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South Africa

South Africa

South Africa Travel Guide

Since the end of Apartheid and the establishment of a democratic government in the 1990s, South Africa's borders have opened to a flood of tourists who come to enjoy the country's stunning natural beauty and vibrant culture.

South Africa's sense of history is strong, and visitors have the chance to explore important historical attractions, including the battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town.

South Africa is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. It has 11 official languages, and its colourful population draws their heritage from African, Asian and European cultures. Whether browsing the Indian markets in Durban, enjoying a shisa nyama (barbecue) in Soweto, or tasting celebrated local varieties at a winery in Stellenbosch, visitors will encounter a warm welcome.

However, the true lure of South Africa lies in its untamed wilderness. Home to the Big Five of African wildlife (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, and rhino), along with thousands of other species of plants and animals, big game safaris in nature reserves such as Kruger Park and Hluhluwe National Park remain among the most popular activities in South Africa. The landscape encompasses a range of climates and terrains, including deserts, mountains, plateaus, grasslands, bush, wetlands, and subtropical forests.

Best time to visit South Africa

The climate of South Africa varies markedly between regions, making it important for travellers to research the specific regions they are visiting. Generally, the best time to visit South Africa is late spring (October and November) and early autumn (March and April) to avoid the intense heat of summer and the cold and wet winters in the Cape. However, many tourists relish the hot summer months between December and February.

What to see in South Africa

-Get up close with the Big Five and other wildlife in the Kruger National Park.

-See Nelson Mandela's former cell at Robben Island Prison.

-Ride the rollercoasters and visit the casino in Gold Reef City.

-Take a township tour through Soweto.

-Have a drink in the sunshine on Durban's Golden Mile.

What to do in South Africa

-Go scuba diving in Sodwana Bay.

-Ride a cable car to the top of Table Mountain for spectacular views of Cape Town.

-Go wine tasting in the vineyards of Stellenbosch and the Cape Winelands.

-Learn to surf in Coffee Bay.

-Go shark cage diving in Gansbaai.

Getting to South Africa

Direct flights to South Africa from the US are long, but are generally available from Atlanta, New York, and Washington DC. Flights to South Africa from the UK and Europe are more plentiful. Unfortunately, because of the relatively long distance from both Europe and North America, flights to South Africa are rarely cheap. Most flights to South Africa land at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, but there are some direct flights to Cape Town.


Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog, The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton, The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, and Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda.


Freshlyground, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Hugh Masekela, and Miriam Makeba.


Invictus (2009), Amandla: Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (2002), Safe House (2012), and District 9 (2009).


South African wine from the Cape Winelands, locally produced beer such as Jack Black and Mitchell's.


Cape Malay curries, boerewors, or a typical Durban 'bunny chow'.

What to buy

Ndebele beaded jewellery, wooden and soapstone carvings.

What to pack

Pack malaria tablets before heading to Kruger, and lots of insect repellent.

What's on in South Africa

The Hermanus Whale Festival celebrates the arrival of dozens of humpback whales each spring. The National Arts Festival in Grahamstown hosts the best music, art, theatre and comedy from around South Africa in July. The world-famous Comrades Marathon is run between Durban and Pietermaritzburg every year in May.

Did you know?

-Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both had houses on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, making it the only road in the world to house two Nobel Prize winners.

-Seventy percent of the Cape's plant species are not found anywhere else on the planet.

-South Africa has the third highest level of biodiversity in the world.

A final word

The culturally and environmentally diverse landscape of South Africa is the ultimate holiday destination for adventurous travellers.


South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu, and Sotho. English is widely spoken.


South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change, and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available and major international credit cards are widely accepted. Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. All commercial banks will exchange foreign currency.


Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round, three-pin plugs and round, two-pin plugs are standard.


Tips of at least 10 percent are expected for good service if a service charge is not included in the bill. Tipping for services rendered is widely anticipated by porters, taxi drivers and petrol attendants. Golf caddies should be tipped accordingly. 'Car guards' operate in the city centres and tourist spots and will offer to look after parked cars; they are usually immigrants from neighbouring countries looking for work and will expect anything from ZAR 8 upwards on the driver's return, depending on how long the driver will have been away.


It is worthwhile noting that the South African authorities give high priority to the protection of tourists and that, although crime rates are high, popular tourist sites and the main hotel areas tend to be safe. Still, travellers should remember that violent crime tends to be concentrated in pockets throughout the country and travellers should do some research to find out which areas to avoid. For instance, Berea and Hillbrow in Johannesburg are high-risk areas, and township areas in general are dangerous for foreigners.

There is a risk of petty, opportunistic crime in all urban areas and armed robberies are fairly common in Johannesburg. Travellers should always be aware of these risks and exercise the necessary precautions. Carjackings and smash-and-grab robberies are common in major cities. Doors should be locked when driving; bags and valuables should be kept out of sight. Travellers should not walk alone at night in any area, and should be vigilant when using ATMs. They should not display signs of wealth (mobile phones, money, expensive jewellery, cameras) on the streets. Credit card fraud is on the increase, meaning travellers should be vigilant and never allow their card out of their sight.


The international access code for South Africa is +27. Mobile phone networks are available across the country, and there are roaming agreements with most international mobile operators. Mobile service providers offer very cheap 'pay-as-you-go' SIM cards, which are a good option for visitors staying for some time. WiFi is easily available, especially in the larger cities.


Travellers from areas infected by yellow fever must carry a vaccination certificate; otherwise no vaccinations are required. There is a malaria risk in the low-lying areas of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga (including the Kruger National Park), as well as northeastern KwaZulu-Natal, and precautions are advised when travelling to these areas, especially between October and May. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. There is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Tap water is generally safe in urban areas but sterilisation is advisable elsewhere. Medical facilities in South Africa are good in urban areas, but medical insurance is strongly advised, as private hospitals expect cash up front and public hospitals are best avoided. Medication is readily available in major cities, but those travelling outside of these centres for an extended period should bring a basic supply kit for emergency self-treatment.

Public Holidays

New Year’s Day1 Jan1 Jan
Human Rights Day21 Mar21 Mar
Good Friday10 Apr2 Apr
Easter Monday13 Apr5 Apr
Freedom Day27 Apr27 Apr
Worker’s Day1 May1 May
Youth Day16 Jun16 Jun
Women’s Day9 Aug9 Aug
Heritage Day24 Sep24 Sep
Day of Reconciliation16 Dec16 Dec
Christmas Day25 Dec25 Dec
Day of Goodwill26 Dec26 Dec


Business practices in South Africa are influenced by South Africa's range of ethnicities, languages and even geographical areas, but in general follow common patterns. When doing business in South Africa it is important to be culturally sensitive and as understanding of colleagues' historical context as possible. Most South Africans prefer to do business with contacts they've met before, but they are also warm and open to newcomers. Working to build and maintain business relationships is vitally important in the South African business environment. South Africans are renowned for their friendliness, which generally supersedes business formality.

Most large corporations, as well as the banking and financial sector, still adopt relatively formal business practices, whereas other companies and work environments enjoy more relaxed and personable atmospheres. Clear management hierarchies and respect for senior executives and colleagues are of paramount importance. However, business exchanges and decision-making processes often take on an egalitarian aspect. As with most countries, punctuality is highly regarded. However, government officials are notorious for their tardiness when it comes to keeping time. Dress codes tend to be conservative, but not overly formal. Suits are the exception more than the rule, but dressing stylishly will always count in your favour. It is best to dress formally for initial meetings.

South Africans value hard work and respect those who succeed. However, they are mindful of other aspects of life such as healthy living, family and nurturing relationships, all of which add up to a well-balanced life. Generally South Africans are regarded as relaxed and informal with regards to introductions and the handling of business cards. Shaking hands is common for both men and women. The giving of gifts is uncommon and unnecessary. The official language of business in South Africa is English. Business hours tend to start at 8:30am or 9am and the day comes to a close at 5pm, or later in the major urban centres. Working over weekends tends to be quite rare in South Africa.

Passport & Visa

Passports should be valid for at least 30 days beyond the period of intended stay. An onward or return ticket is required, as is evidence of sufficient funds. Extension of stay for an additional 90 days is possible if travellers apply at least 60 days prior to the expiry date of their visa, permit or visa exempt period. There are special requirements for travelling to South Africa with children under the age of 18, and different requirements for unaccompanied children entering the country. Travellers should consult the nearest South African high commission or embassy for details. It is highly recommended that travellers' passport have at least six months' validity remaining after the intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.


South African culture and etiquette in urban areas is very Western. While standards of dress vary, beachwear should generally not to be worn off the beach, and nude sunbathing is only permissible in a few designated areas. Homosexuality is legal and accepted in urban areas without much fuss, but it is frowned on by some conservative South Africans and can be a problem in township areas. Although locals may complain loudly about the country and government, they will take offense if a foreigner is critical. Racism is a sensitive issue; however, interracial relationships are now common and widely accepted. South African racial terminology differs from what is acceptable in North America: the terms 'black' and 'white' are appropriate for those of African and Caucasian descent, respectively. 'Coloured' refers not to black Africans, but those of mixed African and European descent and is not considered an offensive term. South Africans are friendly and hospitable, and will often go out of their way to assist tourists who need help.

Duty Free

Travellers to South Africa do not have to pay duty on 200 cigarettes, 20 cigars and 250g of tobacco; 2 litres wine and 1 litre spirits; perfume up to 50ml and 250ml eau de toilette; and other goods to the value of ZAR 5,000 per person.


South African Tourism, Johannesburg:

Emergencies: 10111 (Police), 10177 (Ambulance), 10112 (cellphone emergency number).

Entry Requirements

United States nationals need a passport valid for at least 30 days beyond intended travel. A visa is required.

British nationals need a passport valid for 30 days beyond the date of intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days if passport is endorsed British Citizen or British Overseas Territories Citizen. Those whose passports state British National (Overseas) may stay up to 30 days without a visa.

Canadian nationals need a passport valid for 30 days beyond the date of intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.

Irish nationals require a passport valid for 30 days beyond intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.

New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for 30 days beyond intended travel. A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days.

Embassy Consulates

United States Embassy, Pretoria: +27 12 431 4000.

British High Commission, Pretoria: +27 12 421 7500.

Canadian High Commission, Pretoria: +27 12 422 3000.

Irish Embassy, Pretoria: +27 12 452 1000.

New Zealand High Commission, Pretoria: +27 12 435 9000.

Embassy Consulates

South African Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 232 4400.

South African High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7451 7299.

South African High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 744 0330.

South African Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 661 5553.


South Africa is a sightseer's paradise, with plenty to see and do no matter the traveller's interests, time frame, age, or inclination. There is natural splendour in abundance, including the beautiful beaches and iconic Table Mountain of Cape Town, the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains, the Blyde River Canyon, the stunning scenery of the coastal Garden Route, the pristine coastline of the Transkei, and the sweeping vistas of the Highveld. Of course, the animals of South Africa, especially the Big Five, are a big draw for tourists and game safaris are a very popular diversion. The Kruger National Park is the country's most famous wildlife reserve and a must for many visitors.

South Africa has a complicated and dramatic history and the legacy of the pioneer wars, colonialism, the Boer War and Apartheid is still strongly felt. There is no shortage of interesting historical sightseeing, with sites such as Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned, and the battlefields of the Boer War attracting many visitors. The country has many quaint historical towns, such as Franschoek in the Cape Winelands, and Grahamstown in the 'frontier country' of the Eastern Cape. South Africa also has its share of museums and galleries, and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is particularly noteworthy.

The country is easy to get around with competitive low-cost carriers, long distance buses, good value car hire and the best roads in Africa. Road tripping is a wonderful way to experience the hugely diverse landscapes and cultures of this vast country. South Africa is one of the few global destinations that can offer the complete holiday experience, with a huge variety of world-class attractions and compelling experiences, and incredible value for money to boot.


South Africa is a large country and has diverse climactic regions, so travellers should check the climate for the region they'll be visiting. In general the weather is sunny and hot in the summer months (November to February), and fairly mild during winter (June to August). The weather in autumn (March to May) and spring (September to October) is less predictable and more changeable.

The Cape has a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters, and hot, dry, sunny summers. The average temperatures in Cape Town in the summer range between 61F (16C) and 79F (26C), and in winter average between 47F (8C) and 64F (18C). Some snow does fall on the mountain ranges during the winter.

Gauteng and the northern regions have a subtropical highland climate with plenty of sunshine during hot summers, when thunderstorms regularly occur in the late afternoon and evening. Winters are dry and sunny with cold nights. Temperatures occasionally drop below freezing at night in the north. The average temperatures in Johannesburg (Gauteng) in the summer range between 58F (15C) and 78F (25C), and in winter range between 39F (4C) and 80F (16C).

The best time to visit South Africa differs hugely depending on region and desired activities but summer is the peak tourist season for coastal regions. Spring and autumn tend to be mild and pleasant seasons for travel.

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