- 1 Prepare for the Best South Africa Vacation – an introduction
- 2 Money matters in South Africa
- 3 Swaziland & Lesotho
- 4 The Weather in South Africa
- 5 Visa
- 6 Vaccinations
- 7 Driving in South Africa
- 8 Is it safe in South Africa to travel?
- 9 Is there malaria in South Africa?
- 10 Communication and internet in South Africa
- 11 Safari in South Africa
- 12 How much luggage can we take to South Africa?
- 13 Electricity adapter
- 14 Tax
- 15 Food & Wine
- 16 Tips
- 17 Homeless people and street kids, to give or not to give?
- 18 Facts and figures of South Africa
- 19 Good reads about South Africa and the unbelievable history
- 20 Interesting movies about South Africa
Prepare for the Best South Africa Vacation – an introduction
South Africa is often the first country people visit on the African continent. A typical South Africa itinerary can include an African safari, a visit to Cape Town and perhaps the Garden Route. Because of the incredible diversity that a South Africa vacation offers, a lot of visitors come and enjoy our shores each year and… they keep coming back because you can leave Africa but Africa won’t leave your once you have felt its heart beat.
Firstly the infrastructure is really good. Roads are mostly well maintained and cities have good facilities for all. Secondly, almost everyone you will meet, speaks English and private health care is top class.
So for a first time traveler to Africa the basics are covered very well in South Africa.
In this article you can find all the practical information you will need to prepare for your South Africa vacation (although it is more of a life changing experience for many).
Money matters in South Africa
The currency used in South Africa is Zuid-Afrikaanse Rand (=ZAR), or rand the short way. At this point in time (dec 2018) € 1 is about ZAR 16.50. You can find the current exchange rate on www.xe.com
In South Africa there are plenty ATM machines. The exchange of Traveler’s Cheques is often complicated and might take a while. Banks are not always available. We advise to take your ATM card as well as a credit card and if you prefer, some euros / pounds / USD in cash. Please don’t bring traveler’s cheques.
Diners and American Express cards are not widely excepted in South Africa because of the high fees so make sure to have either VISA or Mastercard as well.
Never let anybody help you at an ATM machine. DON’T allow anybody to distract you. If someone does, press the CANCEL button, take your card and walk away. Rather don’t go by yourself to an ATM but have a fellow traveler join you.
Swaziland & Lesotho
You might have heard about these 2 small countries or seen them while you were studying the South African map.
Swaziland and Lesotho are separate kingdoms within the borders of South Africa. They do have their own money. The exchange rate with the rand is 1:1. Spend all your Swazi and Lesotho money while you’re there because you can’t use it in South Africa. It’s a great souvenir though for your photo album.
ZAR are accepted everywhere in Swaziland and Lesotho. Don’t count on your credit card / ATM card to work. Rather take cash ZAR from South Africa into these countries (although it has gotten a lot better lately).
The Weather in South Africa
The seasons are reverse from the season in the northern hemisphere. Winter is from June – September. South Africa has a diverse climate. On most days you can experience 4 seasons in one day. Especially the Cape region can be very unpredictable. We always advise to dress yourselves in layers so you can always take some off / put some on.
You can read in this article in more detail about the weather in the different regions.
In July and August there’s often snow in the mountains so be sure to bring a fleece and some warm jerseys in case you travel to the Drakensberg or Lesotho. A hot water bottle is sometimes provided by the lodges.
For a visit to South Africa, shorter than 90 days, you don’t need a visa. Your passport needs to be valid for another 6 months by the time of departure from South Africa so pls. make sure you check the expiry date on your passport and get a new one in time. Have at least 2 empty pages in your passport.
NOTE: Please be aware of the visa regulations from 1 October 2014 onwards for traveling with children. You will need a birth certificate with names of both parents. Please enquiry with your local South African embassy which documents you should have.
Mostly not compulsory but some are highly recommended. For more information please check the Travel Clinic in your own country. Unfortunately we are not doctors and are not qualified to give any advice in this matter
Driving in South Africa
In South Africa we drive on the left hand side and the steering wheel is situated on the right hand side. As soon as you’re outside of the city, this shouldn’t cause any problems, because there’s not much traffic on the roads.
We don’t recommend to drive in the evenings outside of the cities. There are mostly no street lights. Try to arrive at you next accommodation before the twilights sets in.
Please stick to the speed limit. Yes, South Africa DOES have cameras and they DO work and you DO get a traffic fine! In the cities you’re mostly 60 km/h allowed and outside between 80 – 120 km/h.
Overtaking: We would like to explain this to you since you might not understand what goes on when someone wants to overtake you or vice versa.
The car that is to be overtaken, moves onto the shoulder (if possible), the car that overtakes will say ‘thank you’ by flashing the emergency lights, you can then say again ‘you’re welcome’ by flashing your bright lights. Nice system, hey? That way everybody can just MOVE!
Parking: Don’t park against traffic! I know, I also find it a ridiculous rule but I got towed on my first day in Cape Town for this reason. So bare this in mind when looking for that much-wanted parking space.
Parking guards: Mainly in the cities, there will be volunteers to watch your car. These are just unemployed people that would like to earn some money. Just give 5 – 10 Rand at the end of your evening and they will be most thankful.
Toll: on the N-roads you need to pay toll. This can be paid in cash or with credit card. If you rent a car from Johannesburg you might have an e-toll tag in the car. This should be explained to you by the car rental company. They might take a deposit on your credit card.
Petrol: In some off the beaten track villages you have to pay cash although lots of petrol stations upgraded their systems for the World Cup in 2010 and have now credit card facilities.
There will be very helpful petrol attendants who offer to check oil, water and tires. Some even wash your windows and once my entire car was washed! It’s a great service so pls. again, give them a 5 – 10 Rand tip for their services.
Is it safe in South Africa to travel?
We know, South Africa is world renowned for its crime statistics. Just like in any other country, this mainly happens in the big cities and mostly in certain neighborhoods. Don’t walk by yourself in the evening and don’t have more money on you than necessary.
Leave your valuables in the safety deposit box in your room or at the hotel reception. Don’t leave any items in your car. Wear one of those money belts UNDER your clothing.
When you drive in the city, don’t leave your bag on the front seat in full view.
Please read the section about ATM’s under ‘Money matters’ carefully.
South Africa is often in the news for the violent crimes. It should be clarified that the violent crimes mostly happen between people who know each other and is not geared toward tourists.
Is there malaria in South Africa?
Depending on which season you’re traveling and where you exactly travel, malaria tablets might be recommended. Wear light colored clothes with long sleeves during sunrise and sunset. There’s a reason why all safari clothes are either beige or light green! In South Africa you can buy in every supermarket ‘Tabbard’ or ‘Peaceful Sleep’. Often cheaper than in Europe.
Communication and internet in South Africa
If you expect to be phoning a lot, then pls, take your mobile phone without SIM lock and buy a SA SIM card at Jo’burg or Cape Town Airport. Don’t expect to have reception in the remote areas. Most restaurants, coffee shops, tourist attractions and shopping malls offer free WiFi. Safari lodges might have only WiFi in the public areas although there are already many who have WiFi throughout their establishment.
Safari in South Africa
One of the most important reasons to visit South Africa is the beautiful safari possibilities. You can enjoy from the comfort of your own car but we do recommend to also participate in a game drive, a jeep safari.
Please always ensure to familiarize yourself with the rules at the entrance of the park and listen carefully to your game ranger. This is important for your own safety and for the peace of the animals.
P.e. NEVER leave your car, NEVER feed the animals and don’t call the animals. Remember, you’re not in a zoo but in an area with dangerous, wild animals that sometimes can be moody. Especially, mothers with babies, they are very protective of their off spring and become aggressive when you come too close.
South Africa has the very big advantage that there are many areas where malaria free safaris are possible so it is perfectly safe to take small children as well and many safari lodges are very child friendly. Ask for family rooms, special kids ranger programs and many more exciting things for the little ones. I’ve been taking Rosie on safaris from when she was 2 years old. It is fantastic to show your children the African bush!
How much luggage can we take to South Africa?
Most airlines allow you 20 kg. We recommend to bring less so you still have some space for the awesome souvenirs that you can buy here. The rules for hand luggage are extremely strict. Make sure you don’t have any creams or fluids over 50 ml in your hand luggage to avoid that you have to leave them behind. If you have booked a fly-in safari to one of the exclusive lodges, there might be luggage restrictions due to the size of the aircraft. You travel agent should inform you about this. This usually needs to be packed in soft bags.
The South African 3-pin plug is available in any local supermarket. You can’t buy them in many places elsewhere or might be very expensive
All consumer products in South Africa are taxable at 15% (= Value Added Tax). Keep all your receipts with the VAT amount and then you can claim this 15% back upon departure at the airport. You would also need to show your items.
Swimming in the sea
Often there’s a strong current, so we recommend you go to beaches with life guards. Also look out for the colored flag which tells you if it’s safe. There are shark callers in areas where there’s a possibility that sharks come close to the shore. A Shark caller will make sure to make a noise so that all get out of the water as soon as possible. Especially important for surfers.
Food & Wine
In South Africa you can eat and drink like a king / queen! According to European standard, food and wine are very affordable so we recommend you enjoy it as much as possible and go out for breakfast, lunch & dinner!
Franschhoek, close to Cape Town, is also called the culinary capital of South Africa, top class restaurants are situated in the main road. A typical South African thing, is the ‘braai’ (= BBQ). South Africans take their ‘braai’ very serious and every house, flat, camp site or cottage is equipped with either an indoors or outdoors braai. Even better to have an in- and outdoors braai!
Local South African delicacies, NOT to be missed:
Biltong: Dried, cured meat, eat while having a beer
Droëwors: Dried sausage
Potjie kos: Meat stew with veggies, potatoes and herbs. Takes HOURS to cook and prepared in a traditional ‘potjie’.
Samoosa’s: Savoury, deep fried pastries
Bobotie: Mince meat with egg, nuts and apples, served with rice & chutney
Koeksister: Deep fried honey sweet dough
Mieliepap: Maize porridge (staple food)
Malva pudding: Delicious desert, something between a pudding and a tart.
Melktert: Milk tart served with cinnamon
Snoek paté: Smoked snoek (= game fish) paté
Amarula: Made from the Marula fruit of the Marula tree, similar to Baileys, but much nicer.
Dom Pedro: A vanilla ice cream milk shake with Kalua, Amarula or Whiskey, served as a desert.
Springbokkie: Shooter of Amarula and Creme de Menthe (drink while watching rugby)
Castle: Local beer
Rooibos thee: Caffeïne free herb tea indigenous to South Africa
In most places you can drink the tap water!
Often restaurant staff is only paid their tips. It’s custom to give between 10 – 15 % tip. If the service was outstanding you can give more.
If you take a day tour with a guide or a game ranger, custom is to give 50 Rand per person per day. For Housekeeping we recommend the same amount.
Homeless people and street kids, to give or not to give?
Many poor people live in South Africa. The unemployment rates is about 24 % so you will see beggars, homeless people and street kids. We know this sounds cruel and it might be difficult but we recommend not to give anything to any person that is holding their hand up. This way you actually don’t help the person but you do stimulate beggars to beg instead of to work.
Street kids are often sent by their parents to beg or dance on the street. This way they don’t go to school and we don’t want to promote that. Getting an education is the only way for youth to build a better future. If you would like to give something, just leave clothes for housekeeping that you no longer use or ask for a ‘doggie bag’ at the restaurants and give this to a beggar. Kids will often ask for ‘sweeties’. Please also, don’t give those because it just causes their teeth to go bad and they don’t have money to go to the dentist.
Try to leave pens, books, games, toys etc. at a centralized place, for example the head teacher of a school. If you just give it to 1 kid, the kids will start fighting and that’s awful. A person with authority will make sure goods are divided amongst the kids in an honest way.
Facts and figures of South Africa
Population 57 million (2017)
Surface 1,2 million km², bigger than Germany, France and Italy combined
Capitals Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (administrative), Bloemfontein (juridical)
President Cyril Ramaphosa
Languages 11 official national languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Pedi, Engels, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Mswati, Venda, Ndebele
English is most spoken.
Religion Mainly Christian
Bordering Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho
Provinces Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Freestate, Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, North West Province
Sports Rugby, Cricket and soccer, golf
Export products Gold, minerals, diamonds, metal & metal products, foods, car parts
Trade partners Germany, U.S. Great Britain, China, Japan & France
Climate Yearly rainfall is half the amount from the global average. BUT, Johannesburg gets more rain than London but these are short, heavy rain falls. The average amount of sun varies from 7.5 to 9.5 hours per day, in comparison with London where the sun shines only 3.8 hours per day and New York about 6.9.
Economy South Africa has more cars, mobile phones, banks and industries than the rest of Africa! GDP is the highest of the entire continent and is about 36% of GDP of all sub-Saharan countries.
Metals South Africa is the number 1 producer in the world for gold, platina and chrome.
International dialing code + 27
Good reads about South Africa and the unbelievable history
Nelson Mandela – Long walk to freedom ( book and movie!)
Books by Moeletsi Mbeki, Jonathan Jansen, Justice Malala, Khaya Dlanga
Olive Schreiner – A farm in Africa
James A. Michener – The Covenant – an absolute must if you love history!
Interesting movies about South Africa
Cry the Beloved Country Zulu
Yesterday Cry Freedom
Scull of my country
The Gods Must be Crazy