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 vast country with widely varying landscapes and with 11 official languages, an equally diverse people. South Africa is renowned for its wines and is the world's largest producer of gold. South Africa has a strong economy and is an influential player in African politics. In 2010 South Africa will host the first Football World Cup to be held in the African continent.
South Africa is divided into 9 provinces, they are:
There are a number of areas and attractions that the traveler should attempt to see while in South Africa.
South Africa is a paradise for anyone interested in natural history. A wide range of species (some potentially dangerous) may be encountered in parks, farms, private reserves and even on the roads. Also see African Flora and Fauna and South African National Parks
A number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located in South Africa
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 colored by the same stereotypes as the rest of Africa. Contrary to popular belief, South Africa is not devastatingly poor with an unstable government that is rapidly going to pot. 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, though it is quite slow after apartheid, which lasted for almost 46 years. South Africa boasts a well-developed infrastructure and has all the modern amenities and technologies. The government is stable, although corruption is rife. The government and the primary political parties all have a high level of respect for democratic institutions and human rights.
The climate in South Africa range from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline.
Temperatures are moderate, rarely dropping below freezing point over most of the country. Summers can be very hot, in excess of 35 Celsius in some places.
The South African Weather Service provide up to date weather information, forecasts and radar imaging.
The public holidays in South Africa are:
If a public holiday falls on a Sunday, then the Monday following will be a holiday
School holidays occur middle December to middle January, early in April, middle June to middle July and late September. Most South Africans go on leave during these times and accomodation will be harder to find.
South African Tourism operates a number of offices in other countries. You might wich to contact the office in your country for any additional information or assistance
Most nationalities get up to 3 months entry on arrival. Check with the Home Affairs and your travel agent whether you need to prearrange a visa. 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 (0)12 810 8911
Make sure you have 2 blank pages back to back in your passport and that it is valid for at least six more months or you will be sent back! Make sure you have a return ticket available or they will send you back. If you need to pick up a ticket at the airport have the flight number and details handy and speak with the customs guy, they should check your story out and let you in (be firm). Be wary of arriving with a damaged passport as new security measures might trip up your entry.
South Africa has 10 international airports, the two major ones being Cape Town International and OR Tambo in Johannesburg. Regular flights arrive from major centers throughout Africa including: Blantyre, Cairo, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Luanda, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Maputo, Manzini, Maun, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Windhoek.
Direct flights also arrive from major European centers, including: Amsterdam, Lisbon, London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Athens. There are also direct flights from Dubai, Doha, New York, Atlanta, Washington (D.C.), Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Sydney and Perth. You may also want to have a look at Discount airlines in Africa.
See Air travel in South Africa for detailed information.
Should be 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:
South Africa has a well established domestic air travel infrastructure with links between all major centers.
See Air travel in South Africa for detailed information.
South African driving is on the left-hand side of the road.
To get 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. Buying a car takes a bit more precaution (Roadworthy license, registering the car), 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.
The roads within South Africa, connecting most major cities, and between its immediate neighbors are very good. There are many highways connecting the cities and larger centers, 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.
Many of the major highways are toll roads with emergency assist telephones every couple of kilometers. All the large fuel companies have rest stops every 200km to 300km along these highways where you can full up, eat something at a restaurant, get 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. Toll roads generally have two or more lanes in each direction.
Some of the main roads have only one lane in each direction, especially where they are far from urban centers. It is customary to flash your hazard lights once, after passing a truck or other slow vehicle that has moved onto the hard shoulder to let you pass. This is considered a thank you and you will most likely receive a my pleasure response in the the form of the slow vehicle flashing its headlights once.
South Africa has a high rate of traffic fatalities, and you may want to avoid driving at night except in urban areas. Watch out for unsafe drivers (minibus taxis), poor lighting, and pedestrians (who are the cause of many accidents, especially at night). 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!
Make sure you understand the road signs. A special kind of crossing is the 'four way stop' where the car that stops first has right of way. You will not encounter many traffic circles, but when you do, take special care as the general attitude of South African drivers is that traffic circles do not constitute a traffic management roadway structure, and do not use their indicators in a safe and predictable fashion. In general, South Africans tend to speed excessively and 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.
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. Almost all fuel stations are open 24 hours a day. Foreigners should note that fuel cannot be bought on credit cards.
Speed limits are clearly indicated. Generally speed limits on highways are 120km/h, major roads outside buildup areas are 100 km/h, major roads within build up areas are 80km/h and normal town roads are 60 km/h.
Speed law enforcement is usually done by portable or stationary, radar or laser cameras. Fines will be send to the registered address of the vehicle you are driving. Non camera portable radar and laser systems are also used and you may be pulled over for speeding and given a written fine.
Should you find yourself waiting at a red traffic light late at night in an area where you do not feel safe, you can 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 normally have it wavered by writing a letter to the traffic department or court explaining that you crossed safely and on purpose, due to security reasons. 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.
South Africa currently does not have a merits system and does not share traffic violation information with other nations.
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 calenders for South Africa can be found here.
The N3 normally have 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.
Booking for the above can also be done via Computicket.
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 Swaziland; Durban to Johannesburg via the Drakensberg). Baz Bus picks you up and drops you off at many hostels along the route, so you don't have to hang around at a downtown bus stop at night.
If you're really in a pinch, you can use minibus taxis. They are poorly maintained and rarely comply with safety standards. They also require patience as they make many detours and changeovers at the taxi rank (hub) where the driver will wait for passengers to fill up the bus. But they cover many routes not covered by the main bus service and are quite cheap (25 cents per kilometer per person on the main routes).
Spoornet, the national rail operator offers budget passenger services between major South African cities as well as a Premier Class service  between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Spoornet Central Reservations can be contacted on ph: 086 000 8888 (toll free RSA only), ph: +27 (0)11 774 4555 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
There is also a Metro rail system in the larger cities, but the service is limited, overcrowded and not always safe. Avoid using this option if possible.
With the abundance of caravan parks available in South Africa, motorhomes are becoming ever more popular with international visitors. It gives you the freedom to move around as well as a place to stay wherever you are.
A number of companies offer motorhomes rentals
South Africa has 11 official languages. Most people other than rural black Africans speak English, although not many as a first language. Afrikaans is also widely-spoken, especially by the white and coloured population. Often Afrikaans is incorrectly called 'afrikan' or 'african' by foreigners. Note 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 Dutch, so it can be understood by Dutch speakers and sometimes deciphered by German speakers. Other widely spoken languages are Zulu (mainly in KwaZulu-Natal) and Xhosa (mainly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape), as well as Sotho and Venda. This changes, according to the region you are in. There is also a very large Portuguese community and you will very often find that someone will understand you when speaking Portuguese.
A few words you may encounter are:
You’ll find the Wikipedia page on South African English well worth reading.
Coins are in denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. Production of 2c and 1c coins were suspended in April 2002, but those still in circulation remain legal tender. All transactions are rounded down to to the nearest lower 5c, so as not to require a 2c or 1c coin.
Rough conversion  rates are: 7:1 (USD), 9:1 (EUR) and 14:1 (GBP). Carry one of the above currencies, as conversion between any of them and the Rand can be done at any bank without trouble. The Rand is also used in Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland, although it is not an official currency in these countries.
Traveller's Cheques are a safe way of carrying money around. You can exchange them at all banks (you will find one even in the roughest places) 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 and R10, with about 80% of the value requested being high value notes and the rest in smaller denominations. You can use any Cirrus or Maestro card as well as all major credit and debit cards at the ATMs.
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). The till points at some major retail (such as Pick 'n Pay) also act as ATMs; simply tell the checkout clerk that you would like to withdraw money.
VISA and MasterCard's are accepted almost everywhere, while 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. Don't be surprised if the teller still insist that you have to sign the slip when paying with a pin based card, they generally don't seem to understand the difference between a PIN and non-PIN based card. It is a requirement to always sign the slip, a line with "Cardholder Signature" under it is provided for this purpose.
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 is being taken out of the country, provided that the total value of the goods exceed R250. Full details of the procedure to follow is available from the Department of Foreign Affairs. VAT Refund Administrator's offices are available at both OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airports.
Petrol and Diesel
Liquid fuel prices in South Africa are regulated and fixed monthly. During 2006 a liter of petrol would cost anywhere from R5.20 to R6.80. See the current prices.
The most expensive toll gate in South Africa is the Machado plaza on the N4 between Pretoria and Nelspruit, cost is R43 for a normal car. In total, road tolls between Pretoria and Nelspruit or between Johannesburg and Cape Town will cost you just under R100.
Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter. Tipping is the norm in restaurants and at gas-stations (which are all full-service). 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.
Foreigners should note that fuel cannot be bought on credit cards. Fortunately many petrol stations in South Africa have ATMs.
You will find the usual array of international fast food outlets, McDonalds, KFC and Wimpy is well represented throughout the country.
Local franchises worth mentioning are Black Steer for the best burgers and Nando's peri-peri chicken.
Pizza delivery is available in most urban areas.
Municipal tap water is safe to drink.
The legal age to purchase and drink alcohol in South Africa is 18. Almost all restaurants are licensed to serve liquor.
Be very careful if someone offers you witblits or mampoer; those are the local names for moonshine or firewater.
Local beer production is dominated by SABMiller with the Castle, Amstel and Windhoek brands being most popular among white drinkers, while Black Label and Castle Milk Stout are the favorite among black drinkers.
Imported beers such as Stella Artoise and Grulsh are also widely available.
Prices can vary widely depending on the establishment. Expect to pay anything from R7 to R18 for a beer.
Amarula Cream is made from the amarula fruit. The amarula fruit is a favorite treat for African elephants, baboons and monkeys and in the liqueur form definitely not something to be passed over by humans. Pour over crushed ice and enjoy.
Tea and Coffee
Hotels and Holiday Rentals
South Africa has every kind of accommodation you can think of ranging from budget hostels right up to luxury resorts. The country is well outfitted to handle tourists.
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. The parks generally have central ablution facilities.
Bed and Breakfast establishments are becoming very popular. These may be either purpose build accommodation or private residences where the owner uses part of their property as guest accommodation.
There are many timeshare resorts in South Africa, most participate in international exchange agreements such as RCI. Many timeshare owners also rent their time when they can not make use of it.
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.
Examples of estate agents that offer this kind of property are
Your local branch of an international estate agent with a presence in South Africa might also be able to assist you.
Establishments in South Africa can have themselve 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.
South Africa has a high rate of violent crime, but warnings about crime should be taken in context. The threat is not as serious as it might sound. If you are alert and take some common-sense precautions you will have no problems. Do not accept offers from friendly strangers. Do not wear jewelry or expensive watches. Do not wear a tummy bag with all your valuables. Distribute your valuables in inside pockets and other pockets. Do not carry large sums of money. Do not walk by night in deserted places. Don't make it obvious you are a tourist - conceal your camera and binoculars. Know where to go so that you don't have to reveal you're lost or need a map -- simply all the obvious "I am a tourist" signs.
Visiting the townships is possible, but don't do it alone unless you really know where you're going. Some townships are safe while others can be extremely dangerous. It's best to go with an experienced guide. Some tour companies offer guided visits to the townships, and this is perfectly safe.
South Africa has very few earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, terrorist incidents or contagious diseases with the notable exception of HIV.
Please also note that 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 or the US. Best to take a taxi or private vehicle for an "evening out". The same applies to picking up hitchhikers or offering assistance at broken-down car scenes.
Important telephone numbers
From a fixed line
From a mobile phone
One of the main reasons travelers visit South Africa is to experience the outdoors and see the wide range of wildlife.
When driving in a wildlife reserve, always keep to the speed limits and stay inside your car at all times. On game drives or walks, always follow the instructions of your guide.
Ensure that you wear socks and boots whenever you are walking in the bush; do not wear open sandals. A good pair of boots can stop snake and insect bits 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 South Africa have shark nets installed. If you intend to swim anywhere other that the main beaches, check with a local first. Note that 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.
Emergency and Medical Assistance
Netcare 911, 49 New Road, Midrand, ph: +27 (0)11 254-1927, is one of the leading 24 hour emergency assist companies in South Africa. One of their products is comprehensive EMS cover for the inbound traveller to South Africa. Some travel agents such as Taga Safaris offer Netcare911 cover as an option, but you can deal with them direct or find out if your existing cover has an association with them.
It is best to avoid public hospitals as standards have declined in recent years. Private hospitals (such as the Netcare Group) are of world class standard.
Municipal tap water is 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.
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 largest HIV infection rates world-wide. 5.4 million people out of a population of 48 million are HIV-positive (South African Medical Research Council).
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 (UNICEF). One in four females and one in five males aged 20 to 40 is estimated to be infected (Avert).
Only about 10% of the world's population lives in Sub-Sahara Africa, but the same population includes 70% of the world's HIV infected individuals (CDC).
For your own safety, DO NOT HAVE UNPROTECTED SEX.
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 traveling. The most important defenses against malaria are:
Tabbard and Peacefull Sleep are commonly used mosquito repellents and can be bought almost anywhere.
Except for pubs, smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, these include airports, shopping malls and theaters.
Most restaurants do have smoking sections, either ventilated indoor areas or outdoor open areas.
South Africans are generally polite, friendly and accommodating to tourists.
Public behavior is very similar to what you might find in Europe. Heterosexual displays of affection is public is not frowned upon unless you overdo it; homosexual displays of affection will probably generate unwelcome attention, especially around children.
Men generally greet with a firm handshake, while woman will do the continental kiss on the cheek .
Except for designated beaches, nude sunbathing is illegal. Bikini's for ladies and swimming trunk for men (speedo's if you really must, but be prepared to be laughed at and don't be surprised if people say Yebo Yah when walking past you, in reference to a Vodacom TV advert a couple of years ago) 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 as eaten by hand. It is generally also acceptable to steal a piece of boerewors from the braai with your hands. Depending of what cultural group you find yourself with, these rules might change. Indians often eat biryani dishes with their hands, a white person from British decent might insist on eating his pizza with a knife and fork or a black person might eat pap-and-stew with a spoon. Be adaptable, but don't be afraid to also do your own thing; if really unacceptable, people will generally tell you so rather than take offense.
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 shortcoming that still exist, they will harshly defend against any outsider from doing so.
Those who are practiced in North American racial terminology should understand that familiar words have different meanings in South Africa. A typical white person born in South Africa considers himself as "African" as any black person born in the United States considers himself "American"; most have family who have lived in the country for generations and the only place they can call home is South Africa.
If you wish to refer to South Africans of solely African ancestry, "black" (the term used under apartheid) is still considered appropriate. "Coloured", on the other hand, is neither synonymous with "black", nor particularly offensive; it refers to a cultural group with both white and black ancestors from the early colonial period.
Although the majority of white South Africans speak Afrikaans, that is not their ethnicity; call them "white" or "white South African". The fourth racial category left over from the apartheid system is "Indian" (from India). It might help to practice thinking "black South African" instead of "African American". Indeed, many black South Africans scoff at the term "African American", claiming that there is very little of Africa residing within the average "African American".
In general, it is wise to avoid racial or political remarks while in South Africa, because the country's very diverse cultural disposition means that "putting your foot in it", is easy.
South Africa is now in it's second decade since the end of apartheid, but it is always easier to change laws than people.
You will occasionally still hear racists remarks, from any race group in South Africa, not only white South Africans. This is more common from the older generation that the younger ones. The best thing to do is simply to ignore it. Also, don't immediately assume that a white person uttering a racist comment is by default a white South African, many racist individuals from Europe made has long been visiting South Africa specifically because it was under apartheid and have continued coming back even after the change in government.
Inter racial marriages are becoming quite common and except for possibly some of the older generation, no one will take offense if you and your partner are not of the same colour.
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, Capetown 021) while smaller towns may have longer area codes (0XX Y for example) with shorter local numbers.
When dialing a South African number from outside the country, one should dial +27 XX YYY ZZZZ.
Dialing within the country one should use all 10 digits, 0XX YYY ZZZZ. (Until January 16, 2007 the area code is optional when dialing a local, within the same city, number.)
To dial out of South Africa, dial 00 followed by the country code and the rest of the number you are trying to reach. (Until January 16, 2007 one may also use the old 09 prefix to make international calls.)
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 available at most shops and petrol stations,
The networks support GPRS countrywide and 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 build to look like trees (Vodacom) or other structure (MTN) in order to better blend into the surroundings and not be an eyesore.
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 10 rand) and access the Internet with GPRS or 3G (2 rand per MB from MTN and Vodacom). If you intend to use your phone mostly for data, look at Virgin Mobile, they offer prepaid packages with GPRS/3G at 50 cent per MB.
WiFi access can be found at most larger airports, shopping malls and a number of eating places such as Mugg & Bean.
You can have film developed at most pharmacies and shopping malls, even is small towns. Automated machines to print (or copy to CD) from digital media (CF, CF, MMC, Memory stick etc) are also becoming quite common and easy to find. Larger shopping malls have dedicated photography shops where you can buy camera's and lenses or have a camera repaired. Most major camera manufacturers are well represented.
Embassies and Consulates
If your country is not listed here, have at look at the list provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
A number of international banks operate branches in South Africa.
There are some laws that the average tourist might not be aware of