The southern-most tip of Africa boasts a bit of well, everything. Despite being the second most visited country in Africa (Morocco’s first), there are probably still some South Africa facts that you don’t know.
The country is filled to the brim with amazing sights. They come in forms from massive nature reserves to gorgeous beaches (with epic marine life) to not one, not two, but three capital cities each with their own government branch and flare. With so much going for it, we figured we’d best give you the lowdown (with a travel slant, of course).
Get ready to be dazzled; here are some facts about South Africa that you probably didn’t know:
South Africa is often referred to as the “Rainbow Nation”
South Africa has over 11 official languages (not including the ton of unofficial ones). It was actually Archbishop Desmond Tutu who coined the term ‘post-apartheid’ to describe South Africa’s cultural diversity. The importance of this ideology is to denounce discrimination and embrace the multitude of thriving cultures.
South Africa is the world’s second largest fruit producer
The huge range of fruit produced in South Africa definitely speaks for the variety of foods you’ll find throughout the country. The selection of fruit depends on seasonality — but with such a wide variety, chances are you won’t be disappointed by your options. Smother some cheese in Apricot Blatjang (chutney) during the months of December, January and February or eat the monthly rotation of vegetables in a curry that’ll come served in a carved out quarter-loaf of bread (a dish called bunny chow).
Winelands region features almost 100 different estates
Vinos rejoice — the wine options in the Cape Winelands (a short ride from Cape Town) are overwhelming in the best possibly way. As a matter of fact, the wine industry in South Africa is the oldest outside of Europe. This specific region boasts ideal climate for vineyards filled with rows and rows of grapes to be turned into delicious Chenin Blancs or, depending on what you like, a fantastic Pinot Noir.
It’s worth spending the time to take in the stunning landscape while eating some of the best gourmet food around. Explore beautiful estates, learn everything about the region’s wine-making and of course taste it (we include three estate visits and tastings on this trip!). Indulge a little further and add some chocolate to your tasting (wine-not!).
As if this fact wasn’t already great enough, the route that stretches from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth (known as Route 62) is the considered one of the world’s longest wine routes —528 miles of utter bliss.
Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa
The vast park covers 19 624 square kilometres (making it nearly larger than the surface area of Israel!) The real draw to the park is the quintessential safari. Cruising along the well-maintained roads, there are endless opportunities to spot wildlife while respecting the natural environment.
There are over 500 bird species, 100 reptile species and 150 species of mammals! This includes the notorious big five (lion, leopard, elephant, black rhinoceros, and African buffalo).
South Africa has abundant AND record-breaking animals
Naturally the wildlife in store are pretty spectacular. Just how spectacular? Well, for start, the country has the world’s largest land mammal, the elephant. And though we love to observe these enormous creatures in the wild, Intrepid definitely doesn’t support riding them (here’s why).
Back to record-breaking facts in South Africa: you can also find the largest bird (the ostrich), the largest fish (whale shark), the tallest animal (the giraffe) and the fastest land mammal (the cheetah).
South Africa was the first African country to recognize same-sex marriage
In 2006, South Africa stepped up and became the first African country to recognize same-sex marriage. This meant it was the fifth country in the world to recognize same sex marriage. The prohibiting of discrimination based on sexual orientation is even written into their constitution.
Cape Town, most notably, is one of the top travel destinations for LGBTQI people. It’s even referred to by some as “the gay capital of Africa.”
South Africa hosts the world’s largest bicycle race
So, you’re probably more familiar with the famed Tour de France, but the Cape Town Cycle Tour is actually the largest cycle race in the world! The 35,000 riders set-out across 109 kilometres of Cape Town’s South Peninsula. The race is equal parts exhilarating and scenic. It’s easy to get distracted along the way by the beautiful mountain views along the coastal road of Chapman’s Peak Drive.
If you’re not into suiting up in lycra and competing to the finish line, cycling is still a fantastic way to travel (and reduce your environmental impact). With a local guide as your compass, you can focus on embracing the art of slow travel as you hike and bike across South Africa on this 9-day active trip. Spot wild animals on a 10-kilometre mountain bike trail in !Khwa ttu Reserve and set out on wine tasting cycle tour in Stellenbosch — there’s something for everyone.
Fried mopane worm is an indigenous delicacy in some regions of South Africa
Contrary to the name, the mopane worm is actually a large caterpillar that feeds majority off of mopane tree leaves. It’s a staple protein-source for some indigenous groups in South Africa. Before you judge, try it for yourself. Road trip to the small village of Senwabarwana where you’ll be hosted for a home-cooked meal on this Vic Falls to Kruger trip. If it’s not your thing, you can always wash it down with home-brewed beer at a local tavern in the town.
Table Mountain is over 260 million years old (and has around 900 routes to climb or hike)
Trace that number along a timeline and there’s no arguing — Table Mountain is OLD. How old? Well, older than the Andes and the Alps. The iconic landmark’s layers of sandstone were flattened by ice sheets, hence the ‘table’ reference. Travelers can hike to the flat-topped mountain for spectacular views overlooking Cape Town. With around 900 different routes to climb or hike up the mountain, it truly is a playground!
One street in South Africa has produced two Nobel Prize winners
What are the chances… former President Nelson Mandela AND Archbishop Desmond Tutu both lived on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Johannesburg. They were both awarded with a Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and 1984 respectively. Their efforts in ending the apartheid are historic, not only in South Africa, but all around the world.
It’s a country that really is full of history and culture, beauty and wildlife. Pay it a visit, and you’ll see for yourself.
Tempted to visit this awe-inspiring destination? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group trips in South Africa!
(Image credits from top to bottom: Amy Irwin, Intrepid Travel, Neil Mowbray, Intrepid Travel x2, Lindsay Pieterkosky.)