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South Africa

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Oyster Box Hotel
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One&Only Cape Town
One&Only Cape Town - dream vacation

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South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa. It is bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho (which is completely surrounded by South Africa). It is a large country with widely varying landscapes and has 11 official languages, as well as an equally diverse population. South Africa is renowned for its wines and is one of the world's largest producers of gold. South Africa has the strongest economy in Africa, and is an influential player in African politics. In 2010, South Africa hosted the first Association Football World Cup to be held on the African continent. South Africa was also host of the 1995 Rugby Union world cup, the only edition of that tournament to be held in Africa.

Regions

South Africa is divided into 9 provinces, they are:

Territories

  • Prince Edward Islands - two small islands in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean. Access is restricted to research and conservation management.

Cities

  • Pretoria – The administrative capital of the country
  • Cape Town – The legislative capital and seat of Parliament. A world-class city named for its proximity to the Cape of Good Hope. Also within a stone's throw of South Africa's winelands. One of the most beautiful cities in the world, nestled between the sea and Table Mountain, it is a popular summer destination by both domestic tourists and those from abroad.
  • Bloemfontein – Location of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the highest court in non-constitutional matters. The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg became the highest court in constitutional matters in 1994.
  • Durban – Largest city in KwaZulu-Natal, third largest in South Africa and popular coastal holiday destination for South Africans.
  • Johannesburg – The economic heart of Africa and the most common entry point into Southern Africa.
  • Upington – Located in the arid Northern Cape province, this city is a good base when exploring the Kalahari desert and the many national parks located in the Northern Cape.

Other destinations

National Parks

South Africa is a paradise for anyone interested in natural history. A wide range of species (some potentially dangerous and endangered) may be encountered in parks, farms, private reserves and even on the roads.

  • The Kruger National Park is exceptionally well managed and a favorite tourist destination.
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the heart of the Kalahari desert with wide open spaces and hordes of games including the majestic 'Gemsbok'. This is the first park in Africa to cross political borders.
  • There are also a large number of smaller parks, like the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park, Addo Elephant National Park, Marakele National Park, Pilanesberg National Park or the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

See African Flora and Fauna and South African National Parks for additional information. There are hiking trails available in almost all the parks and around geographical places of interest, Hiking in South Africa contains information on those.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • The Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg is a must see for anyone interested in where it all started. A large collection of caves rich in hominid and advanced ape fossils.
  • Robben Island just off the coast from Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for many years.
  • The Cape Floral Region in the Western Cape
  • iSimangaliso Wetland Park
  • Mapungubwe Kingdom in the North-West
  • Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape in the Northern Cape
  • Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park for its landscape, biodiversity and rock art.
  • Vredefort Dome, remnants of the largest and oldest meteorite impact crater.

Understand

If you want to travel in southern Africa then South Africa is a good place to start. While you can fly into any country in southern Africa, most flights will route through South Africa anyway. South Africa is also a good place to get used to travelling in the region (though some would argue that Namibia is better for that). Of course South Africa is not only a jumping off point, it is itself a superb destination rich in culture, fauna, flora and history.

Outsiders' views of South Africa are coloured by the same stereotypes as the rest of Africa. Contrary to popular belief, South Africa is not devastatingly poor with an unstable government. Although the rural part of South Africa remains among the poorest and the least developed parts of the world and poverty in the townships can be appalling, progress is being made. The process of recovering from apartheid, which lasted almost 46 years, is quite slow. In fact, South Africa's United Nations Human Development Index which was slowly improving in the final years of apartheid, has declined dramatically since 1996, largely due to the AIDS pandemic, and poverty levels appear to be on the increase. South Africa boasts a well-developed infrastructure and has all the modern amenities and technologies, much of it developed during the years of white minority rule. The government is stable, although corruption is common. The government and the primary political parties generally have a high level of respect for democratic institutions and human rights.

Despite the problems the country faces, South Africa remains the strongest economy in Africa, and is the only African country to be a member of the elite G-20 group of major economies.

Geography

South Africa is located at the southernmost tip of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 km (1,553 mi) and along two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian).

History

The tip of Africa has been home to the Khoisan (collective name for Hottentot (Koi) and Bushmen (San)) people for thousands of years. Their rock art can still be found in many places throughout South Africa. It is estimated that Bantu tribes may have started to slowly expand into the northernmost areas of what is today Southern Africa at around 2,500 years ago and by around 500 AD the different cultural groups as we know them today had been established in the lush areas to the north and east of the what is today known as Eastern South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The desert and semi-desert areas of the Western and Northern Cape provinces, as well as the western parts of the Eastern Cape province remained unsettled by the Bantu as the arid climate, limited seasonal rainfall, sparse vegetation and scarcity of natural sources of water could not sustain large migrations of people and herds of cattle, cattle being the primary livestock reared by the Bantu and fulfilling numerous cultural and economic functions within the tribal society (cattle served as a rudimentary currency and basic unit of exchange with a mutually agreeable value between bartering parties, thus fulfilling the function of money). The "Khoisan" existed in these areas as nomadic hunters, unable to permanently settle as the movement of desert game in search of dwindling water supplies during winter months determined their own migration. Not until the "Boers" (see next paragraph) moved into these areas and established boreholes and containment ponds could any permanent settlements be established in these areas. Today, with more reliable sources of water and modern methods of water conservancy the agricultural activity remains limited mainly to sheep and ostrich ranching as these animals are better suited to the sparse feed and limited water.

Colonialism

The first permanent European settlement was built at Cape Town after the Dutch East India Company reached the Cape of Good Hope in April 1652. In the late 1700s, the Boers (the settling farmers) slowly started expanding first westward along the coastline and later upwards into the interior. By 1795, Britain first took control of the Cape, as a consequence of the Napoleonic wars on the Dutch, and in 1820, a large group of British settlers arrived in the region. In 1835, large numbers of Boers started out on the Groot Trek (the great migration) into the interior after becoming dissatisfied with the British rule. In the interior, they established their own internationally recognized republics. Meanwhile, the British would defeat the Zulu Kingdom in the Anglo-Zulu War 1879, thus establishing colonial rule over the Zulu people.

Modern history

See also: 20th-century South Africa

Two wars for control over the region were fought between the Boers and the British in 1880 and 1899. The second war occurred after British settlers flooded into the area surrounding Johannesburg known as the "Witwatersrand" (white water escarpment) in response to the discovery of gold in 1886. The Second Boer War (Afrikaans: Die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog or 'Second War of Independence') was particularly unpleasant, as the British administration contained the Boer civilian population in concentration camps resulting in one of the earliest recorded genocides. Boer farms, livestock, crops and homesteads were also largely destroyed.

After peace was restored by the 1902 Treaty of Vereeniging, the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, consolidating the various Boer republics and British colonies into a unified state as a member of the British Commonwealth. In 1961, the Republic of South Africa was formed and SA exited the Commonwealth. Non-Europeans were largely excluded from these political changes as they had received sovereign lands in which to live under self-rule, in accordance with their own tribal legal system and hierarchical form of government.

In 1948, the National Party came to power. The NP introduced numerous apartheid laws which were intended, initially, to give a national/tribal, independent and sovereign "homeland" to each of the various tribes within South Africa, who were frequently engaged in raids and border wars against each other. This was a move that was initially welcomed by the majority of the different tribal kings and chieftains, as most of the tribes sought self-governance. Since then, South Africa became practically synonymous with fascism, racism, and many other pejorative descriptions. The African National Congress (ANC) was banned and forced into exile for conducting and plotting terrorist activities against civilians, other political parties that were considered 'dangerous' and 'subversive' were also banned by the South African parliament during this time as South Africa became more involved in a war against communist insurrection on the former German colony of 'South West Africa's' border with Angola. This war was conducted in accordance with the 'League of Nations' (today the 'United Nations') mandate that followed the Second World War, bestowing upon South Africa the protectorate of the confiscated former German colony 'South West Africa' (today The Republic of Namibia).

The Republic, despite experiencing rapid infrastructure development and strong economic growth until the late 1980s, also experienced frequent domestic uprisings in response to the apartheid laws. During this time the international community also installed weapons and trade embargoes against South Africa, as well as banning South Africa from the Olympic Games and most other international sporting competitions.

In the late 1980s, many white moderates began to recognize that change was inevitable, as international sanctions and internal strife were beginning to take a severe toll on South Africa. Thus, moderates within the security service and the National Party itself began quietly reaching out to ANC leaders to negotiate how to dismantle apartheid, which started with the freeing of political prisoners in 1990.

Political violence worsened badly during the early 1990s as extremists of all kinds attempted to derail ANC-NP peace talks in favor of their own visions of the future of South Africa. In 1992, 73% of the voting white population voted in a referendum to have the apartheid system abolished. This was quickly followed by a new constitution in 1993 and then the nation's first truly democratic election in April 1994, in which all South African adult citizens were allowed to vote regardless of their ethnic and cultural background. Former political prisoner Nelson Mandela was elected the country's first democratically elected president. The ANC won a 63% majority and proceeded to form a Government of National Unity with the NP.

Place names

Many region, city, street and building names in South Africa have been changed after the end of apartheid and some of them are still being changed today. These changes can sometimes lead to confusion as many of the new names are not yet well known. This travel guide will use the official new names, but also mention the previous names where possible.

Climate

The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline. The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer, except in the Western Cape where the rains come in the winter. Rainfall in the Eastern Cape is distributed evenly throughout the year. Winter temperatures hover around zero, summers can be very hot, in excess of 35°C (95°F) in some places.

The South African Weather Service provides up to date weather information, forecasts and radar imaging.

Public holidays

The public holidays in South Africa are:

  • New Year's Day (1 January)
  • Human Rights Day (21 March)
  • Easter weekend A 4-day long weekend in March or April consisting of "Good Friday", "Holy Saturday", "Easter Sunday" and "Easter Monday", the dates are set according to the Western Christian tradition.
  • Freedom Day (27 April)
  • Workers Day (1 May)
  • Youth Day (16 June)
  • Woman's Day (9 August)
  • Heritage Day (24 September)
  • Day of Reconciliation (16 December) - see Bloodriver.
  • Christmas Day (25 December)
  • Day of Goodwill (26 December)

If a public holiday falls on a Sunday, then the Monday following will be a holiday

School holidays occur early December to the middle of January, early in April, middle June to the middle of July and in late September. Most South Africans go on leave during these times and accommodation will be harder to find.

Tourism offices

South African Tourism operates a number of offices in other countries. You might wish to contact the office in your country for any additional information or assistance

  • Angola, Travessa Rodrigo de Miranda, R/C N33, Luanda, ? +244 222 320261, fax: +244 222 320253.
  • Australia, Level 3, 117 York St, Sydney, ? +61 2 9261-5000, fax: +61 2 9261-2000, e-mail: info.au@southafrica.net.
  • China, 6 Gong Ti North Road, Suite 2606, Beijing, ? +86 10 8523-6881, fax: +86 10 8523-6897, e-mail: info.cn@southafrica.net.
  • France, 61 Rue La Boetie, Paris, ? +33 1 45610197, fax: +33 1 45610196, e-mail: info.fr@southafrica.net.
  • Germany, Friedensstrasse 6-10, Frankfurt, ? +49 69 929-1290, fax: +49 69 28-0950, e-mail: info.de@southafrica.net.
  • India, Unit No.3, Ground Floor, TGC Financial Centre, Mumbai, ? +91 22 6158 5100, fax: +91 22 6158 6101, e-mail: info.in@southafrica.net.
  • Italy, Via XX Settembre 24, 3F, Milano, ? +39 2 4391-1765, fax: +39 02 4391-1158, e-mail: info.it@southafrica.net.
  • Japan, Akasaka Lions Bldg, 1-1-2 Moto Akasaka, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, ? +81 33 478-7601, fax: +81 33 478-7605, e-mail: info@southafricantourism.or.jp.
  • Netherlands, Jozef Israëlskade 48 A, Amsterdam, ? +31 20 471-3181, fax: +31 20 662-9761, e-mail: info.nl@southafrica.net.
  • United Kingdom, No 1 & 2 Castle Lane, 2nd floor, London, ? +44 20 8971-9350, fax: +44 20 8944-6705, e-mail: info@uk.southafrica.net.
  • United States, 500 Fifth Ave, Ste 2200, New York, ? +1 212 730-2929, fax: +1 212 764-1980, e-mail: info.us@southafrica.net.

Get in

Visas

The following nationalities do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Portugal, Russia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania (90 days per 1 year), United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and citizens of British Overseas Territories.

The following nationalities do not need a visa for a stay of 30 days or less: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Gabon, Guyana, Hong Kong (BNO passports or SAR passports), Hungary, Jordan, Lesotho, Macau, Malaysia, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Peru, Poland, Seychelles, Slovakia, South Korea, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey, and Zambia.

Do not show up without a visa if you are required to have one, as visas will not be issued at points of entry. If needed, you can extend your visa in South Africa. With an extension the total amount of time you are allowed to stay is 6 months. Additional information as well as Visa application forms can be found at the Department of Home Affairs , ph +27 012 810 8911.

The Department of Home Affairs is notoriously inefficient, so make sure to apply for visas and visa extensions as early as possible. A way to 'extend' your visa without going through the disaster that is the Department of Home Affairs, is by leaving and re-entering South Africa. Contrary to popular belief, a 30-day visa cannot be 'reset' when leaving and re-entering South Africa from the bordering countries of Lesotho, Swaziland and possibly Namibia and Botswana (though Mozambique is fine). You will NOT get a new visa. For example, when you have a 30-day visa, and exit South Africa and enter Lesotho or Swaziland after 5 days of validity and re-enter South Africa after 5 days, you are only allowed to stay another 20 days in South Africa and not 30 days. However if you fly back to Europe or go to Mozambique, and then re-enter South Africa, you will be issued a new 30 day visa.

Make sure you have 2 blank pages back to back in your passport and that it is valid for at least 30 days after your intended date of departure, or you will be sent back! Make sure you have a return ticket available or they will send you back. If you need to pick up a ticket at the airport have the flight number and details handy and speak with the customs guy, they should check your story out and let you in (be firm). Be wary of arriving with a damaged passport as new security measures might trip up your entry.

By plane

South Africa is a major hub for air travel in the Southern African region. The country's flag carrier, South Africa Airways (SAA), has an extensive global and pan-African network of connections, some of which are operated by its short-haul subsidiaries SA Airlink and SA Express.

South Africa has 10 international airports. The primary intercontinental hub is the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg; the secondary one is Cape Town International. They serve as gateways for tourists and foreign visitors, and hubs for travel within South Africa and Southern Africa in general.

Direct flights arrive from major European centres, including: Amsterdam, Athens, Madrid, London, Paris, Istanbul, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Lisbon. There are also direct flights from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv and Perth. You may also want to have a look at Discount airlines in Africa.

All the larger airports in South Africa used to be state owned, but have been privatised and are now managed by the Airports Company of South Africa. Durban International Airport is the third biggest airport. Regular Flights from and to: Blantyre, Cairo, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Luanda, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Maputo, Manzini, Maun, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Windhoek.

Note: Baggage theft at airports is common especially at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg so avoid putting valuables such as jewelry and expensive devices in your main luggage if you can and place them in your hand luggage.

A real adventure is flying with an old classic airliner. There are some tour operators offering such flights, mainly in the Gauteng region. One example is Rovos Air, a division of Rovos Rail.

Some popular services include:

By car

Should you be entering from one of the other countries in Southern Africa you might want to do so by car. South Africa operates a number of land border posts between itself and immediately neighboring countries. The more commonly used ones are:

Botswana border

  • Skilpadsnek (On the N4, 54 km/34 mi from Zeerust), ? +27 18 366-1469. 6AM-10PM.

Lesotho border

  • Maseru Bridge (15 km/9 mi from Ladybrand on the N8 towards Maseru), ? +27 51 924-4004. Open 24 hours.
  • Ficksburg Bridge (Just outside Ficksburg), ? +27 51 933-2760. Open 24 hours.
  • Sani Pass (In the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg park), ? +27 51 430-3664. 8AM-4PM.

Mozambique border

  • Lebombo (On the N4 btwn Nelspruit and Maputo), ? +27 13 790-7203. 6AM to 10PM.
  • Kosi Bay (R22 btwn Hluhluwe and Ponta do Ouro), ? +27 35 592-0251. 8AM-4PM.

Namibia border

  • Nakop (132 km/82 mi from Upington on the N10 towards Ariamsvlei), ? +27 54 571-0008. Open 24 hours.
  • Vioolsdrift (On the N7 N of Springbok), ? +27 27 761-8760. Open 24 hours.

Swaziland border

  • Oshoek (120 km/75 mi from Ermelo on the N17 towards Mbabane), ? +27 17 882-0138. 7AM-10PM.

Zimbabwe border

  • Beit Bridge (On N1 approximately 16 km/10 mi N of Messina), ? +27 15 530-0070. Open 24 hours.

Open times are often extended during South African holidays.. For a full list of entry ports or any additional information see the South African Border Information Service or contact them on +27 086 026-7337.

By boat

Most of the larger cruise lines, such as Princess Cruises offer Cape Town as one of their destinations, but you can also try something different

  • RMS St Helena. This passenger/cargo ship is the last working Royal Mail Ship and stops at Cape Town on its way to St Helena. It is one of very few remnants of the once great Era of ocean liners

Get around

By plane

South Africa has a well established domestic air travel infrastructure with links between all major centres. There are multiple daily flights to all the major airports within the country. Contact any of the airlines for details. The low cost airlines (Kulula, Mango) are usually the cheapest and prices can be compared online. It is also worth comparing with the SAA rates as they usually have online specials which can be cheaper than the "low cost" carriers in some cases.

By car

General

All measurements use the metric system; distances on road signs are in kilometers (1.6 km =1 mi) and fuel is sold by the litre (3.8 litres=1 U.S. gallon).

To acquire a car in South Africa, there are basically three options: you can hire a car, buy one or use the so-called buy-back option. Hiring a car is fairly easy and bookings can be made online and in all major cities, although you can get better rates by calling some of the smaller operators. Buying a car takes a bit more work (Roadworthy license, registering the car, insurance), but there is a lively used car market in South Africa. The third option is a combination of both, as you buy a car with a guarantee that the rental company will buy-back your car at the end of the contract.

Most cars in South Africa have manual transmissions and the selection of second-hand automatics may be limited.

Renting a car in South Africa can range anywhere from 200 Rand to upwards of 2500 Rand per day depending on the car group, location and availability. The major rental agencies are Avis, Hertz, Budget Car Hire, Europcar, Tempest Car Hire, Thrifty Car Rental and Dollar Rent A Car. The car rental agencies maintain branches around South Africa including smaller towns and game reserves and national parks.

Most rental fleets in South Africa largely have manual transmissions and vehicles with automatic transmission are limited and tend to be much more expensive. Renting a vehicle with complete loss damage waiver (as is available in the United States) is expensive and hard to find; most agencies will provide only reduced waiver ceilings or waivers for certain types of damage such as to the glass and tires. If you plan to drive on dirt roads in South Africa, check with the rental agency about (1) whether that is authorized for the vehicle you intend to rent and (2) do your own research into whether the vehicle(s) offered are adequate for expected driving conditions.

Rules of the road

Road traffic in South Africa (and its neighboring countries) drives on the left.

Make sure you familiarize yourself with and understand South African road signs. South Africa previously used an unusual system of road signage which combined American typefaces with English and German design elements. This was problematic as American typefaces were not designed to accommodate the long place names typical of Afrikaans. Since 1994, South Africa has been implementing a system of road signs almost identical to Germany's system, with suitable modifications for local conditions (German, like Afrikaans, also has long place names). However, many of the older signs are still in use.

A special kind of intersection is the 'four way stop' where the car that stops first has right of way.

You will not encounter many traffic circles (roundabouts), but when you do, take special care since the general attitude of South African drivers is that traffic circles do not constitute a traffic management roadway structure. They do not use their turn indicators in a safe and predictable fashion, if at all.

A noticeable number of South Africans tend to ignore speed limits. They are prone to selfish or aggressive driving behavior, such as tailgating and hooting. On multi-lane roadways, the principle of keep-left, pass right, is often not adhered to. On two-lane roadways, cars often pass slower vehicles in the centre of the roadway despite oncoming traffic. Cars are expected to merge into the emergency lane as much as possible to permit passing down the centre, even in heavy traffic.

Left (or right) turns on red at traffic lights are illegal. You will, however, find traffic lights and 'four way stops' that have an accompanying yield sign explicitly permitting a left turn.

The wearing of seat belts is compulsory. The front seat occupants of a car are required to wear seat belts while travelling, and for your own safety, it is recommended that those in the rear seats do so as well. If you are caught without that, you will be subjected to a fine.

The use of hand-held cell (mobile) phones whilst in control of a vehicle is illegal. If you need to speak on your cell phone, use either a vehicle phone attachment or a hands-free kit. Or even better (and safer), pull off the road and stop. Only pull off the road at safe places, e.g. a petrol station. Pulling over and stopping along roads can be dangerous. The majority of petrol stations are open 24hrs.

Safety

South Africa has a high rate of traffic accidents. You should at all times exercise extra caution when driving, especially at night in urban areas. Watch out for unsafe drivers (minibus taxis), poor lighting, cyclists (many of whom seem not to know about the "drive on the left" rule) and pedestrians (who are the cause of many accidents, especially at night). South Africans pedestrians in general tend to be rather aggressive, like pedestrians from some Southern European countries, and you must be alert for pedestrians who will step into traffic and expect you to stop or swerve for them.

You will also encounter a very large number of people walking along the freeways or running across them simply because that is the fastest route on foot to where they want to go and they cannot afford a car, taxi, or minibus to take them there. Look out for South Africa's notorious taxi and minibus drivers, who will sometimes even stop on freeways to pick up or drop off fares.

When driving outside of the major cities, you will often encounter animals, wild and domestic, in or near the roadway. The locals tend to herd their cattle and goats near the road. If you see an animal on or by the road, slow down, as they are unpredictable. Do not stop to feed wild animals!

Should you find yourself waiting at a red traffic light late at night in an area where you do not feel safe, you could (illegally) cross over the red light after first carefully checking that there is no other traffic. If you receive a fine due to a camera on the traffic light, you can sometimes have it waived by writing a letter to the traffic department or court explaining that you crossed safely and on purpose, due to security reasons. The fact remains that, for whatever reason, you have broken the law. Do not make a habit of this.

When stopped at a traffic light at night, always leave enough room between your car and the car in front of you so you can get around them. It is a common hijacking maneuver to box your car in. This is especially prevalent in the suburbs of Johannesburg.

So far as possible, and especially when driving in urban areas, try not to have any belongings visible inside the car - keep them out of sight in the glove boxes or in the boot (trunk). The same applies, but even more so, when parking your car. It is also considered safe practice to drive in urban areas with the car windows closed and the doors locked. These simple precautions will make things less attractive for potential thieves and criminals.

As you would do in any other country, always be alert when driving. The safest way is to drive defensively and assume that the other driver is about to do something stupid / dangerous / illegal.

Road system

Speed limits are usually clearly indicated. Generally, speed limits on highways are 120km/h, those on major roads outside built-up areas are 100 km/h, those on major roads within built-up areas are 80km/h and those on normal city/town roads are 60 km/h. But beware - in some areas, the posted speed limits may change suddenly and unexpectedly.

The roads within South Africa, connecting most major cities, and between its immediate neighbors are very good. There are many national and regional roads connecting the cities and larger centres, including the N1 running from Cape Town through Johannesburg and Pretoria up to Harare, Zimbabwe, the N2 running from Cape Town to Durban, which passes through the world-famous Garden Route near Knysna, and the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg.

Some portions of the national roads are limited access, dual carriage freeways (the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban is freeway almost all the way) and some sections are also toll roads with emergency assist telephones every couple of kilometers. Toll roads generally have two or more lanes in each direction.

The large fuel companies have rest stops every 200-300 km along these highways where you can fill up, eat at a restaurant, buy takeaways, do some shopping or just stretch your legs. Restrooms at these facilities are well maintained and clean. Most (but not all) of these rest stops also have ATMs.

Some of the main roads have only one lane in each direction, especially where they are far from urban centres. When driving on such a road, after passing a truck or other slow-moving vehicle that has moved onto the hard shoulder (often marked by a yellow line) to let you pass, it is customary to flash your hazard lights once. This is considered a thank you and you will most likely receive a my pleasure response in the form of the slow vehicle flashing its headlights once. Bear in mind that it is both illegal and dangerous to drive on the hard shoulder - although many people do.

In many rural areas, you will find unpaved "dirt" roads. Most of these are perfectly suitable for a normal car, although a reduced speed might often be advisable. Extra caution is required when driving on these roads, especially when encountering other traffic - windscreens and lights broken by flying stones are not uncommon.

Whilst it is not yet compulsory, more and more drivers are adopting the practice of driving with their headlights on at all times. This greatly increases their visibility to other road users.

Fuel stations

Fuel stations are full service with lead free petrol, lead replacement petrol and diesel available. Pump attendants will offer to wash your windscreen and check oil and water in addition to just filling up the car. It is usual to tip the attendant approximately R5 - if you don't have change filling up R195, for example, and let the attendant keep the change, it is a courteous idea. Most fuel stations are open 24 hours a day.

The N1 between Gauteng and Cape Town and the N3 between Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal can become very busy at the start and end of Gauteng school holidays, due to many people from Gauteng spending their holidays at the coast. If you are planning on using these two highways, it is wise to try and avoid the two days after schools break up and the two days before they open again. School holiday calendars for South Africa can be found here. [1]

The N3 normally has a Highway Customer Care line during busy periods, ph: 0800 203 950, it can be used to request assistance for breakdowns, accidents or general route information. Current toll fees, road and traffic condition can also be found on the N3 website [2].

Historically, South African fuel stations were cash only, which was and still is indicated by many guidebooks. However, after a period in which fuel stations accepted only their own proprietary credit cards, in 2009, the government authorized them to begin accepting major credit cards like Visa and MasterCard. As of 2011, some smaller fuel stations accept cash only, but most fuel stations will accept major credit cards. Thus, you do not need to carry large amounts of cash to pay for fuel, unless you are absolutely certain you will need to purchase fuel in a rural area that does not yet support credit cards.

Law

Law enforcement (speed and other violations) is usually done by portable or stationary, radar or laser cameras. Local police forces, especially in rural areas, direct a lot of their efforts in to fining motorists (so to raise revenue rather than to improve road safety). If you see an oncoming car flashing his headlights at you then he or she is probably warning you of an upcoming speed camera he has just passed. Non camera portable radar and laser systems are also used and you may be pulled over for speeding (or other violations) and given a written fine. Fines can be sent to the registered address of the vehicle you are driving, but paying on-the-spot fines is also common, usually the policeman will hold your license whilst you go to the local police station to pay the fine, you get a receipt, and drive back to where you were stopped hand the receipt over to the policeman get your license back - this can take a good hour or more, which can be more of an annoyance than the R400 fine.

In general, the police are pretty honest, but they do respond to politeness and deference to their authority. You may find that when a traffic police officer stops you they will ask for some fairly ludicrous piece of paperwork (a letter from the Ministry... the cars road worthiness certificate...) and that you are in lots of trouble if you don't have it - be firm, cool and friendly and state that you understand that all you need is a drivers license etc. In general, the police want an easy life and can't be bothered to argue for ages if they think you aren't going to offer a 'tip'.

South Africa does not have a merits system and does not share traffic violation information with other nations.

Licence requirements

If your driver's licence is in any of South Africa's 11 official languages (e.g. English) and it contains a photo and your signature integrated into the licence document, then it is legally acceptable as a valid driver's licence in South Africa. However, some car rental and insurance companies may still insist that you provide an International Driver's Permit.

It is generally best practice to acquire an International Driver's Permit in your country of origin, prior to starting your journey, regardless of whether your licence is legally acceptable or not.

Police may ask for a bribe (between R200 to R600) if you produce a foreign driver's licence (see also Stay safe section). Don't pay it, ask for their name and ID number and report them.

By bus

There are scheduled bus services between Cape TownJohannesburgDurban and other cities (with stops in between), as well as connections to neighboring countries. The main bus companies are:

  • Greyhound, ? +27 83 915-9000.
  • Intercape Mainliner, ? +27 21 380-4400.
  • Translux, ? +27 86 158-9282.
  • SA Roadlink, ? +27 11 333-2223.

Booking for the above can also be done via Computicket .

Smaller services include City Bug and Lowveld Link.

An alternative is the Baz Bus . It offers a regular hop-on-hop-off service on some of the most interesting routes for the tourist (Cape Town to Durban via the Garden Route;Durban to Johannesburg via the Drakensberg). Baz Bus picks you up and drops you off at many hostels along the route, so you don't have to hang around at a downtown bus stop at night.

If you're really in a pinch, you can use minibus taxis. They are poorly maintained and rarely comply with safety standards. They also require patience as they make many detours and changeovers at the taxi rank (hub) where the driver will wait for passengers to fill up the bus. But they cover many routes not covered by the main bus service and are quite cheap (25 cents per kilometer per person on the main routes).

Warning: Many buses are removed from service by the police, due to lack of legal road-worthiness. Seek up-to-date advice on which companies are more reputable. Occasionally, the driving can be rather wild, and if you're prone to motion sickness, be prepared.

By train

The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) [3] is the national rail operator. There are budget passenger services between major South African cities (known as Shosholoza Meyl) as well as luxury services (known as Premier Classe) between JohannesburgCape Town and Durban.

Central Reservations (for both Shosholoza Meyl and Premier Classe) can be contacted as follows :

  • From within South Africa, phone 086 000 8888 (share-call)
  • From outside South Africa, phone +27 11 774 4555
  • Email mmabathop@spoornet.co.za or info@premierclasse.co.za

To book tickets, phone Central Reservations on one of the numbers given above and make your booking. You can pick up and pay for the tickets later at any train station.

There are also commuter trains in larger cities (Johannesburg, PretoriaCape TownDurbanPort Elizabeth and East London) ; these are run by MetroRail . Most services are perfectly safe, but certain routes are overcrowded and not always safe.

Mid-range

  • Bushveld Train Safaris, ? +27 14 736-3025, e-mail: info@boon.co.za. Offers rail Safaris across South Africa
  • Shongololo Express, ? +27 11 781-4616, e-mail: info@shongololo.com. Rail Safaris across South Africa

Splurge

  • Blue Train, ? +27 12 334-8459, e-mail: BlueTrain@Spoornet.co.za. This world famous luxury train operates between Pretoria and Cape Town, with a stopover in Kimberley. They advertise as a "five-star hotel on wheels" and charge accordingly: 2009 prices start from R9,215 one-way per person (low-season "Deluxe" twin-sharing) and climb to a shocking R18,405 (high-season "Luxury" single). The trip takes 27 hours, and your fares includes a private suite with attached bathroom as well as all meals and drinks (except champagne and caviar).
  • Rovos Rail, ? +27 12 315-8242. Offers luxury rail travel throughout Southern Africa. Destinations include Cape TownPretoriaDurbanGeorge, Swakopmund in Namibia, Vic Falls in Zimbabwe and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

By thumb

Hitchhiking in South Africa is not so hard, but most people will think you are catching a ride with the local taxis and thus expect you to pay. You may want to tell them you are looking for a free ride before climbing aboard. The main issue is crime: some drivers may hijack you and your belongings. Hitchhiking is generally frowned upon and considered unsafe. Drivers are also wary of potentially criminal hitchhikers. Never hitchhike at night. It is unwise to be outside at night, if you are in an area considered unsafe. Remember, most middle-class homes are protected with walls and armed guards; they have this for a reason.

By bicycle

Cycling is probably the best way to experience the country, as you really get to admire the views and get the opportunity to mingle with the locals. While it could be considered unsafe to cycle through the cities, because of crime and reckless drivers, there are many farm/dirt roads throughout South Africa. Locals and Farmers are generally willing to provide you with food and a place to sleep, as long as you are willing to talk.

Talk

South Africa has 11 official languages, namely Afrikaans, Southern Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda and English. Most people other than rural black South Africans speak English as a second language. Only about 8% of the population speak English as a first language, almost exclusively in the white population which is ironically declining as a first language, while it is already a lingua franca among South Africans, and about 60% of the population can understand English. South African English is heavily influenced by Afrikaans. Afrikaans is also widely spoken, especially by the majority of the white and coloured population. Often Afrikaans is incorrectly called 'Afrikan' or 'African' by foreigners. This is very incorrect as 'African' for a South African corresponds with the native-African languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi etc. (and, of course, there are thousands of languages in Africa so no single language can be called 'African') Afrikaans has roots in 17th century Dutch dialects, so it can be understood by Dutch speakers and sometimes deciphered by German speakers. Other widely spoken languages are Zulu (mainly in KwaZulu-Natal - South Africa's largest single linguistic group) and Xhosa (mainly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape), as well as Sotho and Venda. This changes, according to the region you are in.

A few words you may encounter are:

  • eish - as in, "eish, it's hot today", "eish, that's expensive" or "eish, that's too far to drive"
  • lekker - nice, enjoyable
  • howzit - how is it? (generally a rhetorical question)
  • yebo - yes
  • boet, bru, china or ou - brother or man (equivalent to dude or bro)
  • koppie - a small hill (can also mean a cup)
  • Madiba - Nelson Mandela
  • Molo - Hello (in Xhosa)
  • robot - traffic light
  • tannie - (auntie) respectful term for an older woman
  • oom - (uncle) respectful term for an older man
  • tinkle - phone call
  • just now - sometime soon (from Afrikaans "net-nou")
  • now now - sooner than just now! (from Afrikaans "nou-nou", pronounced no-no)
  • braai - barbecue.
  • cheers - used for saying good-bye, as well as saying thank you and for the occasional toast.
  • heita - hello
  • sharp - (usually pronounced quickly) OK
  • sure-sure more pronounced like sho-sho - Correct, Agreement, Thank you
  • ayoba - something cool
  • zebra crossing - a crosswalk. named for the white & black stripes that are generally painted on crosswalks.
  • bakkie - pick-up truck (from Afrikaans)

Spelling

In general, English spelling follows British rules rather than US; litre rather than liter, centre rather than center, etc.

See

Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to South-Africa every year to see the country's many natural and cultural attractions. From wild elephants to stunning landscapes, cave paintings, colonial heritage and bustling townships, South Africa is an enchanting land of contradictions and great beauty.

Wild animals in their natural habitat

South Africa is the most popular safari destination in the world and for many visitors a glance at the "Big Five" and other wildlife is a must. The iconic Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga is surely the most famous place to have that glance, but Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape is another popular pick. The vast dry plains of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with its migratory herds of wildebeast covers parts of both South Africa and Botswana. Along the border with Mozambique another transfrontier park, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park offers very different landscapes and fauna. For scuba divers, South Africa's under water wildlife has a lot to offer, with the annual Sardine run being a highlight. The popular seaside town of Hermanus is probably the best place in the world to go whale watching, with cage diving opportunities with Great White Sharks for the truly adventurous.

Areas of natural beauty and botanical interest

South Africa's landscapes are grand and divers, varying from flat desert scrublands to lush green coastal areas and high peaks. The view from the famous, flat-topped Table mountain is a classic Africa experience. Also in the Cape Town region, the beautiful beaches attract thousands of sun lovers. The green coastal Garden Route is a great natural experience, passing countless lagoons, several interesting towns and the beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park. The Augrabies Falls National Park boasts a 60m high water fall. Close to the Kruger Park is the Blyde River Canyon, the largest green canyon in the world, and not far from there are the high peaks of the Drakensberg mountain range. The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is one of the country's 8 Unesco World Heritage sites for its exceptional natural beauty and the many cave paintings found there.

Cultural heritage

Large numbers and some of the oldest hominid fossils have been found in South Africa, especially in the Cradle of Humankind, another World Heritage Site. Over 30 different caves held important fossils, but the caves of Sterkfontein are perhaps the most important one at the site. Far more recent, the 17th century Castle of Good Hope in beautiful Cape Town is one of the cultural heritage sites from colonial times. Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was famously imprisoned, has become a major destination. For more insight in the Apartheid times, visit the District Six Museum in Cape Town or the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg.

Other attractions

  • Although regularly criticized, visits to the infamous townships are increasingly popular. Some say such trips turn poverty into entertainment while others think they benefit all those involved. In any case, a township tour is an experience that will stick. Soweto, in Johannesburg, is particularly well known.
  • South Africa has gained world wide fame as a wine country, and if you're interested, a visit to one of the over 800 wineries can be a great addition to your trip. Head to the Cape Winelands around Stellenbosch for some of the best picks.

Do

  • Dive, see Diving in South Africa for details.
  • River Rafting: The Orange River on the border to Namibia is a popular destination for rafting tours. Several tour operators launch 4-6 day trips in blow-up boats from Vioolsdrif with camping under the stars.
  • Rugby Union, Cricket and soccer are all popular spectator sports, traditionally associated with Afrikaner, Anglo-South African and Black South African culture respectively, although this has changed in recent years and the Springboks (national Rugby union team) has a lot of black fans at least since the 1995 world cup, hosted in South Africa, that South Africa won with Nelson Mandela (then president) wearing a Springbok jersey.

Buy

Money

The currency is the rand, denoted by the symbol "R" (ISO code: ZAR). It is divided into 100 cents (c). Notes are in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10. Higher value notes are slightly larger in physical size than small value notes. All notes have a metallic security strip and a watermark. A new series of banknotes was introduced in 2012, and at present both the old and the new series are circulating and legal tender.

Coins are in denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. Production of 2c and 1c coins was suspended in 2002 although those still in circulation remain legal tender. All transactions are rounded down to the nearest lower 5c, so as not to require the use of 2c and 1c coins. There are two types of R5 coins in circulation: one is a silver-coloured coin while the other is silver-coloured with a copper insert. Both are legal currency.

South Africa is part of the Southern African Common Monetary Area and the Rand can be used in Namibia (where it is an official currency along with the Namibian dollar), and in Lesotho and Swaziland (where it is widely accepted, but not an official currency). The currencies of each country are tied to the rand at the rate of 1:1.

Traveller's cheques are a safe way of carrying money around. You can exchange them at all banks (which are found throughout the country even in rural areas) and you will get a refund if they are stolen. The disadvantage is that you cannot pay with them and you will need change when exchanging them into Rand. Use ATMs instead if possible.

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), linked to all major international networks, are available throughout the country and will generally dispense money in a mixture of denominations between R200 and R10, with about 80% of the value requested being high value notes and the rest in smaller denominations. You can use any Cirrus or Maestro card as well as all major credit and debit cards at the ATMs. South African bank ATMs do not charge any fees above those levied by your own financial institution.

It is best to use only ATMs that are inside a mall or other building. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN). Do not accept help from strangers when withdrawing money at an ATM. If you are approached and offered unwanted help, rather cancel the transaction immediately and go to a different ATM. The till points at some major retail stores (such as Pick 'n Pay) also act as ATMs; simply tell the checkout clerk that you would like to withdraw money.

Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere. American Express and Diners Club are also accepted, but not as widely.

Most retail stores accept credit cards and pin based debit cards as payment. While South Africa has begun to move towards a chip-and-PIN credit card system like Europe, most stores are still on the traditional credit card system in which the user merely signs the receipt after the transaction is approved. Thus credit card users from countries also still on that system (like the United States) will have no problem using their credit cards in South Africa, provided that they have notified their bank in advance of their travel plans.

VAT (Value Added Tax) is levied at 14% on almost all products in South Africa. By law, advertised prices should be inclusive of VAT except when explicitly stated otherwise. Foreign passport holders may claim back the VAT on products that were bought in South Africa and are being taken out of the country, provided that the total value of the goods exceeds R250. Full details of the procedure to follow are available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and their new TAX Refund for tourists [4] site. VAT Refund Administrator's offices are available at both Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo) and Cape Town International Airports. Refunds will be credited to a Travelex Visa card that you will be given, denominated in U.S. dollars or Euro, the fees in conversion associated with this card can leave you with up to 10% less than you thought you were getting. The cards can only be used outside of South Africa.

Costs

Petrol and diesel

Liquid fuel prices in South Africa are regulated and are fixed by region monthly. In general petrol is cheaper near the ports (Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth). In September 2013 a litre of petrol would cost around R13.

Toll roads

The most expensive toll gate in South Africa is the Swartruggens toll plaza on the N4 between Swartruggens and Zeerust, cost is R71 for a normal car. In total, road tolls between Pretoria and Nelspruit or between Johannesburg and Cape Town will cost you just under R100. If travelling from Beitbridge to Cape Town, down the N1, expect to pay as much R270.

Food

  • You can buy two McDonald's burgers (a hamburger, cheese burger and chicken burger) for around R22 (Jan 2013)
  • A sit down lunch in an average establishment will cost you between R80 and R150 per person. (Jan 2013)
  • A decent 30cm pizza will cost you between R55 and R75 (Jan 2013)

Shopping

Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter.

South Africa is not a place to find bargains for most goods. For example, most ordinary consumer goods, electronics, and appliances are all manufactured in China nowadays, while most luxury goods are manufactured in Europe. This means the prices in South Africa will have the cost of transporting them there built-in. A simple GPS navigator for your car will cost about R2000 - more than double the cost in the US or Europe!

However, South Africa is a superior destination for buying African art, curios, and souvenirs which are far more difficult to obtain outside of Africa.

Tipping

Tipping is the norm in restaurants. Indeed, most of these businesses pay their staff the legal minimum-wage, relying on customer-tips to bring staff incomes up to live-able levels. Tips of around 10% of the bill are considered the norm.

A small amount, usually around R5, is occasionally given to petrol station attendants for additional services, such as cleaning one's windscreen. Toilet cleaners at service stations along major road routes are sometimes tipped when they provide good service and keep the facilities clean. "Car guards", who claim to "look after" one's parked car are often given a small tip if they are in uniform and authorized; however those without uniforms are usually regarded as a nuisance, and tipping them is not compulsory, despite the fact that they often harass motorists looking for payment.

The 10% tipping rule also applies when taking a taxi. As most cabs work with cash only, it's better to ask how much you'll be expected to pay for your journey before getting in. This will ensure that you always have enough to give the driver as a tip.

Lastly, when checking into your hotel, it is customary to tip your porter as well. The generally accepted rule is to give them R5 per bag they handle.

Eat

Cuisine

South African cuisine is just as diverse as its cultures, with influences from British, Dutch, German, Indian, Malay, Portuguese and of course the native African influences.

  • Braaivleis, meat roasted over an open wood or charcoal fire, is very popular and generally done at weekend social events. The act of roasting the meat as well as the social event is referred to as a braai.
  • Pap, a porridge made with corn meal. Slappap (runny porridge), is smooth and often eaten as a breakfast porridge, Stywepap (stiff porridge) has a doughy and more lumpy consistency and is often used as a replacement for rice or other starches. "Krummel" pap also called umphokoqo (crumby porridge) is drier, resembles couscous and is often served at a braai covered in a saucy tomato and onion relish called sous.
  • Potjiekos, a meat and vegetable stew made in a cast iron pot over an open fire. A favorite at braais.
  • Boerewors, a spicy sausage. Boerewors Rolls are hotdog buns with boerewors rather than hotdogs, traditionally garnished with an onion and tomato relish.
  • Biltong and Droëwors, seasoned meat or sausage that has been dried. Beef, game and ostrich meat is often used. A favourite at sports events and while travelling.
  • Bunny chows, half a loaf of bread with the inside replaced by lamb or beef curry is a dish not to be missed when travelling to KwaZulu Natal.
  • Bobotie, meatloaf with a Cape Malay influence, seasoned with curry and spices, topped with a savoury custard.
  • Morogo, a wild spinach on its own or with potato. Sometimes served with pap.
  • Waterblommetjiebredie, mutton and indigenous water lily stew.
  • Masonja, for the culinary adventurer, fried Mopanie worms.
  • Melktert, "milk tart", a milk-based dessert.
  • Koeksisters, a deep-fried sticky dessert.
  • Vetkoek, deep fried dough ball made from flour, served with apricot jam.

Fast food

You will find the usual array of international fast food outlets. McDonalds, KFC, Domino's Pizza and Wimpy are well represented throughout the country.

Local franchises worth mentioning are Black Steer, Spur and Steers for the best burgers and Nando's peri-peri chicken.

Pizza delivery is available in most urban areas whereby food can be ordered online with places such as Domino's Pizza and Debonairs.

Smoking

Most restaurants and even pubs have been declared "smoke-free" areas. In some restaurants you will find a dedicated smokers area where children are not allowed. Rule of thumb is to check for an ashtray on your table. You will, however, in all probability be greeted at the door of the establishment with a "smoking-or-nonsmoking". Check as smoking in non-designated areas are not permitted and you'll be met with some rude gestures.

Drink

Municipal tap water is usually safe to drink. In some area such as Hartebeespoort Dam, it is advisable to boil your water before drinking.

Milk is widely available at most supermarkets, but bottled orange juice not-from-concentrate is much, much harder to find than in North America. Most South African retailers carry only orange juice reconstituted from concentrate or orange juice blended with other juices or milk. Soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi are widely available, though.

The legal age to purchase and drink alcohol in South Africa is 18. Almost all restaurants are licensed to serve liquor.

If offered Witblits or Mampoer; those are locally distilled under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, and allocated a manufacturers' license. They are safe and enjoyable to consume and does not resemble the names for moonshine or firewater. The alcohol content is controlled by the Department, so is the quality.

Beer

Local beer production is dominated by SABMiller with Castle, Hansa, Black Label and Castle Milk Stout being most popular brands. There are also Micro Breweries all over South Africa. Imported beers such as Stella Artois and Grolsch are also widely available. The Namibian Windhoek brand beers are also popular and generally available.

Prices can vary widely depending on the establishment. Expect to pay anything from R7 to R18 for a beer.

Wine

South Africa has a well established wine industry with most of the wine produced concentrated in the Cape Winelands in the Western Cape and along the Orange River in the Northern Cape. Wine is plentiful throughout the country and very inexpensive.

Liquors

Amarula Cream is made from the marula fruit. The marula fruit is a favorite treat for African elephants, baboons and monkeys and in the liqueur form definitely not something to be passed over by humans. Pour over crushed ice and enjoy. The taste, colour and texture is very similar to the world famous Baileys Irish Cream. Cape Velvet is a favorite in and around Cape Town.

Tea and coffee

The local Rooibos tea, made from a herb from the Cederberg Mountains is a favorite for many South Africans. You will find coffee shops in most shopping malls, such as Mugg&Bean and House of Coffees. Coffee shops similar in concept to Starbucks, like Seattle Coffee Company and Vida e Caffe (Portuguese themed), are becoming commonplace.

Sleep

Establishments in South Africa can have themselves graded by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa on a 5 star basis. Many establishments make use of this service and you will see the star grading displayed on most advertising material.

  • 1 star - Clean, comfortable and functional.
  • 2 star - Good: Quality furnishings, service and guest care.
  • 3 star - Very good: Better furnishings, service and guest care.
  • 4 star - Superior: Excellent comfort and very high standard furnishings, service and guest care.
  • 5 star - Exceptional: Top of the line quality and luxurious accommodation to match the best international standards. Flawless service and guest care.

Backpacker lodges

Backpacking lodges or hostels are widespread all over the country. Most establishments offer great value tours and activities in the areas. There is a great network of transport around the country making it suitable for single and younger travellers. Some lodges provide meals especially in the more remote areas. Most have self-catering facilities and shared bathrooms although en-suite bathrooms are also common.

B&Bs

Bed and Breakfast establishments are becoming very popular. The accommodation is usually provided in a family (private) home and the owner/manager lives in the house or on the property. Breakfast is usually served. Bathroom facilities may be en-suite. In general, the guest shares the public areas with the host family.

Self-catering

A house, cottage, chalet, bungalow, flat, studio, apartment, villa, houseboat, tents or similar accommodation where facilities and equipment are provided for guests to cater for themselves. (This can include a fridge, oven, stove, microwave etc...) The facilities should be adequate to cater for the maximum advertised number of residents the facility can accommodate.

Guest house

A guest house is either a converted house, manor, etc. adapted to accommodate overnight guests or it may be a purpose built facility. A guest house is run as a commercial operation and is often owner-managed. A guest house has areas which are for the exclusive use of the guest. The owner/manager either lives off-site, or in a separate area within the property.

Camping and caravaning

Caravan parks can be found in most towns that are holiday destinations. Most caravan parks also offer camping sites where you can pitch a tent (double check because sometime tents are excluded).

The parks generally have central ablution facilities.

Also see the By motorhome and By offroad vehicle sections for additional camping options.

Timeshare

There are many timeshare resorts in South Africa, most participate in international exchange agreements. Many timeshare owners also rent their time when they can not make use of it.

Long-term

Many real estate agents in South Africa also offer rental services. The rental properties are mostly available on unfurnished long term lease, but you will also find furnished properties on offer with 1 to 12 month lease agreements

Your local branch of an international estate agent with a presence in South Africa might also be able to assist you.

Learn

Non-South African citizens need to be in possession of a study permit to study inside the country. You should apply for one at a South African High Commission, Embassy, Consulate or Trade Mission in your country of origin, or in the nearest country, should there be no South African representation is available in your country. Government form BI-1738 needs to be completed for the application.

You will need to do some preparation to gain a study permit. At a minimum you will need acceptance by a South African University, repatriation guarantees, return air ticket and proof that you can cover living expenses while in South Africa before a permit will be issued. The cost for obtaining a study permit is R425 and applications take about 6 weeks to process.

Expect to spend about R5,000 per month on general living expenses (accommodation, food, travel, etc) in addition to tuition fees.

There are many secondary and tertiary education centres in South Africa. The University of Cape Town is the top-ranked university in Africa, placing 198th in the world, according to the 2007 Times Higher Education ranking. The Universities of the Witwatersrand, StellenboschPretoria and KwaZulu-Natal also routinely appear in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Top 500 rankings.

South Africa is also an excellent venue to learn new skills such as flying, sailing and scuba diving since costs are generally far lower than in more developed countries while quality of training will be equal or better.

Commercial diving: South Africa is quite popular for commercial diver training as the qualification is internationally recognised by the International Diver Recognition Forum, and the Department of Labout is a member of the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA). A South African Department of Labour certification as a Class I or Class II diver is acceptable for offshore work in many other parts of the world, including the North Sea and Nigerian offshore oilfields.

Work

Due to the large number of unemployed South Africans, there are limited work opportunities for foreigners in South Africa.

Non South African citizens are only allowed to work in South Africa if they are in possession of a work permit. Students in Canada can apply for a work visa through SWAP, although costs are high the service is helpful and well organized.

The process of applying for a work permit is similar to applying for a study permit, contact a South African High Commission, Embassy, Consulate or Trade Mission in your country of origin, or in the nearest country, should there be no South African representation is available in your country. Government form B1-159 (A&C) needs to be completed for the application. Processing of the application will take 8 to 12 weeks.

Scarce skills and work permit quotas

There are some skills that are in short supply in the country and the Department of Home Affairs has a Quota Work Permit program aimed at sourcing these skills from abroad. A list of skills in demand and set quotas for each of those skills are published yearly. Applicants with formal qualification and work experience in the required fields may apply for a quota work permit. This permit costs around R1600 and applications will take between 6 and 8 weeks to process. If the application is approved one will have a 90 day period (from the time of entering the country) to find employment in the field that the permit was issued for. Once employed, the permit will stay valid as long as one is employed within the same field of work (changing employers is allowed). More information, as well as the skills and quotas list for the current year, can be found on the Department of Home Affairs homepage [5]

Stay safe

South Africa has very few earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, terrorist incidents or contagious diseases (with the notable exception of HIV).

However, South Africa has some of the highest violent crime rates in the world, though by being vigilant and using common sense, you should have a safe and pleasant trip as hundreds of thousands of other people have each year. The key is to know and stick to general safety precautions: never walk around in deserted areas at night or advertise possession of money or expensive accessories.

Do not accept offers from friendly strangers. Do not wear a tummy bag with all your valuables; consider a concealed money belt worn under your shirt instead. Leave passports and other valuables in a safe or other secure location, although most banks and exchange bureaus require your passport in order to exchange foreign monies to Rands. Do not carry large sums of money. Do not walk by night in deserted places. Hide that you are a tourist: conceal your camera and binoculars. Do not leave your valuables in plain sight when driving in your car, as "smash and grab" attacks sometimes occur at intersections, and keep your car doors locked and your windows open no more than half way. Know where to go so that you avoid getting lost or needing a map: that will avoid signs.

If you are carrying bags, try to hook them under a table or chair leg when sitting down, as this will prevent them from being snatched.

Visiting the townships is possible, but do not do it alone unless you really know where you're going. Some townships are safe while others can be extremely dangerous. Go with an experienced guide. Some tour companies offer perfectly safe guided visits to the townships.

Taking an evening stroll or walking to venues after dark can be very risky. It simply is not part of the culture there, as it is in Europe, North America or Australia. It is best to take a taxi (a metered cab, not a minibus taxi) or private vehicle for an "evening out". The same applies to picking up hitchhikers or offering assistance at broken-down car scenes. It is best to ignore anyone who appears to be in distress at the side of the road as it could be part of a scam. Keep going until you see a police station and tell them about what you have seen.

Beware that if you are driving in South Africa, when police officers stop you to check your licence, and you show them an overseas driver's licence, they may come out with some variant of `Have you got written permission from [random government department] to drive in our country?' If your license is written in English or you have an International Driving Permit then they can't do anything. Stand your ground and state this fact - be polite, courteous and don't pay any money (bribes).

Take extra care when driving at night. Unlike in Europe and North America, vast stretches of South African roads, especially in rural areas, are poorly lit or often completely unlit. This includes highways. Be extra careful as wildlife and people often walk in the middle of the road in smaller towns (not cities like PretoriaJohannesburg, or Cape Town). You must also take extra care when driving in South Africa due to the risk of carjackings.

O.R. Tambo International Airport Security Warning

Operators at the airport occasionally steal valuable objects such as iPods, laptops, digital cameras, cellular phones and jewelry while scanning the checked-in luggage of passengers. They may take advantage of the scanner machine to detect valuable objects and steal them. These events do occur and the stolen items include anything from electronic devices to designer perfumes.

Place any items of value in carry-on luggage, remembering that more than 100 mL of lotion and other liquids are not allowed to be taken in carry-on luggage. When checking in at O.R. Tambo the check-in attendant will remind you not to place valuable items in your luggage. A service to wrap luggage in cling-wrap film is available at the airport, and others cable-tie the zip fasteners together to deter easy access to the contents of luggage.

Important telephone numbers

  • The National Tourism Information and Safety Line, ? 083 123 2345NOCC. Operated by South African Tourism
  • The National Sea Rescue Institute, ? +27 21 434-4011, 082 380 3800 (after hours)NOCC. A volunteer organization with rescue stations around the coast and mayor inland bodies of water

From a fixed line

  • 107 - Emergency (in Cape Town, only from fixed lines)
  • 10111 - Police
  • 10177 - Ambulance

From a mobile phone

  • 112-All Emergencies

International calls at local rates

  • Step 1: Dial: 087 150 0823 from any mobile or landline
  • Step 2: Dial destination number and press #
    • e.g. 00 44 11 123 4567 #
  • Countries: USA, UK(Landline), India, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong and many more.
  • Supported On: Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Telkom and Neotel

Wildlife

One of the main reasons travellers visit South Africa is to experience the outdoors and see the wide range of wildlife.

When driving in a wildlife reserve, always keep to the speed limits and stay inside your car at all times. On game drives or walks, always follow the instructions of your guide.

Ensure that you wear socks and boots whenever you are walking in the bush; do not wear open sandals. A good pair of boots can stop snake and insect bites and avoid any possible cuts that may lead to infections.

In many areas you may encounter wildlife while driving on public roads, monkeys and baboons are especially common. Do not get out of the vehicle to take photos or otherwise try to interact with the animals. These are wild animals and their actions can be unpredictable.

Sometimes you might find yourself in the open with wild animals (often happens with baboons at Cape Point). Keep your distance and always ensure that the animals are only to one side of you, do not walk between two groups or individuals. A female baboon may get rather upset if you separate her from her child.

Always check with locals before swimming in a river or lake as there may be crocodiles or hippos. Most major beaches in KwaZulu-Natal have shark nets installed. If you intend to swim anywhere other that the main beaches, check with a local first.

Shark nets may be removed for a couple of days during the annual sardine run (normally along the KwaZulu-Natal coast between early May and late July). This is done to avoid excessive shark and other marine life fatalities. Notices are posted on beaches during these times.

Stay healthy

Emergency and medical assistance

There are a number of independent emergency assist companies in South Africa

  • Netcare 911, 49 New Rd, Midrand, ? +27 11 254-1927. Some travel agents offer Netcare911 cover as an option, but you can also deal with them via Travel Insurance (see below) or find out if your existing cover has an association with them.
  • Travel Insurance, ? +27 11 780-3300. Contracted to Netcare and offers comprehensive EMS cover for the inbound traveller to South Africa.
  • ER24, Manor 1, Cambridge Manor Office Park, corner Witkoppen and Stonehaven, Paulshof, Sandton, ? 084 124NOCC. A large and well represented emergency assist company incorporating the Medi-Clinic chain of hospitals.

Hospitals

It is best to avoid public hospitals where possible. Private hospitals are of world class standard.

Pharmacies

The major pharmacy chains found at shopping centres catering to tourists (e.g., Sandton City, V&A Waterfront) is Clicks and Dischem. Some supermarket chains like Checkers have in-store pharmacies.

South African pharmacies are generally comparable to their counterparts in Europe and North America. However, the retail shelves of South African pharmacies tend to have a smaller selection of drugs than their North American counterparts, and a more dietary supplements. South African pharmacies do carry many OTC drugs, but if you don't see them on the shelf, you'll have to ask for them at the counter when the pharmacist is in.

Water

Municipal tap water is usually safe to drink throughout the country. In the Western Cape mountain water is safe, even if it has been stained brown due to vegetation. A strong risk of bilharzia exists for still-standing water.

Sunburn

Many activities in South Africa are outdoors, see the sunburn and sun protection travel topic for tips on how to protect yourself.

HIV and AIDS

South Africa has one of the highest HIV infection rates world-wide. 5.4 million people out of a population of 48 million are HIV-positive.

The HIV infection rate in the total population older than 2 years varies from around 2% in the Western Cape to over 17% in KwaZulu-Natal (Avert and all together 18.8% of South Africans over 15 years of age are HIV-Positive. One in four females and one in five males aged 20 to 40 is estimated to be infected.

Malaria

The north-eastern areas of the country (including the Kruger National Park and St. Lucia and surrounds) are seasonal malaria zones, from about November to May. The peak danger time is just after the wet season from March to May. Consult a physician regarding appropriate precautions, depending on the time of year you will be travelling. The most important defences against malaria are:

  • using a DEET-based mosquito repellent
  • covering your skin with long-sleeved clothing, especially around dusk; and
  • using mosquito nets while sleeping.

Tabbard and Peaceful Sleep are commonly used mosquito repellents and can be bought almost anywhere.

Also read the Malaria and Mosquitoes travel topics.

Smoking

Smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, these include airports, pubs, shopping malls and theaters. However this is largely ignored, if people are smoking indoors then feel free to join them.

Most restaurants do have smoking sections, either ventilated indoor areas or outdoor open areas.

Respect

South Africans are generally polite, friendly and accommodating to tourists.

Public behaviour is very similar to what you might find in Europe. Heterosexual displays of affection in public are not frowned upon unless you overdo it. Homosexual displays of affection may generate unwelcome attention although they will be tolerated and respected in the more gay-friendly and cosmopolitan areas of Johannesburg (Sandton, Rosebank and Parkhurst), Cape Town (Greenpoint, Clifton and De Waterkant) and Durban. South Africa is the first and only African nation where the government recognizes same-sex relationships and homosexual marriages are recognized by law.

Men generally greet with a firm handshake, while women will do the continental kiss on the cheek.

Except for designated beaches, nude sunbathing is illegal, although topless sunbathing for women is acceptable along Durban and Umhlanga beaches, and Cape Town's Clifton and Camps Bay beaches. Thong bikinis for ladies and swimming trunks for men (speedos if you really must) are acceptable. Eating places are casual except when otherwise indicated.

Eating is generally done the British way with the fork in their left hand and the tines pointed downward. Burgers, pizzas, bunny chows and any other fast foods are eaten by hand. It is generally also acceptable to steal a piece of boerewors from the braai with your hands. Depending on which cultural group you find yourself with, these rules might change. Indians often eat breyani dishes with their hands, a white person of British descent might insist on eating his pizza with a knife and fork or a black person might eat pap-and-stew with a spoon. Be flexible, but don't be afraid to also do your own thing; if really unacceptable, people will generally tell you so rather than take offence.

South Africans are proud of their country and what they have achieved. Although they themselves are quick to point out and complain to each other about the problems and shortcomings that still exist, they will harshly defend against any outsider doing so.

One thing you need to understand is that South African people are very straightforward. If you do or say something that offends a South African, they will tell you so, in a very straightforward manner. So, you must not be offended if this happens, but just apologise and change the manner in which you do things so that you don't offend any other people.

Race

Those who are more accustomed to North American racial terminology should understand that words that are familiar to them have different meanings in South Africa, and the rules for what terms are polite or not are different. There are many South Africans that think classification according to skin colour or appearance in general, whether for political or social reasons, is inappropriate and would prefer to be referred to as simply South African irrespective of what you think they look like.

  • If you wish to refer to South Africans of solely African ancestry, "black" (the term used under apartheid) is still considered appropriate by some. It might help to practice thinking of identifying particular language groups-Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, etc. Most urban blacks are also able to speak English in addition to their native language, though English proficiency can be limited in rural areas.
  • The term "coloured" refers to a mixed race cultural group with white and African ancestors from the early colonial period - and who typically speak Afrikaans and dwell chiefly in the Western Cape, although some of these people oppose the term, and simply call themselves black. In general the term does not have as much of a negative connotation as it would in the US or Britain. 'Coloured' can be used incorrectly to describe people who would consider themselves as either black or white and thus should be used with caution. Not every person with ostensibly "mixed" heritage will necessarily consider themselves "coloured" in the cultural sense and may not identify as such; a well-known example is comedian Trevor Noah who is the son of a white Swiss man and a black Xhosa woman born during Apartheid. During Apartheid, the "coloured" group also included the ethnic Chinese community.
  • White South Africans can quite simply be called "white" or "white South African". The mother-tongue of white South Africans is either Afrikaans (derived from Dutch) or English, so there are Afrikaners and English speaking South Africans. Almost all white South Africans can speak English, even if their mother-tongue is Afrikaans since commerce and entertainment is predominantly English. It is also not uncommon for English-speaking South Africans to speak Afrikaans or one of the African languages as a second language. Typical white South Africans consider themselves as "African" as those born in the United States consider themselves "American"; most have family who have lived in South Africa for centuries, and the only continent they can call home is Africa. Avoid calling Afrikaners "Dutchmen" or "Boers", both considered pejorative and offensive, or Afrikaans "Kitchen Dutch" as they are fiercely independent and proud of their language, and do not consider themselves Dutch. Although primarily used to refer to people of European descent, during Apartheid the term "white" included Japanese people as well.
  • The fourth racial category left over from the apartheid system is "Indian" (from India), referring to people whose ancestors came from India during the British colonial period. The largest Indian populations are in KwaZulu-Natal, in particular around Durban.
  • There is also a small community of Cape Malays, based mainly in the Bo Kaap area of Cape Town, who are descendants of the slaves who were brought over from what is today Malaysia and Indonesia during the colonial period. Though the majority of them are still Muslim, they no longer speak the Malay language and primarily speak either Afrikaans or English.

In summary:

  • Black - the majority of South Africans - of Bantu origin. The three most populous groups are Xhosa (Eastern & Western Cape), Zulu (KwaZulu-Natal) and Sotho (Free State).
  • White - can be subdivided into Afrikaans speakers (the majority), and English speakers.
  • Coloured - of mixed heritage - Afrikaans speaking, and concentrated in the Western Cape.
  • Indian - concentrated around Durban.
  • Malay - Muslims in the Bo Kaap area of Cape Town

It is wise to avoid racial or political remarks while in South Africa if you don't have a good understanding of South African history because the country's very diverse cultural disposition means that "putting your foot in it" is easy. However, you will encounter many South Africans who lived through the apartheid period, and who are willing to talk about their experiences of the time. It can be very interesting to speak with them about their experiences, and if you have an open mind and willingness to listen, you can avoid offence.

South Africa is now in its third decade since the end of apartheid (a very sensitive issue for everyone) in 1990, but it is always easier to change laws than people. You will occasionally still hear overtly racist remarks, from any race group in South Africa, not only from white South Africans. This is more common from the older generation than the younger ones. The best thing to do is simply ignore it; leave the responsibility for enlightening lectures to other South Africans, who know the subject better than any foreign traveller as they have lived it. South Africans of different races generally treat each other politely at a personal level. Political movements are another matter, and political parties have been aligned along the racial fault lines of the society although there is starting to be a move toward better integration. The majority of black South Africans vote for the African National Congress, and the majority of white and coloured South Africans vote for the liberal centrist Democratic Alliance. Politics in South Africa is a touchy issue, and it's best to talk about it with care.

Interracial marriages are becoming quite common, and, except for possibly some of the older generation, people no longer take offense if you and your partner are not the same colour.

Connect

Phone

South Africa's country code is 27.

Phone numbers within South Africa are of the format 0XX YYY ZZZZ.

Large cities have area codes 0XX (Johannesburg is 011, Pretoria 012, Cape Town 021, Durban 031, Port Elizabeth 041, East London 043, Kimberley 053, Bloemfontein 051) while smaller towns may have longer area codes (0XX Y for example) with shorter local numbers.

When dialing a South African number from outside the country, one should dial +27 XX YYY ZZZZ.

Dialing within the country one should use all 10 digits, 0XX YYY ZZZZ.

To dial out of South Africa, dial 00 followed by the country code and the rest of the number you are trying to reach.

Pay phones are available at airports, shopping malls and some petrol stations. The number of pay phones in open public areas have been reduced over recent years, but you should still be able to find one when you need one. Pay phones use either coins or prepaid cards that are available at most shops and petrol stations ; coin phones are generally blue while card phones are usually green.

GSM

South Africa has an extensive GSM network, working on the same frequency as the rest of Africa and Europe. There are five cell phone providers in South Africa: Vodacom, MTN, Cell-C, Virgin Mobile and 8ta.

The networks support GPRS countrywide and LTE, 3G, EDGE and HSDPA support is available in larger urban areas.

Do not assume you will not have network coverage just because you can not see a GSM tower. Many of the towers have been built to look like trees (Vodacom) or other structure (MTN) in order to better blend into the surroundings and not be an eyesore. In some rural areas, GSM towers still look like towers because of problems with animals damaging them when they look like trees.

SIM card prepaid starter kits are available for around R1. You will need a passport and a proof of residential address and it has to be registered before you can call or receive calls. If you call into a Vodacom or MTN store with a passport and drivers licence, you can be all connected on the spot. You can buy credit for prepaid phones just about everywhere, remembering you will usually need cash to do so from service stations.

Internet

There are plenty of Internet cafes and access rates are cheap.

Even cheaper and more mobile would be to buy a prepaid cell phone starter pack (less than R10) and access the Internet with GPRS or 3G. Generally R2 per MB for out of bundle data from most providers (50c for Virgin Mobile), but it becomes a lot cheaper if you buy a data bundle. Vodacom prices range from 38c per MB on a 500MB bundle to 19c per MB on a 1GB bundle. MTN prices range between R1 per MB on a 10MB to 39c per MB on a 1GB bundle. Mobile data connections are always charged per MB as opposed to per second (as is popular on many European networks).

Neotel offers CDMA coverage in the larger metro areas with prepaid packages starting at R800 for 24GB (usb device included and data valid for 12 months) or R400 for the device and R0.20 per MB with the purchase of recharge vouchers. Coverage is still limited, so make sure to check the coverage map first.

ADSL1 is popular for residential use and are available in speeds of 384kbit/s, 1Mbit/s and 10Mbit/s. Due to the Telkom monopoly on last-mile infrastructure, operators can get away with labeling 384kbit/s as "broadband internet" simply because there are almost no viable alternatives, and users are usually limited to 1GB to 3GB per month on an account. The average cost of ADSL data is R70/GB.

Wi-fi

AlwaysOn seem to be leading the way in prepaid Wi-Fi access. Their hotspots can now be found at Cape TownDurban and O.R. Tambo airports, City Lodge Hotels, Sun International Hotels, some Southern Sun Hotels, Mugg & Bean restaurants and various other places.

Simply connect to the access point and you will be given the opportunity to pay for access by credit card. Pricing starts at around R15 for 10 minutes or R60 for 100MB. Their support desk can be contacted on +27 011 759-7300.

Cope

Beggars

As is the reality with many developing countries, beggars are rife in South Africa. There are also many children and mothers with babies begging on the streets. People are discouraged by social services from giving children and mother-with-baby beggars money, as there are a number of children's homes available and giving them money keeps them on the street and often feeds a drug or drinking habit. However, if you encounter a particularly friendly beggar, there's nothing stopping you from giving them a few rands or a burger or bag of apples. Just be aware that muggers and con-artists are also rife in South Africa, so be wary at all times.

Embassies and consulates

  • Australia, 292 Orient St, Cnr Schoeman St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ? +27 12 423-6000. High Commission
  • Austria, 1109 Duncan St, Brooklyn, Pretoria, ? +27 12 452-9155, e-mail: pretoria-ob@bmaa.gv.at. Embassy
  • Belgium, 625 Leyds St, Muckleneuk, 0002 Pretoria, ? +27 12 440-3201, e-mail: pretoria@diplobel.fed.be. Embassy
  • Brazil, Block C, Hatfield Office Park, 1267 Pretorius St, Pretoria, ? +27 12 426-9400, e-mail: pretoria@brazilianembassy.org.za. Embassy
  • Canada, 1103 Arcadia St, Hatfield, Pretoria, ? +27 12 422-3000, e-mail: pret@international.gc.ca. High Commission
  • France, 250 Melk Street, Cnr Middle Street, Pretoria, ? +27 12 425-1600, e-mail: france@ambafrance-rsa.org. Embassy
  • Germany, 180 Blackwood St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ? +27 12 427-8900, e-mail: GermanEmbassyPretoria@gonet.co.za. Embassy
  • Greece, 1003 Church St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ? +27 12 430-7351, e-mail: embgrsaf@global.co.za. Embassy
  • India, 852 Schoeman St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ? +27 12 342-5392, e-mail: indiahc@hicomind.co.za. Embassy
  • Ireland, Southern Life Plaza, 1059 Schoeman St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ? +27 12 342-5062. Embassy
  • Japan, 259 Baines St, Groenkloof, Pretoria (Cnr Frans Oerder St), ? +27 12 452-1500, e-mail: enquiries@embjapan.org.za. Embassy
  • Netherlands, 210 Queen Wilhelmina Ave, Nieuw Muckleneuk, Pretoria, ? +27 12 425-4500, e-mail: nlgovpre@cis.co.za. Embassy
  • Portugal, 599 Leyds St, Muckleneuk, Pretoria, ? +27 12 341-2340, e-mail: portemb@satis.co.za. Embassy
  • Russia, 316 Brooks Street, Menlo Park, Pretoria, ? +27 12 362-1337/8FORMAT, e-mail: ruspospr@mweb.co.za. Embassy
  • United Kingdom, 255 Hill St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ? +27 12 421-7500, e-mail: media.pretoria@fco.gov.uk. Her Britanic Majesty's High Commission
  • United States of America, 877 Pretorius St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ? +27 12 431-4000. Embassy

If your country is not listed here, have at look at the list provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs .

International banks

A number of international banks operate branches in South Africa.

Stay legal

There are some laws that the average tourist might not be aware of

  • If you intend to do any angling (fishing), either freshwater or at the coast, you will require an angling licence for the province you are in. These can be obtained at any Post Office and the price depends on the province, but is generally under R50. Fishery and environments officials do from time to time check if anglers are in possession of a licence and you can expect to be fined if you are caught fishing without a licence. Also pick up a booklet from the nearest angling shop that will tell you what the size limits for each species of fish is.
  • Except for specific areas, clearly indicated by notice boards, it is illegal to drive a vehicle onto any beach.
  • Boat skippers need a license to pilot a craft on ALL water courses, fresh or saltwater, within South Africa.

Tickets

You can get tickets online at Computicket for most major events that occur in South Africa. Every till point at Shoprite/Checkers is also a computicket outlet.

Photography

You can have film developed at most pharmacies and shopping malls, even in small towns. Automated machines to print (or copy to CD) from digital media (CF, SD, MMC, Memory stick etc.) are also becoming quite common and easy to find. Larger shopping malls have dedicated photography shops where you can buy cameras and lenses or have a camera repaired. Most major camera manufacturers are well represented.

Hear about travel to South Africa on safari as the Amateur Traveler talks to Susan Portnoy from theinsatiabletraveler.com about her recent experience in the Timbavati Game Reserve. This is the 5th time that Susan has traveled to Africa on safari to "shoot" animals... as a photographer. 

 

We really wanted to share this email (100% un-edited). We love all feedback and to be honest, this particular email made our day! And for the record… YES we are hoping to give you all a new Active Adventures destination by 2016!

Hi, I am an Active Alum (Tortuga 2010, Jaguar 2012, Annapurna 2013, Tui/Kauri 2014) and just recently returned from a trip to South Africa using a tour operator other than Active (gasp). I booked the trip with some apprehension as I have never used an active/adventure tour operator other than Active. Were my apprehensions justified? YES! I thought of Active the WHOLE time. Why?

CLIENT SERVICES, CLIENT SERVICES, CLIENT SERVICES!

1. The tour operator, based in England, contracts out to local tour guides for all their trips. While the tour operator offers a wide range of tours, those responding to enquiries may/may not have experience with the actual trip– itinerary or country. When asking specific questions about the country or the itinerary, I was often met with vague or incorrect information. I would often consult my old Active gear list or tips when preparing for this trip!

2. The local tour guides were far less ‘professional’ or accommodating than any of the tour guides I encountered through Active– whether it be in South America, Nepal, or New Zealand. My dietary requirements were often forgotten or ignored (and sometimes met with rolling eyes). We were often fed very little or with such little thought in meal preparation. I and other tour members often bought our own food to supplement the food provided to us– not as a snack but as part of the meal! The local guides catered to their own tastes first and left it to us to eat what they liked or buy our own food. Many times, the local guides would eat most of the food!

3. There was no sense of this being “our” holiday. While I enjoyed the notion of participation camping, in which each tour member participated in setting up camp or cleaning up, I often felt that it was the tour guides holiday more than anything else! They certainly had more fun with many of the activities than their clients and did not guide in the true sense of the word. We were expected to be independent in activities like snorkeling, where we didn’t know where all the fish were, and the waters were rough and cold. At times we were left sitting in gale force winds with beach sand whipping our face (I suppose it did exfoliate my skin…). I felt that the guides were excited to be on this trip for their own enjoyment and couldn’t wait to drop us off at the airport at the end of the trip.

4. Safety. I will not detail the erratic driving of our guide but not once, did I feel scared during an Active trip. I could NOT say the same about my experience in South Africa! Overall, my experience in South Africa was phenomenal. However, I could not help but think of how Active would handle the tour and make it so much better (even with participation camping). While I hope Active expands to cover the world, I recognize how the high quality of Active tours requires expansion to be a slow but steady process. I appreciate all the work Active has done in cultivating local relationships and finding exceptional local guides that LOVE sharing their native country to others. So thank you for all your work and raising the bar so HIGH! S Jeng

Kayaking Milford Sound Kayaking Milford Sound… Place yourself right there!

It certainly wasn’t what we expected, but Oundle has been good to us. It’s sad to say goodbye to our temporary pets Dude and Audy, who showered us with affection from the first day of our stay, and we’ll also miss the town’s beautiful buildings and the long walks we’ve been taking along the river.

We’ve been here for five weeks now, and the last two weeks have been a lot more like we imagined our stay here would be — long days of work with a few events thrown in. I started each day by taking the dog for a walk, then we both settled in for a morning in front of the computer. Craig took the dog out again in the evening while I cooked dinner, then we generally watched TV until we went to bed. Pretty domestic really! The Rugby World Cup has started, so a fair proportion of our screen time has been taken up with that — seeing Japan beat South Africa was awesome, and New Zealand vs Argentina was another excellent match.

Oundle war memorial in Oundle UKOundle town centre

Excursions

We have ventured out of the house a few times, though, notably to buy delicious cheese at the weekly market and to go to the theatre. We’d seen the signs for a production of The Great Gatsby, and since £12 seemed like a pretty good price for to see a play, we bought tickets and headed along one Tuesday evening. And it was incredible! I wouldn’t quite call it a musical, but the seven actors all sang and played various musical instruments as well as each taking on several roles. The production is touring at the moment, so if you’re in the UK and have a chance to see it, I’d recommend you go.

Cows near Oundle UKInquisitive cows.

Visitors!

Another highlight was having visitors for lunch. At BlogStock I’d run into Terry and Sarah Lee, who we’ve known for years but not spent much time with, and when we realised that their house isn’t too far from Oundle, we invited them over. They were enthusiastically welcomed by Dude, who covered their legs with dog hair, and we enjoyed their company in a slightly more restrained fashion.

Dog in river near Oundle UKDog in the river.

Final days

Our last few days have been pretty crazy, as we’ve been trying to fit in all the things we wanted to do before our time ran out. First, we joined a “quirky historical tour of Oundle” with a guide who’d grown up in the town, during which we learned that almost every building used to be used for something else, whether it’s a theatre that used to be a church or a church that used to be a telephone exchange. (Or a library that used to be a morgue or a house that was once a school…. the list goes on for some time.) The next day, we finally made it to Peterborough, and though that was really just to pick up Craig’s passport, we really enjoyed our visit to the cathedral, where we learned that Peterborough is twinned with our old home of Alcalá de Henares! And our last weekend was spent packing and tidying in preparation for the handover to the next housesitters.

Cathedral in Peterborough UKPeterborough Cathedral

The next adventure is a couple of days with my brother in London before flying to Moldova via Italy. We were gutted to hear that the wine festival we were planning to attend has been cancelled, but I‘m sure we’ll find other things to do while we’re there! If you have any advice for travel in Moldova or Ukraine, please let us know in the comments below.

South Africa Activities

Things to do in South Africa

South Africa

I’ve traveled to South Africa twice now. It’s one of my favorite countries and an adventure lover’s playground. Here are some great ideas for things to do there.

The Republic of South Africa is a huge & diverse country teeming with wildlife & culture. It has a little bit of everything — dry deserts, high mountains, subtropical woodlands, modern cities, friendly people and TONS of cool animals.

After spending close to 2 months exploring the country, I’ve put together a list of my favorite experiences to help you plan your own visit one day.

Win A Free Trip To Africa!

It’s easy for US citizens to fly to South Africa these days with KLM Airlines on their routes to Cape Town & Johannesburg via connections in Amsterdam.

If you’re looking to visit other countries in Africa, they also fly to the cities of Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Kilimanjaro.

I’ve partnered with KLM to highlight cool travel experiences in Africa, and help them give away an incredible 6 day safari in Tanzania with 2 free airline tickets (US residents only).

I really hope one of you guys wins it! More details about the contest below.

Things To Do In South Africa

South Africa Safari

Meeting Lions on Safari

South Africa Zebras

Zebra Fight!

South African Safari

I’ll never forget when a huge lion passed just a few feet from our open Land Rover, suddenly stopping to look up. Everyone froze. Make a wrong move now, and we’d be his afternoon snack.

We were on safari at Phinda, a 56,000 acre protected wilderness area in the KwaZulu-Natal provence of South Africa. The lion was only one of the many incredible animal experiences we encountered, there were also families of elephants, cheetahs on the hunt, playful zebras, and so much more.

South Africa Rope Swing

Big Rush Rope Swing

South Africa Bungee

Bungee Jumping Bloukrans

Bungee Jumps & Rope Swings

Three, two, one, jump. I stepped off the catwalk and into the void, falling 288 feet with my stomach in my throat. The world’s tallest rope swing at a soccer stadium in Durban is definitely a big rush!

So is stoping along the Garden Route to leap from the 709 foot high Bloukrans Bridge and bouncing around dangling from your ankles by a glorified rubber band. If you’re looking to cure your fear of heights by going to extreme measures, South Africa is the place.

South Africa Great Whites

Cage Diving with Great Whites

South Africa Shark Diving

Scuba Diving with Sharks

Swimming With Sharks

Arguably the most feared animal under the sea, sharks have a notorious reputation. Great whites grow up to 7 meters long and can weigh over 3,000 kg. But you can get an up-close and personal experience with them under water cage diving off the coast of Cape Town.

For the more adventurous, how about diving with sharks minus the cage? It’s totally possible (and pretty safe) to dive with tiger & bull sharks in South Africa this way. Such a cool experience!

South Africa Soweto

Hanging Out in Soweto

South African People

Making New Friends

Meeting The People

One of the cool things about South Africa is its diversity. The massive city of Johannesburg is a great place to experience this and meet the different types of people that call this country home. I loved visiting the township of Soweto and learning about the vibrant & important history here.

Meeting local residents and admiring an area’s unique art and culture. Or gathering for a traditional Brai dinner in the rural coastal town of St. Lucia with new friends. Learning about a way of life that’s different from my own.

Table Mountain Table Cloth

Hiking Above the Table Cloth

Hiking Table Mountain

Cape Town Far Below

Climbing Table Mountain

Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most prominent landmark. A huge flat block of sandstone that rises 3500 feet into the air. Table mountain is a national park and a wonderful place to go hiking with over 350 paths to the summit.

Most people take the cable car up but hiking is far more rewarding. The weather changes constantly though, so hiking is difficult sometimes. You could luck out with clear skies and great views or maybe climb into the infamous “table cloth”, a blanket of clouds that often covers the mountain.

Surfing South Africa

Best Feeling in the World

South Africa Jeffreys Bay

Surfing at Jeffreys Bay

Surfing The Coast

South Africa has some of the best surf conditions in the world. A popular adventure is renting a car and driving up the coast from Cape Town to Durban stopping at different surf spots along the way.

I spent a month honing my surfing skills in places like Muizenberg & Jeffreys Bay. The water can be cold, but the waves & lack of crowds are worth it. Yes, I realize I just told you how awesome the sharks are, but don’t worry, they prefer eating seals.

South Africa Crocodiles

Kayaking with Crocodiles

South Africa Hippos

Hippos are FAST!

Kayaking With Hippos & Crocs

The St. Lucia estuary is filled with some of Africa’s most dangerous animals. Paddling kayaks past them on a wetlands safari was super fun. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its diverse wildlife and swamp forests.

The area is home to giant crocodiles, hippos, and even bull sharks. Did you know that hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa? You’d never suspect it at first glance. They seem fat & slow, but are surprisingly fast & aggressive.

South Africa Rafting

Rafting the Orange River

South Africa River

Floating Through the Desert

Rafting In The Desert

Home to the indigenous Nama people, the rocky dry landscape surrounding the Orange River is a mix of red, brown, and orange hues — except for the banks, where patches of green vegetation are able to thrive.

The Northern Cape is a huge area with a lot to see and do — and it’s one of the least visited parts of South Africa. Rafting down this winding river in the middle of a desert and finishing the night with a Brai BBQ has been one of my highlights.

South Africa Sangoma

Traditional Sangoma Healer

South Africa Safari

Khula Township

Talking To Spirits

While visiting Khula township in South Africa, I was invited to chat with my dead ancestors with a local Sangoma medicine woman. She communicates with people’s ancestral spirits to share advice and cure ailments.

Sitting down in her sacred healing hut, she gave me details about my future based on what they told her. It’s an ancient profession that’s been practiced for hundreds of years here. The verdict? I’m a very lucky guy. Oh, and my ancestors want me to throw a BBQ for them!

South Africa Safari

Hot Air Balloon Safari

South Africa Safari

Fire in the Hole!

Hot Air Balloon Rides

The beautiful Magalies River Valley fully revealed itself as we rose into the sky with the sunrise in a hot air balloon. It’s only an hour North West of Johannesburg, the capital of South Africa.

Once you realize you’re in the air, profound silence is the first thing you notice. Between occasional blasts of fire from the burner, there is no sound. No propeller, no engine, just the birds. Yet soon we are hovering half a mile above the ground, traveling slowly with the wind.

South Africa Safari

Win A Trip To Africa!

Pack Your Bags!

South Africa is just one of the cool African countries covered by KLM Airlines.

Another is Tanzania — and they are giving one lucky winner two flights from one of KLM’s American gateway cities to Tanzania!

The winner also receives a six-day, five-night luxury safari for two from Aselia Africa! Talk about a sweet prize. I really hope you win it!

How To Enter

Visit The Pack Your Bags Site Here

You will be instructed to click on two items to pack into your virtual “bag”.

Next, you’ll be shown the dream Africa trip that fits your interests based on what you packed.

Then enter your contact information & submit your official ballot.

Contest is open to U.S. residents only. (sorry international readers!)

The contest ends on November 17, 2015. Read the full rules here.

Good Luck!

KLM

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This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

South Africa Activities

Things to do in South Africa

South Africa

I’ve traveled to South Africa twice now. It’s one of my favorite countries and an adventure lover’s playground. Here are some great ideas for things to do there.

The Republic of South Africa is a huge & diverse country teeming with wildlife & culture. It has a little bit of everything — dry deserts, high mountains, subtropical woodlands, modern cities, friendly people and TONS of cool animals.

After spending close to 2 months exploring the country, I’ve put together a list of my favorite experiences to help you plan your own visit one day.

Win A Free Trip To Africa!

It’s easy for US citizens to fly to South Africa these days with KLM Airlines on their routes to Cape Town & Johannesburg via connections in Amsterdam.

If you’re looking to visit other countries in Africa, they also fly to the cities of Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Kilimanjaro.

I’ve partnered with KLM to highlight cool travel experiences in Africa, and help them give away an incredible 6 day safari in Tanzania with 2 free airline tickets (US residents only).

I really hope one of you guys wins it! More details about the contest below.

Things To Do In South Africa

South Africa Safari

Meeting Lions on Safari

South Africa Zebras

Zebra Fight!

South African Safari

I’ll never forget when a huge lion passed just a few feet from our open Land Rover, suddenly stopping to look up. Everyone froze. Make a wrong move now, and we’d be his afternoon snack.

We were on safari at Phinda, a 56,000 acre protected wilderness area in the KwaZulu-Natal provence of South Africa. The lion was only one of the many incredible animal experiences we encountered, there were also families of elephants, cheetahs on the hunt, playful zebras, and so much more.

South Africa Rope Swing

Big Rush Rope Swing

South Africa Bungee

Bungee Jumping Bloukrans

Bungee Jumps & Rope Swings

Three, two, one, jump. I stepped off the catwalk and into the void, falling 288 feet with my stomach in my throat. The world’s tallest rope swing at a soccer stadium in Durban is definitely a big rush!

So is stoping along the Garden Route to leap from the 709 foot high Bloukrans Bridge and bouncing around dangling from your ankles by a glorified rubber band. If you’re looking to cure your fear of heights by going to extreme measures, South Africa is the place.

South Africa Great Whites

Cage Diving with Great Whites

South Africa Shark Diving

Scuba Diving with Sharks

Swimming With Sharks

Arguably the most feared animal under the sea, sharks have a notorious reputation. Great whites grow up to 7 meters long and can weigh over 3,000 kg. But you can get an up-close and personal experience with them under water cage diving off the coast of Cape Town.

For the more adventurous, how about diving with sharks minus the cage? It’s totally possible (and pretty safe) to dive with tiger & bull sharks in South Africa this way. Such a cool experience!

South Africa Soweto

Hanging Out in Soweto

South African People

Making New Friends

Meeting The People

One of the cool things about South Africa is its diversity. The massive city of Johannesburg is a great place to experience this and meet the different types of people that call this country home. I loved visiting the township of Soweto and learning about the vibrant & important history here.

Meeting local residents and admiring an area’s unique art and culture. Or gathering for a traditional Brai dinner in the rural coastal town of St. Lucia with new friends. Learning about a way of life that’s different from my own.

Table Mountain Table Cloth

Hiking Above the Table Cloth

Hiking Table Mountain

Cape Town Far Below

Climbing Table Mountain

Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most prominent landmark. A huge flat block of sandstone that rises 3500 feet into the air. Table mountain is a national park and a wonderful place to go hiking with over 350 paths to the summit.

Most people take the cable car up but hiking is far more rewarding. The weather changes constantly though, so hiking is difficult sometimes. You could luck out with clear skies and great views or maybe climb into the infamous “table cloth”, a blanket of clouds that often covers the mountain.

Surfing South Africa

Best Feeling in the World

South Africa Jeffreys Bay

Surfing at Jeffreys Bay

Surfing The Coast

South Africa has some of the best surf conditions in the world. A popular adventure is renting a car and driving up the coast from Cape Town to Durban stopping at different surf spots along the way.

I spent a month honing my surfing skills in places like Muizenberg & Jeffreys Bay. The water can be cold, but the waves & lack of crowds are worth it. Yes, I realize I just told you how awesome the sharks are, but don’t worry, they prefer eating seals.

South Africa Crocodiles

Kayaking with Crocodiles

South Africa Hippos

Hippos are FAST!

Kayaking With Hippos & Crocs

The St. Lucia estuary is filled with some of Africa’s most dangerous animals. Paddling kayaks past them on a wetlands safari was super fun. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, renowned for its diverse wildlife and swamp forests.

The area is home to giant crocodiles, hippos, and even bull sharks. Did you know that hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa? You’d never suspect it at first glance. They seem fat & slow, but are surprisingly fast & aggressive.

South Africa Rafting

Rafting the Orange River

South Africa River

Floating Through the Desert

Rafting In The Desert

Home to the indigenous Nama people, the rocky dry landscape surrounding the Orange River is a mix of red, brown, and orange hues — except for the banks, where patches of green vegetation are able to thrive.

The Northern Cape is a huge area with a lot to see and do — and it’s one of the least visited parts of South Africa. Rafting down this winding river in the middle of a desert and finishing the night with a Brai BBQ has been one of my highlights.

South Africa Sangoma

Traditional Sangoma Healer

South Africa Safari

Khula Township

Talking To Spirits

While visiting Khula township in South Africa, I was invited to chat with my dead ancestors with a local Sangoma medicine woman. She communicates with people’s ancestral spirits to share advice and cure ailments.

Sitting down in her sacred healing hut, she gave me details about my future based on what they told her. It’s an ancient profession that’s been practiced for hundreds of years here. The verdict? I’m a very lucky guy. Oh, and my ancestors want me to throw a BBQ for them!

South Africa Safari

Hot Air Balloon Safari

South Africa Safari

Fire in the Hole!

Hot Air Balloon Rides

The beautiful Magalies River Valley fully revealed itself as we rose into the sky with the sunrise in a hot air balloon. It’s only an hour North West of Johannesburg, the capital of South Africa.

Once you realize you’re in the air, profound silence is the first thing you notice. Between occasional blasts of fire from the burner, there is no sound. No propeller, no engine, just the birds. Yet soon we are hovering half a mile above the ground, traveling slowly with the wind.

South Africa Safari

Win A Trip To Africa!

Pack Your Bags!

South Africa is just one of the cool African countries covered by KLM Airlines.

Another is Tanzania — and they are giving one lucky winner two flights from one of KLM’s American gateway cities to Tanzania!

The winner also receives a six-day, five-night luxury safari for two from Aselia Africa! Talk about a sweet prize. I really hope you win it!

How To Enter

Visit The Pack Your Bags Site Here

You will be instructed to click on two items to pack into your virtual “bag”.

Next, you’ll be shown the dream Africa trip that fits your interests based on what you packed.

Then enter your contact information & submit your official ballot.

Contest is open to U.S. residents only. (sorry international readers!)

The contest ends on November 17, 2015. Read the full rules here.

Good Luck!

KLM

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This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

The second of our guides to alt South Africa looks at tourist haven Cape Town. Musicians, designers and cooks show how it is coming into its own as a diverse, free-thinking city with stunning open spaces• Alternative guides to Joburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban

Continue reading...

Kate in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Now that I’ve settled down in New York after five years of travel, one of my goals is to travel more within the U.S. I have a lot of cities I want to visit this year: Austin, Nashville, Portland. But the biggest goal of all? Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico was a priority for late February. Or sometime in March. After growing up in New England, that’s been the most frustrating time of year, when you’ve been dealing with winter for months and months and just can’t take it anymore.

I started planning — but it wasn’t going to happen. I spent a lot more on home furnishing expenses than expected, I couldn’t find any flights with my miles, and I didn’t know any receptive hotels. Puerto Rico would have to wait, I decided sadly.

Then the most perfectly timed invitation landed in my inbox from Puerto Rico Tourism. Four days exploring the island in late February and early March. Would I like to join the trip?

Would I like to join the trip?! Of course I would!

I ended up having a wonderful time in Puerto Rico and I was surprised at just how much it has to offer.

Boat off Culebra

It’s So Easy

Normally, I have no qualms about traveling internationally. That said, I appreciated how much less work I had to do in order to travel to Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory. If you’re an American, here’s why it’s easy:

  1. You don’t need your passport — a license or ID is all you need to fly.
  2. The currency is the U.S. dollar.
  3. While Spanish is the main language of the island, English is widely spoken and everyone in the tourism industry speaks English.
  4. Your U.S. phone plan will work normally without having to get a SIM card or paying roaming charges.

Additionally, there are direct flights to Puerto Rico from all over the U.S. (but especially on the East Coast). I was also surprised to see that you can fly direct to Puerto Rico from as far away as Frankfurt and London!

Puerto Rico Beach

The Perfect All-Around Island

Plenty of people fly to Puerto Rico and never go beyond the confines of their resort. Not my thing, but I get it. Sometimes you need a getaway where you do nothing.

But if you want more than just a beach, Puerto Rico has it all. If you’re visiting for just a few days, like I was, you can easily fit in beach time, adventure time, culture time, and yes, even hanging-out-at-the-pool time.

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Beautiful Beaches

Of course, if you’re going to the Caribbean, you want to see some beaches!

Culebra island, east of the main island of Puerto Rico, is home to Flamenco Beach, which is frequently voted one of the best beaches in the world in travel magazines and on sites like TripAdvisor.

Meh. I’ll believe it when I see it, I thought. Could this beach really compete with the tropical beaches of the Philippines, the white sands of the Florida panhandle, the unreal urban beaches of Sydney, the raw and untamed beaches of South Africa’s Eastern Cape?

OH, DID THIS BEACH EVER DELIVER.

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto RicoFlamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto RicoFlamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Flamenco Beach is easily one of the best beaches I’ve ever seen. Perfect sand, bright clear water, and even though I visited in the heart of high season, it wasn’t too crowded.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard that the neighboring island of Vieques has even better beaches. I can’t wait to check those out! Caroline from Caroline in the City wrote a great guide to Vieques.

Amanda Ziplining in Puerto Rico

Adventure Galore

Zip-lining is a popular adventure activity in resort destinations, and for good reason: it’s easy and requires no skill. I got to experience zip-lining at Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis, in the mountainous center of the island, and it’s the most beautiful and dramatic place I’ve ever zip-lined in my life. (Not gonna lie — it was also the scariest. I kept my eyes shut a lot.)

My trip coincided with the opening of the new longest zip-line in the world: The Monster! The Monster has a total distance of 1.5 miles, or 2.5 kilometers, or 28 football fields. You do it while on your stomach, like Superman, and can achieve speeds up to 93 mph (150 kph).

(I know a lot of places claim to be the longest or the biggest or the highest zip-lines in the world, but this one is absolutely the longest. The Guinness Book of World Records people were there to certify it.)

IMG_4190Orocovis, Puerto RicoKate and Javier Ziplining

Plus: if you get stuck on the line, Javier will come out and rescue you, dragging you back between his thighs.

If you’re up for adventure, there’s far more than just zip-lining: Lillie from Around the World L wrote about visiting El Yunque Rainforest, and Cam and Nicole from Traveling Canucks wrote about doing a bioluminescent kayak tour in Fajardo.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Legendary Culture

Puerto Rico isn’t just a pretty island devoid of personality — there is so much history and culture and art. While there are lots of cultural options all over the island, San Juan is the epicenter and an easy place to explore.

San Juan, Puerto RicoSan Juan, Puerto RicoSan Juan, Puerto Rico

If you’re looking to maximize your time, head to Old San Juan. Here, you’ll find the island’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site (La Fortaleza, or the three forts that protect the bay) as well as colorful buildings in the old town and a handful of museums.

If you time your visit to one of Puerto Rico’s legendary festivals, you’re in for a treat. Here are some of the better known ones.

Puerto Rican Food

Food

I had no idea what Puerto Rican food was before arriving on the island — but I left having having experienced so many different flavors.

Some dishes to try:

Mofongo — A popular dish where a dome of mashed plantains (or cassava or breadfruit) surrounds a variety of fillings.

Lechón — The ultimate roasted pork! Piggy heaven.

Tostones — Mashed plantains formed into patties and fried.

BacalaítosBacalao, or salted cod, is popular here; bacalaítos are fried bacalao patties.

Morcilla — Every culture has its own blood sausage. This one is Puerto Rico’s.

Arroz con gandules — Rice and beans. With Puerto Rican spices.

Rum — Puerto Ricans love their rum! Try some Don Q.

Puerto Rican food is delicious — but be warned, it’s also very heavy. I don’t know how Puerto Ricans don’t all weigh 400 pounds. You might want to balance out your feasts with lighter meals. I waved a white flag and ordered ceviche on my final night.

Next time, I’d love to drive the pork highway, written about in this post on Twenty-Something Travel.

Ponce, Puerto Rico

Off the Beaten Path Destinations

There isn’t much in Puerto Rico that hasn’t been discovered — but there are plenty of lesser-visited corners.

With a packed four-day trip, I didn’t get too far afield, but I did get to enjoy the city of Ponce in the south. From the moment I saw it, I was entranced. It reminded me of Granada, Nicaragua, mixed with a little bit of New Orleans.

Ponce, Puerto RicoPonce, Puerto RicoPonce, Puerto Rico

An added bonus? Ponce and the south have a wonderfully dry climate, a major change from humid San Juan.

Santaella San Juan

Nightlife

One of my favorite parts of our trip was the final night in Placita, a collection of open-air bars in San Juan. (I was also thrilled my Puerto Rican buddy, Norbert of Globotreks, was in town and came to join us!) We went on a Thursday night and it was hopping, though Norbert told me it really gets going on Friday and Saturday.

If you go, be sure to check out Santaella. It’s one of the fancier places in Placita. My Puerto Rican friends say this place has the best bartenders in San Juan and they made me a delicious tamarind margarita.

The casual bars are equally fun and you can get local Medalla beers for around $2.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

San Juan is the perfect base for a trip to Puerto Rico — it’s close to the airport, the city is fun, there are lots of nice beaches, lots of tour providers will pick you up from hotels there, and it’s easy enough to get all over the island within a few hours’ drive.

On this trip I stayed at two Hilton properties in San Juan: the Hilton Caribe and the Hilton Condado Plaza.

Here are photos of the room, view, and grounds of the Hilton Caribe:

Hilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Here are photos of the room, view, and grounds of the Hilton Condado Plaza:

DSCF4359Hilton Condado Plaza, San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Condado Plaza, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Both hotels are solid options — each has beautiful rooms, a nice outdoor space, ocean views, and beaches with calm, clear Caribbean water. But between the two of them, I greatly preferred the Caribe. It had much better pools, beachfront, and outdoor grounds, plus two Starbuckses on the premises (including one on the beach!). The Caribar has excellent tapas — I especially loved the ropa vieja arepas. That said, the rooms were better at the Condado Plaza.

Now — if you’d like something even more upscale, resort-like, luxurious, and secluded, check out El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, on the east coast. This is a Waldorf Astoria property and it’s the largest resort in Puerto Rico. They even have their own private island!

El Conquistador, Puerto RicoEl Conquistador, Puerto RicoChocolate Cake and Champagne, El Conquistador, Puerto Rico

I didn’t stay overnight here, but I got to explore it one afternoon. And while I normally can’t stand hotel visits on press trips (“Look at this amazing hotel…but you can’t stay here. Please blog about us?”), I enjoyed my visit here so much that it left an enormously positive impression on me. I need to stay here on my next trip!! Also, the desserts at Chops are unreal, especially their mile-high chocolate cake and piña colada cobbler.

If El Conquistador strikes your fancy and you’ve got the cash, go for it. It’s a special place.

Puerto Rico Beach

The Takeaway

I can’t believe it took me 31 years to get to Puerto Rico! I honestly had no idea it had so much to offer until I got to see it for myself.

Between the ease of visiting and how much there is to do, I know this is only going to be the first of many trips to Puerto Rico in my future.

Essential Info: Puerto Rico has public transportation, but the best and most efficient way to get around is by renting a car. You can get anywhere around the island within a few hours. It was just 90 minutes from San Juan to Ponce on the south coast.

I visited Culebra on a one-day Culebra Snorkel Trip with East Island Excursions. The trip includes a snorkel stop next to the island and a two-hour stop at Flamenco Beach, plus a simple lunch, some snacks, and alcoholic beverages. The cost is $99 for adults and $79 for children under 12.

Personally, I think the snorkel trip is a little bit expensive for what you get, compared to similar activities I’ve done in similarly priced destinations, and not enough time is spent on the beach, but it’s a fun, fast, and easy way to experience Culebra for a day.

Do note that on this trip, you can only get to Flamenco Beach by swimming from the boat. This means that if you want to take photos on the beach, you’ll need a dry bag for your camera. They sell some smartphone-sized dry bags at the dock; instead, I recommend that you buy a high quality bag before your trip. This is a good dry bag that will fit a DSLR camera and it comes with a bonus smartphone bag. The crew will assist you if you can’t swim.

If you choose to visit Culebra independently, there are ferries from Fajardo, but it’s quickest and easiest to fly from the mainland.

I went zip-lining at Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis. An eight-line zip-lining tour costs $85; The Monster costs a supplemental $175. There’s also a shorter version of The Monster, called The Beast, which costs a supplemental $65.

Rates at the Hilton Caribe start at $179. Rates at the Hilton Condado Plaza start at $179. Rates at El Conquistador Resort start at $199. These are all low-season rates; rates increase sharply in high season.

I visited Puerto Rico on a campaign with Puerto Rico Tourism. All opinions, as always, are my own. Special thanks to Amanda of A Dangerous Business for taking several photos of me for this post.

Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? What’s your favorite all-around destination?Puerto Rico has it all! (Seriously.)

Travel Photography Tips

Useful Travel Photography Tips

Photography

Looking to improve your travel photography? I’ve spent the last 5 years shooting photos in exotic locations around the world, and these are my favorite travel photography tips.

Some people collect souvenirs when they travel, I prefer to collect beautiful images with my camera. Travel photography is like a time machine, freezing memories from a journey that you can look back on and enjoy for years.

Every travel destination has its own look, culture, history, people, feelings, landscapes, and stories. Learning how to capture these subjects through photos helps convey the spirit of a place to others, giving them a glimpse of what it might be like to venture there.

I never went to school for photography. And yet here I am now, making my living as a professional travel blogger & photographer who regularly licenses images to tourism boards, brands, and occasionally glossy magazines.

I’ve slowly learned the techniques of travel photography over years of reading books, watching online tutorials, and regular practice to improve my craft. You can learn this way too — if you put in the effort!

Here are my favorite travel photography tips to improve your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Early Morning Blue Hour in Norway

Wake Up Early, Stay Out Late

The early bird gets the worm. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase. Well it’s also very true for travel photography. Light is the most important ingredient for great photography — and soft, warm, morning light creates amazing images.

Waking up early also means you’ll have to deal with fewer tourists and other photographers. Want an epic postcard shot of a famous landmark like the ruins of Chichen Itza or the Taj Mahal? Just get there early right when it opens and you’ll pretty much have the place to yourself!

Sunrise isn’t the only time to catch good light. Sunsets are also great. The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are nicknamed “golden hours” because of their soft, warm tones and eye-pleasing shadows. “Blue hour”, is the hour after sunset (or before sunrise) when the sky is still blue, but city lights are turned on.

In comparison, shooting photos at noon on a bright sunny day is probably the absolute worst time for travel photography! In fact sometimes I’ll just take a nap during the middle of the day so I have more energy for early morning and evening photography missions, when the light is best.

Travel Photography Tips

Famous Postcard Location in Scotland

Pre-Trip Location Scouting

Read travel guidebooks about your destination. Scour the internet for articles and blog posts to help give you ideas for photos. Talk to friends who have been there. Reach out to other photographers. Become more knowledgeable about which images will capture the essence of a place.

Some of my favorite tools for travel photography research are Instagram and Google Image Search. I use them to learn where iconic locations are. Actual postcard racks are also a great tool for helping to create a “shot list”.

Once I know the names of potential photo locations, I’ll do more research. Which time of day has the best light? How difficult is it to reach certain vantage points? What time does an attraction open, and when will tourist traffic be low? What will the weather be like?

Wandering around with no plans has its place, but being well prepared with research beforehand saves time so you can fully commit to producing amazing travel photography once you’re there, and maximize your time.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting Portraits in Afghanistan

Talk To People

Photographing local people in a foreign country is tough for many photographers. What if they don’t understand you? What if they say no? Will they get offended? It took me a couple years to get comfortable shooting portraits of locals, and even now I still get a bit nervous.

But I’ve learned the key is to talk to people first. Say hello. Ask for directions. Buy a souvenir. Compliment them on something. Chat for a few minutes BEFORE asking for a photo. It’s far less invasive this way.

Always ask permission for close-ups too. Spend 15 minutes learning how to say “can I make a photograph” or “can I take your portrait” in the local language before you arrive. People really appreciate the effort, and it’s a great way to make a new friend.

Some people will say no. Some will ask for money (I sometimes pay, but that’s up to you). It’s not the end of the world. Thank them for their time, smile, and move on to someone else and try again. Actually the more you get rejected, the easier it gets to ask!

Travel Photography Tips

Composition with Rule of Thirds

Rule Of Thirds

One of the most basic and classic of photography tips, understanding the Rule of Thirds will help you create more balanced compositions. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds horizontally and vertically, so it’s split into different sections.

The goal is to place important parts of the photo into those sections, and help frame the overall image in a way that’s pleasing to the eye.

For example, placing a person along the left grid line rather than directly in the center. Or keeping your horizon on the bottom third, rather than splitting the image in half. Remember to keep that horizon straight too!

Composing using the Rule of Thirds is easily done by turning on your camera’s “grid” feature, which displays a rule of thirds grid directly on your LCD screen specifically for this purpose.

Now, before you compose a travel photo, you should be asking yourself: What are the key points of interest in this shot? Where should I intentionally place them on the grid? Paying attention to these details will improve the look of your images.

Travel Photography Tips

Setting Up my Tripod in Mexico

Use A Tripod

I think more people should be using lightweight travel tripods. A tripod allows you to set your camera position and keep it there. With the camera fixed, you can then take your time arranging the perfect composition.

You can also adjust exposure settings, focus points, and really spend time paying attention to the image you want to create. Or use advanced techniques like HDR, focus stacking, and panoramas.

Tripods give you the ability to shoot much slower shutter speeds (waterfalls, low-light, stars, etc) without worrying about hand-held camera shake. You can keep your ISO low (for less sensor noise) and use smaller apertures, so more of the image is in focus.

You’ll have greater creative control over your camera’s manual settings when using a tripod. This doesn’t mean you have to lug a tripod around with you absolutely everywhere. I don’t.

But for tack sharp landscapes, low-light photography, self-portraits, flowing water shots, and sunsets/sunrises, a travel tripod makes a huge difference.

Travel Photography Tips

Get Low For A Different Angle

Experiment With Composition

You can almost always come up with a better photo composition after some experimentation. Sure, take that first shot standing up straight. But then try laying on the ground for a low angle. Maybe climb up something nearby and shoot from a higher angle.

Along with different angles, try shooting from different distances too. Start with a wide shot, then a mid-range version, and finally, get up-close and personal. Never be satisfied with your first idea for an image!

Try to include powerful foreground, midground, and background elements too. If your subject is a mountain range — find a flower, river, animal, or interesting rock to include in the foreground. This gives images a 3-dimensional feel and helps convey scale, drawing a viewer’s eye into the rest of the photo.

Focal compression is another great compositional tactic in travel photography. Compression is when a photographer uses a zoom lens to trick the eye into thinking objects are closer than they really are.

Travel Photography Tips

Shooting as a Storm Approaches

Make Photography A Priority

Attempting to take quick snapshots as you rush from one location to another will leave you with the same boring photos everyone else has. Make sure you plan “photography time” into your travel schedule. Good travel photography requires a solid time commitment on your part.

If you’re traveling with friends who aren’t into photography, it can be difficult to find the time necessary to create amazing images. You need to break off on your own for a few hours to make photography your priority. I often prefer to travel alone or with other dedicated photographers for this reason.

Good luck trying to explain to a non-photographer that you’d like to wait around for an extra 30 minutes until the clouds look better. It doesn’t go over well. For organized tours, try waking up early to wander alone for a few hours, getting photos before the tour starts.

Even better, splurge on a rental car for a travel photography road trip. This allows you to control when and where you stop for photos. There’s nothing worse than being stuck on a bus while passing an epic photo opportunity, powerless to stop and capture it!

Travel Photography Tips

Contemplating and Complimenting the View

The Human Element

People like to live vicariously through human subjects in photos. Especially if the viewer can pretend the person in the photo is them. It adds more emotion to an image, you feel like you’re experiencing the location yourself.

How do you accomplish this? By posing the subject in such a way that they become anonymous. Not showing the subject’s face. This is why Murad Osmann’s “follow me to” Instagram photos went viral. Viewers felt like they were the ones being led around the world by a beautiful woman.

The human element also gives a better sense of scale. By placing your subject in the distance, you can get a better sense of just how big those mountains really are. It’s why photographing “tiny” people in large landscapes does well.

Adding a human element to photos helps tell a story too. Images seem to be more powerful when people are included in them. You can completely change the storyline of a particular photo depending on what type of human element you decide to incorporate.

Travel Photography Tips

Waiting For the Aurora in Iceland

Patience Is Everything

Photography is about really seeing what’s in front of you. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart & mind too. This requires dedicated time and attention. Slow down and make a conscious effort at becoming aware of your surroundings before pressing the shutter.

Pay attention to details. Are the clouds in an eye pleasing spot? If not, will they look better in 15 minutes? Sit at a photogenic street corner and wait for a photogenic subject to pass by. Then wait some more, because you might get an even better shot. Or not. But if you don’t have the patience to try, you might miss a fantastic photo opportunity!

When shooting the Northern Lights in Iceland, I spent all night camping in the cold at a perfect location, simply waiting for the magical aurora borealis to appear. When it finally did, I waited a few hours more to capture the brightest possible colors.

Good photography takes time. Are you willing to spend a few hours waiting for the perfect shot? Because that’s what professionals do. The more patience you have, the better your travel photography will turn out in the long run.

Protect Against Theft

Ok, this one is slightly off topic, but I think it’s important too. Cameras are small expensive products. As such, they’re a prime target for theft while traveling. I’ve heard many sad theft stories from other travelers. Luckily I’ve never had my camera stolen, but I also take precautions against it.

First of all, buy camera insurance. This is the best way to minimize losses if your camera gear does wind up in the hands of a criminal. Homeowner or rental insurance might already cover you. If not, organizations like the Professional Photographers of America offer insurance to members.

Keep your gear secured when not shooting, like in a hotel safe or hostel locker. Never check expensive photography gear under a plane, always take it carry-on. Try not to flash your camera around in sketchy or poverty stricken areas, keep it hidden in a nondescript bag until ready for use.

Register new gear with the manufacturer. Copy down serial numbers and save purchase receipts to help speed up insurance claims. Include your name & camera serial number on image EXIF data, so if your camera is stolen, you can track it down online using StolenCameraFinder.com.

Travel Photography Tips

Long Exposure Waterfall Shot

Shoot In Manual Mode

You’d think that modern cameras are smart enough to take incredible pictures on their own, in AUTO mode. Well that’s just not the case. While they do a pretty good job, if you want truly stunning images, you need to learn how to manually control your camera’s settings yourself.

If you’re new to photography, you may not realize all the camera settings that need to be adjusted. These include ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. If you want the best images possible, you need to know the relationship between them, and how to adjust these settings on your own.

To do this, switch your camera’s dial into Manual Mode. This camera mode gives you much more control of the look of your images in different situations. By manually adjusting aperture you’ll have more control over the depth of field in your image.

By manually controlling shutter speed, you’ll be able to capture motion in more creative ways. By manually controlling ISO, you’ll be able to reduce the noise of your images and deal with tricky lighting situations. Here’s a good free online tutorial about Manual Mode.

Travel Photography Tips

Prepared for Wildlife in Greenland

Always Bring A Camera

There is a saying in photography that “the best camera is the one you have with you”. Be ready for anything, and always carry a camera around, because luck plays a pretty key role in travel photography.

The difference between an amateur photographer and a pro is that the pro is planning in advance for this luck, ready to take advantage of these special serendipitous moments that will happen from time to time.

You never know what kind of incredible photo opportunity might present itself while you’re traveling. Maybe while out walking you happen to stumble upon a brilliant pink sunset, a rare animal, or some random street performance.

While hiking in Greenland I kept my camera ready and within easy reach with a 70-200mm lens attached. This helped me capture great shots of reindeer, rabbits, an arctic fox, and musk oxen. If the camera had been packed away in my bag, I would’ve missed these wildlife opportunities.

Keep your camera on you, charged up, and ready for action at all times.

Travel Photography Tips

Lost in the Streets of Granada

Get Lost On Purpose

Ok. You’ve visited all the popular photography sites, and captured your own version of a destination’s postcard photos. Now what? It’s time to go exploring, and get off the beaten tourist path. It’s time to get lost on purpose.

If you want to get images no one else has, you need to wander more. The best way to do this is on foot — without knowing exactly where you’re going. Grab a business card from your hotel so you can catch a taxi back if needed, then just pick a direction and start walking.

Bring your camera, and head out into the unknown. Check with locals to make sure you’re not heading somewhere dangerous, but make a point get lost. Wander down alleys, to the top of a mountain, and around the next bend.

In many places, locals tend to avoid tourist spots. So if you want to capture the true nature of a destination and its people, you’ll need to get away from the crowd and go exploring on your own.

Travel Photography Tips

Some of my Hard Drives…

Backup Your Photos

Along with camera insurance, I can’t stress enough the importance of both physical and online backups of your travel photos. When my laptop computer was stolen once in Panama, backups of my photography saved the day.

My travel photography backup workflow includes an external hard drive backup of RAW camera files, as well as online backup of select images and another online backup of final edited images.

Sometimes, for important projects, I’ll even mail a small hard drive loaded with images back to the United States if the internet is just too slow for online backup of large RAW files or video. I use Western Digital hard drives for physical backup and Google Drive for online cloud storage.

Travel Photography Tips

Improve Your Photography with Processing

Post Processing

There is a ridiculous myth out there that editing your photos using software is “cheating”. Let’s clear that up right now. All professional photographers edit their digital images using software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or GIMP.

Some do it more than others, but basically everyone does it.

Post processing is an integral part of any travel photographer’s workflow. Just like darkroom adjustments are a part of a film photographer’s workflow. Learning how to process your images after they’re taken is FAR more important than what camera you use.

Learn how to improve contrast, sharpen image elements, soften color tones, reduce highlights, boost shadows, minimize sensor noise, and adjust exposure levels (without going overboard) using software.

If you are going to invest money somewhere, I’d recommend spending it on professional post-processing tutorials before you invest in the latest camera gear. Post processing knowledge can really improve your travel photography.

Travel Photography Tips

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem

Don’t Obsess Over Equipment

Want to know what photography gear I use? Well, here you go. But if you went out right now and bought all that stuff, not only would it be super expensive, I guarantee it won’t improve your photography skills.

Why? Because the gear you use is not what makes a great photographer. Just like the type of brush a painter uses doesn’t make them a great painter. It’s knowledge, experience, and creativity that makes a great photographer.

Camera companies are much better at marketing than paintbrush companies. That’s why you think you need that $3000 camera. Trust me. You don’t.

Professionals use expensive gear because it allows them to produce a greater range of images. For example, extremely low light star photography. Or fast-action wildlife photography. Or because they want to sell large fine-art prints.

Instead of buying new equipment, spend time learning how to use your current camera’s settings. It’s a far better investment, and cheaper too!

Travel Photography Tips

Getting my Fortune Read in South Africa

Never Stop Learning

Enroll in some online photography tutorials. Invest in a travel photography workshop. Go out and practice on a regular basis. This is how you get better – not because you have the latest gear or use popular Instagram filters.

Even though I’ve been earning money with my photography for the last 5 years, there’s always something new to learn. I regularly invest in online courses and books about photography to improve my craft. You should too.

Think you know everything about landscapes? Then go out and challenge yourself shooting portraits of strangers. Stalk animals like a hunter for a taste of how difficult wildlife photography is. Stay up late experimenting with long-exposures of the Milky Way.

You’ll become a more skilled and resourceful travel photographer when you take the time to learn new techniques and skills from other genres of photography.

Travel Photography Resources

To go along with my top travel photography tips, here are some of the tools I’ve used to improve my photography over the years. I hope you find them as useful as I did! Remember, never stop learning.

Post Processing

  • Adobe Creative Cloud – Powerful suite of editing programs (Lightroom & Photoshop) used by most professional travel photographers.
  • JPEG Mini – Reduces the size of images by up to 80% without loss in quality. Amazing plugin for faster upload speeds and faster websites.
  • Google Nik Collection – Free photography plugins for polishing your final images. Noise reduction, sharpening, color filters, etc.

Photography Tutorials

READ NEXT: Isle Of Skye Road Trip

Have any questions about travel photography? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Hear about travel to Cape Town, South Africa as the Amateur Traveler talks to Annika Ziehen from Midnight Blue Elephant about her former hometown

Kate and Javier Ziplining

Every December, I put together a list of my favorite destinations of the year. I love picking out the places that made my heart beat the fastest!

Last year, the big winner was Nicaragua. In 2014, Finland was a memorable standout. In 2013, Japan hit the hardest. In 2012, I loved the Faroe Islands.

This year was far lighter on travel than the past. I only visited four new countries (Colombia, Slovakia, Poland, and Luxembourg) and much more of my time was spent closer to home — something that I think will continue to be a trend.

Furthermore, I don’t think any one destination stands above the others. As a result, this list is in a completely random, unranked order. It may seem a bit weird to include both giant regions and small towns on the same list, but this feels right to me!

One thing: keep in mind that these are destinations I hadn’t visited prior to 2016. So places like Paris, Savannah, and Cape Town are not eligible.

Here we go!

Krakow

Kraków, Poland

Kraków was one of my biggest travel oversights coming into 2016, and I’m so glad I finally made it happen. It’s no big surprise; it has so many qualities that I love in a destination.

A medium-sized city. Absolutely beautiful architecture. Low prices and very good value for money. Delicious food — both Polish and international (I actually ate at a Corsican restaurant one night!). Out-of-this-world ice cream, served in tiny Kate-sized portions. And a beautiful park that runs in a ring around the town that you can circle for hours and hours if you’d like.

Krakow at NightKrakowKrakow FlowersKrakowKrakow Treats

I did luck out in Kraków. I had perfect early fall weather. I met up with a great local-reader-turned-new-friend, Dominika, who took me out to cool places (including the cafe with the dessert above) and showed me her favorite spots. But what I remember most was the light. Just look at that top photo. It’s barely retouched.

The evening light in Kraków was so beautiful, it nearly brought me to tears.

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: September 2016 (full post coming soon!)

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Visiting Puerto Rico was one of my goals for 2016 and I was so delighted when an opportunity presented itself — especially since it came during the doldrums of winter!

What struck me the most was how perfect an all-around destination Puerto Rico is for Americans. You don’t need your passport, there are nonstop flights from lots of cities, English is widely spoken in the tourism industry, and your US phone plan will work. You can lie on a beach, zip-line through the mountains, or explore art and history. Puerto Rico has it all.

Orocovis, Puerto RicoSan Juan, Puerto RicoOld San Juan, Puerto RicoKate in San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto Rico

My favorite highlight of Puerto Rico: a day trip to Culebra Island. I was initially skeptical, but Flamenco Beach lived up to the hype — it’s one of the most incredible beaches I’ve ever visited. A wide expanse of soft pinky-white sand, neon turquoise water, and even a few tanks for good measure.

I need to go back for more — Vieques is calling my name and I hear the beach on nearby Culebrita is even better!

Read More: Puerto Rico Seriously Has It All

Colmar

Alsace, France

It was actually a struggle for me to choose between Alsace (the region) and Strasbourg (the city) for this round-up. I loved Strasbourg, but did the smaller city of Colmar deserve equal recognition? Or was I being unnecessarily contrarian just again, because SO many bloggers love Colmar and I wanted to be different?

Eventually, Alsace won out. Because the things I loved most were universal to the region. Fresh flowers bursting out of every free inch of pavement. Brightly colored shutters and doors on half-timbered houses. Delicious white wines and fabulous tartes flambées. Decent prices and friendly locals. Obviously French, but also very German, with an interesting history of being volleyed back and forth between the countries.

dscf9862Tarte Flambee in Colmardscf9870dscf9946 Strasbourg Street Sign

As soon as I left Alsace, I knew my time there had been criminally short. Right away, my readers started telling me that I had missed the best place of all — the village of Riquewihr. Apparently lots of people like to go on road trips through Alsace, tasting ciders and wines along the way. You wouldn’t have to twist my arm!

Read More: A Taste of Alsace in Strasbourg and Colmar

Hudson New York

Hudson, New York

“You have to get away from the city at least once a month,” New Yorker after New Yorker told me, and after spending April without leaving the city, I knew I had to be better. I started researching local getaways and the town of Hudson kept appearing.

A small town in the Hudson Valley two hours north of New York on the train. Despite its small size, a town leading a foodie Renaissance in the region, with tons of chefs opening acclaimed restaurants. Filled with boutiques and cozy little shops and cafes. It sounded a lot like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town that I love, only with even better restaurants.

My friend Tess had visited recently and echoed all these things. “Plus it’s so cheap!” she exclaimed. Sold.

Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkHudson OctopusMoto Coffee Hudson New York

Even though I thought I had my finger on the pulse of what made Hudson tick, there were surprises. How so many people had given up city life to move there. How massively LGBT-friendly it was.

The only thing is that I feel like I’ve seen all there is to see in Hudson. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, though. Small can be good.

Read More: Hudson, New York: The Coolest Small Town in America

Salento Colombia

Salento, Colombia

When I planned my trip to Colombia, I assumed that the whole country would end up on this list at the end of the year. Truthfully, while almost everyone I know who has been to Colombia considers it one of their favorite countries, it just didn’t quite gel for me overall.

Timing was one reason — I was exhausted and it wasn’t a good time for any trip, much less a lengthy trip in a developing country. And I was traveling in my old-school backpacker style (albeit with private rooms) that I now think is becoming part of my past.

But while I didn’t fall madly in love with Colombia, I did swoon for the town of Salento. Small, beautiful, and brightly painted. So many delicious places to eat. A plaza that came to life on Sunday nights. A mirador overlooking the town. And so many coffee plantations.

SalentoCoffee Bean SalentoSalentoBeer in SalentoSalento

Salento was so chilled out, which was exactly what I needed after Cartagena and Medellín. And my day trip to the Valle de Cocora was a major highlight as well. If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, I couldn’t recommend Salento more!

Read More: Traveling in Colombia: The Best Moments

Shinn Estate Vineyards Long Island

The North Fork of Long Island

I had an image of Long Island held from my university days: isolated suburbia, rich privileged kids who flunked out of school and got their parents to buy their way back in, and not the prettiest accents of all time. Not a fair assessment, I know. It never was and I never should have let it cloud my judgment. I was an idiot in college. We all were.

That all ended when my friends and I took a day trip to the North Fork to explore the wine scene. I found a beautiful country escape with vineyard after vineyard, some truly outstanding cabernet francs, great restaurants, and the best strawberry rhubarb pie of my life.

Sparkling Pointe Long IslandLieb Cellars Long IslandKate at Sparkling Pointe North Fork Long IslandBriermere Farm Long IslandLieb Cellars Long Island

There was only one place where the Long Island stereotype reared its head — Sparkling Pointe, where the jewelry was large, the crowd was tipsy, the Yankees hats were omnipresent, and the accents were loud. But it wasn’t that bad.

Long Island is a killer destination. I’m blown away that such a good wine region is just a few hours from where I live. And that’s not all — one of my next goals is to make it to the Hamptons in 2017!

Read More: A Day Trip to the North Fork of Long Island

Coral Bay Sunset

Western Australia

How can WA not go on this list? It was the craziest, most exciting destination of the year by far. Not to mention one that I’ve yearned to visit for more or less forever.

What did it for me? It was the sparse, remote landscape, how you would almost never see other people and would then say hi to them out of disbelief that they were there, too. It was the crazy wildlife — the quokkas on Rottnest Island, of course, but also the manta rays and sharks in Ningaloo Reef. And dolphins and kangaroos. The crazy landscapes: bright yellow pinnacles in the desert, pink lakes throughout the region. Perth’s hip factor. The gorges in Karijini. Man. I could go on forever about Western Australia.

Dolphins Monkey MiaKate at Mount NamelessPinnacles DesertKalbarri NP WA Shark Bay Scenic Flight

Part of me feels in disbelief that this trip even happened. But the memories here are ones that I will cherish forever.

If you want to go somewhere not as many tourists visit, or somewhere that feels off the beaten path, WA will be a very satisfying destination for you.

Read More: My Favorite Experiences in Western Australia

Stellenbosch Vineyard

Stellenbosch, South Africa

It took three trips to South Africa to get me to visit Stellenbosch, the lauded wine region just one hour from Cape Town. What took me so long, seriously? Stellenbosch is amazing!

Beth and I decided to come here after a long, busy trip through Johannesburg, Kruger, and Cape Town, and we basically spent four days in a row doing little more than going from winery to winery, tasting wine with chocolate, tasting wine with cheese, tasting wine with meat, tasting wine with salt, buying reserve bottles to take home (none of which cost more than $11!!!!!), and reminiscing about the rest of our trip.

Wine Tasting StellenboschStellenboschKate in StellenboschStellenbosch Flowers in WinterStellenbosch Wine and Chocolate

I thought visiting Stellenbosch in July, their winter, would be hit-or-miss, but turns out it was a fantastic time to visit. The wineries were far less crowded than they would have been in high season. We had a few sunny days that resulted in beautiful photos. And there’s nothing like cozying up next to a fireplace with a glass of red on a cold day!

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: July 2016 (full recap coming soon!)

Haye-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye, Wales

I had never heard of Hay-on-Wye before it popped up in my South Wales itinerary; uncharacteristically, I hadn’t even Googled it before arriving. But perhaps it was for the best, because I was stunned at how hard and fast I fell for this tiny Welsh town.

In short, Hay-on-Wye is the used bookstore capital of the world. They even have a world-famous literary festival that Bill Clinton called “The Woodstock of the Mind.” Between the bookstores, the cafes, and the many quirky shops (including an antique map shop, where I bought a 150-year-old map of northern Italy!), I could have stayed a week in introverted bliss.

Hay-on-WyeUsed Bookstore Hay-on-WyeHaye-on-WyeChandelier Store, Haye-on-WyeHaye-on-Wye

South Wales was a beautiful place, filled with gorgeous scenery and surprisingly delicious food, but no place stole my heart as quickly or as firmly as Hay-on-Wye.

Read More: A Dreamy Trip to South Wales

Old San Juan Cat, Puerto Rico

And that’s a wrap, folks!

At this point, I have zero trips planned for 2017. Which is fabulous!

I have some vague ideas — I think somewhere in the former Soviet Union could be a possibility for the summer months (Central Asia? Caucasus? Russia and the Baltics?), Putin-Trump situation notwithstanding. My dream destinations of Corsica and Sardinia are very likely for September or so.

I should visit friends in Austin, Las Vegas, and Seattle. There have been a ton of cheap direct flights to Cuba from New York on JetBlue — I’ll be keeping my eye on those. I’m enjoying Christmas markets in Germany so much that I want to come back next year. And of course, there’s this crazy travel blogging business, which could take me to any number of locales.

Anything is possible. This time last year, I had no clue that Western Australia or Colombia were even possibilities!

Now, I want to hear from you!

What was your favorite new destination of 2016? Share away!

My trips to Kraków, Alsace, Hudson, Salento, the North Fork, and Stellenbosch were entirely at my own expense. My trips to Puerto Rico, Western Australia, and Hay-on-Wye were sponsored. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Hike to the summit of Table Mountain, enjoy the diverse wildlife at Kruger National Park, or power down in a traditionally designed rondavel; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland:

Full-colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - including local customs, literature, history, art, politics, landscapes, music, cuisine Free, convenient pull-out Cape Town map (included in print version), plus over 75 colour maps Covers Cape Town, the Garden Route, HermanusKnysnaDurban, Maseru, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, Gauteng, MpumalangaKruger National Park, Limpopo, Northern CapeEastern Cape, Western Cape, North West Province, and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland , our most comprehensive guide to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for a guide focused on Cape Town? Check out Lonely Planet's  Cape Town & the Garden Route for a comprehensive look at all the city has to offer. Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Southern Africa for a comprehensive look at all the region has to offer.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, James Bainbridge, Jean-Bernard Carillet, Lucy Corne, Alan Murphy, Matt Phillips and Simon Richmond.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

Lonely Planet guides have won the TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 in the Favorite Travel Guide category.

Fodor's South Africa: with the Best Safari Destinations (Travel Guide)

Fodor's Travel Guides

Written by locals, Fodor's travel guides have been offering expert advice for all tastes and budgets for 80 years. From urban and lively Cape Town and Johannesburg to the dramatic scenery and wildlife of Kruger National Park, South Africa offers an amazingly wide range of experiences. Fodor's South Africa helps travelers sort through their many choices and select the best adventure based on their own interests, whether that involves wildlife viewing, wine tasting, resort stays, or exploring South Africa's rich cultural legacy. This travel guide includes:· Dozens of maps· An 8-page color insert with a brief introduction and spectacular photos that capture the top experiences and attractions throughout South Africa· Hundreds of hotel and restaurant recommendations, with Fodor's Choice designating our top picks· Multiple itineraries to explore the top attractions and what’s off the beaten path· Coverage of Cape Town and Peninsula, The Western Cape, The Northern Cape, The Garden Route and the Little Karoo, The Eastern CapeDurban and Kwazulu-Natal, JohannesburgMpumalanga & Kruger National Park, and Victoria Falls Planning to focus on a safari? Check out Fodor's Complete Guide to African Safaris.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: South Africa

DK

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: South Africa is your in-depth guide to the very best of South Africa. From exploring the Palace of the Lost City to seeing the "Big Five" on safari in Kruger National Park to experiencing the multifaceted culture of a country with 11 official languages, visiting the "Rainbow Nation" is an adventure you will never forget.

To help you make the most of your adventure, this guidebook includes a field guide to South Africa's wildlife and the safari experience with detailed information on safaris, wildlife preserves, and local species.

Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: South Africa:

   • Detailed itineraries and "don't-miss" destination highlights at a glance.    • Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights.    • Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums.    • Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.    • Area maps marked with sights .    • Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights.    • Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: South Africa truly shows you this country as no one else can.

Recommend: For a pocket guidebook to Cape Town, check out DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Top 10 Cape Town & the Winelands, which is packed with dozens of top 10 lists, ensuring you make the most of your time and experience the best of everything.

South Africa

Sean Fraser

South Africa is a vast country, extending from pristine coastal plains through rugged mountain passes and across wide stretches of semidesert and forest, hills and valleys. Even travelling South Africans are unprepared for the sheer scale and enormous diversity of this grand landscape. Every day, everywhere, there are new sights to behold and new experiences to share – a graceful old Cape Dutch homestead set against lush vineyards; blue-purple mountain ranges in the distance, the demure smile of a Zulu bride, an arid landscape filled with flowers. It is the sun, the sand, the textures, the colours and the sounds that conjure up the spirit of South Africa. This volume is a fine tribute to the country, showing its people and its land- and city-scapes in all their glorious colours and moods.

The Rough Guide to Cape Town, The Winelands and The Garden Route

Rough Guides

The Rough Guide to Cape Town, the Winelands, and the Garden Route is the ultimate travel guide to South Africa's most captivating city and its surrounding region. Full-color photography illustrates the finest of Cape Town's colonial architecture, vibrant neighborhoods, and iconic setting.

This guide will show you the best this cosmopolitan city has to offer — from fascinating museums, cutting edge fashion, and fine dining to whale watching, bungee jumping, and wine tasting. It's no wonder that Cape Town is an award-winning city, and The Rough Guide to Cape Town, the Winelands, and the Garden Route uncovers it all. Easy to use maps for each neighborhood make getting around easy. And, detailed chapters feature all the best hotels, restaurants and bars, live music and clubs, shops, theater, kids' activities, and more.

You'll be sure to make the most of your time with The Rough Guide to Cape Town, the Winelands, and the Garden Route.

South Africa - Culture Smart!: The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture

David Holt-Biddle

Culture Smart! provides essential information on attitudes, beliefs and behavior in different countries, ensuring that you arrive at your destination aware of basic manners, common courtesies, and sensitive issues. These concise guides tell you what to expect, how to behave, and how to establish a rapport with your hosts. This inside knowledge will enable you to steer clear of embarrassing gaffes and mistakes, feel confident in unfamiliar situations, and develop trust, friendships, and successful business relationships. Culture Smart! offers illuminating insights into the culture and society of a particular country. It will help you to turn your visit-whether on business or for pleasure-into a memorable and enriching experience. Contents include * customs, values, and traditions * historical, religious, and political background * life at home * leisure, social, and cultural life * eating and drinking * do's, don'ts, and taboos * business practices * communication, spoken and unspoken

South Africa Travel Guide: How and when to travel, wildlife, accommodation, eating and drinking, activities, health, all regions and South African history

Alex Pitt

Are you planning a trip to South Africa? Thinking of visiting the beautiful Southern Africa country? Then this travel guide book is for you! This book will tell you all about the Republic of South Africa - for both experienced and inexperienced travelers; for people who have visited South Africa before and those who have not. The book will give you useful facts about the country, where, how and when to go, how to get around, where to stay, what to eat and drink, fun and interesting activities, such as festivals and sports, how to stay safe and healthy, an overview guide of each region, a short history of the country and more! I am Alex Pitt - adventurer, climber, survivor, nomad, traveler and writer and I would like to present to you the fascinating country that is South Africa. This book includes: An introduction and facts about South Africa Where to go, when to go, how to go and how to get around Losing weight on the mindfulness diet Accommodation, dining and drinking Festivals, sports and other activities Health and personal safey The Western Cape The Northern Cape The Eastern Cape KwaZulu-Natal Free Statel Gauteng North West Province Mpumalanga Limpopo History of South Africa And many more great traveling tips Are you ready to pack your bags and travel to South Africa? Scroll up, hit that buy button!

Fodor's The Complete Guide to African Safaris: with South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda & the Seychelles (Full-color Travel Guide)

Fodor's Travel Guides

Written by locals, Fodor's travel guides have been offering expert advice for all tastes and budgets for 80 years. Fodor’s correspondents highlight the best of Africa, including Kenya's Masai Mara, South Africa's Kruger National Park, and Botswana's Kwando Reserve. Our local experts vet every recommendation to ensure you make the most of your time, whether it’s your first safari or your fifth.This travel guide includes:· Dozens of full-color maps · Hundreds of hotel and restaurant recommendations, with Fodor's Choice designating our top picks· In-depth breakout features on The Namibia Dunes, African music and dance, and Victoria Falls· Coverage of Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Botswana, Namibia, Victoria Falls, and The SeychellesPlanning to focus on South Africa? Check out Fodor's travel guide to South Africa.

Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

South Africa has a very high level of crime. Crime is the primary security threat for travellers.

Violent crimes, including rape and murder, routinely occur and have involved foreigners. Muggings, armed assaults and theft are also frequent, often occurring in areas that are popular with tourists. Carjackings and cases of robbery and assault have been reported as well.

Armed robberies at shopping malls have increased. If confronted by an armed individual, you are advised to immediately comply, avoid making sudden movements and avoid resisting or antagonizing the assailants.

Crime significantly increases after dark in major city centres and townships. As such, avoid the areas of Berea, Hillbrow and Yeoville in Johannesburg, Sunnyside in Pretoria, and the beachfront and Victoria wharf in Durban. In Cape Town, avoid walking from downtown hotels to the waterfront. If you want to visit townships and rural areas, do so only with an organized tour provided by a reputable company.

Common criminal strategies

Be on the alert for ploys intended to stop your vehicle. Criminals have been known to create bogus accidents or roadblocks (sometimes with debris in the road) and to throw rocks, bricks and paint from freeway overpasses onto moving vehicles to damage cars and disorientate drivers. The criminal then waits for the driver to pull over or exit the car before grabbing exposed valuables and/or stealing the vehicle.

The South African Police Service does not have “tourist police.” Criminals, however, have posed as tourist police to extort and rob tourists, including by stopping tourist buses to check proof of identity and search luggage. You are advised to not pull over on the side of the road unless ordered to do so by identifiable police officers. In rural areas, the police use flashlights to stop drivers. In such cases, slow down but do not stop unless a police officer can be clearly identified. If someone other than a police officer tries to pull you over, put on your hazard lights and drive to a gas station, police station or other safe and populated area.

Be especially vigilant at vulnerable points such as traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs and highway off-ramps. Smash and grab incidents are frequent, where car windows are broken and valuables such as handbags are taken while cars are wait at junctions. Park in well-lit areas, do not pick up strangers and ensure that vehicle doors are locked and windows are closed at all times.

Terrorism

Regional terror groups, including those associated with al Qaeda and al-Shabaab, have the potential to pose a threat to Western interests and other potential targets in South Africa. The September 21, 2013 attack on an upscale Nairobi mall illustrates the threat of attacks in this country and in East Africa.  Further attacks cannot be ruled out.  Be vigilant in crowded places and monitor local media.

Hotel theft

Theft, including from hotel rooms and guest houses, is common. Never leave your windows or doors open or unlocked, even when you are present. Check the level of security at guest houses, hotels, lodges, backpacker lodges or any accommodation before making bookings. Do not leave luggage and valuables unattended, and place them in safekeeping facilities. Ensure that all pages are present when you retrieve your passport from hotel staff, or at any other time that you have surrendered your passport and it has been out of your sight.

Do not open the door to anyone without taking necessary precautions. If someone claims to be a member of staff, verify with the reception prior to opening the door.

Automated banking machines

Attacks on automated banking machines (ABMs), in which criminals use explosives to gain access to the cash box, have increased throughout the country. Be particularly vigilant and do not let yourself get distracted at ABMs, as assaults on people using them occur. Although attacks usually take place in isolated areas and early in the morning, some have been perpetrated in high-traffic areas. Do not attempt to use ABMs that appear damaged or defective, or that are located in isolated or poorly lit areas. Also, do not accept any offer of assistance with your transaction. If suspicious at any time, cancel your transaction and use another ABM. Whenever possible, do not withdraw money from an ABM at a gas station, since these are often targeted by criminals. Avoid using ABMs at night and, if possible, have someone accompany you to watch the area during your transaction.

Demonstrations

The political situation is stable in South Africa, however, nationwide strikes and demonstrations occur frequently and have the potential to suddenly turn violent. Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, stay away from locations where they may be held and follow the advice of local authorities at all times. Monitor local media and other sources of information for updates on security risks, demonstrations, public gatherings and trade union workers’ strikes.

Road travel

Traffic drives on the left. Road conditions are generally good, but some roads in the more remote areas are less well maintained and potholes may be encountered. Drive cautiously at all times and adhere to speed limits.

Traffic lights are frequently out of order. Treat all intersections with malfunctioning traffic lights as a four-way stop. At traffic circles (roundabouts) drivers should give way to the right, although this rule is often ignored.

Avoid undertaking overland travel after dark. Insufficient lighting on rural roads makes it difficult to see pedestrians, wild animals and stray livestock. Pedestrians are known to cross major highways.

There are many road accidents causing death in South Africa. Alcohol and poor driving standards, such as ignoring traffic signs, speeding and indiscriminate overtaking, are often contributing factors, particularly at night. Accidents can happen if you drive in wet conditions, as roads get very slippery. Observe the recommended following distances.

Beware of relying solely on global positioning system (GPS) navigation devices as they may direct you through unsafe areas. You are advised to verify your route prior to departure.

When renting a vehicle, choose a vehicle with robust locks and central locking, a lockable fuel tank cap and a vehicle alarm. Use a reliable company offering 24-hour emergency service, and ensure that you have the contact details for the service.

It is illegal to carry gasoline in portable containers.

Public transportation

Public transport is not recommended.  However, the Gautrain between OR Tambo international Airport, Sandton in Johannesburg and Pretoria is safe for tourists.

Taxis cannot be hailed in the street. Ask your hotel to arrange a taxi and ensure that you prearrange transport for your return journey. Sit in the rear of the vehicle and keep windows up and doors locked at all times. Keep valuables out of sight and place bags by your feet. It is advisable to negotiate the fare with the driver in advance. Avoid using minibus and unlicensed taxis.

Tourists have been mugged and assaulted in and around bus stations. Avoid the central bus station in Johannesburg. Commuter train travel is not recommended, especially second or third class. Services are slow and several serious accidents in recent years have raised concerns over safety standards. Violent attacks have also taken place on local commuter and metro trains between Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as on commuter trains in Cape Town.

Passport theft and baggage pilferage are prevalent at both international and regional airports. All valuables should be placed in your hand luggage, not in checked-in luggage. Where possible, suitcases should be locked and wrapped in secure plastic film. This service is available at most airports for a nominal fee.

Do not accept unsolicited offers of assistance with carrying your luggage or pushing your luggage trolley. Remain vigilant and do not leave any bags unattended even for a moment. Be on the alert at X-ray machines while having your handheld baggage scanned; where possible, accompany your luggage through these stations. There has been a string of thefts inside the secure area of the International Terminal at the OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg (after the security checkpoint and past immigration).

Arrange to be met at the airport upon arrival and dropped off upon departure by reliable contacts. Clearly identify who is picking you up before getting into their vehicle. There have been incidents of passengers being followed from airports to their accommodation and robbed. Should you be concerned that you are being followed, proceed to the first available gas station or police station for assistance.

Consult our Transportation FAQ in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Reserves and safaris

There are inherent risks associated with viewing wildlife, both marine and on land, particularly on foot or at close range. You should always maintain a safe distance when observing wildlife and avoid exiting vehicles unless it is deemed safe to do so by professional guides and wardens. Use only reputable and professional guides or tour operators and closely follow park regulations and wardens’ advice.

There have been attacks on hikers and tourists at reserves, hiking trails including Table Mountain. Some attacks have been violent. Authorities are attempting to address the problem, and recommend that visitors walk in groups and take all appropriate precautions.

Avoid isolated picnic areas and beaches. Do not stop at deserted roadside resting places on national roads, and be aware that travellers have been attacked and robbed in parking areas at tourist attractions. Please be aware of the threat of monkeys and baboons overwhelming sightseers in their search for food. They are known to get very aggressive.

Beaches

Coastal waters have unpredictable wave and tide patterns and can be dangerous. Follow the advice and warnings of local authorities. Shark attacks have been reported in several areas, including in the False Bay area of the Cape.

Be cautious about swimming in lakes and rivers because of the risk posed by wildlife.

Townships and rural areas

Avoid townships and informal settlements if you are unfamiliar with them, except when travelling with organized tours provided by a reputable company or in association with an experienced local organization.

Fraud

Cases of attempted fraud are frequently reported in South Africa. See our Overseas Fraud page for more information on scams abroad. If you wish to report an attempted fraud, you can call the Commercial Crimes unit of the South African Police in Johannesburg at 011 970 5300.

Do not give personal or financial account information to anyone.  There are international fraud rings operating in South Africa which target visitors, foreign businesspeople and charities.

Flagrant soliciting of bribes occurs, especially by traffic police who may stop tourists for no apparent reason. Make sure you carry identification and your valid drivers’ licence in English at all times.

Secure all automated banking machine (ABM) and credit card payments slips and keep your credit card in sight at all times when using it. Mobile phones and card skimmers have been used to copy credit card details. Request a mobile card machine at restaurants and make sure the card is visible at all times during the transaction. 

General safety information

Do not show signs of affluence, display money or carry valuables such as laptop computers or cameras. When at restaurants or bars, keep your handbag on your lap. Do not leave your bag under your chair or table or hung over the back of a chair. Gentlemen should not put their wallets in their back trouser pockets. There is a high risk of pickpocketing. Ensure that all zippers, straps and fasteners are closed and secure, and be aware of people behind and around you.

Do not leave your food or drink unattended. There have been incidents of food or drink being drugged and tourists robbed when unconscious.

Criminals have been known to gravitate toward “soft” targets—people who appear preoccupied and are not paying attention to their immediate surroundings. Head directly to a police station if you believe that you are being followed.

As a pedestrian, take extreme care when crossing streets. Drivers are often aggressive toward pedestrians and fail to yield the right of way even on marked crosswalks.

Travel on foot is inadvisable in most areas. If walking is unavoidable, use only brightly lit, busy streets in popular tourist areas and maintain awareness of your surroundings at all times. Avoid walking after dark.

Always carry a cellular phone in the event of an emergency, and if using your own phone, ensure that it has international/roaming capability for use while in South Africa. Rental mobile phones are available at all major airports.

Cellular phone reception is generally good in major towns and cities but can be intermittent in rural areas.

Interruptions to the supply of electricity and water occur from time to time and can be lengthy in some areas, resulting in considerable inconvenience.

The nationwide emergency number for the police is 10111, and the nationwide number for ambulance service is 10177.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Southern Africa, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Southern Africa. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Southern Africa, certain insects carry and spread diseases like African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, chikungunya, leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, Rift Valley fever, and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is a viral disease that typically causes fever, bleeding under the skin, and pain. Risk is generally low for most travellers. It is spread to humans though contact with infected animal blood or bodily fluids, or from a tick bite. Protect yourself from tick bites and avoid animals. There is no vaccine available for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever.

Rift Valley fever

Rift Valley fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases, it can be fatal. It is spread to humans through contact with infected animal blood or bodily fluids, eating or drinking unpasteurized dairy, or from a mosquito bite. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Protect yourself from bites and avoid infected animals and unpasteurized dairy. There is no vaccine available for Rift Valley fever.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Southern Africa, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and impairs the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). 

Practise safe sex while travelling, and don’t share needles, razors, or other objects which could transmit infection.

Remember that HIV can also be spread through the use of unsterile medical equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture. Diseases can also be spread though blood transfusions and organ transplantation if the blood or organs are not screened for HIV or other blood-borne pathogens.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities and supplies widely available in large cities but can be expensive. Medical facilities are limited in remote areas. Public and private health facilities will require up-front cash deposits for services, a guarantee of payment, or confirmation of medical insurance before commencing treatment.Air evacuation may be the only option when faced with a medical emergency in remote areas.

Decompression chambers are available in many hospital.

 

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Same-sex marriage is legal in South Africa.

Penalties for using, importing or exporting drugs are severe and may include lengthy imprisonment .

Possession of pornographic material is illegal.

You may not import or take in-transit any firearms or ammunition without a temporary import or in-transit permit issued by the South African Police Service.

Driving

Canadian provincial driver’s licence holders can use their valid Canadian licences in South Africa for up to 12 months if they are a visitor or on a student or work permit. If your licence is in French, it is advisable to obtain a translation into English and carry it with you.

It will be extremely difficult to obtain car insurance for car rentals or to purchase a car without an International Driving Permit. Insurance companies and rental car agencies often require proof of a South African or international driver’s licence in order to honour an insurance claim, even when such proof was not requested at the time the policy was secured. An IDP must be obtained in Canada before travelling to South Africa, as it cannot be obtained locally.

Foreigners driving a rental car across any border into neighbouring countries must obtain a permit prior to arriving at the border crossing. Failure to do so may lead to arrest and/or a fine.

Accessibility

Canadians with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation a challenge.  South African law mandates access to buildings for persons with disabilities, however, this is rarely complied with, even in government buildings. Determine in advance whether your special needs can be accommodated wherever you go during your stay.

Money

The currency is the South African rand (ZAR). Canadian currency and traveller’s cheques can be easily exchanged at major banks and foreign exchange counters.  A passport and additional identification is required when undertaking foreign exchange transactions.

Foreigners are permitted to enter South Africa carrying a maximum of ZAR10 000.00. Customs forms are not required to be completed, but random customs checks are undertaken.

Climate

The climate varies from region to region. Storms and flooding can occur throughout the country and at various times of the year. Flash storms can occur in Gauteng and the North West Province from November to April. There are heavy rains along the south coast from June to September and the Western Cape region receives heavy rainfall between May and September. Dirt roads can become hazardous during these periods. After heavy rains, do not attempt to cross low-lying river bridges by car or on foot, as there have been fatalities linked to people being washed down river. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.

Veld (bush) fires are common during dry seasons. They are very unpredictable and extremely dangerous. Veld fires can spread very quickly and travel at speeds of 60 km/hr or more due to high winds. Stay clear of any wildfire and always verify local conditions with relevant authorities before going on bush walks during the dry seasons.