Avoid unpleasant surprises when visiting South Africa for the first time by planning ahead and knowing what to expect. Here’s a quick guide with all the basic need-to-knows.
Language shouldn’t be an issue if you can speak English
South Africa boasts an incredible eleven official languages, of which English is one. Most South Africans speak English, even if as a second language, so tourists don’t have much trouble communicating. If you do decide to learn a few basic terms in local languages, ensure you also research which languages are spoken in which parts of the country, as not everyone speaks all eleven.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
South Africa is a very large country
South Africa is approximately twice the size of France, so don’t expect to see it all in a week. Plan your trip by deciding which cities, towns and areas you’d like to visit. Most tourists opt for the bigger cities, like Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, but there’s much more to see than just the main attractions.
Big cities have many similarities to Western countries
Many tourists are surprised when arriving in South Africa that it’s very similar to Western countries. The standard of retail shops and restaurants is right up there with the rest of the world. So, if you happen to forget any essentials, from electronics to clothes, you’ll be able to easily pick it up in South Africa.
South Africa is great for traveling on a budget
The monetary unit is the South African Rand and everything, including food and alcohol, is well-priced compared to Western countries. Accommodation is also affordable, whether you opt for a hotel-stay, a guest house or self-catering unit.
The food is diverse and cheap
The country boasts amazing restaurants, from fine dining to casual eateries and markets – South Africa is a foodie’s dream come true. Whether you’d like to try traditional dishes like “smileys” or “walkie talkies”, chow down on a world-class steak or discover delicious vegetarian cuisine, South Africa has it all and more.
You might need a visa
The South African Department of Home Affairs website provides detailed information on which nationalities need visas to travel to South Africa, as well as how to obtain it. Luckily for Europeans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and Americans, they can visit the country for 90 days without the hassle.
Don’t be careless with your belongings
South Africa is very tourist-friendly, but just as in most countries topping traveller’s lists, pickpockets and scammers are not uncommon. Don’t flaunt expensive jewellery or electronics and lock valuables like passports away in your accommodation’s safe.
Renting a car is the best way to see it all
Public transport in South Africa can’t be compared to that of developed countries. Taxis aren’t readily available and the country doesn’t make use of a metro system. There is however the Gautrain in Johannesburg and Pretoria, and Uber operates in all big cities. Your best bet, however, is renting a car and road tripping, just remember that South Africans drive on the left.
Drink the water in cities
The water is drinkable in all big cities but double check when visiting smaller towns, the countryside and the bushveld.
You need to go to the bush to see animals
Wild animals don’t roam free all over the country, if you want to see the Big Five you’ll have to visit the bushveld. The Kruger National Park is a favourite but there are many other fantastic reserves scattered around the country.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.