Spread out over an astounding 386,000 square miles at the base of Africa, this southern powerhouse is probably the continent's best known destination. Think you know what to expect? Think again, because South Africa can pull out as many surprises as it can Big Five safaris. From the rapidly changing landscape and poignant history of Jo'burg to the glorious wetlands on the Mozambique border, you're in for an eye-opening ride.Big city life
Johnannesburg, Jo'burg, Jozi. Whatever name you've come to know it by, this city is undergoing some seriously big changes. Many visitors fly into the airport here before heading straight out again but pause a while and you'll find an urban sprawl that is literally on the rise. Office blocks and apartments are soaring skywards, whilst up-and-coming neighbourhoods sprout theatres and cafes. It's not like crime and poverty aren't on the agenda here, in fact they are still astonishingly prominent, but a willingness to understand the city's sensitive issues will see you right.The Mother City
Mother City, Tavern of the Seas, Cape Town - this is the real home of South Africa's tourist industry. Like Jo'burg, it has a difficult and often strained story behind it but the mix of cultures and religions here is truly astounding and instantly welcoming. Talk to the locals, they'll advise you on their favourite activities, from abseiling off Table Mountain and enjoying the coastal surf to cruising out towards Seal Island - yes, plenty of seals to see here - and taking a break in the surrounding Winelands.Wildlife galore
Impossible to avoid, South Africa's array of wildlife will sweep you off your feet and have you wandering around in a daze for days. For sheer quantity of animals, it doesn't get any better than Kruger National Park - home of the safari and to elephants, buffaloes, cheetahs, leopards, zebra, countless bird species and fantastic savannah and mountain scenery. Explore on your own or as part of a guided group, you may have heard a lot about it but its power will bowl you over time and again.Wetlands and wineries
Don't stop short at Kruger, South Africa's natural marvels extend far beyond the boundaries of its most famous park. Adventurers are more often than not spotted climbing, hiking, mountain biking and trekking their way through the Drakensberg, stopping to take in giraffes, rhinos and zebras on the way. Others head to South Africa's first World Heritage site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which is home to sprawling lake systems, 700-year-old fishing traditions and glorious beaches. Then all that's left to do is take a relaxing tour through the country's vineyards, sampling the wares of one of the world's oldest wine industries.
If you're looking into tours, it's useful to know that local operators offer traditional packages, such as circuit routes with a guide or 'Flydrive' formulas, which include flights and car hire. Even if there are a number of variants, the 'classic' circuit, which ranges from 9 to 15 days, includes Cape Town, the wine route, the garden route, and the Kruger Park region. Often, an extension to Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe, is proposed in addition to the basic itinerary (this extension is never disappointing and highly recommended).
In terms of the best time to go, the country enjoys a temperate climate all year round. Safaris are often advised during the winter months (June, July, August), as this coincides with the driest time of the year and animals will often gather at watering holes, making for easy spotting. Beach holidays are most often left till the summer months, when tourists and locals flock to Cape Town and the Western Cape, but a spring or autumn visit can provide just as good weather and fewer crowds.
Self-guided tours may take you through Swaziland. Those planning to pass through should know that border crossings close at 5:00pm, so plan on spending the night there if you arrive in the middle of the day - it takes a good half a day to cross the country.
If you happen to stay in KwaZulu-Natal, make sure you stop at the delightful little town of Santa Lucia. Here you can taste delicious seafood and find hotels with reasonable prices. At the port you can rent a boat to cross the estuary and see the hippos and crocodiles.
Often referred to as the 'Rainbow Nation', South Africa is made up of an astounding array of ethnicities. Its colonial past means that descendants of Dutch and English settlers are still an important minority, whilst Black South Africans form around 80 percent of the population and belong to a variety of ethnic groups.
The Zulu people, one of the country's largest ethnic groups with a population of around 10 million, have made their home in South Africa since the beginning of the 14th century. Organised into clans, the Zulus are still led by a king and uphold the reputation of fierce fighters. Their traditional clothing, comprised mainly of leopard skin, their songs and dances make up a truly impressive part of southern African culture, one that can be seen frequently during political marches and large public occasions.
You can find all different types of cuisine in South Africa. In Durban, for example, you can enjoy some exceptional high-quality Indian dishes. On the nature reserves, the food is very diverse and usually served as a buffet.
It's impossible to visit South Africa without participating in a famous braai, or BBQ. Organised all over the country, these events bring together local communities as well as smaller groups of friends and family - often on Sunday lunchtime - to share barbequed lamb, chicken, beef and plenty of cool beer.
South Africa ranks third in the world for the production of wine and some of the vintages have a very high level of quality. Cabernet-Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cinsaut and Pinotage are amongst the best reds to sample, whilst Chardonnay, GewŁrztraminer and Muscadet showcase some of the country's finest whites.
Find weekly weather forecasts for South Africa . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to South Africa . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in South Africa .