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Skyline of South Africa at sunset

South Africa Travel Guide

South Africa is an amazing travel destination, with stunning landscapes, vibrant cities, and abundant wildlife. Explore the iconic Table Mountain in Cape Town, offering panoramic views of the city and the shimmering Atlantic Ocean. Delve into the country's rich history and visit the poignant Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Embark on a thrilling safari adventure in Kruger National Park, home to the famous Big Five, and witness the majesty of African wildlife up close.

Venture along the picturesque Garden Route, a scenic coastal drive that stretches along the country's southern coast. Discover charming towns, pristine beaches, and breathtaking vistas along the way. Immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of Johannesburg, the country's largest city, and visit the Apartheid Museum for a deeper understanding of South Africa's past. For outdoor enthusiasts, the Drakensberg Mountains offer spectacular hiking trails and opportunities for adrenaline-pumping activities such as bungee jumping and white-water rafting. South Africa's blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and thrilling experiences make it an unforgettable destination for travellers seeking adventure, wildlife encounters, and a taste of African hospitality.

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Key Facts

Time Zone

GMT+1

Money

South African Rand (ZAR)

Dialing Code

+27

  • The country of South Africa is a dominant force on the continent. Since the first Europeans settled in the Cape area in the 17th Century, the history of South Africa has been fraught with conflict. The country has now evolved to be a mixed-race democratic republic, but the struggle to get to this point has been epic and at times, devastating. Despite this, South Africa is a strong nation and is sure to continue to play a leading role in Africa and the world’s affairs in the future. 
  • When Nelson Mandela, an iconic South African freedom fighter, was released from prison in 1990, he managed to avert the likely civil war that the former apartheid government feared, and instead embraced “a rainbow nation”. When his political party, the African National Congress (ANC), formed the government in 1994, they included other races in future plans for the country, and ensured a peaceful, albeit difficult, transition to majority rule. It is important to see this for yourself on the streets of South African towns today.m
  • It is pretty easy to get around. Cape Town is brilliant and easy to explore, and you will find a good welcome in most places.
  • Some of the world’s best game viewing is in South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park, and there are many other smaller parks to visit, where you can see wild animals, including the Big Five, extremely close up - just a few metres away!
  • Communication is easy. English is used by many people, as well as their local African language, so you will be easily understood, although there are still many places where the Afrikaans language is dominant.
  • South Africa is beautiful. The country spans many different types of unique landscape - the awe-inspiring Karoo and Klein Karoo semi-desert grasslands, with endless vistas stretching off into the distance; the remote and windswept Cape Point, with nothing between it and the Antarctic; the Wild Coast, with its hundreds of miles of mangrove trees on pristine white beaches; the craggy Drakensburg mountains; the delightfully pretty Garden Route….the list is endless, and every view is breathtaking. 
  • South Africa is beautiful. The country spans many different types of unique landscape - the awe-inspiring Karoo and Klein Karoo semi-desert grasslands, with endless vistas stretching off into the distance; the remote and windswept Cape Point, with nothing between it and the Antarctic; the Wild Coast, with its hundreds of miles of mangrove trees on pristine white beaches; the craggy Drakensburg mountains; the delightfully pretty Garden Route….the list is endless, and every view is breathtaking. 
  • Apart from the beauty of the place, there are loads of things to see and do; adventure activities, safaris, beaches, museums, nights out or simply sightseeing and relaxing.

Unusually, South Africa boasts not one capital city, but three. Cape Town is the legislative capital, Pretoria is the administrative capital (Pretoria was the former capital in the apartheid era) and Bloemfontein is the judicial capital

  • If you only manage to visit one city while you’re there, then make sure it's Cape Town! Known for its distinctively laid-back attitude, you could end up on “Africa time”, and may struggle to leave. Nestled at the foot of the breathtaking Table Mountain, visitors will find this city to be a hub of restaurants, bars, markets, shops, and beaches ideal for surfing. Wherever you decide to go in this city, escaping the sheer splendour of its mountain range is practically impossible!
  • Ascend Table Mountain, Cape Town’s famous landmark, by taking the revolving cable car then enjoy the panoramic views of the Western Cape. If you come across a rock Dassie on your visit (a Guinea pig-like creature) and you find them cute and endearing don’t be fooled - they can be vicious!
  • Take a red-top sightseeing bus tour around the city.
  • Party on Long Street.
  • Take a boat trip to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held as a prisoner for 18 years. See Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, for some beautiful, exotic flowers and foliage.
  • Swim with penguins at Boulders Beach.
  • Chill out at the beaches in Camps Bay.
  • Shop at V and A Waterfront.
  • Drive down to the tip of Africa at Cape Point.
  • Drive along the Garden Route and see some of South Africa’s most stunning scenery.
  • Wine tasting in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
  • Go on safari and maybe spot all the Big Five in Kruger National Park. You might even catch a glimpse of South Africa’s National animal, the Springbok. If you miss seeing a real-life Springbok you still can’t miss their image – it’s imprinted on almost everything, from currency to the shirts of the South African rugby team. You’ll even find nightclubs, towns and even shots named after this loveable bok.
  • Whale watching in Hermanus.
  • Have a scary encounter whilst cage diving in Gansbaai (about an hour up the coast from Cape Town). Here you’ll get to spend some time up close and personal with one of the most fearsome creatures in the sea… the great white shark.
  • Ride an ostrich in Oudtshoorn.
  • Surf the waves at the top surfing spot – Jeffrey’s Bay.
  • Snorkelling and diving off the coral reefs at Sodwana Bay near Durban.
  • The South Africans are into their sport in a BIG way. Be sure to follow the cricket fanatics down to Newlands for a testosterone-fuelled day of sporting pleasure and boerewors rolls!

In South Africa, it is considered that if you don’t know how to braai then you are simply not a man. Braai is the Afrikaans word for barbecue, and is a bit of a South African cooking ritual. South African people will put absolutely anything on a braai, so you’ll have the chance to try a range of different chargrilled meats, fish and seafood all freshly cooked and extremely delicious!

However, if you decide that you want to try braaing for yourself, then it's important to realise that you are bound to be judged on the height of your flames, the temperature of your coals, as well as your sausage (or boerewors as they’re known in SA) turning abilities! The idea is to try not to out-macho the men as you will get chirped (made fun of).

Technically a semi-arid country, South Africa generally has excellent weather, very suited for tourism. 

The South African climate is generally mild and sunny but in the winter months, it can get unexpectedly cool. Since it’s located in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed from the UK, with summer being from December – February. In the summer, it’s hot everywhere, but it’s best to avoid Durban and the Indian Ocean coast during this season, as it’s very humid. The Western Cape and Garden Route are great year-round, although from May through to August it will be colder and rainy. Kwazulu and Mpumalanga provinces are mostly hot year-round, although the Drakenberg region gets plenty of rain in winter. Kruger will be very hot in summer. Gauteng (where Johannesburg is located) is also very hot in summer, and cold in winter (Jo’burg is 1524m above sea level)

Indoor heating is virtually non-existent, so it is advised that you consider the weather before you pack - a jumper or two is advisable!

Visa

Visas may be required in order to enter or transit through certain countries depending on your passport nationality, your reason for travel and how long you intend to stay.

Visa, passport and entry rules are subject to change and you should check the most up to date information from the relevant embassy or visa specialist.

To make things easier we have teamed up with The Travel Visa Company who are one of the UK’s leading travel visa specialists. You can use their website, alongside embassy websites,  to find out the specific entry requirements for the countries you intend to travel to.

For a fee, their dedicated team of experts can also apply for visas on your behalf, taking away the hassle and streamlining the process for you if you wish. For more details on the services they provide please click here – The Travel Visa Company

Passport

Passports must be kept in good condition. Travellers with damaged passports may be refused entry at immigration. It is the responsibility of the traveller to ensure that all travel documents are in good condition before they travel. Most countries will also require at least 6 months of validity on your passport from the time you finish your trip. 

Further Entry Requirements

Some countries will require proof of certain vaccines, such as yellow fever or covid, in order to gain entry. Please check with the relevant embassy of visa specialist before travel.

South Africa has, rather overwhelmingly, eleven official languages! Luckily for British travellers, English is the most commonly spoken, which makes communication very straightforward. Afrikaans, a language originating from Dutch, is the second most commonly used language. Most South Africans learn Afrikaans at school and will tend to drop the odd word into a sentence every now and again. If you’re eager to pick up the language while away, you’ll be sure to do so when you regularly endure the popular and catchy Afrikaans songs which can be heard everywhere. Be warned, if you’re in a public place and one starts playing you could be asked to join in a laaang arm (a somewhat stiff and embarrassing dance)!

South Africa has a problem in that it cannot keep pace with the demand for electricity. With more people wanting appliances, the growth of the townships with their huge demands for access to electricity and with the increase in industrial output requiring more power, there has been a recent series of power cuts, so many people now own backup generators. This is likely to continue to be a problem for some years yet.

The plug system is the old-fashioned three-pin large round plug, so you definitely need a universal plug adapter.

South Africa has a long and complicated history of racial tensions and visitors are advised to be sensitive to this – you may hear the term ‘coloured’ being used to describe mixed-race citizens in South Africa, and although this is a commonly used term in the country be aware that it can have complex connotations and could on occasion cause offence. 

It is advised that you ask permission before taking any photographs of people during your visit to South Africa. 

Cigarettes and tobacco may not be sold to anyone under the age of 16 in South Africa. 

Drug taking and smuggling are serious offences and the punishments can be severe, so avoid any involvement with drugs. 

The minimum age you can buy and consume alcohol in South Africa is 18. 

Homosexuality is legal in South Africa and recent legislation bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 

Health

You should contact your primary care physician to schedule a travel consultation at least 8 weeks prior to your departure to discuss vaccinations and other health measures. 

TB, rabies, cholera and malaria can be a problem in certain areas of South Africa, although not in Cape Town. Malaria has been reported in Kruger Park and parts of the Mpumalanga, Limpopo and KwaZulu Natal provinces. If you intend on visiting any of these areas it is recommended that you seek advice from your primary care physician about the best types of malaria tablets to take.

Cholera has also been known to affect certain poorer areas of South Africa, including North KwaZulu Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces. It is advised that you drink or use only boiled or bottled water when travelling around these areas and avoid having ice in your drinks. There have been some reports of Rift Valley fever (a viral illness contracted from animal blood or flesh). This is spread by mosquitoes and it is best to take particular care when visiting game reserves.

Swimming in fresh water lakes or ponds can be a concern, due to the presence of bilharzia/Schistosomiasis. Follow local advice and use caution. HIV affects the population of South Africa at a high rate so always practice safe sex. Make sure that you seek advice from your GP before travelling to South Africa and ensure that all necessary vaccinations are up to date.

For complete updated information regarding health and safety please refer to - travel.state.gov

Crime & Safety

South Africa is known for having a high level of crime, although in the main tourist destinations it tends to be lower and you can enjoy this beautiful country worry-free. Tourism police are visible in several large towns and protecting tourists is a high priority.

Townships tend to have the highest rate of crime; if you’re planning to visit one while in South Africa then it is advised that you consult a reputable tour company before doing so.

A few common-sense precautions should prevent you from encountering crime on your trip. Theft is more common at airports, bus and train stations so keep your baggage and valuables safe and with you at all times. If you decide to hire a car, don’t drive alone at night. Incidents of car hijack are common so stay vigilant, keep to main roads and park in well lit areas. Don’t walk alone at night under any circumstances.

Be vigilant when using public transport, only use reputable taxi companies and have your hostel or hotel book it for you. If you’re travelling alone, lock the doors and don’t allow the driver to pick up any other passengers.

You should keep large amounts of money, expensive jewellery, cameras and phones out of sight and do not change or withdraw large amounts of money in busy public places, including at ATMs or a foreign exchanges. Credit card fraud and ATM fraud is a concern, so take care to shield your PIN when using cash machines etc. Do not accept help from anyone you don't know. Do not give your personal or financial account details to anyone as there are international fraud rings in operation in South Africa.

Avoid isolated beaches and picnic spots across South Africa. Do not go walking alone in remote areas and if hiking, you should stick to popular, known hiking trails. It is advised you book on a recommended tour. Exercise caution when visiting Table Mountain, especially in quieter areas of the park and during early morning or just before the park closes. Stay in groups and stay vigilant.

South Africa is home to many species of wild animals and insects, including some dangerous creatures such as sharks and snakes. Pay attention to local warnings and take care to avoid high-risk areas. Some of our programmes are located in areas which are populated with poisonous snakes, spiders and scorpions so care should be taken in these areas. Cautionary measures include checking shoes before putting them on and keeping your clothes off the floor to reduce possible hiding places. Never attempt to pick up or handle any dangerous creatures.

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