Useful Information and select destinations in each of South Africa’s 9 Provinces
Cape Town is by far South Africa’s most popular tourist destination in South Africa; the beaches, scenery, laidback vibe and friendly inhabitants all make this a great place to visit. And while we agree that it is one of the country’s most beautiful and laidback cities, we suggest you check out all 9 provinces before you book your holiday to SA and then plan a trip that includes at least three, as each province truly has its own unique beauty and appeal, cultures, languages and landscapes. We’ve included information about each, as well as a selection of fantastic destinations – one from each province.
The Eastern Cape
Languages: Predominantly Xhosa; English; Afrikaans
History: Formed in 1994 out of the independent homelands of Transkei and Ciskei and the eastern part of the previous Cape Province.
Interesting fact: Birthplace of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Chris Hani.
FEATURED DESTINATION: HOGSBACK
Hogsback is situated high up on the Amathole Mountains and is a mystical, magical place of mountains, forests and waterfalls, with a small community of artistic and laid-back inhabitants.
The Free State
Languages: Predominantly Sotho; followed by Afrikaans and Xhosa.
History: An independent Boer republic in Southern Africa during the second half of the 19th century, it later became a British colony and province of the Union of South Africa.
Interesting fact: In 1848 the region was proclaimed as the Orange River Sovereignty, with a seat of a British Resident in Bloemfontein.
FEATURED DESTINATION: CLARENS
Clarens is a small town in the Thabo Mofutsanyana region, quite possibly one of the most picturesque regions in South Africa. It sits near the Golden Gate Highlands National Park at the foot of the magnificent Maluti Mountains, with the wonderful Basotho Cultural Village just a few minutes away.
Largest Cities: Johannesburg and Pretoria
Languages: Zulu, followed by Afrikaans, English and Sotho.
Population: Gauteng is South Africa’s smallest province, but the most populous, with an estimated 12 million inhabitants.
Interesting fact: The name Gauteng comes from the Sesotho “Place of Gold”, due to the thriving gold industry.
FEATURED DESTINATION: THE CRADLE OF HUMANKIND
The Cradle of Humankind is a world heritage site, around 50 km outside of Johannesburg and a must-see if you decide to visit this province. The site has produced a large number of the oldest hominid fossils ever found, some dating back as far as 3.5 million years ago and there are close to 40 fossil-bearing caves on the site!
Largest City: Durban
Languages: Predominantly Zulu, followed by English.
History: Before 1994, this region was made up of the province of Natal and the homeland of Zulu Land. In the 1830s, the northern part was the Zulu Kingdom and southern part was briefly called Natalia until it became the British Colony of Natal.
FEATURED DESTINATION: THE VALLEY OF A THOUSAND HILLS
The Valley of a Thousand Hills is nothing short of breathtaking – unspoilt nature, abundant wildlife, and magnificent scenery! The (literally) thousands of hills roll down to the mighty Umgeni River, which flows into the Indian Ocean. This is a photographer’s dream, with incredible views in every direction.
Languages: Predominantly Northern Sotho, followed by Tsonga and Venda, with Afrikaans and English speakers found in the main cities and urban areas.
History: In July 2003, the name of the province was formally changed to the name of its most important river – the Limpopo River – after deliberation by the provincial government and amendment of the Constitution.
Interesting fact: Limpopo Province is the only in the country where the magnificent Baobab tree is found – at Sunland Baobab farms there is a large Baobab tree which has been turned into a pub!
FEATURED DESTINATION: TIMBAVATI PRIVATE NATURE RESERVE
Timbavati Private Nature Reserve is an experience you will never forget! The 53,392 hectares of private land adjoining the Kruger National Park is teeming with elephants, buffalo, rhinoceros, leopards, cheetahs, monkeys and much more, including the famous White Lions and more than 300 species of birds.
Languages: Predominantly Swati, followed by Zulu, Tsonga, Ndebele and Northern Sotho.
Geography: The Drakensberg Mountains divide the Mpumalanga province into east and west: the west half consists mainly of high-altitude grassland, while the eastern half is in low altitude subtropical Lowveld – mostly savanna habitat.
Interesting fact: The name Mpumalanga means east or literally “the place where the sun rises” in Swazi, Xhosa, Ndebele and Zulu.
FEATURED DESTINATION: GOD’S WINDOW
With deep canyons, exquisite rock formations and numerous waterfalls, you can understand how God’s Window received its name. It is part of a 250 kilometre stretch of sheer cliffs, hills and forests, with unbelievable views that go on and on…
The Northern Cape
Languages: The official languages are English, Afrikaans, Tswana and Xhosa.
Interesting fact: Northern Cape is the site of the controversial Orania settlement, whose leaders have called for the province to become a “Volkstaat” for the Afrikaner people.
FEATURED DESTINATION: AUGRABIES FALLS
Close to the Namibian border lies the little village of Augrabies and the Augrabies Falls, a spectacular sight for nature and water-lovers! The Augrabies Falls are named from the Khoi expression for “place of big noises” because of the sound of the thundering water. The gorge is 240 m deep and 18 km long.
Languages: Mainly Setswana, while smaller groups include Afrikaans, Sotho, English and Xhosa speaking people.
History: North West Province was created after the end of Apartheid in 1994, and includes parts of the former Transvaal and Cape Provinces, as well as most of the former Bantustan of Bophuthatswana.
Interesting fact: Mining is the mainstay of the economy of North West Province, and generates more than half of the province’s GDP.
FEATURED DESTINATION: SUN CITY
Sun City is largely thought to be Africa’s premier holiday resort, offering an astounding number of different entertainment and relaxation opportunities, including world-class game-viewing, golf and gambling, plenty of watersports, live entertainment and much more!
Capital: Cape Town
Languages: Afrikaans, followed by Xhosa and then English.
History: The written history of Cape Colony (later known as Cape Province and now as The Western Cape) began when Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese navigator, discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1488.
Interesting fact: The Western Cape is the most highly educated province in South Africa.
HIDDEN GEM – CAPE POINT
Located at the south-western tip of Africa, Cape Point, with its dramatic scenery and rich history, is a must-see for any visitor to the province. This Nature Reserve, situated 200 m above where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, encompasses thousands of hectares of varied flora and fauna; rugged rocks and sheer cliffs – a truly spectacular sight!