South Africa – Facts And Information

South Africa is officially listed as one of the most biologically diverse countries on earth.  The visitor will find that South Africa is made up of an astonishing kaleidoscope of landscapes as well as a plethora of eco-systems. Continue reading to learn more interesting facts and useful information about South Africa for those who have perhaps not visited the country before.

Visiting South Africa For The First Time

Visiting South Africa for the first time the traveller can expect to find arid, near-deserts on its west coast and the montane forests and sub-alpine zones at the top of the beautiful Southern Drakensberg at nearly 3,500 metres above sea-level.  In the South African Cape, one will find pristine beaches and the uniqueness of its fynbos ecosystems. Lest we forget the world-class wildlife visitors would encounter on the rich savannahs of South Africa’s north-east provinces which is home to the famous Kruger National Park,  where the visitor can embark on the numerous Kruger Park safaris offering travellers bucket list tours and a lifetime wildlife experience.  No doubt due to the fact it’s South Africa’s premier Big 5 safari destination with a huge portfolio of safari lodges and other varied accommodation for everybody’s tastes and budgets. One can even travel back in time with a nostalgic stay and safari at Hamiltons Tented Camp a luxurious African experience of times gone by.

Without a doubt, any visitor to South Africa will be captivated by its constantly changing diversity of landscapes and the array of warm friendly and diverse peoples one encounters.

In a little more detailed information below you will find five (5) more specific segments of information on what you should expect and need to know to ensure you are ready for your first or perhaps your return trip to South Africa.

South Africa Fact Sheet. What’s Good To Know.

South Africa shares along with its northernmost border a total of 4 other sub-Saharan borders, these being the neighbouring countries of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.  Yet in contrast, a 2,500 km stretch of seaboard coastline runs along the western, southern and eastern portion of the country.  In addition to such a phenomenal border, the independent countries of Lesotho and Swaziland (Three sides) are encapsulated in the eastern side of the country.

South Africa’s amazing topography reveals that edging up steadily from the west, going eastwards from the major African geological formation that forms part of the ‘Great Escarpment’ and reaching to an elevation of around 3,500 m is the Drakensberg mountain range or ‘mountain of the dragon’.

This 1,000 km inland plateau provides visitors with some stunning landscape features such as the Amphitheatre in KwaZulu Natal, Blyde River Canyon, Gods Window and the Three Rondavels on the ‘Panorama Route’ in Mpumalanga in the northeast of the country.

It must be said that South Africa becomes increasingly dry as one moves from east to the west of the country.  There are a few reasons behind such a transformation, the Drakensberg Mountains and the cold wind off the Atlantic Ocean being the overriding factors for this transformation

If you consider that much of South Africa’s western interior is made up of the dry arid Karoo and the almost desert-like regions of the Kalahari.  In contrast, the southern and eastern side of South Africa is considered generally wetter due to being well serviced by rivers emanating and flowing from the Drakensberg Mountains.

South Africa – History Summary

A little research into the history of South Africa will identify that the hunter-gatherers known as the Khoi-San, are generally accepted as being the peoples to first occupy the country followed by early pastoralists (farmers). Over time these farmers were gradually displaced by those from other parts of the African continent moving southwards.

Eventually, the Dutch settlers under the command of Jan Van Riebeeck arrived in 1652 after an earlier and initial 1 years stay by the Dutch in the Cape of Good Hope after the Nieuwe Harlem was shipwrecked there in 1647.

South Africa today has a very different face, the country is home to many different ethnic groups and 11 official languages.  It has people of diverse origins, cultures, languages and religions, making South Africa a very cosmopolitan society in today’s modern world.

South Africa Travel

Johannesburg is still regarded as the main centralised travel hub of this vast country and the gateway to much of Southern Africa as well.  South Africa as a tourist destination has been popular for many years and is constantly growing.  Besides Johannesburg, a few international airlines now fly directly into Cape Town and more recently Durban.

With a good comprehensive internal flight network and good national highways, travelling within the country has never been easier.  Still, the main tourist attractions remain Cape Town and the world-class wine lands in the southwestern part of the country. For those wanting a guided safari in the Kruger National Park, then head to the northeast of this vast country for world-class wildlife experiences. Travel back in time with a stay at Hamiltons Tented Camp or stay in an unfenced bush camp on a big 5 reserve with our Wild Africa Eco-Safari there is something for everybody.

However, especially where the keen nature and photography enthusiast are concerned, there is a multitude of places to visit and explore.  You can see more under our Birding and Wildlife section on this page.

South Africa A World-Class Destination For The Wildlife Nature Photographic Enthusiast.

Those travellers who want to get to witness and experience the natural wonders South Africa has to offer Tony Sparkes Wildlife & Photographic Safaris are proud to offer small groups, tailor-made and custom-designed packages that allow our guests to immerse themselves in the culture and natural environments that South Africa has to offer.

Our specialised wildlife Kruger park photo safaris provide our guests with opportunities to get up close and personal with some of Africa’s iconic big game species and be able to photograph them in their natural setting. Our exclusive Big Cats Photo Safari, in the world-renowned game-rich Sabi Sand private game reserve, offers such an opportunity, particularly for the big cats and is world-renowned for its leopard sightings.

With an experienced professional wildlife photographer on hand, you can be sure that we place you in the best environment to develop and increase your awareness, wildlife photography knowledge and creativity.

South Africa’s Wildlife & Nature

We also offer guided & self-drive wildlife safaris which provide our guests with an opportunity to sample a broad range of environments and locations to experience all the flora and fauna one would expect from a South African wildlife safari. Always accompanied by a professional qualified guide to highlight and explain about the different animals, bird species, trees and plants encountered throughout your safari, one can only expect to come away with an increased knowledge, awareness and a better understanding of the wonders and complexities of the South African Bushveld and those who make it their home.

With approximately 850 recorded bird species in South Africa, giving ‘birders’ a phenomenal opportunity to spot something very special. Our specialised birding tours give small groups the chance to go birding with a professional bird guide, as we take you on a journey to discover and explore the different environments and locations to see and photograph a plethora of birdlife and if possible help you ‘twitch’ your target birds.

Some Photography Tips For South Africa

Wildlife & bird photography is all about seizing the moment and capturing your subject in its natural environment. You need to know the habits of your subject as well as numerous other factors for example, where they are likely to be during the day or the night? The positioning of the sun in relation to your subject and how to get close to your subject without disturbing it.

All of these factors and others will help you determine your camera and lens choices and help you decide upon what you may need to bring with you while on safari/tour in South Africa. Our popular photo safaris provide you and assist you in making such choices as these, to ensure your wildlife & nature photography reaches beyond your expectations.

Knowing Your Subject

It’s important to try and plan what you’re going to shoot, for example, if you are in a wildlife park where the animals are enclosed, then you’ll probably know where they are likely to be found during the day, so you can then consider where you want to be in terms of light, time of day and even distance from them. You may also want to think about the action you want to capture, so considering the behavioural aspects such as when the animal is most and least active would be essential to know.

If you are going to shoot in a situation where it isn’t possible to always plan for what you’re going to be photographing, for example on one of our wildlife safaris, then you don’t always have the option of planning your shots, so it becomes a more general question of how far you are going to be from your subject and the types of animals you are going to encounter should be considered.

Again, armed with this simple knowledge will help you make informed choices in selecting your equipment. On all our tours/safaris we try and assist by advising our clients on the individual tour pages in the General tab under ‘what to bring’ section, making your time in South Africa a comfortable and memorable one.

Should our clients choose not to travel with all or some of their own and often heavy equipment or require that special safari or birding lens, or that rapid frames per second camera to capture the action, then through our recommended partners our clients can hire lenses and camera equipment from the major leading brands.

Of course, you can always contact us should you what to know anything specific we haven’t generally covered here on these South African pages, we will be pleased to assist and help you further.

South Africa – Wildlife And Its National Parks

It can not be denied that South Africa, due to its varying altitudinal range and the resulting variety of natural habitats, holds a lot more for the willing adventure traveller than just the ‘typical’ African safari. With over 20 beautiful and varied wildlife national parks in this vast country, including the world-famous Kruger National Park and the western regions arid Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. These outstanding wildlife areas would normally be enough for any country. However, with just as many exceptional regional parks thrown into the mix as well, it’s no wonder that South Africa remains a wildlife and eco-destination second to none on the world stage.

In South Africa, world-class wildlife safaris and the increasing popularity of photo safaris offer a chance to get up close and personal with Africa’s Big 5, Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhinoceros and Buffalo. There are a plethora of large savanna mammals species, like the giraffe, zebra, impala for example which can also be encountered on these types of safaris. Alternatively, you can contact your prefered travel guide or agent, as it’s also often possible for any of your tour packages to be custom made should your budgets and itineraries not align with their current offers or packages.

Although these types of safaris are usually and remain the main drawcard, a safari to South Africa will broaden your outlook and knowledge too much more than just the ‘Big Five’. From the insects, reptiles and amphibians to the wonderful multitude of mammals both big and not so big. With stunning landscapes,  a mix of people and cultures  South Africa is, without doubt, the ideal destination for the adventure seeker,  photographer and natural history enthusiast.


Birds of South Africa

Here Are Some Numbers

South Africa lies right at the southern tip of the African continent and covers a total area of 472,000 square miles (1.22M sq km). Divide that area by the 859  recorded species with around 725 of these being resident birds, or at the very least annual visitors to South Africa. With no fewer than 50 of those recorded, endemic bird species and you come up with a very rich birding destination indeed,

Biomes Of South Africa

It should be noted that the key factor in both the number of bird species and the degree of endemism in South Africa, is down to the very rich diversity of its habitats. Definitely, a world in one country, divided into seven different biomes. You have the arid and moist savanna, desert, forest, grassland, the stunning Karoo (a semi-desert type biome) and Fynbos (broad-leaved evergreen shrubs, bushes and small trees) all truly stunning in their different ways.

While savanna occupies much of Africa south of the tropics, however, the desert comes into its own in neighbouring Namibia, the other biomes are fairly unique and as such hold much interest for the international birders who regularly visit South Africa in great numbers to take part in organised birding tours.

Look at our specialist birding tours for more information about birding in South Africa.

South African Weather & Climate

There are some slight idiosyncrasies and variances across the country with respect to rainfall.  Most of South Africa receives its rainfall during the summer months (between November to April), while the coastal region of the Western Cape and some parts of the Eastern Cape receive its rainfall in the winter months (between May to September).

Summer: September to April

  • Most of South Africa falls under a summer rainfall region (except for the Western Cape).
  • It can get hot to very hot in the north and east, mild to warm on the interior plateau.
  • Thunderstorms are common, though cool, overcast weather can also be expected. The rainy season coincides with the summer.
  • Summers in the Western Cape are usually dry, hot and windy.

Winter: May to August

  • Winters on the Highveld (interior plateau) can be cold to very cold overnight and in the early morning, while days are usually cool to mild, though occasional cold fronts can make it cold all day, with minimal chances of rain.
  • The Eastern coastal regions and Lowveld (Savannah) has cool to mild nights and warm to hot days, with minimal chances of rain.
  • The Western Cape generally has cool wet winters.

What Is The Best Time To Visit South Africa

Best Time – May to September (Dry season)
High Season – December to January and July to August (Especially during school holidays)
Low Season – April to mid-June and September to November (Except for the October school holiday)
Best Weather – April to May and September to October (Mild weather and little rain)
Worst Weather – June to August (Chilly mornings and nights) and December to February (Hot and humid)
Tony Sparkes
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