USEFUL INFORMATION ON TRAVELLING TO SOUTH AFRICA AND
MAPS CAN BE FOUND IN THE READ MORE SECTION
Booking in advance
South Africa is a popular tourist destination and it is advisable to make your travel arrangements as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment. This includes accommodation, flights and car hire reservations.
South Africa is generally busiest during the summer months of November - March. Local summer school holidays fall during December and January and at this time local seaside resorts are particularly busy with families and children. Other busy holiday periods are over Easter and during the local June/July school holiday period. For visitors preferring a cooler temperature, fewer tourists and less crowds in general its worth considering visiting in the off-peak months of April/May or September/October You may also be able to take advantage of seasonal discounts at these times.
Seasons & weather
The seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are directly opposite to those in the Northern Hemisphere. Summer is generally mid-October to mid-February, autumn is February to April, winter is May to July and spring falls between August and October. Summers are generally hot and lightweight clothing is advisable although evenings can be cool. Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses are a must and remember that sunburn can occur even in overcast weather. In the interior afternoon showers are common during the summer months, while in Cape Town four seasons can be experienced in one day so it is best to be prepared. The winter months are cold, particularly in the interior - warm clothing and raincoats are required.
Notes on luggage when travelling
* Buy luggage that meets your most demanding travel needs. Sensible, sturdy, medium priced luggage is best. If you intend hiring a car, one hard suit case and some soft," squash able" bags can fit into those little spaces.
* Always lock luggage, not only to discourage theft but also to make sure it does not open during handling. Buy small locks to lock all external zipper pockets of bags. This will also protect against others slipping illegal substances into your luggage. Little plastic cable ties are invaluable. They have to be cut to be opened. Available at most electrical and motor spares shops.
* Never leave your camera, handbag etc unattended on the trolley while collecting your suitcase from the carousel – it’s amazing how these things suddenly disappear. A fellow passenger who has travelled on the same flight from your home country may just decide he can make better use of your camera.
* If your luggage appears to have been tampered with – be wary – someone may have slipped something illegal into it, don’t touch it. Rather call a customs official or a security guard and report it.
* Identify your luggage with bright tape or stickers, this makes your bag recognisable to you - be creative - remember hundreds of people will be watching your bag going around the carousel, but no one will be brave enough to walk away with it.
* Remember to label your baggage inside and out, with your home address. If luggage goes astray, it will eventually end up at your home address. However, if you label it to where you are going, you may have returned home by the time your luggage gets to your destination. If it has gone astray, and the name has come off the outside, it can be forced opened and still be returned to your home address.
* Lay out everything you intend taking with you, and take half of it. You will still have too much! Rolling your clothes instead of folding and stacking saves more space.
* Sadly, never offer to carry a case for anyone no matter how sweet that little old lady appears to be, rather call for a ground hostess to assist him or her. Many a traveller has ended up in a foreign jail with drugs in a case that they swore was not theirs.
* A very useful piece of luggage is the "Moon Bag / Money Bag" - the small bag people strap to their waist. It can be worn under your shirt and is ideal carrying money and other important documents, airline tickets, credit cards and so forth.
Getting to South Africa
Johannesburg International Airport is the major international airport in South Africa receiving flights from all five continents. There are also direct international flights to Cape Town International. Flights from the UK and Europe are usually overnight with a flight from London to Johannesburg or Cape Town taking approximately 12-hours. Direct flights between the USA and Johannesburg are approximately 15-hours. South Africa has an excellent network of domestic carriers offering flights to all major city centres throughout South Africa. A flight between Johannesburg and Cape Town is 2-hours.
Travelling around South Africa
South Africa is a vast country and areas of interest are widespread. It is often best to consider combining both flying and driving to make the most of your time. As a rule, public transport is not reliable and it is advisable to hire a car to get around cities and attractions. If you would rather not drive long distances, consider one of the local bus companies such as Intercape or Greyhound - tickets can be booked at Computicket. The Baz Bus is an affordable hop-on-hop-off option for backpackers. Alternatively, join an organised tour to suit your interests and your schedule.
Long flights can be rather uncomfortable. Here are a few tips to make those long flights a little more pleasant.
* Wear comfortable, loose fitting, non-creasing clothes.
* Your feet will swell up when you fly, so you will be more comfortable if you remove your shoes. Most airlines provide socks to wear during long-haul flights. Don't wear new or tight shoes, as you won't be able to put them on when it is time to land.
* Most airlines offer free alcohol on tap. This may seem great at the time, but when consumed in large quantities it will make your jet lag twice as bad. Instead, drink lots of water or fruit juice and eat lightly.
* Try and do gentle leg and foot exercises.
South Africa is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year. It is therefore an hour ahead of Central European Winter Time, seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Winter Time and seven hours behind Australian Central Time.
Passports & visas requirements
- A valid visa, if required.
- Sufficient funds.
- A return or onward ticket.
- At least two blank pages in your passport.
- Yellow fever certificates are required if the journey starts or entails passing through the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America.
Travelling to South Africa is fairly easy and hassle-free. Travellers from Europe, most Commonwealth countries, the USA, Scandinavia and Japan do not need to apply for a visa for vacation purposes. A free entry permit for a period of up to 90-days will be issued on arrival. For visitors wishing to stay longer, an official visa needs to be applied for. Ensure that you have all necessary documentation before you arrive at the airport, as you could be denied boarding at the start of your A valid acceptable passport or travel document good for a sufficient period to cover the intended stay.
Value-added-tax (VAT) is charged on most items. Foreign tourists to South Africa can have their 14% VAT refunded provided that the value of the items purchased exceeds R250.00. VAT is refunded at the point of departure and receipts from purchases must be kept and produced.
Currency & banks
The South African currency unit is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R. One hundred cents makes up one R1 (one Rand). Currently the Rand is weaker than many European currencies as well as the dollar, making travelling to South Africa affordable by international standards. Visitors will more than likely find eating out and shopping particularly affordable and of an excellent quality. Foreign currency can be exchanged at local banks and Bureaux de Change. Credit cards are widely accepted including American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9:00-15:30 and on Saturdays from 8:30 - 11:00.
Post Offices are generally open Monday to Friday from 8:30-16:30 and on Saturdays from 8:00 -12:00.
Most major shopping centres and malls are open 7 days a week from 09:00 to 17:00. In some cases, Sunday shopping hours are from 09:00 - 14:00 and in some smaller towns shops are closed on a Sunday.
As a rule South African restaurants do not include a service charge in the total bill. It is customary to leave a 10% tip for good service, or more for excellent service. At petrol station, petrol attendants will fill your tank for you and will offer to wash your windscreen - a tip of whatever small change you have available is appreciated (R1 or R2). In many areas parking attendants will offer to assist you in parking your car and watching over it while you are away - again, a tip of R2 or so is appreciated.
A valid driver's permit is required to rent a car in South Africa and all drivers must carry a valid driver's licence at all times of driving. The wearing of seatbelts is compulsory and driving while talking on a mobile phone is illegal - a hands free kit must be used. Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited and strict fines apply. The permissible limit for alcohol consumption is about one glass of wine for the average woman and perhaps 1.5 or two for the average or large man. Speed limits are 120kmph on the open road, 100kmph on smaller roads and between 60 and 80kmph in towns and residential areas. Road signs will indicate the speed limit. Speeding is strictly enforced with cameras and fines are high. Bear in mind the following language differences in South Africa - South Africans put petrol in their cars, not gasoline. Trunks are referred to as boots, while hoods are called bonnets.
South Africa has an excellent infrastructure of good quality roads, however the country is large and travelling distances can be long. If you are planning a self-drive holiday, make sure that you allow yourself ample time to reach destinations and make provisions for stop-overs en-route. One of the biggest causes of road accidents on long-distances is fatigue and loss of concentration. In general, try to avoid driving in unfamiliar areas after dark and in rural areas be aware of cattle or other animals such as buck wandering into the road. Do not stop in remote areas after dark and always park in well-lit, designated parking areas.
Health & medical care
South Africa has excellent health services and doctors with some of the best training in the world. There are adequate hospitals and medical care facilities throughout the country. However, visitors should ensure that they have sufficient funds or medical insurance to cover the fees of private facilities.
As a rule, the tap water in South Africa is safe to drink as all water has been treated. Hygiene and food preparation are of excellent standards and fresh fruit and vegetables are safe to eat.
Malaria is found only in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and on the Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Malaria is at low risk in the winter months. It is only possible to contract malaria by being bitten by an infected mosquito - however, when visiting these areas it is advisable to take the necessary safety and medical precautions. Use mosquito nets and an insect repellent to avoid being bitten. In addition, medication can be taken and should be taken according to the instructions given. Medication should be taken starting two weeks before entering the malaria zone and for four weeks after leaving the area. Consult with your doctor beforehand and note that malaria medication should not be taken during pregnancy.
* It is always a good idea to take out medical insurance with your travel agent when you buy your tickets.
* Vaccinations and other medical precautions are needed for travel to some countries, and advice is easily obtained through your doctor or chemist. Have them well before your departure, to allow time for recovery from any side effects.
* If you are on a prescription or if you take a specific medicine, take enough away with you, as you may not be able to get replacements. Carry your medical prescription clearly stating what medication you are taking just in case you have to purchase more during your summer holiday vacation. In this day of illegal drugs it is wise to carry them in the manufactures box/container so if stopped by a customs official he can clearly see the name and know that these are not illegal drugs.
* Always carry a doctor’s certificate for any prescribed drugs so you don't have any problems at customs.
* If you have prescription spectacles, carry a copy of the prescription for easy replacement should you lose or break them.
*Always carry a few basic items from Elastoplasts, head ache pills, & something for upset tummies.
* A word of caution on drinking water – The tap water all over South Africa is normally perfectly safe but if you are not acclimatised to it or have a sensitive tummy you could spend a great deal of your holiday in various bathrooms. This warning also covers ice in your drinks and rinsing ones mouth after brushing your teeth. All the international canned drinks are available as well as various bottled spring waters. What has become very popular are the flavoured spring waters and they have the added advantage of a screw-on cap so they can be saved for later without leaking – very refreshing
* If you have any questions please ask your GP.
No vaccinations are required when visiting South Africa and immunisation against cholera and small pox are not required. However, if you are entering South Africa from a yellow fever zone, you must be in possession of a valid international yellow fever inoculation certificate. Infants under the age of one year are exempt.
As in any foreign country, visitors are advised to be aware and alert when travelling to avoid falling prey to petty theft and crime. Most areas and attractions of South Africa can be safely visited. However, use common sense, be discreet with expensive camera equipment and jewellery and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking in deserted areas after dark and when driving, always park in a well lit and designated parking area. In you have any doubts, speak to your hosts and ask for their advice on potential areas to avoid.
South Africa's electricity supply: 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz
Exceptions: Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V)
Most plugs have three round pins but some plugs with two smaller pins are also found on appliances. Adaptors can be purchased but may be in short supply. US-made appliances may need a transformer.
South Africa has 11 official languages one of them being English. The majority of the population is able to speak and understand English even if it is not their first language. South Africans use a lot of local 'slang' - some of those you are more than likely to come into contact with are listed below:
o Howzit - A traditional South African greeting meaning "How are you?" or "How are things?"
o Boet - "Boet" is the Afrikaans word for "brother" and is often used as a term of affection between male friends.
o Café - the local corner shop selling milk, bread, newspaper and cigarettes etc
o Just now - If a South African tells you they will do something "just now", they mean they'll do it in the near future - not immediately.
o Lekker - An Afrikaans word meaning nice. It is often used in association with food, as in: "That meal was lekker."
o Now now - This is not intended to comfort but means shortly, as in: "I will be there now now."
o Rooibos - A popular South African tea made in the Cape. Rooibos is an Afrikaans word meaning "red bush". When people speak of rooibos they are referring to rooibos tea.
o Braai - the South African equivalent of a barbeque where meat is cooked over an open fire. A popular weekend and social pastime.
o Boerewors/Wors - a type of spicy sausage made from beef or lamb. Generally it is quite thick and is cooked on a braai.
Public holidays are listed below. In major areas shops, restaurants and cinemas will open on public holidays, except for Christmas Day and New Years Day. If the holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday (next day) will be a holiday.
o 1 January - New Year's Day
o 21 March - Human Rights Day
o 9 April - Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday)
o 12 April - Family Day (the Monday after Easter Sunday)
o 27 April - Freedom Day
o 1 May - Workers Day
o 16 June - Youth Day
o 9 August - Women's Day
o 24 September - Heritage Day
o 16 December - Day of Reconciliation
o 25 December - Christmas Day
o 26 December - Day of Goodwill
Law prohibits smoking in most public spaces, including airports and railway stations. Most restaurants have designated smoking and non-smoking areas.