indigenous artists, poets, thespians and musicians in a riotous week-long festival of creativity. Held in Oudtshoorn, this is South Africa's best-attended festival of its kind. http://www.kknk.co.za/
The Comrades Marathon is as a living memorial to the hardships suffered by the soldiers of the Great War. The first race took place in 1921 with 34 runners and today it attracts thousands of athletes and spectators. The 89km road race is run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg, alternating directions each year. http://www.comrades.com/
The country's largest festival and its associated Fringe Festival run for 10 days at the beginning of July in Grahamstown, 'Africa's Festival Capital'. The Fringe alone has more than 200 events. Check ahead as accommodation can be booked out a year in advance; and nights can be freezing so bring something warm. http://www.nafest.co.za/
Fashion in Cape Town is hot and this event held in August is the place to catch the hottest of designers' work. http://www.capetownfashionweek.com/
Held in September in Johannesburg, a strong element of this festival are the workshops that reveal the continent's rich cultures, denigrated for so long by the Eurocentrism of the apartheid years. The festival is a particularly good time to hear excellent music, on and off the official program. Most events are staged in Newtown. http://www.artsalive.co.za/
During the month of October
More than 30,000 Zulus gather at Judea for this eye-opening festival celebrating the Shembe, the Church of the Holy Nazareth Baptists - an unofficial religion that manages to combine Zulu traditions with Christianity. Throughout the festival the emphasis is on celebration, with much dancing and singing and the blowing of the horns of Jericho.
South Africa's biggest street festival takes over the suburb of Observatory in Cape Town on the first weekend of December with live music and DJ concerts, comedy performances, film screenings and a street market. http://www.obzfestival.com/
This colourful, five-day Hare Krishna festival, held in December in Durban, is also known as the Festival of Chariots.