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Take a walk on the wild side in South Africa
(Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2004-03-26 10:10

In recent years South Africa has become a top tourist destination for many travellers. With its rugged coast lines, spectacular sunsets, unspoilt beauty and world renowned wildlife it is a country which has something to offer everyone.

The country itself is a series of contradictions, where opulent wealth lives side by side with the most unimaginable poverty. As a country it is defined by its history and yet hope springs from its desire to move forward. The legacies of apartheid are still apparent in many cities but the friendless of the people and the small gestures of welcome go a long way to redeeming itself.

Having to select South Africa's top attractions is a very difficult task. There is so much to see and do, depending on the type of holiday, you are looking for. However here are some of my top highlights.

Cape Town

Cape Town is without doubt South Africa's prime tourist attraction. Voted as one of the "Top 50 Places to See Before I Die" by the BBC, it is a city of incredible beauty and staggering grandeur.

Table Mountain draws local holidaymakers as well as tourists from the four corners of the globe. To get to the top of this famous landmark you can hike or take a five-minute cable car ride.

There is an awful lot to do in Cape Town and it is definitely a city worth visiting for more than a few days. Top of your list though should be the V & A Waterfront, a huge vibrant leisure venue, with its fair share of good restaurants. Robben Island is also a must see as is Penguin Island. This city also boasts pristine beaches, incredible seafood, fantastic views and a great nightlife.

The Garden route is one of the country's most scenic drives. Running along the Western Cape, this narrow costal plain is surrounded by indigenous forests and bordered by extensive lagoons which run behind a barrier of sand dunes and superb white beaches. This area is a favourite all year around for water sports.

A taste of the wild

For a taste of South Africa's wildlife, the Kruger National Park is a wildlife experience that ranks with the best in Africa. This enormous nature reserve stretches for 350km and was established in 1898 to protect the wildlife of South Africa.

It is the best place to see the "big five" - lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos. Nothing can beat the exhilarating feeling at seeing one of these magnificent animals at close range. The best time to visit the park is in the early morning or late night. It is also advisable to hire a game ranger as they can take their vehicles off road.

After an exciting day in the sun, sipping cocktails while listening to the cries of the wild is also an experience not too be missed.

Sun and sand

Durban is South Africa's premier "sun, sea and sand" destination. A subtropical city in the north-eastern province of KwaZulu Natal it has been a major port since 1850. The Indian area to the west of the city is vibrant and busy. This area also hosts the Juma Mosque the largest in the southern hemisphere.

Marine Parade is focal point of the city. It is at the heart of the Golden Mile and is the starting point for all beachfront attractions. Running alongside this is an Indian market selling anything from silk, to baskets to spices.

The popular holiday destinations just north of Durban are where most people stay. These suburbs are often very busy during the holiday period when throngs of holiday makers from the cities descend on the beach. Saying this though there is a thriving bar culture during this period, and lots of organized beach parties.

Mini Las Vegas

For those, who find the cities of South Africa too hectic, a different experience is waiting in Sun City. In the middle of an extended savannah lies the Las Vegas of Africa. Situated very close to Johannesburg and Pretoria it is the perfect day trip. Sun City has become synonymous with luxurious hotels, beautifully laid out water gardens, excellent golf course, gambling halls and first-class entertainment and shows.

The biggest attraction however comes in the form of the Lost City. This chain of casino complexes has been imaginatively decorated like an old African town. It has some of the most amazing features that leave visitors feeling spellbound. It also houses one of the countries top water parks and is a great laugh for the whole family.

Vibrant city

Fast-paced, frenetic Johannesburg has a reputation for immorality, greed and violence since the Gold Rush of the 19th century. Most people are put off by the cities soaring crime rates but to experience the real problems and challenges this country faces, this city is a "must" visit.

There are very few conventional tourist sights in Johannesburg. However there is a real vibrancy to it that is worth exploring. Johannesburg has fascinating museums as well as excellent art galleries. A number of suburbs have a thriving cafe culture, which by the evening transforms to a lively restaurant scene.

There are also shops with excellent contemporary African art and design, striking buildings, and of course the townships, most easily explored on a tour.

For more information on South Africa you can visit the official tourism website at: http://tourism.org.za/

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