As we all know, South Africa is up there with the most diverse countries in the world, which we all look for when choosing a future travel destination. Because this essentially means there is so much to do and see that we will never get bored – and that is what an adventure is all about. You will undoubtedly experience so many of the country’s great sites, marvel at some of the most iconic landmarks, and feast your eyes on some of the most excellent beaches you have ever seen.
Still, before you get started, there are a few things to know about South Africa which will make your trip hassle-free. We highly recommend asking your local ‘Destination Expert’ for local tips and tricks, which will help you during your South Africa travels. They will be so glad you asked.
Keep reading on for some invaluable things to know when planning a trip to the end of Africa.
We have all been on those trips where we look back and wish we knew something beforehand or had planned a little better. Still, of course, you cannot plan everything to perfection. Errors and mistakes will always happen along the way, which is part of the adventure.
Still, there are many things you should do a little research on before arriving in South Africa, so you can thoroughly enjoy your trip, knowing you have these bits of information under your belt. So here are the main topics you should know about for a trip to South Africa to help avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Yes, this is something that many people don’t think twice about but instead, get swept away with planning a trip to see ‘everything’ in a short time, underestimating how large South Africa is. Rather than cram all the sights and activities into one trip, it is best to focus on a few main areas that are doable in the time you have. Otherwise, if time is of the essence, you can extend your trip to fit more in. As the saying goes, ‘It is all about quality, not quantity, and this is precisely what you should remember when visiting South Africa.
Many who visit for the first time opt to do the Garden Route combined with Cape Town & the Winelands, a great starting point for any trip to South Africa. But, of course, you can fit in a safari here, if time allows. It’s all about your personal preferences. Just remember that this country is twice the size of France, and that will certainly put things into perspective.
The currency in South Africa is the Rand, and you will be happy to know that the country is assessable for all budgets, with a range of budget, middle, and luxury hotel options throughout the country. The same goes for restaurants and transport, which are very affordable and are well priced compared to some western countries. So you could say you get more bang for your buck in South Africa without lacking quality.
When it comes to safaris at Kruger National Park, you can expect to pay as little as $400 for a three-day basic safari package, including game drives, meals, and accommodation, all the way up to $8k and more for the ultra-luxurious longer options, so the choice is yours. You will find backpackers, honeymooners, families, solo travelers, business people, and group tours in South Africa, which goes to show just how accessible it is for every type of traveler.
Although many governmental websites will tell you to practice a high degree of caution in South Africa, which is prone to many gang-related crimes, this doesn’t generally apply to the main tourist areas, and violent crimes against tourists in these areas are low. If you plan to go off the beaten track, it is vital to take it seriously and perhaps opt for a group tour or go with a local ‘Destination Expert’ who knows the area.
It is always part of the adventure to explore the hidden gems of a country. Still, it is crucial to be streetwise in South Africa and not wander into areas you are not familiar with, especially alone and at night. By sticking to the main tourist trail, you can rest assured you are safe, surrounded by other travelers, and have all the main attractions on your doorstep. When driving, stick to the main roads and try not to venture off to small unknown towns inland, which can be a little overwhelming and unsafe, so it is best to plan your routes ahead of time, or if in doubt, opt for a tour.
Self-drive tours in South Africa are ubiquitous, especially along The Garden Route and towards Cape Town, where you will find the roads are a dream to drive, and the only dangerous thing is being distracted by the phenomenal scenery along the way – but don’t worry there are plenty of places for photo stops. One major thing to know is that South Africans drive on the LEFT. Overnight buses are standard, and you can easily reach major cities such as Johannesburg or Durban in this way. However, it is best to take an internal flight if you plan to get to or from Cape Town, as the distances are very long. If taking an overnight bus, be vigilant and always travel with a friend.
Group tours are a widespread option too, and you can check out some of the best eco-friendly South African tours here, which focus on many different aspects of the country. This is undoubtedly a great way to explore the country first, especially as a solo traveler or someone with limited time. However, it is worth knowing that taxis are not that common, and the country doesn’t take advantage of a metro system, so within cities, you can take local buses, walking tours, or even city sightseeing tours.
What to expect:
Many people who visit South Africa for the first time are surprised to see that it resembles Western countries, rather than other African countries, with a wide range of familiar shops, excellent road conditions, a high standard of hotels, restaurants, and safari lodges, as well as well-maintained tourist attractions to discover. In addition, South Africa is very tourist-friendly, and you can easily rent a car and drive from place to place if you like considering the roads are great, and the towns, cities, and villages are well equipped. As mentioned earlier, this tends to be a popular way to get around.
Many tourists can be fearful of South Africa, renowned for gangs and crime. Although this does happen in certain areas (which you should avoid), this is not a great depiction of the country as a whole. You will feel very safe and comfortable in many places, mainly if you stick to the tourist areas.
This can be confusing for most, so let us break it down for you. In South Africa, you will find that many people speak many languages, which might seem confusing. Still, the fact is that the country is home to eleven official languages, including English which is expressed in parliament and by 9.6% of the population.
The official languages are Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, and English, with the most widely spoken being Zulu (23%), Xhosa (16%), Afrikaans (14%) and English (9.6%). Still, there are many more unofficial languages around the country too. When sticking to the main cities and tourist routes, you will have no problem speaking English, so you will not need to carry a translation book with you.