South Africa’s scenic wonders are legendary. From Table Mountain to God’s Window, our mountains, forests, coasts and deserts will feast your eye and lift your spirit…
Other than traffic from the neighboring countries, which still mostly makes its way into South Africa by road, most travellers use air services to get to South Africa.
Getting to South Africa is easy. The country boasts 3 international airports -
OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg
Cape Town International Airport
King Shaka International Airport in Durban
The lion's share of international airlines flying to South Africa fly into OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, also called ORTIA for short. The airport is one of the busiest in Africa. All 3 airports are managed by the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) - its website is a great source of South African travel information.
There are also limited means of getting to South Africa by sea. A number of cruise itineraries include Durban or Cape Town on their routes, while Safmarine's cargo ships, which sail between the UK and South African ports over a 2-week duration, offer a few passenger cabins. There is also the well-known RMS St Helena which travel from the UK to Cape Town calling at the islands of Tenerife, St Helena and Ascension, as well as Walvis Bay in Namibia.
With the year round temperate climate, your decision about the best time to visit South Africa will not so much be based on the weather but more about the experiences and adventures you wish to have.
For example, South Africa’s winter months (June, July, August) – which have the least rainfall, except for the Western Cape with its Mediterranean climate - is a peak time for game viewing as a shortage of water means animals gather at watering holes. Foliage is also less, which makes game spotting easier. But depending on the experiences you seek, there may be another time that's more suitable to visit South Africa's game parks. For example, if you want to see newborn animals, then September/October is the best time to visit.
And while holidaymakers flock to Cape Town and the Western Cape in the summer months to take advantage of the lovely weather, beautiful beaches, and many outdoor adventures to be had, winter - even though the rainy season - also has its charm. Visiting the Cape wine lands during winter is a special treat.
Autumn, winter and spring are also ideal times to visit the Northern Cape’s wonderful national parks with their black-maned lions, and is a good time to enjoy animal tracking adventures with the Kalahari Bushmen. During summer months, temperatures here can get unbearably hot.
Hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains is also great all year round. Do be aware that in winter, night temperatures can drop below freezing, and snow can sometimes be found in the higher reaches. During the summer months, afternoon thunderstorms are a frequent occurrence.
There are some adventures in South Africa that can only be experienced at specific times of the year. For example, if you want to experience the world-famous Namaqualand daisies, then September (their spring) is the time to visit. The famous Sardine Run, a unique phenomenon when millions of sardines travel up the east coast of South Africa causing a feeding frenzy that attracts thousands of sharks, dolphins, whales, birds and other ocean predators, occurs between May and July.
If you love hiking, spring and autumn are the ideal times to hike as temperatures are not too hot or cold. Spring and autumn are also the best times to visit for fly-fishing in South Africa.
For those seeking to explore South Africa’s rich heritage, cultures, and political past, you can visit any time of year, unless of course your interest is a specific event like the Zulu reed dance, which takes place in September every year.
What to wear in South Africa
South Africans are generally laid back when it comes to clothing so no need to haul out your best silks and diamonds when heading for the shores unless you're attending a very prestigious event.
Here is some advice on what to wear in South Africa:
• For the summers, bring clothes that are cool, light and comfortable because summer temperatures can get well into the 30 degree range in some areas.
• Also bring an umbrella or raincoat during summer as this is when most of the country gets its rain. In areas like Gauteng and the North West Province, thundershowers are common. A light jacket or wrap is a good precaution.
• The winters are generally mild, comparing favorably with European summers. But we do get some days when temperatures dive, especially in high-lying areas such as the Drakensberg, so be prepared with jerseys and jackets. Cape Town gets its rain during the winter season so it’s advisable to bring rain gear along.
• Always bring a hat, sunglasses and sunblock as the sun can be strong even in the winter months.
• Walking shoes are a good idea all year-round, with warm socks in the winter.
• If you are doing business in the country, business attire (suit and tie) is generally called for in the corporate sector, but media for example generally dress more casually.
• For game viewing, a couple of neutral-toned items will be useful, but there's no need to go overboard. A good pair of walking shoes is also advisable.
• For the evening, if you are dining at an upmarket restaurant or seeing a show, smart-casual attire is recommended.
With the South African unit of currency, the rand, offering favorable rates of exchange against the world's hard currencies, your money and budget when in South Africa will go surprisingly far.
Budget 10% of total cost for tips; anything from R100 to R500 for individual curios; R50-R80 for a single takeaway meal; R100-R200 per person for a restaurant meal; and R75-R100 for a bottle of wine; R30-R60 for a cocktail and R15-R25 for a beer at restaurants. Tollgate fees vary from around R7 to as much as R40 depending on the route you're on.
Rands and cents
• The rand is divided into 100 cents
• Coins come in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5
• Notes come in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200
• Travellers' cheques can be exchanged in banks, bureaux de changes and some hotels. It is suggested you bring them in hard currencies.
• Money can also be withdrawn at automated teller machines (ATM) of which there are many countrywide.
• South Africa's main banks are Absa Bank, First National Bank, Nedbank, Standard Bank and Capitec
• Banking hours are generally 09h00-15h30 on weekdays and 08h30 - 11h00 on Saturdays.
• All major credit cards are accepted in the country, particularly MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club.
There are 11 official languages spoken in South Africa and many unofficial ones.
English is the official language of business, politics and media, but on South Africa's streets you'll find a heavy mix of languages spoken from all over the world, most notably Africa, Europe and Asia.
A list of the 11 official languages spoken in South Africa:
Sesotho sa Leboa
The languages you will hear most frequently depends on where you are in the country. For example, in the Eastern Cape, more than 80% of the population speaks IsiXhosa, while in KwaZulu Natal,isiZulu is most widely spoken.
But tourists need not be concerned. English is widely spoken throughout most of South Africa save for some very rural areas.
Medical facilities in South Africa are, in general, of a high standard, particularly private hospitals and clinics, as well as some of the large state hospitals in urban areas.
Many state-run hospitals with their subsidized facilities suffer from overcrowding and patients generally wait in long queues before being attended to.
Provincially-run emergency services, also under pressure, are now assisted by a number or privately-operated services, which attend to roadside and other emergencies, transporting patients in well-equipped ambulances and emergency vehicles to appropriate hospitals.
Private hospitals and clinics in South Africa are of a high standard and offer specialist treatment by high-skilled specialists. It is advisable to take out comprehensive medical insurance before travelling to South Africa as private health care is expensive.
Despite it's high cost, it is still less expensive than in many countries abroad, and visitors therefore sometimes elect to undergo medical treatment in South Africa.
The high standard of doctor training in South Africa is well-known. South Africa's urban areas are well supplied with general and specialist practitioners, all registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Many medical professionals require payment on consultation, and may offer discounts for immediate settlement.
South African pharmacists are unable to dispense Schedule 3 drugs and up without a prescription, so tourists on chronic medication who expect they'll run out during their stay, should come armed with the necessary doctor's prescription.
It should be noted that medical facilities in South Africa's rural areas are less sophisticated often only having facilities to deal with primary health care conditions.
• In restaurants and bars, 10% to 15% is the accepted tipping standard.
• Parking attendants and security guards are common in parking lots and at roadside bays. They generally ask if they can watch your car while you are going about your business - if you agree, a tip of R2 and up should be offered, depending on the length of your stay.
• In South Africa we still have the luxury of petrol attendants at gas stations to fill up the vehicle tanks, check oil, water and tire pressure, and clean the windscreens. How much to tip for this special South African service? From R2 up.
• The going rate for porters at airports is between R5 and R10 per piece of luggage.
• South Africa, you'll soon see, has a tradition of roadside newspaper vendors. It's custom to give the seller a few cents - rounding off the cost of your newspaper should be sufficient.
• Hotel porters usually expect a tip of R10 to R20 per porter service.
• Tour guides and drivers, Some of the other service providers you may want to tip are taxi drivers, tour guides and assistants in hairdressers and beauty salons. Should you need assistance in taking your purchases from supermarket to your vehicle, you may want to show your gratitude to your helper with a small monetary reward.
Principal air routes are serviced by SAA and British Airways, operated by Comair. There are 3 low-cost carriers on main routes, namely Kulula.com, Mango and 1time. South African Express and Airlink serve the smaller centers.
Facilitating travel around South Africa are 10 airports managed by the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), among them OR Tambo International Airport (Ortia), the new King Shaka International Airport, and Cape Town International Airports. In addition, there are some 90 regional airports, including the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Nelspruit and the Skukuza Airport, offering access to the Kruger National Park.
An extensive tarred road system makes traveling in South Africa by vehicle convenient and easy. You will find gravel roads in rural areas though. Note:
• A valid international driver's license is required.
• We drive on the left hand side of the road.
• Wearing seat belts is compulsory and cellphones can only be used ‘hands free'.
• Speed limits are generally set at 120km on freeways, 100km on secondary roads and 60km in urban areas.
• Toll fees apply on certain national roads.
• Petrol stations are widespread.
• Most global car hire firms have branches in South Africa, along with local concerns.
• The Automobile Association (AA) supplies road maps.
Another means of getting around South Africa are luxury inter-city bus services such as Greyhound and Trans-Lux, as well as the backpackers' Baz Bus. Metrobus buses are available for in-city transport. Metered taxis must be ordered by telephone. There is a hop-on-hop-off bus in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The rail system includes the long-haul, inexpensive Shosholoza Meyl Metrorail trains. More luxurious options are the Blue Train, Premier Classe and the steam train Rovos Rail.
In Gauteng, Rea Vaya is a bus rapid transport system that operates around the Johannesburg CBD, and branches out to selected areas of Soweto and Eldorado Park.
For nationals of countries requiring visas, application of the visa must be made ahead of your departure as visas are not issued on arrival. The visas must be affixed in your passport and shown to immigration officials on landing. Applications must be made through South African diplomatic or consular representatives.
To apply for a visa you'll be required to furnish particular documentation to meet South Africa's visa requirements. These include:
1. A passport valid for no less than 30 days after the expiry of the intended visit, and at least 1 unused page for entry/departure endorsements (sometimes referred to as the visa page).
2. Payment of the prescribed fee, if applicable.
3. A vaccination certificate, if required (travel through the yellow fever belts of Africa and South America requires inoculation)
4. Statement and/or documentation confirming the purpose and duration of your visit.
5. Two identity photographs (guidelines on website).
6. Proof of financial means in the form of bank statements; salary advices; undertakings by your hosts in South Africa; bursaries; medical cover; or cash available, including credit cards or travellers' cheques.
7. If travelling by air, a return or onward ticket; or proof of sufficient funds; or a cash deposit of equivalent value to an air ticket must be lodged.
Take care to request the correct duration of stay and type of visa. Also check on processing time so that there is no last-minute panic.
Families traveling with children under 18:
From 1 June 2015, children travelling in and out of South Africa will be required to carry an unabridged birth certificate as well as a valid passport, under new regulations aimed at improving the safety of children.Quick guide to the new requirements:
• When leaving South Africa with children, parents or guardians must be able to produce unabridged birth certificates reflecting the details of both parents, as well as a valid passport for each child.
• This requirement applies even when both parents are travelling with their children.
• It applies to foreigners and South Africans alike.
• If children are travelling with a guardian, this adult is required to produce affidavits from both parents giving permission for the children to travel. They will also need copies of the passports of the parents, as well as the contact details of the parents.
• If children are travelling with only one parent, they must produce an unabridged birth certificate as well as:
- a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights or legal guardianship in respect of the child, if he or she is the parent or legal guardian of the child;
- an affidavit from the other parent granting permission for the child to leave the country; - a court order granting full parental responsibilities and rights or legal guardianship in respect of the child; and
- if applicable, the death certificate of the other parent registered on the birth certificate.
• When a child is travelling as an unaccompanied minor, he or she must be able to produce:
- proof of consent (a letter or affidavit) from both his or her parents or legal guardians to travel in or out of the country; and
- a letter from the person who will receive the child in South Africa, including that person's full contact details and a copy of their passport or ID book. The letter must also include details about where the child will be staying, and full contact details of both parents or legal guardians.
A subtropical location and a high interior plateau are responsible for South Africa's temperate conditions so appreciated by visitors.
South African temperatures, which are measured in centigrade, average at highs of 28°C to average lows of 8°C in the summer months while winter temperatures range from 1°C at night to around 18°C in the day. Average annual rainfall is on the low side at under 500mm a year, making the country somewhat dry. Much of the rain falls in the Western Cape in the winter, differing from the rest of the country, which experiences summer rainfall. Thunder and lightning storms are common in provinces like Gauteng, North West and KwaZulu-Natal. On the plus side, the South African climate boasts more than its fair share of sunshine, recording an average of 8.5 hours a day.
South Africa's climatic conditions generally range from Mediterranean in the south-western corner of the country to temperate in the interior plateau, and subtropical in the north-east. A small region in the north-west has a desert climate.
The relatively mild and short winters do not justify the expense of central heating in many buildings and homes, which may lead visitors to think the winter is colder than it actually is. The answer to this is dressing in layers.