Historically, South Africa was the pariah of the world under its infamous apartheid regime, but caught the imagination of all with Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1991,followed by the peaceful, first democratic elections in 1994. Since then, it has become one of the top travel destinations in the world, blending elements of both 'Africa of old' with modernity.
On the one hand, one can escape to wild, remote areas and experience exceptional game viewing and true wilderness. Then, just an hour's flight away, there are modern cities and hotels that compete with the best in the world. With eleven official languages and a diverse range of cultures and ways of life, it is no wonder that Mandela has named South Africa 'the rainbow nation'.
When it comes to wildlife and scenery, South Africa has a plethora of places to see, including a number of World Heritage Sites and incredible game reserves. Overshadowed by the dramatic Table Mountain and surrounded by the Atlantic, Cape Town is one of the world's most picturesque cities. Visitors can sample fine wine under the grapes in the tranquil winelands, while the coastline of South Africa is enormous, offering superb scenery, such as sandy beaches and sheer, fynbos-covered cliffs of the Garden Route, as well as amazing wildlife opportunities, from southern right whales breaching off Cape Town to pristine coral reefs on the KwaZulu-Natal Coast.
Inland are the intriguing and moving battlefield sites that lay testament to both the Anglo-Zulu and the Anglo-Boer wars. Here too rise the Drakensberg Mountains where vultures ride on the thermals over deeply green valleys and jagged peaks.
To the east and the pride of South Africa's natural heritage is the Kruger National Park. At 2 million hectares and over 300 kms long, this enormous area encompasses a savannah landscape with 147 mammal species, over 400 bird species and numerous reptiles, amphibians and insects.
From desert dunes to rolling farmlands, savannah bush, subtropical hardwood forests and superb white sand beaches, as well as game viewing to equal the best in Africa (including a host of small parks and reserves in the Northern Provinces and Eastern Capes) South Africa offers something to travellers of all persuasions.
After all, where else can you find penguins and elephants living in the same country?