At the time of writing this article, I have travelled to over 140 countries across six continents. People often ask me which country I think is the most beautiful. Bias plays such a big role in one of the most subjective lists that a traveller can make. Most invariably you will get a different answer from everyone you meet.
Even if the country is the same, people will give you different reasons for their choice. People do not experience countries the same way – the airline losing your luggage will, for instance, put a huge negative spin on your entire experience of a country.
I once did a radio interview with another world traveller and Bolivia was on my list of worst countries and in the top 10 best of his list. I had a bad experience with altitude sickness in combination with the flu, so I got to see a lot less of this beautiful country than he did.
However in this article I try to stay objective in my statement about the country of my birth, using (verified) facts as much as possible to illustrate that South Africa is, in fact, the most beautiful country in the world.
There are only 17 countries in the world that are classed as mega-diverse in terms of its fauna, flora and the amount of species unique to that country. Most of these are very large countries that span vast areas in diverse topographical regions. South Africa is – in travel terms – manageably small, yet it is truly mega-diverse.
In the west the stunningly rugged coastline merges with the Namib Desert (one of the driest in the world) to make up the skeleton coastline. In the east the aptly named “wild coast” provides some of the most beautiful unspoilt beaches in the world.
The Cape floral kingdom represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa, but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s floral species.
The interior (heart) of the country provides some of the most remarkable wildlife sanctuaries in the world. National parks such as Kruger, Addo, Limpopo Transfrontier and Kalahari have captured the imagination of wildlife enthusiast across the world.
The Namaqualand in the north turns into the world’s largest wildflower garden once a year just after the first rains (go ahead google Namaqualand flowers!). Then SA has some of the most unique mountain ranges anywhere on the planet.
The Drakensberg, Waterberg and of course Table Mountain offer breath-taking, world class views. That is why SA has the highest repeat tourism of any long-haul destination in the world.
It is because of this immense diversity on land that many people forget that South Africa also has one of the most diverse coastlines in the world.
Two very different oceanic currents flank the coastline – the west coast of Southern Africa is surrounded by the cold Benguela Current and on the east coast the warm Agulhas Currents moves south from the equator.
The 2500km plus coastline plays host to 83% of all known marine fish families, with 13% endemic. Even more impressive is the 36% endemic invertebrates, where SA boasts several squid and jellyfish that are found nowhere else.
The standout for tourists has to be the largest migration in the world (even larger than the wildebeest in the Serengeti!).
The “Sardine run” as it is called locally produces one of the greatest animal spectacles on earth. Imagine tens of thousands of birds plunging from the sky, feeding on the fish (literally millions!), with larger game fish and numerous species of sharks all feasting on the wealth of food that is available.
The numbers and variety of sharks is astounding: Hammerheads, Zambezi’s, Bronze Whalers, Coppers and Great Whites can be seen by the hundreds, as well as common and bottlenose dolphins.
If you are not in the water but want to enjoy the sand, you can visit one of nearly 50 blue flag beaches, marinas or coastal sanctuaries.
The St Lucia wetlands park is one of the most bio-diverse oceanic sanctuaries in the world with nearly 330 000 hectares of pristine oceanfront preserved as a Natural World heritage site.
The political situation is a separate issue from the actual physical beauty of a country, but it has to be discussed. South Africa provides a balance between the best and worst of African hospitality.
I have been to many parts of the continent where the mix isn’t as great as here and you feel more threatened than relaxed. Be careful, South Africa is a corrupt and sometimes dangerous country in many parts (so is Paris, New York or London for that matter).
You can read many negative articles about these things, but that is not my focus. I just want to say that I think tourists can still come here and experience wonderful hospitality.
South Africans are mostly a friendly bunch, especially while having a braai, watching sport and enjoying a beer. However, tourists also need to be aware that This is Africa (TIS) and they need to be vigilant.
Whether right or wrong, it is precisely this vigilance that can add to the excitement of visiting Africa. It is uniquely dangerous, rugged and for years the mystique of visiting the “darkest continent” has been the allure that drew many adventurous travellers.
It is a sense of danger that few other countries can offer, but even just the sunsets are worth the trip.
Following from the previous section, but more focused on the actual activities that’s on offer – South Africa is one of the best destinations for adventure tourism in the world.
It makes great use of some of the unique features of the country mentioned in previous sections. You can dive with great white sharks in Cape Town (or dolphins if you are so inclined), wreck-dive around Sodwana or catch marlin off the east coast.
You can go on safari almost anywhere in the country or walk among lions and leopards in Johannesburg Lion Park.
South Africans love their sport and in particular the outdoor stuff. SA has some of the best golf courses in the world. You can find places to play all over the country with coastal courses, in amongst the wildlife or more historic courses on offer that cater for every level.
The world’s highest bungee jump (216m) is at the Bloukrans Bridge in the Western Cape.
You can drive actual 4×4 trails with your SUV, not just suburban jungles.
SA has 1000’s of miles of rivers, walking trails, dams and everything from cycling, running, dancing, shooting, falling and climbing to most other human activities that you can think of.
If you are an adrenaline/sports junky you will not be disappointed with SA.
SA has over 50 million people, 11 national languages with a rare mix of African tribes and European and Asian settlers.
There are many articles about the cultural diversity of South Africa, but for many years, it made the news for all the wrong reasons.
However, it is nice to report that in a world filled with so much hatred of people outside of their own culture, South Africa has become a beacon of hope for many cultures.
Nelson Mandela is widely renowned as the greatest global statesman of his generation. He has shown that more can be achieved through acts of forgiveness than many years of war.
The society is by no means perfect and integration has been slow, but there has been positive progress and it’s worth visiting the country just to see what is possible with peaceful integration as focus.
Come, taste some of the local wine, and experience the food culture. You will not be disappointed.
You walk in wonder through the streets of Athens or Rome, looking at the statues that are older than most buildings anywhere else in the world. But I always think back to the discoveries made in South Africa and that it is the true cradle of life for mankind.
There have been settlers in these parts going back millions of years and it shines through in the rich history of the country. From rock drawings of the Bushmen in the Kalahari, to cave dwelling families millions of years ago, the country paints a glorious picture of the history of mankind.
The country was discovered, forgotten and rediscovered; occupied by the European colonists, freed and occupied again.
SA had the first mass concentration camps set up by the British and years of suffering under colonial rule. Tribes from all over Southern Africa have migrated to, fought and died for this land.
Yet modern South Africa both sets the example of what can be achieved in Africa through diplomacy, and also how corrupt, inept government can bring it to its knees. It has a past so interesting that it is a historical destination all on its own.
I’ve heard many jokes about Cape Town being the only nice city in South Africa. It’s actually unfair to the rest of the country that they are compared to one of the top 10 best tourist cities in the world.
There are many great cities in the country spread across a diverse landscape and yet, still within easy access of the main transport arteries.
Johannesburg, Durban, Bloemfontein and Nelspruit are internationally renowned tourist destinations, but smaller places like Hermanus (the best place in the world to view whales from shore), Pilgrim’s rest, Sun City (a stunning fake city in the bush), Sutherland (for stargazers), Jeffreys Bay (surfing), George (probably the most beautiful town in the world), Clarens, Oudtshoorn and Dullstroom all provide amazing tourist attractions.
You really need from a month to a lifetime to explore the country properly.
Africa has many charms, but ease of travel has always been near the bottom of that list. Yes, it’s still worth going through the trouble, but with South Africa you get all of the thrills of Africa without much of the hassle.
You can safari in five-star luxury only a few minutes from an international airport with direct connections to the rest of the world.
The mostly tarred roads in Africa, world class motorways, cruise ships along the coastline and a myriad of domestic flights make it very easy to get about, even to remote parts of the country.
You really have no excuse not to visit South Africa.
This article originally appeared on SouthAfricanTraveller193