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Sightseeing in South Africa

Johannesburg, known variously as ‘Jo’ or ‘Jo’burg’ or ‘Joanna’ is the commercial hub of South Africa, and far more than a convenient transport centre. Jo'burg does not claim to be a trouble-free, peaceful and conveniently packaged city, nor is it redeemed by spectacular natural surroundings like Cape Town, but there is something about Jo’s frenetic pace by day and alive urban cultural scene by night that makes it an unforgettable place to visit. Get a taste of this urban scene at events/places like the popular township of Soweto (not to be visited without a reliable local guide and friend), the two-week Arts Alive festival in September, the lively Rosebank Rooftop Market and the Theatre Market. The main museum highlights of the city are Museum Africa and the Johannesburg Art Gallery.

More than anything else, Jo is a city of contrasts, with squalid shantytowns nestling alongside fantastically rich suburbs. It is also a city that is constantly changing and moving, especially in these post-apartheid days. This upheaval and entrepreneurship have given Jo a pulsating, vibrant atmosphere that it would be a shame to pass by for some of South Africa’s more touristy destinations. When in Jo, take the requisite precautions like avoiding the downtown area especially after sunset, and you should be able to get a really good peep into what makes urban South Africa tick today.

Pretoria is less exciting than Jo'burg but it is an attractive option for those looking for a taste of cosmopolitan South Africa. However, cosmopolitanism is a relatively new phenomenon in this stronghold of Afrikaner redneck conservatism during the height of apartheid, a legacy that the Supreme Court and the massive prison buildings still remind us of. Today, Pretoria (nicknamed ‘Jacaranda City’ for the purple-blossomed trees which bloom in late-September and October), is an urbane, pleasant city with an active student, art and gay/lesbian scene and impressive historic architecture like the Union Buildings (on whose steps President Nelson Mandela addressed the nation on his inauguration), the Kruger House Museum and Melrose House on the old Church Square and the imposing Voortrekker Monument. Other attractions include an excellent zoo and botanical gardens.

Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the most visited in South Africa, nestled among some of the most spectacular scenery in this part of the world, including the uniquely shaped Table Mountain that has become the emblem for the city, Cape Point, False Bay and Boulders Beach. ‘Capetonians’ refer to their city as “Mother City”, a sign of the immense affection they hold for it. Those who love nature and outdoor activities will delight in the many opportunities for trekking, hiking and other, more adventurous sports in and around Table Mountain, not to mention the fantastic whale-watching and penguin-sighting in False Bay and Boulders Beach.

One of the highlights of a visit to Cape Town, especially for those interested in the history of apartheid, is the former prison colony of Robben Island where this century’s most popular political prisoner Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. Cape Town's urban heritage is reflected in the range of styles in architecture, which includes indigenous Cape Dutch architecture, Georgian and Victorian buildings built by the English, and quaint minarets and mosques added by freed Muslim slaves. There is no dearth of entertainment options in Cape Town, with the newly opened Albert & Victoria Waterfront and numerous jazz bars and music clubs serving locals and tourists alike. The terraces of twentieth-century Bo-Kaap and the bohemian hub of intellectuals that became legendary in the apartheid era as District Six continue to play host to a variety of local art forms, especially local jazz called kwela.

Bloemfontein in Free State province is South Africa’s judicial capital and is increasingly becoming a popular conference and convention centre. Not known for its tourist attractions, the city nevertheless boasts some handsome historical buildings (especially along President Brand Street) including the War Museum of the Boer Republics and the National Women’s Memorial, the excellent Oliewenhuis Art Gallery, the National Museum and Sand du Plessis Theatre, the site for opera, ballet and orchestral concerts.

Durban is South Africa’s third largest city and Africa’s largest port. Known for ages as the ‘sunshine playground’ for the white elites, it boasts loads of sun and a warm sea just right for surfers. But Durban is a lot more than just a seaside resort – it is a lively, bustling multicultural city due to its history of ethnic immigration, with descendants of Indian slaves making up the second largest ethnic group in the city.

The vibrant Victoria Street Market is chock-a-block with Indian shops and stalls, and all over the city, mosques like the Juma Masjid (the largest in the southern hemisphere) and Hindu temples dot the skyline. The competing cultural influences in Durban are the waves of African immigration from Kwa-Zulu Natal and as far as Zaire, and the colonial English heritage, reflected in imposing Victorian buildings like City Hall. The African Art Centre showcases and sells some of the best rural and folk art in South Africa and the Kwa Muhle Museum in Durban is the only one in the country with a detailed record of the history of apartheid.

The world-renowned Kruger National Park, regarded as the flagship of South Africa's seventeen Parks run by the government, offers a wildlife experience that is among the best in Africa. It is the one Park in Africa where you are likely to spot most of the game on the continent, including leopard, lion, cheetah, giraffe and elephant. Established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of the South African Lowveld, Kruger covers nearly 2 million hectares and is and is home to 336 tree species, 49 kinds of fish, 34 amphibia species, 114 reptile species, 507 bird species and 147 mammal species. Other Parks worth visiting are the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, with 36,000 sq km of wild landscape and a large variety of species, the many parks in the Drakensburg area and the Pilansberg National Park.

The Garden Route, an amazing stretch of coast between Mossel Bay and Tsitsikamm Coastal National Park is a an area of fantastic beaches and lush tropical vegetation, including some of the most exotic flora on the continent.

To view opulence at its best visit the man-made venue of Sun City where it is gaming, gambling and golf all the way! Experience the ultimate relaxed vacation at world class resorts at Sun City, just a two hour drive away from Jo'Burg. The visit may burn a hole in your pocket but it sure will thrill - so make your choice!

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