• 3 June 2017

Getting ready for a South African tour, but not quite sure what goes where? If it’s your first time preparing for a trip to SA, the geography can be a little confusing. You may be wondering if Cape Town is the capital. Or if the Karoo is a province. And how we keep the lions from interfering with traffic. All kidding aside, here’s a little geography lesson. We promise to keep it brief.

Where is South Africa?

The Republic of South Africa is pretty easy to find on a map. It’s way down below at the bottom of the African continent. It shares borders with the African countries Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The country has a very long coastline – 2789 km along the Indian and South Atlantic Ocean. These two oceans meet at the tip of Africa. This unique geographical location can cause extreme weather conditions and it’s why the Cape Peninsula near Cape Town is sometimes called the Cape of Storms.

Cape Point nature reserve is a one hour drive from Cape Town, on the southeast corner of the Cape Peninsula. It’s here where the Indian and Atlantic ocean meet.

Good to know! South Africa and Southern Africa are two different things. South Africa is a country. Southern Africa refers to the entire southern region of the African continent. This generally includes Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

What’s up with the three capital cities? And where are the major airports?

Leave it up to a headstrong nation to choose no less than THREE capitals. Pretoria is the executive capital. Bloemfontein is the judicial capital. Cape Town is the legislative capital. It won’t be important to your travels, but it does make for some interesting dinner conversation. South Africa’s two major airports are Cape Town International in Cape Town (Western Cape), and OR Tambo International in Johannesburg (Gauteng).

The Cape Peninsula near Cape Town is sometimes called the Cape of Storms.
Panorama of Johannesburg, City of Gold, at dusk.

How is the country divided up?

South Africa has nine provinces. Each province has its own democratically elected body of representatives. It also differs widely in terms of economy, climate and landscape. Here is a quick, very simplified look at the nine provinces:

  1. The Eastern Cape –168 966 km2, 6.56 million inhabitants. The largest city is Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Cape is known for the epic Drakensberg mountain range, great surfing and wildlife experiences.
  2. The Free State – 129 825 km2, 2.74 million inhabitants. The largest city is Bloemfontein and the Free State is known for safari destinations, hiking trails and nature reserves.
  3. Gauteng – 16 548 km2, 12.27 million inhabitants. The largest city is Johannesburg and Gauteng is known for the UNESCO-listed Cradle of Humankind and mining activities. This is where gold was found for the first time in South Africa.
  4. KwaZulu-Natal – 94 361 km2, 10.27 million inhabitants. The largest city is Durban and Kwazulu-Natal is known for its its rich maritime history, beach resorts and wetlands.
  5. Limpopo – 125 775 km2, 5.4 million inhabitants. The largest city is Polokwane and Limpopo is known for the famous Kruger National Park and other impressive game reserves.
  6. Mpumalanga – 76 495 km2, 4.04 million inhabitants. The largest city is Mbombela and Mpumalanga is known for the beautiful Lowveld region and the scenic Panorama Route.
  7. The Northern Cape – 372 889 km2, 3.5 million inhabitants. The largest city is Kimberly and the Northern Cape is known for being the starting point of the diamond rush in the 1800s. It also has some great waterfalls and rather tasty wine.
  8. North West – 106 512 km2, 3.5 million inhabitants. The largest city is Rustenburg and the North West is known for the Sun City resort, hunting lodges, fossils and caves.
  9. The Western Cape – 129 462 km2, 5.82 million inhabitants. The largest city is Cape Town and the Western Cape is known for the beautiful Cape Winelands and stunning coastal scenery.
South Africa and it’s 9 provinces. Interesting fact, the Kingdom of Lesotho is one of is one of three nations in the world that is enclaved within the borders of another country.

But wait, what is the Karoo? And where is the Garden Route?

If you’ve read through our South African tour itineraries, you would have noticed a few regions that aren’t provinces. This can be a little confusing, we know. To clarify, as with any other country, there are parts of South Africa that are referred to as a whole, without that area actually being a legislative unit.

Aerial Shot of Knysna in the Garden Route, South Africa

For instance, on tour we visit the Garden Route. This is a stretch of the south-western coast of South Africa. It reaches from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape. It is called the Garden Route because this area is very green and there are lots of forests, which are rare in South Africa. We also travel to the Karoo, which is even harder to define, because its boundaries aren’t set in stone. Instead, the term refers to a vast area of land that shares common characteristics in terms of geology and climate. Simply put – it’s arid and dry, with extreme temperatures. We realise this doesn’t sound very appealing. But you’ll see, the Karoo is an acquired taste. It gets under your skin with its stark beauty.

So there you have it. Cape Town is one of three capital cities. The Karoo is semi-desert natural region, not a province. And the lions are mostly safely contained in our national parks. Although they break out now and again to keep things interesting! Keep your eye on the blog as we share more info about South Africa and what you can expect on tour. There’s plenty to get excited about, and we look forward to telling you more.

Questions & Comments




  1. Hello. We are thinking of visiting the Kruger national park, Victoria falls and Cape Town in July or August. Can you pls advise what the weather is like and wether you are likely to view the big five in the Kruger in these months? When would you advise the best time to visits.? Thanks.