South Africa travel guide
South Africa has been billed as 'a world in one country', and any visitor who has experienced its delights, from the jumble of the gold mining city of Johannesburg in the north, to the sophistication of Cape Town in the south, to the sunny laid back beaches of Durban in the east, and all the mountains, game reserves and picturesque coastlines in between, is bound to agree.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century South Africa was regarded by most of the world as a pariah state where the ruling white minority passed a range of draconian laws to subdue and enslave the black majority. All this changed in 1994 with the release from prison of world-renowned freedom fighter and icon of the oppressed, Nelson Mandela. A new age of democracy was ushered in, and South Africa was suddenly revealed to the world in her beautiful true colours: a rainbow nation with a kaleidoscope of cultures and a host of attractions to enthral and entrance visitors.
More than a two decades later tourists are flocking to sunny South Africa in droves, particularly to the Western Cape with its magnificent scenery, beautiful beaches, majestic mountains and green winelands.
South Africa, comprising the southern tip of Africa and surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, offers a taste of the African experience with the chance to visit traditional tribal villages, game reserves and sprawling townships. At the same time it also offers all the pleasures of a first-world holiday experience, with luxury hotels, sophisticated shopping, exciting theme parks and clean beaches. Have breakfast in a New York-style deli; lunch in an African shebeen; cocktails on a sunset cruise; and dinner in a fine British colonial restaurant.
It is not only cultural diversity that makes South Africa magical. The country has a wealth of animal and plant life scattered across its varied climactic zones, including deserts, snow-covered mountains, forests, grasslands and mangrove swamps. Historically, too, there is plenty to discover, from the fossils of ancient hominids, to the pioneering spirit of the Dutch voortrekkers,and the settlement of the Eastern Cape frontier by the British colonialists.
Although the country will be healing the wounds of Apartheid for many decades to come, South Africa welcomes travellers with open arms and truly has a whole world to offer them.
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 (there is a daily limit for cash withdrawals) 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.
Language : South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. English is widely spoken.
Electricity : Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round, three-pin plugs are standard.
Entry Requirements :
United States nationals need a passport valid for at least 30 days beyond intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days, with extensions possible.
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.
Australian 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, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.
Passport/Visa Note :
Passports should be valid for at least 30 days beyond the period of intended stay. An onward or return ticket is required and evidence of sufficient funds. Note that visitors to South Africa must have at least one blank (unstamped) visa page in their passport, each time entry is sought; this page is in addition to the endorsement/amendment pages at the back of the passport. However, nationals of countries that require a visa before travelling to South Africa, must have two blank pages in their passport - one for issuing a visa prior to departure and one for stamping at the port of entry when entering South Africa.
It should be noted that the child travel laws have recently been amended in South Africa and travellers should confirm requirements with an official government source prior to travel to South Africa with children, just to make sure they have all necessary documentation. A new law came into effect in June 2015 requiring unabridged birth certificates for each child seeking entry to South Africa, with additional documents required for children travelling without both parents, but this law is under consideration and may be suspended.
Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources. The South African Immigration Authorities do not accept loose leaf temporary travel documents. Note that South Africa's immigration laws have changed dramatically over the last two years, and there may be some confusion as to the correct procedure.
Travel Health :
Health regulations in South Africa require that 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, as there are periodic outbreaks of cholera in the poor communities of rural South Africa, particularly in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo provinces.
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 urban areas, but those travelling outside of major cities for an extended period should bring a basic supply kit for emergency self-treatment.
Waitering is a livelihood in South Africa and a tip of at least 10 percent is 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 your parked car; they are usually immigrants from neighbouring countries looking for work and will expect anything from R2 upwards on your return, depending on how long you have been away.
Safety Information :
Safety is an issue and visitors to South Africa should be aware of the country's high crime rate. 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, and doors should be locked when driving and bags and valuables should be kept out of sight. One should not walk alone at night in any area. There have been recent incidents of robbery involving hikers walking on Table Mountain and Lion's Head in Cape Town, so visitors should avoid hiking alone. Be vigilant when using ATMs and do not display signs of wealth (e.g. mobile phones, money, expensive jewellery, cameras) on the streets. Tourists are targeted because they are seen as easy targets - try to appear like a local and you are less likely to run into trouble. Credit card fraud is on the increase and travellers should be vigilant and never allow their card out of their sight. It is worthwhile noting that the South African authorities do give high priority to the protection of tourists. Although crime rates are high in South Africa popular tourist sites and the main hotel areas tend to be safe and most visits are trouble-free.
Local Customs :
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.
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, unless you count watching a sports game with your colleagues as 'work'.
The international access code for South Africa is +27. GSM mobile phone networks providing 900 and 1800 frequencies serve 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. Internet cafes are available. Card and coin operated pay phones are also widespread.
Duty Free :
Travellers to South Africa do not have to pay duty on 400 cigarettes, 50 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 R3,000. All other goods brought in from abroad by South African residents must be declared on arrival. These will be subject to import duties. For goods to be re-imported, travellers must complete a DA65 or NEP-form that is issued on departure. Prohibited items include meat and dairy products, all medication except for personal consumption, flick knives, ammunition, explosives and pornography containing minors and bestiality.
Cape Town International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 13 miles (20km) east of Cape Town.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)21 937 1200.
Getting to the city: The MyCiti bus is the quickest and cheapest option for getting into the city, with an express to the city centre costing about ZAR 70 in addition to the once off ZAR 30 for a MyCiti card. Door-to-door minibus services are available for the journey to the city, taking approximately half an hour. Many hotels operate courtesy buses and a 24-hour backpacker bus is available hourly to many hostels.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Hertz, Avis, Europcar and Tempest.
Airport Taxis: A taxi to the centre of Cape Town takes approximately 30 minutes and the cost may vary depending on the time of day and number of passengers, generally amounting to between ZAR 150 and ZAR 250, with fares up to 50 percent more at night. Only Touch Down Taxis, the authorised airport taxi company, is allowed to operate from the airport.
Facilities: ATMs, bars, restaurants and currency exchange facilities are available throughout the airport. There are several shops, including duty-free in the International Departures section. A VAT refund service is available by the International check in desk. Hotel reservations and tourist information are also available.
Parking: There is short and long-term parking in a multilevel parking garage connected to the terminal. Fees range from ZAR 12 for the first hour in the cheapest parking area to a minimum charge of ZAR 688 (including five days of parking) in the long-term parking area. There is also a special pick-up area that offers 30 minutes' free parking.
O.R. Tambo International Airport (ORTIA)
Location: The airport is 14 miles (22km) east of Johannesburg.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)11 921 6262.
Transfer between terminals: The terminals are all connected.
Getting to the city: The Gautrain provides fast and easy access to the Johannesburg city centre from the airport, with regular express trains to Sandton. An airport bus departs regularly to the city centre. Authorised shuttle buses and taxis are available; these display the ACSA logo on their vehicles. Hotel shuttle buses depart every 15 minutes from the bus terminal.
Car rental: Car rental companies represented at the airport include Avis, Tempest and Europcar.
Airport Taxis: A metered taxi will take 30-40 minutes to the city centre. Taxis wait opposite the international arrivals terminal (Terminal A). Only official metered taxis should be taken.
Facilities: Facilities at the airport include bureaux de change, banks, a post office, shops, restaurants and bars, viewing decks, a medical clinic and a prayer room.
Parking: Short-term parking charges at OR Tambo Airport range from around ZAR 30 for the first two hours in Parkade 1, to ZAR 20 for the first hour or ZAR 30 for two hours in Parkade 2. Official long-term parking lots cost approximately ZAR 50 per day and are connected to the airport via shuttle bus.
Durban King Shaka International Airport
Location: The airport is 22 miles (35km) north of Durban.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)86 727 7888.
Getting to the city: The airport can be accessed by car via the N2 from Durban. Taxis are available and there are shuttles to the city centre and major beachfront hotels, which can booked through the airport's information desk.
Car rental: Numerous car rental companies are represented at the airport including Avis, Thrifty, Europcar, First and Hertz.
Airport Taxis: Many taxi companies operate from outside the arrivals terminal. The journey to the city takes from 30 minutes to an hour. Generally the price is per journey and not per passenger.
Facilities: The newly built airport terminal has a modern and substantial range of facilities, including ATMs, banks, lounges, restaurants and bars, and a large variety of retail outlets. Disabled facilities are excellent, although those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
Parking: There is plenty of parking available within easy walking distance of the terminal.
Departure tax: None.
Location: The airport is situated five miles (8km) south of Kimberley.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)53 851 1241.
Getting to the city: There is no bus service between the airport and the city, but a taxi service is available on request and car hire agencies are available at the airport.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Hertz, Europcar and National Alamo.
Facilities: Facilities include a pub in the arrivals terminal, public phones and an ATM.
Departure tax: None.
East London Airport
Location: The airport is located five miles (8km) west of the city centre.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)43 706 0304.
Getting to the city: There is no public bus or transport from the airport. Shuttle companies leave from in front of the arrivals terminal. Bookings should be made in advance. Their schedule follows flight schedules.
Car rental: Rental companies at the airport include Avis, Europcar, Hertz and Tempest.
Airport Taxis: Metered taxis are available from the airport; a helpdesk is available to give taxi information.
Facilities: The airport has four ATMs in the departures hall and an information desk in the arrivals hall. A restaurant and sweet shop are also available in the terminal building.
Parking: Short and long-term parking is available adjacent to the airport.
Departure tax: None.
Bram Fischer International Airport
Location: The airport is located 11 miles (18km) from the city centre.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)51 407 2200.
Getting to the city: Public transport servicing the airport is limited; minibus taxis are available but are unreliable and often overcrowded. The best way to get to the city is by hired car or taxi.
Car rental: Car rental companies at the airport include Avis, Hertz, Europcar, National and Tempest.
Airport Taxis: Taxis and shuttles, which should be booked in advance, are available just outside the terminal building.
Facilities: The airport has a mobile phone rental shop, ATM, restaurants and an information desk.
Parking: Covered parking is available at ZAR 100 a day, while open parking is ZAR 67 a day. Lock-up garages are available for ZAR 150 per day.
Departure tax: None.
Port Elizabeth International Airport
Location: The airport is situated about two miles (3km) south of Port Elizabeth.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)41 507 7319.
Getting to the city: There is no public transport from the airport into Port Elizabeth. Minibuses may be available; however, most travellers find them uncomfortable and overcrowded with luggage. Visitors not hiring a car will find taxis the most convenient mode of transport. UBER is an increasingly popular transfer service.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Europcar, Hertz and Tempest.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available at the airport; pretty much anywhere in the city is within a 10-minute drive. It is best to insist that the driver uses the meter, but an additional airport pick-up fee may be charged.
Facilities: Facilities include several shops as well as a restaurant, cafes and conference facilities. An ATM is available for cash withdrawal.
Parking: Short and long-term parking is available within easy walking distance from the terminal. The drop-and-go and pick-up zones directly outside the terminal are free for a limited time.
Departure tax: None.
Location: The airport is situated six miles (10km) from George.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)44 876 9310.
Getting to the city: Taxis are the only form of transport between the city and the airport.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Hertz and Europcar.
Facilities: Facilities include foreign exchange, an ATM, conference facilities, cafes, and a few snack shops. Cellphones are also available for rent.
Departure tax: None.
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 16 miles (25km) from Nelspruit at White River.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)13 753 7500.
Getting to the city: Taxis are available.
Car rental: A number of car rental companies are located at the airport including Avis, Hertz, National/Alamo, Europcar and Budget.
Facilities: Facilities include an ATM and currency exchange facilities, a restaurant, café and curio shops.
Parking: Short and long-term parking is available.
Departure tax: None.
Location: The airport is situated five miles (8km) from Hoedspruit and is situated within the Hoedspruit Air Force Base Nature Reserve.
Time: GMT +2.
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)15 793 3681.
Car rental: Avis has a rental office on site.
Facilities: Foreign exchange is available, and there is a small restaurant and curio shop.
Departure tax: R110.
Richards Bay Airport
Location: Richards Bay Airport is located four miles (7km) northwest of Richards Bay.
Time: GMT +2
Contacts: Tel: +27 (0)35 789 9630.
Getting to the city: Taxis are available outside the arrivals hall.
Car rental: Car rental companies available include Avis, Europcar, Budget, Alamo and Thrifty.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available outside the arrivals hall.
Facilities: There is food and refreshment available for travellers, as well as medical facilities.
Parking: Short-term parking is available.
Departure tax: None.
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South Africa is a large country and has diverse climactic regions so it is necessary to check the climate for the region to which you are travelling. 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 61°F (16°C) and 79°F (26°C), and in winter average between 47°F (8°C) and 64°F (18°C). 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, hot summers when thunderstorms regularly occur in the late afternoon and evening, and dry, sunny winters with cold nights. Temperatures occasionally drop below freezing at night in the north. The average temperatures in Johannesburg (Gauteng) in the summer range between 58°F (15°C) and 78°F (25°C), and in winter range between 39°F (4°C) and 80°F (16°C).
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.
South African Tourism, Johannesburg: +27 (0)11 895 3000 or
United States Embassy, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 431 4000.
British High Commission, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 421 7500.
Canadian High Commission, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 422 3000.
Australian High Commission, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 423 6000.
Irish Embassy, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 452 1000.
New Zealand High Commission, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 435 9000.
South African Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 232
Foreign Embassies in South_Africa
South African High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7451 7299.
South African High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 744 0330.
South African High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6272 7300.
South African Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 661 5553.
Emergencies: 10111 (Police); 10177
South_Africa Emergency Numbers
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