Despite its polarizing past, South Africa is a modern nation that has worked hard to overcome its difficult history. Here are five facts that will make you rethink South Africa.

South Africa Has 11 Official Languages

South African flag on pole with blue sky in background
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Nicknamed the Rainbow Nation, South Africa has one of the most diverse cultures and populations in Africa. These include the Afrikaners, who are descendants of Dutch immigrants, as well as members of the Nguni people, such as Ndebele, Zulu, and Xhosa communities. There are also burgeoning communities of Indian and Malay immigrants.

This makes South Africa a welcoming place to visit, one that is accustomed to people from all around the world coming together. And while this does help create a more enjoyable atmosphere to vacation in, it also means that you may want to take some time to pick up the terms that locals use to communicate across language barriers. Some of the more colorful ones you might learn include “lekkar” to mean good and “robot,” which means stoplight.

Elephant Populations are Thriving in South Africa

Herd of elephants walking together in South Africa
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An all-too-often-heard story is that of dwindling elephant populations across the African continent. It is a sad story compounded by the unfortunate realities of habitat destruction, climate change, and poaching.

However, this is not the case in South Africa. Well-managed and protected elephant herds have led to a booming success in growing elephant populations across the country. In fact, the elephants are doing so well that herd management goals have shifted away from recovery and toward keeping birth rates among elephants down so that they don’t destroy their own habitat.

This unique and happy problem has led to discussions of shipping elephants to areas that are losing their population, although this remains an expensive proposition.

South Africa Has the Longest Wine Route in the World

Wine region near Stellenbosch looking at Simonsberg in South Africa
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The wine produced is South Africa is phenomenal, and the Cape Winelands boast over 100 different estates in what is said to be the oldest maintained wine region outside of Europe. The temperate climate of the South African coast is ideal for producing the amazing wines the region is known for, which include top quality Pinot Noirs and Chenin Blancs.

If you really want to dive headfirst into the world of South African wine, you can drive the entire 500-mile length of Route 62, the world’s longest wine route. Some take as many as 10 days to explore the route, which leads from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. Along this route, you can taste wines, stop to explore ancient ruins, cross high mountain passes, and stay in wonderful bed and breakfasts.

Table Mountain Has Over 1,000 Hiking Routes

View of Table Mountain with city below
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Table Mountain towers over Cape Town: The plateaued peak rises out of the sea to an eleveation of 3,500-plus feet. If you like to hike, you are in luck, because there are hundreds of ways to get to the top – over 1,000, in fact, if technical rock climbing routes are included.

With all these routes, there is something for everyone, depending on the difficulty and amount of time you want to invest. No matter which route you take, however, the views from the top will be a just reward.

South African Cities Are Some of the Best Tourist Destinations on the Continent

Aerial view of Durban, South Africa
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While no place can be called entirely safe for travel, South Africa has done much to control crime in its biggest cities. The three biggest cities — Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban — are all considered safe to visit. Of the three, Johannesburg is probably the least safe, as it’s the largest, but within the city the areas that are most likely to see tourists are carefully controlled and safe to explore.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice safe travel practices, but you also shouldn’t be nervous about making one of these three places a destination for your next African vacation.