South Africa has been called "A World in One County," and it's easy to see why: Towering mountains rise over a vibrant and trendy Cape Town; ostrich-dotted grasslands stretch to connect quaint villages; monkey-filled forests line the deserted beaches of Natal; and the Stellenbosch wine route tucks vast vineyards into lush, fertile valleys. Then, of course, there are the lions (and giraffes, and crocodiles...). South Africa's stunning landscapes, wildlife preserves, and pristine beaches along the 2,174 mile coastline have made it an ideal vacation spot.
Before You Go: Need-to-know info
Nearly everyone can speak English, but there are 10 other official languages (Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho sa Leboa, Tswana, Sesotho, Tsonga, Venda, Ndebele, and Siswati)
17 hours from NYC, 23.5 hours from LA, 18.5 hours from Chicago
Car, shuttle flights, taxi
When To Go: South Africa at its best
Summer (December-February) is ideal for beaches, while winter (June-August) is best for game viewing. Average temperatures in Cape Town range from 64 degrees Fahrenheit in winter to 80 in summer. Other regions can reach as high as 95 in summer months.
October to September
Why To Go
This destination has so many beaches that you're sure to find your scene. You can join models and trendsetters on the rocky beaches of Cape Town's Clifton and Camps Bay, explore the unspoiled sands of Natal on horseback, or join the locals on the laid-back shores of South Africa's famed Garden Route. If you're planning to take a dip, just remember to stick to the Indian Ocean on the eastern coast -- the Atlantic is freezing! (Cape Town has beaches on both oceans.)
The country's beautiful wine region is a quick drive from Cape Town. The wines are incredible (and cheap!), and the scenery is stunning. Most vineyards offer charming cellar tours, along with lunches and -- of course -- tastings of their prized libations. You won't want to pass up Fairview, where romantic gardens, homemade cheeses and luscious red wines are sure to give you that honeymoon feeling.
The big five:
South Africa has no shortage of wildlife, and many people come seeking photos of the "Big Five" (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino). Kruger National Park -- the most famous of many local reserves -- offers private luxury lodges where you fill the time between game drives with massages and seaweed wraps. If you're sticking to Cape Town, find your wildlife down below with a daring cage dive with the region's famous great white sharks!
-- Erin Walters