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Lion’s Head, Cape Town | ©Marcelo Novais/Unsplash
Lion’s Head, Cape Town | ©Marcelo Novais/Unsplash

10 Things to Know Before Visiting South Africa

Picture of Carina Claassens
Updated: 20 November 2017
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.

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.

South Africa has much to explore
South Africa has much to explore| ©Vaughn Wright/Unsplash

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.

South Africa is a great option if you’re traveling on a budget
South Africa is a great option if you’re traveling on a budget| ©Christine Roy/Unsplash

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.

Find out whether you need a visa to visit
Find out whether you need a visa to visit| ©STIL/Unsplash

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.

A lioness resting in a tree
A lioness resting in a tree| ©Maarten van den Heuvel/Unsplash