South Africa is known for its ethnic diversity and with 11 official languages, the country’s melting pot of cultures often astonishes visitors.
Often referred to as the ‘Rainbow Nation’, South Africa is home to a fascinating mix of citizens. There are the Nguni (comprising the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Sazi people), the San people, the Sotho Stana, the Tsonga and the Venda. Then there are the people of Europeans, as well as people of mixed raced and Asian descent. There are also hybrid mixtures of different cultures, and an overarching South African culture which ensures that, no matter what a person’s cultural heritage, they are, at heart, proudly South African. Indeed, as South Africa’s democracy evolves, it is becoming a more diverse but integrated country and cultural diversity continues to be one of its strongest assets.
South Africa’s cultural diversity is expressed in a number of ways, one of the most prominent of is the different cultural influences on that goes into the food that we eat. One of the national dishes, a ‘bobotie’ is Malay in origin while Indian curries are also a favourite. Nothing is more South African than a braai, whether it is snoek on the coals or a ‘shisa nyama’ in Manguang (Bloemfontein). South Africans also love their baked rusks from the Afrikaans kitchen, the bunny show from the corner shop and their pap (maize porridge).
South Africa has a depth of history and culture that is untainted and unsurpassable. Whether you are visiting magical Table Mountain, Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was kept prisoner for 27 years, the Cango caves, the Cradle of Human Kind in Gauteng which is the world’s most important fossil site, the Wine Routes of the Western Cape, or the sleepy coastal and rural towns to learn from the locals, your experience is bound to be authentic and you will be touched and educated.
If you’re of a botanical bent, you’ll never want to leave South Africa. We have the third-highest level of biodiversity in the world, and ours is the only country to contain an entire floral kingdom.
The Cape Peninsula National Park has more plant species within its 22 000 hectares than the whole British Isles or New Zealand. Some 18 000 species of vascular plant (plants with vessels for bearing sap) occur within South Africa’s boundaries, of which 80% occur nowhere else.
Our incredible biodiversity is due to our unique physical features. Most of the country is situated on a high-lying plateau, between two very different oceans.The Indian Ocean, on the east, is warmed by the Mozambique or Agulhas Current which flows down from the tropics, while the Atlantic, on the west coast, is cooled by the icy Benguela Current which comes up from the Antarctic.
These two different oceans, the prevailing wind and the topography of South Africa combine to create lush forests and subtropical savanna on the east coast, gradually changing to desert or semi-desert on the west coast. It has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, windy summers and cool, moist winters, creating a unique floral assemblage, known as fynbos locally, but internationally referred to as the Cape Floral Kingdom.
Although lacking the spectacular array of flowering plants of the fynbos, the rest of the country has much to offer too. Afro-montane forests and grasslands grace the eastern escarpment, and lush coastal forests cloak the rugged Garden Route and Tsitsikamma coasts.
The semi-desert regions have an incredible amount and variety of succulent plants – one-third of the world’s succulent plant species occur in South Africa – many of which have a brief but bright flowering season.
You can enjoy our botanical riches in the many national parks and botanical reserves or just on the side of the road. The flower season in the Western Cape is in spring – August and September, when specialist flower-viewing trips are run and almost every small town has a flower show.
South Africa is a subtropical region, moderated by ocean on two sides of the triangle-shaped country and the altitude of the interior plateau. These account for the warm, temperate conditions so typical of South Africa – and so popular with its foreign visitors.
South Africa is famous for its sunshine. It’s a relatively dry country, with an average annual rainfall of about 464mm; the world average is about 860mm. While Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is generally a summer-rainfall region.
Temperatures in South Africa tend to be lower than in other countries at similar latitudes – such as Australia – mainly because of its greater elevation above sea level.
On the interior plateau, the altitude – Johannesburg lies at 1 694 metres – keeps the average summer temperatures below 30°C. In winter, for the same reason, night- time temperatures can drop to freezing point, and lower in some places.
South Africa’s coastal regions have the warmest winter temperatures in the country. There is, however, a striking contrast between temperatures on two different coasts, a result of the warm eastern Agulhas current and cold western Benguela current that sweep the coastlines. In the southern hemisphere our seasons are opposite to those of Europe and North America, so, yes – we spend Christmas on the beach!
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The Botswana currency is the Pula (meaning ‘rain’ in Setswana). It is divided into 100 thebe (meaning ‘shield’ in Setswana). Travellers’ cheques and foreign currency may be changed at banks, bureaux de change, and authorised hotels.
The US dollar, Euros, British Pound and the South African Rand are the most easily convertible currencies.
Automatic teller machines accept foreign visa cards, but are mostly found in larger towns and cities. Cultural sites and community art and craft outlets usually only accept cash.
English is an official language in Botswana. It is taught at schools, and is widely spoken in all urban centres. Even in rural areas, many local villagers (especially younger ones who have received schooling) will be able to converse in English. All guides and general staff in the camps, lodges and hotel have got a good command of English.
Food & Drinks:
Ironically, most visitors to Botswana eat food very similar to what they enjoy in their own country. No doubt this is due to the high standard of international cuisine available in the hotels and restaurants of Gaborone and to the wholesome quality of food served at even the most isolated bush camp.
Yet Botswana does have a cooking style of its own. Admittedly, there are stark regional variations depending on the area of the country in which people live and on the amount of rainfall. To Western palates, some local meals may seem bland and unappetising at first. With its heavy reliance on beans and maize, the local cuisine can be something of an acquired taste.
Aside from beans and maize, however, it should be remembered that Botswana is justly famous for the high quality of its locally reared beef, on which its wealth was based long before the discovery of diamonds. Other popular ingredients in local cooking are chicken, goat and lamb or mutton. And, despite Botswana’s somewhat parched landscape, freshwater fish is a feature of many dishes.
It is essential for visitors to remote areas of Botswana to have a comprehensive medical insurance policy, to provide coverage for the treatment of serious illnesses/accidents, and if required, medical evacuation. Furthermore, personal effects insurance is also advisable.
Check that your insurance policy will be accepted by service providers in Botswana. Ensure that you are treated by licensed medical personnel to enable you to provide your insurance company with appropriate documentation and receipts.
However, reasonably priced medical services are available at government clinics and hospitals throughout the country. Private medical practitioners are available in the cities and major towns, such as Gaborone, Francistown and Maun.
Gaborone Private Hospital is the largest private hospital in Botswana. The hospital requires medical coverage, or cash payment in advance where medical coverage is not available.
Visitors are advised to take the necessary precautions against HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Malaria, including cerebral malaria, is common in northern Botswana, in the Okavango and Chobe areas, particularly during and immediately following the rainy season, from November to April.
As the strains of malaria, and the drugs used to combat them, frequently change, and as certain strains can become drug resistant, it is best to seek medical advice before your departure and take any medication prescribed. Pregnant or very young children are not advised to travel to malarial areas.
Other precautions are: to wear long sleeves, socks, closed shoes, and generally keep the body covered, to sleep with a mosquito net and to use mosquito coils and repellent.
Many European and southern African passport holders do not require a visa to enter Botswana. Please check the most recent guidelines with your local travel agent as these can change.
Sir Seretse Khama International Airport
Maun International Airport
Kasane International Airport
Capitals: Cape Town, Pretoria, Bloemfontein
Currency: South African Rand
Population: 55.91 million
Official languages: English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Southern Sotho