South Africa  is located at the southern tip of Africa. It is bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho (which is completely surrounded by South Africa). It is a vast country with widely varying landscapes and with 11 official languages, an equally diverse people. South Africa is renowned for its wines and is the world's largest producer of gold. South Africa has a strong economy and is an influential player in African politics. South Africa will hold the first Football World Cup to be held on African soil in 2010.
There has been some talk of government reducing the number of provinces. The provinces are currently:
If you want to travel in southern Africa then South Africa is a good place to start. While you can fly into any country in southern Africa, most flights will route through South Africa anyway. South Africa is also a good place to get used to travelling in the region (though some would argue that Namibia is better for that). Of course South Africa is not only a jumping off point, it is itself a superb destination rich in culture, fauna & flora and history.
Outsiders' views of South Africa are colored by the same stereotypes as the rest of Africa. Contrary to popular belief, South Africa is not devastatingly poor with an unstable government that is rapidly going to pot. Although the rural parta of South Africa remains among the poorest and the least developed parts of the world and poverty in the townships can be appalling, progress is being made, though it is quite slow after apartheid, which lasted for almost 46 years. South Africa boasts a well-developed infrastructure and has all the modern amenities and technologies. The government is stable, although corruption is rife. The government and the primary political parties all have a high level of respect for democratic institutions and human rights.
The pulbic holidays in South Africa are:
If a public holiday falls on a Sunday, then the Monday following will be a holiday
Most nationalities get up to 3 months entry on arrival. Check with your travel agent if you need to pre-arrange a visa. If needed, you can also extend your visa in South Africa. With an extension the total amount of time you are allowed to stay is 6 months.
Make sure you have 2 blank pages back to back in your passport and that it is valid for at least six more months or you will be sent back! Make sure you have a return ticket available or they will send you back. If you need to pick up a ticket at the airport have the flight number and details handy and speak with the customs guy, they should check your story out and let you in (be firm). Be wary of arriving with a damaged passport as new security measures might trip up your entry.
South Africa's two major international airports are at Cape Town and Johannesburg. Regular flights arrive from major centers throughout Africa including: Blantyre, Cairo, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Luanda, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Maputo, Manzini, Maun, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Windhoek. When travelling from Cape Town International Airport you must be very careful, especially when using the N2 (highway). Hundreds of people are getting killed on this road, bricks thrown through windscreens from bridges etc.
Direct flights also arrive from major European centers, including: Amsterdam, Lisbon, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Athens. There are also direct flights from Dubai, Doha, New York, Atlanta, Washington (D.C.), Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Perth. You may also want to have a look at Discount airlines in Africa.
See Air travel in South Africa for detailed information.
The roads within South Africa, connecting most major cities, and between its immediate neighbors are very good. There are many highways connecting the cities and larger centres, including the N1 running from Cape Town through Johannesburg and Pretoria up to Harare, Zimbabwe, the N2 running from Cape Town to Durban, which passes through the world-famous Garden Route near Knysna, and the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg.
To get a car in South Africa there are basically three options, you can hire a car, buy one or use the so-called buy-back option. Hiring a car is fairly easy and bookings can be made online and in all major cities. Buying a car takes a bit more pre-caution (Roadworthy license, registering the car), but there is a lively used car market in South Africa. The third option is a combination of both, as you buy a car with a guarantee that the rental company will buy-back your car at the end of the contract.
Some of the main roads have only one lane in each direction, especially where they are far from urban centers. Toll roads generally have two or more lanes in each direction. South Africa has a high rate of traffic fatalities, and you may want to avoid driving at night except in urban areas. Watch out for unsafe drivers (minibus taxies), poor lighting, and pedestrians (who are the cause of many accidents, especially at night). When driving outside of the major cities you will often encounter animals, wild and domestic, in or near the roadway. The locals tend to herd their cattle and goats near the road. If you see an animal on or by the road, slow down, as they are unpredictable. Do not stop to feed wild animals!
Also, make sure you understand the road signs. A special kind of crossing is the 'four way stop' where the car that stops first has right of way. Take special care when entering traffic circles, as the general attitude of South African drivers is that traffic circles do not constitute a traffic management roadway structure, and do not use their indicators in a safe and predictable fashion. In general, South Africans tend to speed excessively and are prone to selfish or aggressive driving behaviour, such as tailgating and hooting. South African driving is on the left-hand side of the road, although, on multi-lane roadways, the principle of keep-left, pass right, is not adhered to.
If you speed and are pulled over by the police, depending on your nationality, you may have to pay your fine on the spot. Yet don't bother asking for a receipt! (DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BRIBE OFFICIALS. This is illegal and may get you arrested).
There are scheduled bus services between Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and other cities (with stops in between), as well as connections to neighboring countries. The three main bus companies are:
An alternative is the Baz Bus. It offers a regular hop-on-hop-off service on some of the most interesting routes for the tourist (Cape Town to Durban via the Garden Route; Durban to Johannesburg via Swaziland; Durban to Johannesburg via the Drakensberg). Baz Bus picks you up and drops you off at many hostels along the route, so you don't have to hang around at a downtown bus stop at night.
If you're really in a pinch, you can use minibus taxi's. They are poorly maintained and rarely comply with safety standards. They also require patience as they make many detours and changeovers at the taxi rank (hub) where the driver will wait for passagers to fill up the bus. But they cover many routes not covered by the main bus service and are quite cheap (25 cents per kilometer per person on the main routes).
South Africa has 11 official languages. Most people other than rural black Africans speak English, although not many as a first language. Afrikaans is also widely-spoken, especially by the white and coloured population. Often Afrikaans is incorrectly called 'afrikan' or 'african' by foreigners. Note this is very incorrect as 'African' for a South African corresponds with the native-african languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi etc. (and, of course, there are thousands of languages in Africa so no single language can be called 'African') Afrikaans has roots in Dutch, so it can be understood by Dutch speakers and sometimes deciphered by German speakers. Other widely spoken languages are Zulu (mainly in KwaZulu-Natal) and Xhosa (mainly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape), as well as Sotho and Venda. This changes, according to the region you are in.
A few words you may encounter are:
You’ll find the Wikipedia page on South African English well worth reading.
The currency is the Rand (ZAR). Rough conversion  rates are: 7:1 (USD), 9:1 (EUR) and 13:1 (GBP). Carry one of the above currencies, as conversion between any of them and the Rand can be done at any bank without trouble. The Rand is also used in Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland, although it is not an official currency in these countries.
Traveller's Cheques are a safe way of carrying money around. You can exchange them at all banks (you will find one even in the roughest places) and you will get a refund if they are stolen. The disadvantage is that you cannot pay with them and you will need change when exchanging them into Rand. Use ATMs instead if possible.
Automated teller machines (ATMs) are available throughout the country. It is best to use only ATMs that are inside a mall or other building. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN). Some banks (e.g. First National Bank) only give out R1000 a day, while others (e.g. ABSA) will allow you to withdraw R3000 a time. You can use all major credit and debit cards.
Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter. Tipping is the norm in restaurants and at gas-stations (which are all full-service). Indeed, most of these businesses pay their staff shameful salaries, often below the legal minimum-wage, relying on customer-tips to bring staff incomes up to livable levels. Tips of around 10% of the bill are considered the norm.
Foreigners should note that fuel cannot be bought on credit cards. Fortunately many petrol stations in South Africa have ATMs.
South Africa has every kind of accommodation you can think of ranging from budget hostels right up to luxury resorts. The country is well outfitted to handle tourists. Many of the hotels, bed & breakfasts and guesthouses have been awarded international titles and prizes, such as the Le Quartier Francais  that was awarded the title Best Small Hotel in the World.
Well, there is much to see, but what can't be missed is here:
South Africa is a paradise for anyone interested in natural history. A wide range of species (some potentially dangerous) may be encountered in parks, farms, private reserves and even on the roads.
South Africa has long been a destination for hunters and fishermen, offering a range and abundance of quarry unmatched anywhere else in the world. Hunting is not as cheap as it once was, but the market remains competitive and a network of excellent professional hunters provide a good value for money service. Ensure that your chosen host is a member of the professional hunters's association (PHASA).
South Africa has a high rate of violent crime, but warnings about crime should be taken in context. The threat is not as serious as it might sound. If you are alert and take some common-sense precautions you will have no problems. Do not accept offers from friendly strangers. Do not wear jewelry or expensive watches. Do not wear a tummy bag with all your valuables. Distribute your valuables in inside pockets and other pockets. Do not carry large sums of money. Do not walk by night in deserted places. Don't make it obvious you are a tourist - conceal your camera and binoculars. Know where to go so that you don't have to reveal you're lost or need a map -- simply all the obvious "I am a tourist" signs.
Visiting the townships is possible, but don't do it alone unless you really know where you're going. Some townships are safe while others can be extremely dangerous. It's best to go with an experienced guide. Some tour companies offer guided visits to the townships, and this is perfectly safe.
South Africa has very few earthquakes, cyclones, tornados, floods, terrorist incidents or contagious diseases with the notable exception of HIV.
Please also note that taking an evening stroll, or walking to venues after dark can be very risky! It simply is NOT part of the culture there, as it is in Europe or the US. Best to take a taxi or private vehicle for an "evening out".
The north-eastern areas of the country (including the Kruger Park and St. Lucia and surrounds) are seasonal malaria zones, from about November to May. The peak danger time is just after the wet season from March to May. Consult a physician regarding appropriate precautions, depending on the time of year you will be travelling. The most important defenses against malaria are:
Municipal water is mostly safe to drink throughout the country, although a strong risk of bilharzia exists for stillstanding water. In the Western Cape mountain water is safe, even if it has been stained brown due to vegetation.
The private hospitals are of the highest standard.
Those who are practiced in North American racial terminology should understand that familar words have different meanings in South Africa. A typical white person born there considers himself as "African" as any black person born in the United States considers himself "American"; most have family who have lived here for generations. If you wish to refer to South Africans of solely African ancestry, "black" – the term used under apartheid – is still considered appropriate. "Coloured", on the other hand, is neither synonymous with "black", nor particularly offensive; it refers to a cultural group with both white and black ancestors from the early colonial period. Although the majority of white South Africans speak Afrikaans, that is not their ethnicity; call them "white" or "white South African". The fourth racial category left over from the apartheid system is "Indian" (from India). It might help to practice thinking "black South African" instead of "African American". Indeed, many black South Africans scoff at the term "African American", claiming that there is very little of Africa residing within the average "African American".
In general, it is wise to avoid racial or political remarks while in South Africa, because the country's very diverse cultural disposition means that "putting your foot in it", is easy....
South Africa's country code is 27. Each region or city has an area code which is prefixed with a '0' when dialing long distance within South Africa. Johannesburg: 011. Cape Town: 021. Durban: 031. Pretoria: 012
To dial out of South Africa, dial 09 then country code, etc.
South Africa has an extensive GSM network, working on the same frequency as the rest of Africa and Europe. There are four cell phone providers in South Africa: Vodacom, MTN, Cell-C and Virgin Mobile.
There are plenty of Internet cafes and access rates are cheap. Even cheaper would be to buy a prepaid cell phone starter pack (less than 10 rand) and access the internet with GPRS or 3G (2 rand per MB).WikiPedia:South Africa Dmoz:Africa/South Africa/ World66:africa/southafrica