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There’s no doubt why South Africa is such a popular travel destination: with an abundance of wildlife, untouched beaches, amazing food and friendly locals, what’s not to like? It’s a large country (approximately twice the size of France) so planning your trip is essential and we’ve narrowed down all you need to know.
Some foreign travellers need a visa to visit South Africa and the South African Department of Home Affairs website provides detailed information on how to obtain one. Europeans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and Americans can visit South Africa for 90 days without a visa.
South Africa is known for its moderate temperature and sunshine and even the winter months (May to the end of July) have extremely moderate temperatures. It gets cold, but there’s no need for thermals and snow boots. If Cape Town is on your itinerary, remember that the Western Cape gets most of its rainfall during winter, so it’s best to travel there during summer.
The monetary unit is the South African Rand and everything, from groceries to accommodation, is relatively well-priced compared to European countries and the United States. Food and alcohol are exceptionally well-priced and the country boasts amazing restaurants, from fine dining to casual eateries, vineyards and markets, no tourist leaves hungry.
Public transport in South Africa will come as a shock to many as there isn’t really a system – it’s not as simple as getting on a train or bus. In Gauteng (Johannesburg) travellers use the Gautrain, a railway system that stops at major hubs, like O.R. Tambo International Airport. Uber is also a popular choice but your best bet would be to hire a car for your entire stay. Keep in mind that the speed limit on major motorways is 120km/h (75mph).
South Africa has 11 official languages so a dash of Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa will definitely go a long way. Having said this, just about everyone speaks English, South African English, but English none the less. The dialect might take some getting used to, but overall South Africa is an easy country to get along in; the people are friendly and are always happy to assist, especially when you show an enthusiasm for learning more about their country.
Depending on the regions you’re visiting, pack weather-appropriate clothing. If visiting the bush during your stay, pack comfortable, closed shoes, and a swimsuit as these will be essential during the summer months. You won’t, however, necessarily be on safari the whole time so pack leisure wear as well as something a bit more formal for evenings out.
South Africa is a tipping nation. It is generally appropriate to tip at least 10% in restaurants and, as they don’t fill their own cars at petrol stations, it’s also expected that you will tip the attendant.
South Africa has an amazing variety of restaurants, selling every cuisine you can imagine. The supermarkets are also stocked with a wide range of produce, making self-catering easy. Tap water can be drunk in the major cities, but it’s always wise to ask if uncertain.
All minors require the consent of their parents when travelling into or out of the country. Children under 18 travelling with parents will need to show full, unabridged birth certificates (including the details of both parents). Consult your travel agent or the South African Department of Home Affairs website for more information.
It’s important to book your accommodation well in advance, especially during peak holiday season which is November to January in South Africa. There are many accommodation options available, from self-catering apartments and houses, to guesthouses, hotels and backpacker lodges. The accommodation you choose will be entirely based on your itinerary, budget and destination within South Africa.
South Africa has cellular coverage and you’re likely to be able to connect to wifi just about anywhere you go. Keep in mind that many remote areas, like the bush, don’t have cellular reception or internet connection. Also, don’t forget adapter plugs, as you’ll definitely need them.
No vaccinations are required when visiting South Africa, however, if you are entering South Africa from a yellow fever zone, you must be in possession of an international yellow fever inoculation certificate. Many regions within South Africa are a malaria risk, so consult your doctor before visiting. There are ample hospitals and pharmacies in the country, but remember to take a prescription for any medication you take regularly.
Just as when travelling to any other country, it’s wise to store valuables, including passports, in a safe or locked storage box and keep your room or apartment locked, whether you’re inside it or not. Avoid flashy displays of expensive jewellery, cameras and other valuables. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use these items, it’s simply best to be aware of your surroundings and use common sense.