South Africa is a diverse, fascinating and fun-filled African holiday destination! Visit South Africa and you’ll be treated to beautiful destinations and warm hospitality. This country has emerged from a dark past to become the Rainbow Nation locals and travellers know and love today. There is no shortage of culture, important history and incredible wildlife to experience. To celebrate South Africa ahead of its annual Heritage Day on 24 September, we have put together 10 interesting facts that may surprise you about this magnificent country.
Many people may recognise widely-known tidbits about South Africa; such as the first democratic president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela or the fact that the country hosted the FIFA Soccer World Cup in 2010. But, there is so much more to discover! Did you know that South Africa is the only country other than England to host the soccer, rugby (1995) and cricket (2003) world cups? Read on to discover 10 surprising facts about South Africa!
South Africa is known as the “Rainbow Nation” thanks to its mix of cultures across the country. The status of being a cultural “melting pot” is evident in the fact that South Africa has a whopping 11 official languages: English, Afrikaans, isiZulu, isiXhosa, IsiNdebele, Sesotho, Northern Sotho, Setswana, SiSwati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga. Most South Africans speak more than one national language. IsiZulu is the most common first language and isiXhosa is second. Fun fact – did you know the people of Wakanda speak isiXhosa in Marvel’s Black Panther movie?
Did you know? South Africa celebrates its annual Heritage Day on 24 September. On this day, South Africans get together to celebrate their diverse cultures, traditions and beliefs. You’ll most likely find people enjoying a braai (barbecue) and dressed in traditional garb.
While the country only covers 1% of the Earth’s land surface, South Africa boasts 10% of the world’s bird, fish and plant species as well as 6% of its mammal and reptile species!
Lions, elephants and giraffes may not roam the city streets, but nature and animals are never too far away in South Africa. From vervet monkeys swinging through tree-lined streets in the suburbs and baboons frolicking around Cape Point to seals visiting the Hout Bay harbour in search of a fishy snack and an array of bird species taking to the sky at any given moment. Wildlife is all around!
For an unforgettable bucket-list activity, search for the famous Big 5 (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) on safari in one of South Africa’s national parks or private game reserves. A South African safari is an experience like no other!
The waters surrounding the 2,500km long coastline are teeming with life. You’ll find great white sharks, African penguins, dolphins and much much more in South Africa’s oceans. Many travellers visit the coast to watch the annual whale migrations. In Hermanus, in the Western Cape, you can see hundreds of whales from June to late November. Simon’s Town, another coastal Western Cape town, is home to Boulder’s Beach. Here you can swim alongside colonies of African Penguins!
Some of the earliest evidence of human evolution has been unearthed at fossil sites northwest of Johannesburg in the Sterkfontein Caves! Archaeologists have discovered human remains here, some of which are more than 2 million years old! These discoveries have earned the area the title of “the Cradle of Humankind” which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
South Africa’s natural and human fossil history dates back hundreds of thousands, even millions, of years. Early dinosaur fossils have been discovered in the Western Cape and up to 80% of mammalian fossils found so far have been discovered in the Karoo.
Travel tip: You can visit the hominid fossil displays and learn more about the beginnings of our planet at the Maropeng Visitors Centre and Sterkfontein Caves.
South Africa is home to a variety of landscapes and biomes, including deserts, wetlands, bushveld, grasslands, mountains and subtropical forests.
It’s a holiday destination like no other! Looking for a beach holiday? South Africa has sunshine, sea and golden beaches. Seeking a safari adventure? South Africa is home to incredible wildlife and game reserves. Keen for an escape into wine country? South Africa’s Cape Winelands are waiting to be explored! On top of all of this, you can discover cosmopolitan cities and quaint seaside towns. Or, drive through breathtaking mountain passes and travel along dusty, desert roads.
In the Cape Wineland region, you’ll discover the stunning towns of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl. This region is home to many award-winning wine estates that produce incredible varieties and vintages year in and year out. South Africa’s wine country is home to more than 500 registered wineries. While exploring these vineyards and estates, be sure to sample some Pinotage, South Africa’s signature variety!
South Africa is also home to the world’s longest wine route: Route 62. It spans an impressive 850 kilometres and the excellent wineries along the way are a must-visit for lovers of fine wine! You can even enjoy the winelands on a day trip from Cape Town. Travel 40-min to an hour outside of the city centre to enjoy decadent wine tastings and even wander through some of the beautiful wine farms and estates! Suburbs like Durbanville and Constantia are even closer to the city centre and are also home to many exceptional wineries.
Related: Along with wine tasting, here are some of the best things to do in Cape Town!
Three different destinations make up South Africa’s capital cities. This is to represent the South African government being divided into three sections. Cape Town is the legislative capital, Pretoria is the administrative capital and Bloemfontein is the judicial capital. Interestingly, Parliament meetings take place for six months in Cape Town and six months in Pretoria.
The Union Buildings in Pretoria house the President’s official offices. The site is worth a visit to marvel at a larger-than-life statue of Nelson Mandela as well as the immaculate gardens and grounds.
Vilakazi Street in Soweto has been home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners. A tour through Soweto will always stop at Vilakazi Street to reveal a number of heritage sites of great importance to democratic South Africa. Both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived here at some point in their lives. In 1984, Archbishop Desmond Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition for his non-violent fight against the apartheid regime. Nine years later in 1993, Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize with then-president F.W. de Klerk as an award for their role in bringing about the peaceful end of apartheid. Nelson Mandela then went on to become South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994.
Mandela’s house on Vilakazi Street is now a museum. The man who the street was named after, Dr BW Vilakazi, was a poet, novelist and intellectual. He helped develop the written form of both isiZulu and siSwati and helped put together the isiZulu dictionary.
Related: Visit these historic sites to learn more about South Africa’s fascinating history.
South African Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant on 3 December 1967 at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. The groundbreaking surgery was carried out on Louis Washkansky and Dr. Barnard was assisted by a large and exceptional team of surgeons, nurses and technicians. One of Dr. Barnard’s assistants was Hamilton Naki, a black laboratory assistant who had worked previously as a gardener and went on to work in the animal laboratory at the University of Cape Town. He had assisted Dr Barnard with research leading to the transplant. In the apartheid days, Naki had no access to higher education due to his race. Despite being unable to access formal training, he learned from and assisted university researchers and went on to do amazing work.
Travel to Tsitsikamma, on the border of the Western Cape and Eastern Cape to visit the world’s highest commercial bungee jump! Those who are brave enough can take the 216-meter jump off the Bloukrans Bridge and soar through the air towards the Bloukrans River below. Definitely a must for thrill-seekers and adrenaline-junkies!
It’s believed that Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world. Table mountain is approximately 260 million years old; it’s also home to thousands of species of plant life, including species unique to the Cape Floral Region. The glorious mountain is one of the world’s 7 New Natural Wonders. It is also apparently one of 12 main energy centres on the planet emitting spiritual, magnetic, and electric energies. It’s an idyllic and very popular hiking destination with hundreds of routes to explore.
Bonus fact: Did you know that another country lies within the borders of South Africa? The Kingdom of Lesotho is a sovereign state that is located in the Drakensberg Mountain area. The mountainous country has been nicknamed “the Kingdom in the Sky” thanks to the magnificent scenery and landscapes!
South Africa is an incredible destination that excites travellers from all walks of life and from all over the globe. Whether you are travelling with family or friends, are senior travellers or are a solo adventurer, why not plan your very own South African adventure? Take a look at our South Africa tours and get ready to experience the highlights of this magnificent country!
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