Travel Tips for Travelling in South Africa

South Africa is one of the most scenically exquisite and exciting places in the world – once the bug of Africa has bitten you will come back, time and again. Travelling in South Africa is safe and convenient, and with just a few precautions you can be sure to have a delightful holiday experience.

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.

Peak Seasons

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 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 fewer crowds in general, it’s 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 times.

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.

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 Airport. 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 Durban is approximately 1 hour. St Lucia and Hippo Hideaway is about 3 hours drive from Durban International Airport.

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.

Time Differences

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 will be needed.

Tax

Value Added Tax (VAT) is charged on most items. Foreign tourists to South Africa can have their 14% VAT refunded when they leave, 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 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 9h00 – 15h30 and on Saturdays from 8h30 – 11h00.

Post Offices

Post Offices are generally open Monday to Friday from 8h30 – 16h30 and on Saturdays from 8h00 -12h00.

Shopping

Most major shopping centres and malls are open 7 days a week from 09h00 to 17h00. In some cases, Sunday shopping hours are from 09h00 – 14h00 and in some smaller towns, shops are closed on a Sunday.

Petrol / Gas Stations

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.

Tipping

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.

Driving

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 120km/h on the open road, 100km/h on smaller roads and between 60 and 80km/h 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.

Road Safety

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.

Vaccinations

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.

Personal Safety

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 well lit, designated parking areas. In you have any doubts, speak to your hosts and ask for their advice on potential areas to avoid.

Disabled Facilities

This is an area in which South Africa needs to improve. 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 or room.

Electricity

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.

Language

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 cigarettes etc.

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

Public holidays are listed below. In major areas shops, restaurants and cinemas will open on public holidays, except for Christmas Day and New Year’s 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

 
 

Smoking

Law prohibits smoking in most public spaces, including airports and railway stations. Most restaurants have designated smoking and non-smoking areas, but laws around this have become much stricter. Most restaurants and clubs will allow electronic cigarettes, such as those offered by SmoXe.