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South Africa Travel Tips – Information for First Time Visitors

Kruger Park South Africa
Kruger Park South Africa

South Africa, the country Bernie (my Travel Buddy) calls home, was love at first sight for me. I  believe everyone should visit this wonderful country once in their life. But beware, you might lose your heart to this beautiful country as I did.

The country offers almost everything a single traveller, package tourist, nature lover or active holidaymaker could wish for. For example, it has great weather, beautiful beaches, magnificent national parks, the best wine, tasty food, and breathtaking landscapes.

In this series of articles, I want to share valuable information about this extraordinary country to make your next trip to South Africa unforgettable.

Table of content

General information about South Africa

  • Although South Africa has 11 official languages, English is spoken everywhere.
  • Their currency is the South African Rand which is 1 Euro to about 17 Rand (at the time of publishing).
  • Automatic teller machines (ATMs) are available everywhere. A word of caution when using these machines! Don’t accept help from strangers, and be aware of your surroundings.  
  • The power plugs in South Africa have a different format than the European ones. You will need an adapter which you can buy from convenience stores or the airport. You can rent an adapter in most hotels.
  • In South Africa, you will drive on the left-hand side and the car’s steering wheel will be on the right-hand side.
  • There are many “four-way stops” at most intersections. The person who arrived first at the intersection has the right of way.
  • Their health care system is of a high standard and comparable to most European systems.
  • South African time zone is identical to European summertime. However, the clock has to be advanced by one hour in winter.
The three-point plugs of South Africa

Should I experience South Africa on a package tour or as an individual tourist?

It is good to know that you can travel to South Africa alone, in organised groups, or a combination of both.

Organised group tours are more enjoyable when booked in small groups. These tours are planned to the last detail; for example, the tour operator organises all accommodations, vehicles, and excursions. On-site, you can expect a local tour guide who speaks most of the travellers’ language.

However, you can easily plan your own trip from home. There any many helpful travel guides and internet forums that can assist you to plan your trip.

Franschhoek, South Africa
Beautiful Franschhoek in South Africa
Sunset at Camps Bay
Bo-Kaap, Cape Town
Exploring Bo-Kaap in Cape Town
Camping in Kruger National Park
Camping in Kruger National Park

Travel preparation for your trip to South Africa

When is the best time to travel to South Africa?

Because South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to those of countries in the northern hemisphere.

In principle, South Africa can be visited at any time of the year. However, it is a very large country with different climate zones. There are thus better and less ideal times to travel to each region and to participate in the available activities.

This article gives you a more detailed overview of the best times to travel in the different parts of South Africa.

Winelands, South Africa
Autumn in the South African Winelands

Getting to South Africa

A direct flight from Germany to Johannesburg takes between 10 and a half and 11 and a half hours.

There are also direct flights from Germany to Cape Town airport, although you can take a connecting flight, depending on your final destination.

Flights should be booked about three months in advance or even earlier, particularly during the school holidays in South Africa.

Portals like Skyscanner are the best to find the cheapest flight.

PRO TIP! Avoid landing at an airport in South Africa late at night, as the areas around airports are often unsafe.

Johannesburg Airport
Johannesburg airport
Airport
Lufthansa flies from Germany to South Africa

Vaccinations

No special vaccinations are needed for travelling to South Africa. However, if you are entering from a yellow fever area, you must provide proof of vaccination.

Standard vaccinations are recommended for a trip to South Africa. If you have any doubts, please check with your doctor.

Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for visiting the northern parts of the Kruger National Park and some other high-risk areas in South Africa (please check with your travel clinic).

South African Bush
South African Bush

Health and trip cancellation Insurance

As with any trip abroad, taking out travel health and trip cancellation insurance beforehand is highly recommended.

Transport safety in South Africa

Sadly, South Africa has one of the highest car hijacking rates in the world. So you might ask what is the safest way to get around in the cities.

  • A rental car is a great option. The roads are mostly in good condition.
  • Enjoy quality public transport in Cape Town with MyCiti. They have a great mobile app on which you can plan routes, calculate bus fares and even top up the balance on your myconnect card. A card costs R35 and can be collected from any of these locations.
  • Gauteng has the Gautrain, which is a very safe option but has limited routes.
  • Minibus taxis are not recommended for tourists.
  • Uber is a safe option. NOTE: Verify your Uber and Uber driver, as there have been reported cases of people posing as Uber drivers.
  • Hitching is not safe in South Africa! 
The most beautiful sandy white beaches in Cape Town

Entering South Africa

European citizens do not need a visa for short-term stays. Upon entry, a visitor’s visa will be issued for a maximum of 90 days.

You will need a valid passport for at least 30 days after your stay in South Africa and with at least two empty pages.

Capman's Peak, South Africa
Capman's Peak, South Africa

Practical tips for your stay in South Africa

Cash and credit cards

Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, and you can also withdraw money with a Maestro bank card at most ATMs.

Never carry large amounts of cash on you!

Lion in Kruger Park
Lion in Kruger Park

SIM-Cart for your mobile phone

You can buy a SIM card immediately upon arrival at Cape Town or Johannesburg airports. The cell phone stalls are located just before you enter the arrivals hall. It is really hard to miss. 

If you want to be prepared before leaving home and want to avoid struggling with SIM cards while travelling, you can get an e-SIM from providers like Holafly. This will enable you to be connected to the internet as soon as you land in South Africa.

Kruger National Park
Travelbuddies enjoying N'wanetsi view point

Rental car in South Africa

We highly recommend that you book a rental car before home. The cheapest way is via comparison portals.

We prefer using Check24 and have only had good experiences with them. Most of the time, the rental company was Europcar and had offices in the terminal building.

You need an international driving license. To date, neither me nor my family or friends have ever been asked for it by officials, but it is compulsory and could lead to inconvenience in the event that you do get stopped and checked.

Roadtrip in South Africa
Roadtrip in South Africa

How safe is South Africa?

This is a question that regularly causes tempers to flare. The crime rate in South Africa is very high.

One should, as everywhere else worldwide, be street smart by:

  • being cautious when walking alone (particularly at night) 
  • not displaying expensive jewellery openly 
  • not leaving valuables displayed in your car (while driving or parked) 
  • carrying little cash on you 
  • keeping backpacks and bags near your body and closed 
  • locking your car’s doors (while driving and parked) 
  • avoid hiking up Table Mountain alone 
  • asking your accommodation manager or other locals which neighbourhoods to avoid (particularly after dark). 
  • avoid going into a township on your own (there are many good and safe tours available) 

Unfortunately, many travellers report having issues with luggage tampering and theft. Therefore, always make sure you have locks on your luggage.

Read the following article “Luggage theft at airports: how to keep your bags safe from criminals when flying”.

Streets of Cape Town
Cape Town
Clifton Beach, South Africa
Clifton Beach, South Africa

Tipping

Since service is usually not included in the restaurant bill, giving a tip of 10-15% of the bill is customary.

When refuelling, you can stay in the car, and the windscreen is often cleaned. Here you should give between 2 and 5 rands.

Car guards look after your car in almost parking areas and are happy to receive a small tip. 

They regularly also offer to help you unpack your trolley and appreciate a small tip for this service.

African Style
African style architecture and decorations at Kruger Lodge

Sunset in South Africa

Cape Town arguably has the most beautiful spots to watch the sunset in South Africa.

The best sunset spots in Cape Town are:

 

  • Signal hill
  • Lion’s head
  • Table mountain
  • Glen beach
  • Camps Bay strip
Kruger National Park also has many spectacular spots. Our favourites are:
 
  •  Mathekenyane near Skukuza
  • Selati bridge near Skukuza camp
  • Olifants camp KNP
Sunset in Cape Town
Sunset in Cape Town

Summary

South Arica is a wonderful destination that is as easy to travel to as many European or North American countries.

These articles might also interest you

Video from Paternoster, South Africa

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