South Africa is located at the very southern tip of the African Continent. Its capital city, Pretoria, is located in the northeastern region of the country. South Africa is mostly bordered by water, with the Indian Ocean to the east and the South Atlantic Sea to the west. It also shares borders with Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Including the Prince Edward Islands, the country boasts 2,298 km (about 1,428 mi) of coastline, and a total expanse of 1,219,912 sq. km (about 471,011 sq. mi).
Colonized by both the Dutch and the British, South Africa finally regained its independence in 1910. Apartheid, introduced in 1948, physically and legally separated ethnic groups within the country. In 1990, President F.W. de Klerk declared the end of apartheid, and long-imprisoned rebel Nelson Mandela was freed. Mandela, a world-renowned figure of freedom and equality, went on to be elected president of South Africa in the country’s first all-race election.
South Africa is very diverse. There are a variety of ethnic groups, although the majority of the population is black African. Numerous religions are represented in the country as well, including Zion Christian, Pentecostal/Charismatic, Catholic, Methodist, Dutch Reformed, Anglican, Muslim, Hindu, and other Christian groups. Even the languages are diverse, with eleven officially recognized languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Of these official languages, the four most widely used are Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, and English, respectively.
The country's ethnic diversity contributes to a colorful variety of musical, culinary, and artistic trends. The cuisine is heavily meat-based, and barbecues, or braai are a popular social pastime. Music has regained a new voice in South Africa since the end of apartheid. Musicians who had previously sung in Afrikaans or English now produce lyrics in native African languages.
South Africa is known for its plentiful sunshine, and mild climate. Most regions are warm, temperate, and relatively dry. The West Cape receives winter rain, while in the rest of the country, rain falls in the summer.
When traveling, points of interest include the major cities of Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria. Thirteen of the country’s major wine regions can be visited via the Stellenbosch Wine Route. More than 300 museums educate natives and tourists alike, including the National Cultural History Museum in Pretoria, the South African National Museum of Military History in Johannesburg, and the Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein. Though these are some of the country’s more established museums, smaller, independent museums also hold a variety of collections, from woven art to beer. The landscape is particularly picturesque, and can be appreciated by visiting one of the country’s many national parks, including Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and Kruger National Park.
The currency in South Africa is known as rand. Though exchange rates constantly fluctuate, the rate of rand per US dollar (USD) ranged between 6.3 and 6.8 between 2004 and 2006. In general, this means that the US dollar would have yielded around 6.5 rand, therefore making South Africa a relatively inexpensive travel destination for Americans.