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South Africa

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Park Inn Sandton
Park Inn Sandton - dream vacation

118 Katherine StreetJohannesburg

Protea Hotel by Marriott O R Tambo Airport
Protea Hotel by Marriott O R Tambo Airport - dream vacation

Corner York & Gladiator Street RhodesfieldKempton Park

Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel Sandton Johannesburg
Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel Sandton Johannesburg - dream vacation

Corner of Rivoria Road and West StreetJohannesburg

Premier Hotel OR Tambo
Premier Hotel OR Tambo - dream vacation

73 Gladiator St., RhodesfieldKempton Park

Life The Aviator
Life The Aviator - dream vacation

Corner of Kempton and Bosch StreetKempton Park

Cape Town Lodge
Cape Town Lodge - dream vacation

101 Buitengracht StreetCape Town

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, 11 official languages, and an equally diverse population. South Africa is renowned for its wines, one of the world's largest producers of gold, and 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 South 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 international 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 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 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. The laws also implemented a system of institutionalised, or systematic, racial segregation and discrimination, and ensured a continuation of white minority rule over the black majority, and over Indian and Coloured minority groups. This move was welcomed by the majority of the different tribal kings and chieftains, as most of the tribes sought self-governance. But soon, apartheid became practically synonymous with racism and oppression as millions of people were forced to leave there homes under housing policies that enforced racial segregation. The African National Congress (ANC) was banned and forced into exile for conducting and plotting terrorist activities. Other political parties that were considered 'dangerous' and 'subversive' were also banned by the South African parliament during this time. South Africa became more involved in a war against communist insurrection on the former German colony of 'South West Africa's' border with Angola.

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, and banned 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, Norway, Panama, 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 officer, 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.

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 kilometres (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 licence, 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 used to use 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 24 hrs.

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 manoeuvre 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 or 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. 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. It is 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].

South African fuel stations accept major credit cards like Visa and MasterCard. Some smaller fuel stations accept cash only.

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 or the car's 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 driver's licence, 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 kilometre 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) is the national rail operator. There are budget passenger services between major South African cities (known as Shosholoza Meyl) and 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: prices start from R15,500 one-way per person in low-season "Deluxe" twin-sharing. You can pay as much as R34,925 (high-season "Luxury" single) (2017 prices) The trip takes 27 hours, and your fares includes a private suite with attached bathroom, and 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 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), 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 60-m 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 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 and 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 [3] 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 euros, 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 a McDonald's Big Mac for around R30 (July 2016)
  • A sit down lunch in an inexpensive restaurant will cost you about R100 per person. (July 2017)
  • A basic 30 cm pizza will cost about R75 (July 2017)

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 curry mince or apricot jam.

Fast food

You will find the usual array of international fast food outlets. McDonald's, 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.

Witblits or Mampoer 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 R25 for a 0.5 L beer (July 2017).

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 favourite 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 Baileys Irish Cream. Cape Velvet is a favourite 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, and microwave.) The facilities should be adequate to cater for the maximum advertised number of residents the facility can accommodate.

Guest house

A guest house is a converted house or manor 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.

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.

Often foreign tourists are followed when leaving O.R. Tambo Airport by car to their place of residence where they get hi-jacked or robbed at gunpoint.

Important telephone numbers

  • The National Tourism Information and Safety Line, ? +27 83 123 2345 (mobile). Operated by South African Tourism
  • The National Sea Rescue Institute, ? +27 21 434-4011, +27 82 380 3800 (Mobile after hours). 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.

Do not drive too close to elephants. Be prepared to back up very quickly if they charge at you. Elephants are strong enough to roll many small cars. They can destroy small cars by sitting on them (which means they blow out all tires and windows and bend the frame beyond repair) while you scream for your life inside.

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, ? 084 124 (domestic). 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 dialling a South African number from outside the country, one should dial +27 XX YYY ZZZZ.

Dialling 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, 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 Britannic 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 licence 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) 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.

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.

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