Why South Africa?
South Africa and its magical city, Cape Town, is one of those places in Africa many of us have always dreamt of visiting. The Southernmost sovereign state, Republic of South Africa (RSA), along with its diversity (hippos in the Limpopo River, penguins waddling along the Cape, craggy mountains dropping precipitously into a glittering sea, bungee jumpers on the world's highest jumping bridge, delicious wine blends and cuisine variations), invites travelers to experience the most breathtaking attractions on the entire African continent. South Africa is not only the perfect destination for nature and wildlife lovers, but also for connoisseurs and daring adventure seekers.
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In order to fully enjoy the almost limitless range of thrilling experiences that South Africa has to offer, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re well prepared in advance. We’ve collected the most important and useful information for you, all easily accessible on our site.
Before you go
South Africa is a multi-ethnic society with a wide variety of cultures, languages and religions. Its pluralistic makeup is reflected in the constitution's recognition of 11 official languages, which is among the highest numbers for any country in the world. Fortunately, for US and EU citizens, visits to South Africa for stays of up to 90 days as tourists do not require visas in advance. Nor do short stays for business meetings. However, your passport must be valid for at least 3 months after entering the country and have at least 2 blank pages for any necessary stamps. If you’re planning to travel with kids or teenagers, keep in mind that there are special requirements for minors travelling through South African ports of entry. In addition, South Africa as a country is actively fighting against illegal activities such as smuggling precious minerals and leather goods. The country also has strict rules on taxes and duties for luxury products. If you want to avoid unpleasant surprises at the airport, be reasonable while shopping in South Africa.
Health and medical care
As in other African regions, travel to South Africa requires that visitors are aware of possible diseases. There’s no official need to get vaccinated before entering the country, but a medical consultation with a GP (prior to traveling) is a good idea that will help minimize potential threats. It’s also recommended that you get vaccinations against measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio and the flu. The main threats of disease include HIV and tuberculosis, according to the World Health Organization. Malaria, one of the most common diseases on the African continent, is most often acquired in the northeast part of South Africa, which includes the popular tourist site, Kruger Park. In case of emergency, public medical assistance is widely available. Private medicine is of a high standard and the cost of a doctor’s visit is estimated at 110 USD/100 EUR, while the cost of one day in hospital is roughly 150-380 USD/130-330 EUR. Nevertheless, it’s wise to buy additional health and transport insurance through an international insurance company before traveling to South Africa.
South Africa has a generally temperate climate, due in part to being surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans on three sides. Its climate is also influenced by its location in the milder Southern Hemisphere and by the average elevation rising steadily towards the North (towards the equator) and further inland. The coldest days occur from June to August. In general, South Africa is a sunny country with high rainfall. Still, precipitation levels are much lower than the global average in the East and they gradually decrease as one goes westward. There are some semi-arid desert areas along the western edge of South Africa. As one of the most popular destinations on the continent, South Africa lures tourists with its subtropical location. The ocean on two sides of the triangle-shaped country provides a warm, temperate climate.
Across the country
As the 25th-largest country in the world (comparable in size to Colombia), South Africa entices foreign tourists to visit other regions. Although security in less central regions is sometimes a concern, there are several options for travelling across the country. South Africa has several private bus companies that regularly serve both national inter-city and cross border routes, some offering charter services. For backpackers and tourists that require less comfort when traveling, BazBus (a hop-on, hop-off service between all major urban centers, including Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town) is a great option. For train lovers, South Africa offers not only safe and quick transport, but also attractions like the unique steam engine train that travels across South Africa’s most beautiful landscapes. In most big cities, you can order a taxi or just use Uber. Remember to make sure of the driver’s and the company’s reliability.
Among the diverse groups of South African citizens and their cultures, there are some trends that are generally accepted around the country. It’s important to remember that the openness and charm of local guides and inhabitants works both ways.
Apart from its undeniable charm, South Africa is a country with considerable risk of crime. Common sense is one of the most important skills that help travelers avoid becoming victim to such acts. Tourists in South Africa should definitely avoid walking or traveling in the evening or at night (especially outside city centers as well as popular daytime spots). The same rules (pay special attention and use common sense) apply at crowded places like tourist attractions, airports, train stations and bus stops.
South Africa’s road infrastructure makes driving between cities and towns a viable option. Given the stunning scenery in many parts of the country, road trips are highly enjoyable. Road conditions are generally good in South Africa, but some driving habits may come as a surprise for American and European tourists. If you decide to use a car in South Africa, drive even more carefully than usual. Remember that some of the residents rarely drive and may not be fully aware of traffic laws, and this has a notable influence on the number of accidents. Vehicles in South Africa drive on the left, and the steering wheel is on the right-hand side of the car.
Good to know
South Africa has 11 official languages, with English and Afrikaans predominant. The local currency is the South African Rand. It’s easy to exchange foreign currencies, given that exchange rates in exchange offices don’t differ much from those in banks, where tourists may be charged additional fees. Card payments are widely accepted. South Africa has one time zone: SAST (South African Standard Time) The country’s most important national holidays include: 1 January: New Year's Day; 21 March: Human Rights Day; 25 March: Good Friday; 28 March: Family Day; 27 April: Freedom Day; 1 May: Workers Day; 16 June: Youth Day; 9 August: National Women's Day; 24 September: Heritage Day; 16 December: Day of Reconciliation; and 25 December: Christmas Day.