The magic that makes South Africa such a fantastic destination is multi-faceted and full of surprises.
It’s probably best known for its safaris and wildlife, its culture and absolutely breath-taking landscapes. But, there are also so many awesome things that most visitors probably don’t know about South Africa, which combine to make it even more fun and interesting to visit.
Things You Probably Didn’t Know About South Africa
Here are some of our favourite lesser-known facts of this magnificent country:
1. Our cities are modern and well-equipped
Some people visit expecting mud huts and tribesman. But, we have massive urban epicentres, international airports, glitzy malls and world-class restaurants. Some of our biggest city centres are Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Bloemfontein.
2. We are home to the biggest…
Land mammal – the elephant
Bird – the ostrich
Reptile – the leatherback turtle
Antelope – eland
…in the world.
3. It’s not all about giraffes and beaded crafts
Although we have some of the best safaris and game-viewing opportunities in the world and the African culture runs deep, tourists can look forward to so much more. There is amazing shopping, adventure sports, stunning beaches, and loads of historical attractions.
4. We have 11 official languages
And almost everyone can speak more than one of them. This is the most official languages that any country in the world has. Here’s how to say “hello” in each language:
Hallo – Afrikaans
Hello – English
Lotjhani – isiNdebele
Molo – isiXhosa
Sawubona – isiZulu
Dumela – Sepedi
Dumela – Setswana
Dumela – Sesotho
Avuxeni – Xitsonga
Sawubona – siSwati
Ndaa – Tshivenda
Most people in South Africa can speak English, unless you’re visiting the really rural spots in the countryside.
5. It’s five times bigger than Japan and super-spacious
One of the best parts of South Africa is the space. Between cities and towns, there are endless kilometres of mountains, forests, grasslands, semi-desert and beaches. Even within urban areas, the neighbourhoods are, generally speaking, spacious. Only the hearts of the big cities are more tightly-packed. Even then, it’s nothing like some parts of the crowded East and Asia.
6. Trevor Noah is ours!
Although he’s hit the big screen and has been the host of the Daily Show in the States for some time, this superstar is proudly South African. He has his roots in comedy, but is also a writer, producer, actor and, of course, a very successful TV host.
7. The weather may surprise you
South Africa generally has temperate weather conditions, especially along the coast. KwaZulu-Natal is sunny and warm almost all year round, while the Western Cape and Eastern Cape have chilly winters and hot summers. Still, they’re not extreme. Upington in the Northern Cape is the hottest place in SA, where summer highs reach the late-30 degrees Celsius and winter highs hover at around 20 degrees at noon. Sutherland (also in the Northern Cape) is the coldest place here, with summer highs of around 27 degrees, but winter lows of below 0.
8. South Africa is home to the world’s highest commercial bungy jump
Bloukrans Bungy is 216 metres high, making it perfect for adrenalin-junkies that want to push their limits. There is also a suspended sky walk (hanging below the bridge). Bloukrans is on the Garden Route.
9. It snows in some parts of SA
It’s not all just sunshine and bushveld. There are some really high mountains that get blanketed with snow every winter, as well as other inland towns that turn into a winter wonderland.
10. We’re a cultural melting pot
There are loads of cultures here; with roots in British, Dutch, French, Indian and Indonesian roots. These have all shaped the modern South Africa and there are flavours of these in our food, dress, religion and history.
11. Say what?
A group of South African doctors have recently come up with a novel solution to deafness. They are 3-D printing the broken bones inside the ear to restore hearing in patients that have lost it due to inner-ear infections (caused by birth defects, accidents or certain diseases). This is the world’s first long-term solution to this problem.
12. Table Mountain alone has more flower species than England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales together
13. South Africa is the home of inventors
Some South African inventions include Q20 (a lubricating oil that fixes just about everything short of global warming), the CAT scan, Pratley Putty, retinal cryoprobe (a cataract surgery), and a type of safety syringe. This is also the home of the very first successful heart transplant.
14. This is a sports paradise
South Africa has hosted the cricket, soccer and rugby world cups, and is home to some of the world’s top sports people across various disciplines. Locals are real sports fans and there’s always an awesome atmosphere when there are big matches or events.
15. South Africans are known for being friendly
We smile at strangers on the street and we love getting together for a braai and an ice-cold beer. There’s a laid-back vibe that seems to permeate every town and city, and it’s undeniably contagious to our visitors.
16. Our Blue Flag beaches are hard to beat
South Africa’s coastline is really stunning. So, it’s not surprising that we’re home to 46 Blue Flag beaches. These beaches have to live up to a really strict set of criteria to qualify. They are safe for swimming and watersports, beautiful and environmentally responsible.
17. The water is perfectly safe to drink
All of the cities and developed towns have efficient water-treatment plants. Even smaller towns and villages usually have clean drinking water. Of course, plenty of bottled water is available. But, visitors can rest assured that there is clean water almost everywhere.
18. We have three capital cities
Pretoria is the Executive Capital, Bloemfontein is the Judicial Capital, and Cape Town is the Legislative Capital.
19. Eating worms isn’t all that unusual
In fact, Mopane worms are a firm favourite and are really nutritious. They can be enjoyed dried (like biltong or jerky), or prepared in a saucy stew. When it isn’t eaten, the Mopane worm metamorphosises into a beautiful emperor moth.
20. People often do things for you in South Africa
We’re used to having our windshields washed for free while we wait for our gas to be pumped by a friendly attendant. Our shopping gets scanned and packed while we stand at the till and pay. This takes some getting used to by visitors.
21. Our most dangerous animal may surprise you
Hippos kill more people every year than any other large animal (including lions and sharks). But, our wild animals aren’t roaming the streets. They are kept inside the safety of spacious reserves and parks.
22. South Africa is an adrenalin sport hotspot
It is a prime destination for anyone that wants to try bungy jumping, sky diving, ziplining, abseiling, kloofing, caving, deep-sea fishing, SCUBA diving, and much more.
23. We are classified as a megadiverse country
This means that South Africa has at least 5 000 endemic plants, and has impressive marine ecosystems.
24. This is serious “Wine Country”
South Africa produces some of the best wines in the world. These come out of the Cape Winelands (Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek and Pniel) as well as in the Karoo. The hardy vines thrive in the local conditions and the wines that come out of here (including reds, whites, sparkling and rosés) have won awards all over the world. Route 62 is the world’s longest wine route, stretching 850 kilometres between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.
25. We have a good infrastructure and transport system
Some expect South Africa to have gravel roads or paths that have been beaten out of the bush. But, it’s really quite the opposite – we have excellent highways and roads, three major international airports, plenty of hospitals in the city centres, and more.
26. SA is a prime destination for plastic surgery tourism
Thanks to the local leading surgeons and excellent medical prices, South Africa is a favourite amongst tourists from all over the world who come here for liposuction, facelifts, nose jobs, breast augmentations, and more. There are also specialists dealing with cleft palates ad other corrective procedures.
27. We have our own names for everyday things
Here are some examples:
|What you may call it||What we call it in SA|
|Gas or fuel||Petrol|
|Candies or lollies||Sweets|
|Jumpers or sweaters||Jerseys|
|Barbecue or grill||Braai|
|Hood (of a car)||Bonnet|
|Trunk (of a car)||Boot|
|Jerky||Biltong (but it’s better than jerky!)|
|Flannel||Facecloth or wash cloth|
28. Feel the Jo’burg love!
Johannesburg is one of the most visited cities in the world. Some of its most popular tourist attractions are Gold Reef City, the Apartheid Museum, Mandela House, and Soweto.
29. Mercedes Benz caters to South African drivers
This is the only country in the world in which right-hand drive C-class cars are produced by Merc.
30. We know what ostriches and crocodiles taste like
Ostrich meat is lean and popular amongst anyone that feel like the meaty goodness of a steak without the fat. Crocodile is not as widely available, but is certainly accessible (it tastes like chicken, in case you’re wondering); as is kudu, springbok and zebra.
31. SA is believed to be the cradle of humankind
There are many experienced scientists that believe that modern humans had their evolutionary roots right here in South Africa. You can visit the site where incredible hominid fossils were discovered just outside Johannesburg – the Sterkfontein Caves.
32. Our music events ROCK
Some of the hottest music concerts and events include AfrikaBurn, Rocking the Daisies, KKNK, the Cape Town Jazz Festival, and the National Arts Festival.
33. Johannesburg is home to one of the biggest man-made forests on the planet
With more than 6 million trees, Jo’burg isn’t only beautiful, but ecologically valuable too.
34. We’re golden
In fact, about 20% of the world’s gold comes out of this beautiful country.
35. Nobel Peace Prize winners
South African Nobel Peace Prize winners include Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk, Nadine Gordimer and Desmond Tutu.
36. Succulent records
South Africa is home to the smallest succulent in the world, known as the Dregeochloa pumila or Tom Thumb grass, which is less than one centimetre big. It is also home to the largest succulent, the baobab tree, which can tower 20 metres above the ground.
37. This is a shipwreck divers’ delight
There are more than 2 000 (maybe even closer to 3 000) shipwrecks along the long coastline, adding loads of mystery and adventure to any dive. Only experienced and adequately qualified SCUBA divers should head out to the wrecks.
38. World-renowned authors come from South Africa
Some of the literary greats have their roots in this gloriously diverse country. These include Wilbur Smith, Alan Paton, JRR Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings), Nadine Gordimer and André Brink.
39. Elon Musk and Charlize Theron were born in South Africa
What more can we say? He is the brain behind Tesla and SpaceX and she is a famous movie star. We’re proud to claim them!
40. We’re on the UNESCO map
At the moment, there are several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Africa. They are:
- Robben Island (1999)
- Cape Floral Region Protected Areas (2004)
- Vredefort Dome (2005)
- Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape (2003)
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park (1999)
- Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa – Sterkfontein, Kromdraai, Swartkrans and Environs (1999)
- Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains (2018)
- uKhahlamba / Drakensberg Park (2000)
- Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape (2007)
- Khomani Cultural Landscape (2017)
The Vredefort Dome is the oldest and largest meteor site on the planet. This is 120 kilometres from Johannesburg and is believed to be more than 2 billion years old.
42. We’re resurrecting an extinct species!
Plans are on the go to reintroduce the quagga, which was believed to be extinct. This was as a result of its being found to be a subspecies of zebra, and not its own independent species.
43. Looking for blue skies?
Cape Town was rated as having the world’s fifth-best blue sky on earth.
44. We’re lit
South Africa produces about 66% of all of the electricity for the entire continent of Africa.
45. Winston Churchill was a victim of the Anglo-Boer War
In fact, he was captured and kept as a Prisoner of War in a camp in Pretoria in 1899. What’s even more noteworthy is that he escaped the camp and was considered to be a hero back home in England. After that, Churchill continued to have a great relationship with the South African Prime Minister, Jan Smuts.
46. Have a whale of a time in South Africa
Hermanus is acclaimed as the world’s best land-based whale-watching destination. Stand on the shores or look out from the viewing points to watch southern right, humpback and killer whales breaching and peeping out from the water.
47. Racing records
A few records have been set in SA in terms of the types of events. This is home to the:
- Cape Town Cycle Tour –the largest timed cycle race on earth.
- Comrades Marathon – the largest and oldest ultra-marathon in the world.
- Midmar Mile – the largest open-water swim.
48. Commonwealth legends
To date, South African sports people have won 157 medals at the Commonwealth Games.
49. Give peace a chance
South Africa is the first (and remains the only) country to voluntarily dismantle all of the nuclear weapons that we built. In fact, we did away with our entire nuclear weapons’ programme.
50. Gandhi had ties to this country
The revolutionary political activist spent a lot of time in South Africa and developed his philosophy of passive resistant here in response to the political injustices that were going on at the time. This philosophy was integral to the rest of Gandhi’s principles and standards. This country shaped him.
51. No fishy business
The annual sardine run is a fish migration that is so massive that it can be seen from space. The shoals can be 15 kilometres long, 3.5 kilometres wide and an astounding 40 metres deep.
52. We love South America but…
South Africa moves about five centimetres away from it every year, thanks to the continental drift.
53. South Africa is the only African member of the G20
54. Shine bright like a…
Diamonds were discovered in South Africa hundreds of years ago. Kimberley’s Big Hole has yielded 2722 kilograms of diamonds since it was dug in 1871.
55. While we’re talking about mining
This is also the world’s top producer of platinum, gold, chromium, and manganese.
56. SA is the home of rooibos tea
Loved around the world for its caffeine-free herbal deliciousness and many health benefits, rooibos (or red bush) tea can only be found in the Cederberg in the Western Cape.