All The Travel Information You Need To Know About South Africa

All The Travel Information You Need To Know About South Africa

by Saskia Carelse September 20, 2017

Highlights of South Africa, as well as all the information every traveler should know

South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa. South Africa is the 25th largest country in the world with close to 56 million people. It's bordered in the north by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and wraps itself around 2 independent countries, Lesotho and Swaziland.

The country is surrounded by 2 oceans. To the right you will find the warmer Indian Ocean and to the left you'll find the colder Atlantic Ocean. South Africa boasts a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 km.

The people in South Africa are widely multi-ethnic and there are 11 official languages spoken throughout the country. South Africa is an upper-middle-income economy, and a newly industrialised country with their economy being the second leading in Africa.

Some of the highlights of the country would have to be Cape Town (the mother city), the incredible game reserves, the breath-taking Drakensberg and of course, the world-renowned Garden Route!

South Africa's Wildlife

South Africa offers a complete menu of habitat types, from dense sub-tropical forests to arid deserts and everything in between, making them ideal for thousands of different species. 

These different species are found in abundance in game reserves and national parks of the country, as well as in the wild countryside. The Big 5 (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino and leopard) is one of the main attractions to South Africa, which can be found in most of the country's game reserves. South Africa is an exceptional country to go on a safari tour.

South Africa offers over 40 game reserves and national parks to choose from. It can be overwhelming when choosing which attraction to choose, but some of the highly regarded ones include (not limited to) the Kruger National Park, Addo Elephant National Park, Phindi Game Reserve, Sabi Sand GR.

South African Culture

The South African culture is diverse on many different levels. As South Africa has been influenced by western cultures through the country's history, aspects of traditional culture have declined.

South Africa has been influenced by the Dutch, Malays, British, French, Indians and Portuguese. You will see evidence of this through the diverse architecture, varied accents and appearances and the eclectic cuisine etc. Above this, South Africa's native cultures are also diverse. South Africa is often called the ‘Rainbow Nation’ for this very reason.

Black South Africans make up around 80% of the population and belong to a variety of ethnic groups. There are many different ethnic groups and 9 officially recognised local languages. The Zulu and Xhosa speakers are the 2 largest groups, while Pedi, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Swati/Swazi, Venda and Ndebele speakers make up the rest.

Most South Africans are multilingual and are able to speak more than one language including English being the official language of business, politics and media.

It is a popular tourist attraction to see the different traditional cultures with their interesting homes, dress, wonderful bead work, pottery, arts & crafts and cultural events in the rural areas. Township tours are largely popular amongst tourists.

Many of the tribes still believe in ancestral spirits, magic and initiation ceremonies. Natural plant medicines are still used amongst tribes, where the people consult with Sangomas (traditional healers).

Agriculture plays a big role in the South African economy and it's not uncommon to see cows, sheep, horses and goats on the side of the highways, where their herders take them to graze. 

South Africa's Currency

The currency of South Africa is the rand (R / ZAR). The rand is subdivided into 100 cents. The word 'rand' comes from the Witwatersrand ("white waters' ridge" in English), the ridge upon which Johannesburg is built and where most of South Africa's gold deposits were found.

The economy of South Africa is the second largest in Africa, after Nigeria. Recently, South Africa has been experiencing slight disrupt in their economy due to political affairs. 

The rand offers favourable rates of exchange for foreigners therefore your travel budget will go surprisingly far. All major credit cards are accepted in South Africa, particularly MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club.

Getting to South Africa

Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesberg is the major airport in South Africa and is the hub for 45 airlines from all five continents. Direct flights between the USA and Johannesburg or Cape Town are about 15 hours, and flights between London and Johannesburg take about 12 hours. Onwards travel is mostly by car.

Because of excellent roads in South Africa, most people choose the self-drive option. There are frequent domestic flights throughout the country and various airlines fly to and from safari camps.

Passport, Visa and Other Entry Requirements To South Africa

To enter into South Africa, you will need a visa that will allow you to travel o a South African port of entry. Visitors are restricted to the activity or reason for which their visas were issued.

Requirements for visitor’s visas differ from country to country and the requirements are subject to change. You should make enquiries with your nearest South African Department of Home Affairs to see whether or not you are required to apply for a visa.

In order to apply for your visa, you're required to have a passport or travel document valid for no less than 30 days with 2 unused pages for entry / departure endorsements. You may also be required to have a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate.

If you're traveling with children, you will need to provide proof of guardianship or consent from the guardian in the case of an unaccompanied minor.

It's also mandatory to have a return or onward ticket.

The Best Time to Visit South Africa

South Africa is a great place to visit year round but the best time to visit may depend on your intention of visiting. South Africa’s winter months (June, July, August) have the least rainfall (except for the Western Cape with its Mediterranean climate) and is peak time for game viewing as a shortage of water means animals gather at watering holes. 

Although many tourists flock to Cape Town to take advantage of the summer heat, beaches and outdoor activities, Cape Town's Autumn and Winter months also come with their own charm.

If you're looking for a beach holiday any time of the year, Durban in KwaZulu Natal is great as the ocean is gloriously warm and temperatures are consistently moderate to hot.

South Africa's Malaria Risk and Vaccinations

It is best to consult with your travel doctor about what vaccines and medicines you need based on where you are going in South Africa, how long you are staying and what you will be doing.

You may need to take prescription medicine before, during, and after your trip to prevent malaria, depending on your travel plans, such as where you are going, when you are traveling, and if you are spending a lot of time outdoors or sleeping outside.

Although Malaria is not common in South Africa, it may be present along the border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique, in certain areas of Limpopo and Mpumalanga. There is no risk of yellow fever in South Africa but the government of South Africa requires proof of yellow fever vaccination only if you are arriving from a country with risk of yellow fever. 

South Africa's Climate

South Africa's climate ranges from Mediterranean (in the southwestern region) to temperate (in the interior plateau), and subtropical (in the northeast). A small area in the northwest has a desert climate.

South Africa is well-known as a sunny country, averaging 8-10 daily sunshine hours in most regions. The Indian and Atlantic oceans meet at the southwestern tip of South Africa. The warm Agulhas Current runs south along the east coast and the cold Benguela Current flows north along the western shore.

Rainfall mostly occurs during summer months (November through March) with brief afternoon thunderstorms, while the Western Cape province's rainfall occurs in winter (June to August). 

One of the reasons why tourists love visiting South Africa is because of the warm, temperature climate, making safaris, hiking, ocean activities and sightseeing such a pleasure!

Driving in South Africa

One of the best ways to explore South Africa is by definitely by car. There is so much country side, villages and nature reserves to explore. Road conditions are mostly in great condition in the country, aside for dirt roads leading to the more remote areas.

Many of the national roads between the major centres are toll roads. Check the toll fees before you leave, and make sure that you have either a credit card or cash to pay.

Please be sure to keep safety guidelines in mind when traveling by car, as crime is unfortunately not uncommon. Be aware of your surroundings and don't stop the car to help anybody, as criminals may pose as victims in need. Always drive with your doors locked and windows wound up, especially when stopped at traffic lights. Don't leave anything valuable in your car when you leave it unattended and always lock your car when you leave it, even if you are only going to be gone for a few minutes.

Plan your journey carefully - South Africa is a huge country that may require you to keep a map in hand, otherwise a GPS device.

Petrol (gas) stations are common and easy to come across but it is advised to fill up the car's tank before heading out to more remote areas. Sign boards are all written in English and are easy to understand.

An International Driver's Permit carried in conjunction with your national driving license is recommended and must be printed or authenticated in English. In South Africa, driving is restricted to the left-hand side of the road, and the cars are right-hand drive vehicles.

South Africa's Electric Plug Points/Outlets 

With a few exceptions in deep rural areas, electricity in South Africa is available almost everywhere. The South African electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC 50 HZ. 

US-made appliances may need a transformer.

In South Africa the power sockets are of type D, M and N. Most plugs are 15 amp 3-prong or 5 amp 2-prong, with round pins. If an adaptor is called for, consider bringing one with you, although they can be purchased locally. Most hotel rooms have 110 volt outlets for electric shavers and appliances.

Tipping in South Africa

Tipping in South Africa is widely practiced. Gratuities are not included in bills and is common courtesy to add a tip, depending on the level of service your received.

At a restaurant, you will usually add a 10% tip for your waiter/waitress. Foreign notes are okay to tip with, but foreign coins are not as they can’t be exchanged.

When parking your car, there will usually be a car guard somewhere in the vicinity. Some car guards are working towards feeding their family while others have thrown on a "parking guard" vest in hopes to support their drinking habits. 

We urge you to use your discretion when dealing with South African parking guards as many of them are not actually employed to watch your vehicle. Should you wish to tip them, R1 - R5 is fair. Avoid handing them notes or foreign currencies.

If you go on a safari tour, tipping your safari guide is great to show your appreciation for them providing you with an unforgettable experience. The general amount to tip them would be between R100 - R500, while it's acceptable to tip the camp housekeepers around R50. Tip them at the end of the safari tour.

When going wine tasting, it's generally acceptable to tip your wine tasting leader about R10 per person and if you enjoyed the wine, don't be shy to request to purchase a bottle.

In South Africa, petrols attendants fill your tank at a station while you remain in your car. They will also check your oil, water, the pressure of the tyres and will wash your windows. This is an official job title, and tipping them between R2 - R5 is acceptable. 

Dress Code In South Africa

South Africa is generally laid back when it comes to dress codes. In the urban areas, people carry a liberal mindset of dress code and you will see a wide array of clothing styles.

Whether you'd like to bring short dresses, long dresses, shorts and flip-flops, long trousers or tracksuits, you will not stand out in the crowd. However, it is recommended that in Summer, you bring clothes that are cool, light and comfortable as temperatures can get up to the 30 degree range in some areas.

South African winters are generally mild and comparable to European's Summer. South Africa does get some Winter days when temperatures dive so be prepared with jerseys and jackets.

If you are doing business in South Africa, business attire is generally called for in the corporate sector, but if you're doing safari game viewing, light clothing and good walking shoes are advised as well as a couple of warm jackets as the mornings and evenings may get chilly.

HIV/Aids

HIV/AIDS in South Africa is a prominent health concern. South Africa is believed to have more people with HIV/AIDS than any other country in the world.

Holiday flings are alluring and hardly uncommon. Please make sure to protect your safety by using condoms in all instances. You alone are responsible for your health and safety.

Dining in South Africa

South Africa delights tourist with the wide mix of cuisine the country has to offer. While there are many traditional South African dishes that you can experience, there is also a huge variety of modern meals.

A 'braai' is one of the most South African cuisines, where meat and vegetable are cooked over a fire. It is also one of the most social aspects of South African culture, where friends and family get together and enjoy a braai, making it a day or night event.

Traditional African meals include maize, rice and potato dishes which are ingredients that have been readily available to them, having lived off the produce of the land for many generations. Additionally, meat is also an important component to their meals, which was traditionally sourced from their own livestock.

Famous African dishes include tripe, mieliepap, samp and beans, sour milk porridge, dumplings and Mopane worms (yip, they're real worms!).

There is also a strong Malay influence on South African cuisine. These Eastern peoples were brought to South Africa as slaves in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and brought with them their delicious dishes. 

Due to the cosmopolitan nature of South Africa, the restaurants also offer a wide variety of international cuisine types. 

Attractions

  • Table Mountain (Cape Town)
  • Kruger National Park (Mpumalanga and Limpopo Provinces)
  • V&A Waterfront (Cape Town)
  • Addo Elephant National Park
  • Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (Cape Town)
  • Cape Winelands
  • Drakensberg (KwaZulu Natal)
  • The Garden Route
  • Blyde River Canyon (Mpumalanga) 
  • Cape Point (Cape Town)
  • Nelson Mandela Bay
  • Chapmans Peak Drive (Cape Town)



Saskia Carelse
Saskia Carelse

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