South Africa Travel Guide
🗝️ Key Facts
🏛️Capital: Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town
💶Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
🕙Time Zone: +2 GMT
📞Phone Code: +27
🌐Language: English, Afrikaans and Zulu
✈️Best time to visit: Oct to May
🍴Eat: Buny Chou (Curry meat)
🍷Drink: Umqombothi (beer)
🗺️Don't miss: Pilanesberg or Kruger National Animal Reserve Parks (JB) / Table Mountain (CP)
🗺 Menu of Contents:
South Africa has placed itself back on the map after the establishment of a democratic government in the 1990s. South Africa's borders opened to a flood of tourists who come to enjoy the country's stunning natural beauty and vibrant culture.
South Africa's sense of history is strong, and visitors have the chance to explore important historical attractions, including the battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town.
One of the most interesting facts, is that South Africa is one of the most socially-culturally diverse countries in the world. It has 11 official languages, and a colourful population showcasing the importance of heritage from African and European cultures. South African are very friendly and welcoming to visitors, adding to the benefits to travel here.
However, the true image of South Africa lies in its nature and wildlife. It's home to the Big Five of African wildlife (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhino), along with thousands of other species of plants and animals. Big game safaris in nature reserves like Kruger Park, Pilanesberg and Hluhluwe National Park remain among the most popular activities in South Africa. The landscape is also very varied, offering a range of climates and terrains, including deserts, mountains, plateaus, grasslands, bush, wetlands, and subtropical forests.
There is a lot to see and do in South Africa, so plan well what you are looking for, but rest assured, everything is catered for and all budgets fit!
When travelling to South Africa there are multiple airline options to choose from and a great variety of connections. There are direct flights if you are coming from Europe, Middle East and Africa. South African Airways is the flag carrier and offers direct services to many destinations around the globe, including New York, Sau Paulo, Washington, Perth, Hong Kong or Dubai.
European airlines offer daily flights from their hubs, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, London or Madrid have direct flights to either Johannesburg or Cape Town, the two major cities.
It's also possible to connect with other major carriers via Europe, America or Asia. Domestic travel in South Africa is also possible thanks to the competition of many airlines now operating in the country. South African Airways has good connections as well as a good service. There are also low cost airlines, the most popular are Kulula, Mango and Flysafair, ideal for point to point travel within the country.
Once you are in South Africa and want to travel around, ground transportation is also possible by train or busses. However the distance between cities is very large, taking up to 12 hours from one major city to another. (Johannesburg to Durban for example). Trains are slow and busses are generally not safe. Unless you have plenty of time, and travel very light, these forms or transport are not really recommended.
When visiting, it's usual to rely upon tours and travel companies to take you around popular sights and other highlights in order to travel. Travelling with a local tour guide is safer plus ensures you will get the best out of your trip. Tours are available to book online with a minimum of two people, but if you are travelling alone its also possible to book direct with the Hotels or Tour companies and give them a call in advance, with the days you want to travel, so they can join you, with other people.
Local transportation options are very varied depending on each city, in general terms, for visitors it's not advised to take local transport. Except in Cape Town where safety levels are slightly better or Johannesburg, with it's Gautrain transport system. For more info on the local transport in each city please visit the city guides below.
If you are not familiar with South Africa it may not be advisable to use public transportation, as crime levels are high in the city centres of every major city. Unless you have a local who can show you around. Taxis, for example, would be a better option mainly because you will be assured of being dropped off at the front door of your destination.
Always take a metered cab that can be easily recognised by their yellow “taxi” lights.
If you are travelling around the cities, unfortunately, safety levels are low due to the high crime activity, as many poorer people and less fortunate come to the city centres to live. It's advised always to move around the city with cabs and going from door to door. Tour groups are fine though, when staying together and taking tour busses or walking tours also.
However, once the sun sets it's not advised to walk around the streets in the city or neighbourhoods which you are not familiar with. In South Africa, its better to select your accommodation in the outskirts of the city, more than the city centres. This is again due to security. City centres are highly dangerours once the sun sets.
❗Attention: Crime has increased in South Africa in the last years. The biggest problems are being mugged or robbed, stolen cars, broken into cars, being attacked to steal, being insulted, being subject to a physical attack because of your skin colour, ethnic origin or religion, using or dealing with drugs, property crimes such as vandalism and theft, assault and armed robbery and finally corruption and bribery.
If you encounter any threats, it's advised always to stay visible on main streets, walk away from any conflict and stay alert of your possessions. Never expose your mobile phone, camera, digital equipment etc and it's recommended to under-dress. Don't wear (expose) any jewellery or items of value on the street. Also, if you are alone make sure nobody follows you when walking around the city and frequently cross the street to avoid any followers. Don't take much money with you and only one credit card, not a wallet.
The large size of the country means that weather differences are very noticeable from region to region. The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to subtropical on the eastern coastline. The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer. (November to march).
The best time to visit South Africa's is during their Spring and Autumn (October to November and March to May). Remember that the climate is seasonal, it can get quite cold in winter (June-August), warm and sunny in Spring and Autumn, and often hot in summer (November to March) with temperatures reaching the mid 30's°C, though with frequent rains to cool things down.
During Winters the cold is nothing compared to what is experienced in Europe, with mild frost occasional, and snow only in the high mountains. Temperatures can range from 10-15°C during this season. The west of the country is generally quite dry, therefore be aware of draughts and water restrictions, specially in Cape Town. In the East of the country, it rains more often as well as being greener, like in Durban.
To read more detailed weather information of each city, please refer to the guides below.
When visiting in South African you will be amazed of the amount of BBQ dishes they have.The braai, is South Africa’s equivalent of the barbecue, is practically a national sport, a religion even. The long South African coastline guarantees a seemingly endless supply of the freshest fish and seafood. Just inland in the Cape Winelands, the local wine industry is thriving and generally of a very high standard. The country's cosmopolitan heritage is matched in its variety of culinary offerings, with fruity and sweet Cape Malay cuisine a speciality of Cape Town, and a strong Indian influence stirred into Durban's cracking curries.
These are some of the specialities you can find in South Africa: Boerewors: A high-quality beef and pork sausage with a variety of spices, essential for a braai. Bobotie: A curried mince bake topped with egg and often studded with raisins. Potjiekos: A casserole slow cooked on the re in a cast iron pot. Biltong: Dried meat, typically made from beef, venison or ostrich meat. Amagwinya: A savoury doughnut that often accompanies stews. Umngqusho: A traditional African staple of samp (dried maize kernels) and beans. Pap: A maize porridge staple that often accompanies braai meat. Bunny Chow: Curry lamb, beef or chicken in a hollowed half loaf of bread. Koeksister: A syrup-coated doughnut twist sometimes nished with a sprinkling of coconut. Melktert: An Afrikaans desert consisting of pastry and a creamy lling. Malva Pudding: A sweet and gooey sponge desert of Cape Dutch origin, similar to sticky toe pudding.
As for drinks you can find Umqombothi, a traditional Xhosa beer made with maize and sorghum. Pinotage, a red wine grape bursting with ripe fruit and unique to South Africa. Rooibos, a red-coloured and fragrant caffeine-free tea indigenous to Western Cape.
Travelling to South Africa still is an incredible journey full of contrast, colours, mixes, culture and history. In fact, the historic events which have marked South Africa are still very much present and are still noticeable when walking around the big cities. It can't be avoided to notice that city centres are quite let down to disrepair or looking rather shabby. This is due to the poorer classes coming to the cities and taking over areas which were previously lived in by the "white". These have now moved to new location in the outskirts of the cities and making for new areas more affluent and wealthy, where little by little there is a better mix amongst the races. However, South Africa has taken a turn to the worse in my eyes, as more and more people come from different African countries and try to make South Africa a new home but unfortunately the governments can't control nor improve the living conditions of the thousands who are on the street trying not only to live, but to survive.
On a more positive note, the country is full of really friendly people, who are open and helpful to visitors. Food is hearty, with a good combination of meat and fish. BBQ, is also so delicious, a must try whist here visiting! The scenery of South Africa is also worth so much to visit and explore. There is so much contrast, with deep green forests, deserts, mountain ranges, beaches and rivers making it ideal for those seeking nature and adventure. Not to mention the main reason to come to Africa! To see the animals and adventure in a game drive to spot the big five is a unique experience and such an exciting one! It's not necessary to do a week safari when you have many Natural Reserve Parks a few hours dive. Try to spot them all! (Elephants, Lions, Rynos, Leopards and Buffalo's). Coming to this county was definitely an eye opening experience in so many ways which I would recommend despite the safety concerns.