Booking in advance
South Africa is a popular tourist destination and it is advisable to
make your travel arrangements as far in advance as possible to avoid
disappointment. This includes accommodation, flights and car hire reservations.
South Africa is generally busiest during the summer months of November
- March. Local summer school holidays fall during December and January
and at this time local seaside resorts are particularly busy with families
and children. Other busy holiday periods are over Easter and during
the local June/July school holiday period. For visitors preferring a
cooler temperature, fewer tourists and less crowds in general its worth
considering visiting in the off-peak months of April/May or September/October
You may also be able to take advantage of seasonal discounts at these
Seasons & weather
The seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are directly opposite to those
in the Northern Hemisphere. Summer is generally mid-October to mid-February,
Autumn is February to April, Winter is May to July and Spring falls
between August and October.
Summers are generally hot and lightweight clothing is advisable although
evenings can be cool. Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses are a must and
remember that sunburn can occur even in overcast weather. In the interior
afternoon showers are common during the summer months, while in Cape
Town four seasons can be experienced in one day so it is best to be
prepared. The winter months are cold, particularly in the interior -
warm clothing and raincoats are required.
Getting to South Africa
Johannesburg International Airport is the major international airport
in South Africa receiving flights from all five continents. There are
also direct international flights to Cape Town International. Flights
from the UK and Europe are usually overnight with a flight from London
to Johannesburg or Cape Town taking approximately 12-hours. Direct flights
between the USA and Johannesburg are approximately 15-hours. South Africa
has an excellent network of domestic carriers offering flights to all
major city centres throughout South Africa. A flight between Johannesburg
and Cape Town is 2-hours.
Travelling around South Africa
South Africa is a vast country and areas of interest are widespread.
It is often best to consider combining both flying and driving to make
the most of your time. As a rule, public transport is not reliable and
it is advisable to hire a car to get around cities and attractions.
If you would rather not drive long distances, consider one of the local
bus companies such as Intercape or Greyhound - tickets can be booked
at Computicket. The Baz Bus is an affordable hop-on-hop-off option for
backpackers. Alternatively, join an organised tour to suit your interests
and your schedule.
South Africa is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time throughout the
year. It is therefore an hour ahead of Central European Winter Time,
seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Winter Time and seven hours behind
Australian Central Time.
Passports & visas
Travelling to South Africa is fairly easy and hassle-free. All foreign
nationals must be in possession of a valid passport - and in some instances
a visa is required. Travellers from Europe, most Commonwealth countries,
the USA, Scandinavia and Japan do not need to apply for a visa for vacation
purposes. A free entry permit for a period of up to 90-days will be
issued on arrival. For visitors wishing to stay longer, an official
visa needs to be applied for.
Value-added-tax (VAT) is charged on most items. Foreign tourists to
South Africa can have their 14% VAT refunded provided that the value
of the items purchased exceeds R250.00. VAT is refunded at the point
of departure and receipts from purchases must be kept and produced.
Currency & banks
The South African currency unit is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R.
One hundred cents makes up one R1 (one Rand). Currently the Rand is
weaker than many European currencies as well as the dollar, making travelling
to South Africa affordable by international standards. Visitors will
more than likely find eating out and shopping particularly affordable
and of an excellent quality. Foreign currency can be exchanged at local
banks and Bureaux de Change. Credit cards are widely accepted including
American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Banks are open Monday
to Friday from 9:00-15:30 and on Saturdays from 8:30 - 11:00.
Post Offices are generally open Monday to Friday from 8:30-16:30 and
on Saturdays from 8:00 -12:00.
Most major shopping centres and malls are open 7 days a week from 09:00
to 17:00. In some cases, Sunday shopping hours are from 09:00 - 14:00
and in some smaller towns shops are closed on a Sunday.
Petrol or gas stations are widespread throughout South Africa and many
are open 24-hours. However, if you are planning a long distance trip
through a remote area, ensure that your tank is full to avoid running
low. A petrol attendant will fill your tank for you and will often wash
your windscreen. Petrol stations do not accept credit cards and petrol
must be paid for in cash or with a local petrol card.
As a rule South African restaurants do not include a service charge
in the total bill. It is customary to leave a 10% tip for good service,
or more for excellent service. At petrol station, petrol attendants
will fill your tank for you and will offer to wash your windscreen -
a tip of whatever small change you have available is appreciated (R1
or R2). In many areas parking attendants will offer to assist you in
parking your car and watching over it while you are away - again, a
tip of R2 or so is appreciated.
A valid driver's permit is required to rent a car in South Africa and
all drivers must carry a valid driver's licence at all times of driving.
The wearing of seatbelts is compulsory and driving while talking on
a mobile phone is illegal - a hands free kit must be used. Drinking
and driving is strictly prohibited and strict fines apply. The permissible
limit for alcohol consumption is about one glass of wine for the average
woman and perhaps 1.5 or two for the average or large man. Speed limits
are 120kmph on the open road, 100kmph on smaller roads and between 60
and 80kmph in towns and residential areas. Road signs will indicate
the speed limit. Speeding is strictly enforced with cameras and fines
are high. Bear in mind the following language differences in South Africa
- South Africans put petrol in their cars, not gasoline. Trunks are
referred to as boots, while hoods are called bonnets.
South Africa has an excellent infrastructure of good quality roads,
however the country is large and travelling distances can be long. If
you are planning a self-drive holiday, make sure that you allow yourself
ample time to reach destinations and make provisions for stop-overs
en-route. One of the biggest causes of road accidents on long-distances
is fatigue and loss of concentration.
In general, try to avoid driving in unfamiliar areas after dark and
in rural areas be aware of cattle or other animals such as buck wandering
into the road. Do not stop in remote areas after dark and always park
in well-lit, designated parking areas.
Health & medical care
South Africa has excellent health services and doctors with some of
the best training in the world. There are adequate hospitals and medical
care facilities throughout the country. However, visitors should ensure
that they have sufficient funds or medical insurance to cover the fees
of private facilities.
As a rule, the tap water in South Africa is safe to drink as all water
has been treated. Hygiene and food preparation are of excellent standards
and fresh fruit and vegetables are safe to eat.
Malaria is found only in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and
on the Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Malaria is at low risk in
the winter months. It is only possible to contract malaria by being
bitten by an infected mosquito - however, when visiting these areas
it is advisable to take the necessary safety and medical precautions.
Use mosquito nets and an insect repellent to avoid being bitten. In
addition, medication can be taken and should be taken according to the
instructions given. Medication should be taken starting two weeks before
entering the malaria zone and for four weeks after leaving the area.
Consult with your doctor beforehand and note that malaria medication
should not be taken during pregnancy.
No vaccinations are required when visiting South Africa and immunisation
against cholera and small pox are not required. However, if you are
entering South Africa from a yellow fever zone, you must be in possession
of a valid international yellow fever inoculation certificate. Infants
under the age of one year are exempt.
As in any foreign country, visitors are advised to be aware and alert
when travelling to avoid falling prey to petty theft and crime. Most
areas and attractions of South Africa can be safely visited. However,
use common sense, be discreet with expensive camera equipment and jewellery
and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking in deserted areas after
dark and when driving, always park in a well lit and designated parking
area. In you have any doubts, speak to your hosts and ask for their
advice on potential areas to avoid.
This is an area in which South Africa needs to improve on. Generally
speaking many accommodation providers have wheelchair ramps and bathroom
facilities for the disabled. Most public buildings cater for wheelchair
access and most sports stadiums have areas accessible to wheelchairs.
National parks usually have at least one wheelchair accessible chalet
South Africa's electricity supply: 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz
Exceptions: Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V)
Most plugs have three round pins but some plugs with two smaller pins
are also found on appliances. Adaptors can be purchased but may be in
short supply. US-made appliances may need a transformer.
South Africa has 11 official languages one of them being English. The
majority of the population is able to speak and understand English even
if it is not their first language. South Africans use a lot of local
'slang' - some of those you are more than likely to come into contact
with are listed below:
Howzit - A traditional South African greeting meaning "How are
you?" or "How are things?"
Boet - "Boet" is the Afrikaans word for "brother"
and is often used as a term of affection between male friends.
Café - the local corner shop selling milk, bread, newspaper and
Just now - If a South African tells you they will do something "just
now", they mean they'll do it in the near future - not immediately.
Lekker - An Afrikaans word meaning nice. It is often used in association
with food, as in: "That meal was lekker."
Now now - This is not intended to comfort but means shortly, as in:
"I will be there now now."
Rooibos - A popular South African tea made in the Cape. Rooibos is an
Afrikaans word meaning "red bush". When people speak of rooibos
they are referring to rooibos tea.
Braai - the South African equivalent of a barbeque where meat is cooked
over an open fire. A popular weekend and social pastime.
Boerewors/Wors - a type of spicy sausage made from beef or lamb. Generally
it is quite thick and is cooked on a braai.
Public holidays are listed below. In major areas shops, restaurants
and cinemas will open on public holidays, except for Christmas Day and
New Years Day. If the holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday (next day)
will be a holiday.
- 1 January - New Year's Day
- 21 March - Human Rights Day
- 9 April - Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday)
- 12 April - Family Day (the Monday after Easter Sunday)
- 27 April - Freedom Day
- 1 May - Workers Day
- 16 June - Youth Day
- 9 August - Women's Day
- 24 September - Heritage Day
- 16 December - Day of Reconciliation
- 25 December - Christmas Day
- 26 December - Day of Goodwill
Law prohibits smoking in most public spaces, including airports and
railway stations. Most restaurants have designated smoking and non-smoking