South Africa Travel Tips: 12 Essentials To Guide You On Your Trip

View of Table Mountain from the sea
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A note to my readers: The world is gradually easing Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, but it will be a long time before we can travel freely again. For many of us that will mean staycations and more local travel, but I will continue posting new content for you to read at home and to inspire your future travels. Happy reading and stay safe!

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This is a guest post from Emily Craik of Tickets n Tour

What is South Africa like? Well, picture incredible natural landscapes, an assortment of wildlife, two oceans colliding, and a Rainbow Nation filled with a diverse cultural mix. If you’re flying in from abroad, the cheapest international flights to South Africa usually land in one of the leading international airports, either Cape Town International Airport (CPT) or O R Tambo International Airport (JBH). Once you’re in the country, there are plenty of other affordable flights to other popular destinations.

There is no doubt that this is a popular travel destination, with its globally-renowned attractions such as Table Mountain and Kruger National Park. If you’re busy planning your trip to this beautiful country, take a look at some of these tips for a stress-free vacation.

Is South Africa Safe?

First things first: “How safe is South Africa,” and “Is South Africa dangerous”? The simple answer is “yes”, it can be dangerous. However, with common sense and a bit of vigilance, as you would have in any other country, you will be safe. For example, don’t flash fancy items while walking down the street. Don’t walk around the streets at night, even if your accommodation or destination is a few blocks away. If you’re going out to explore the nightlife, especially in the large cities, always take an Uber.

Blue sky with plane and skydiver
Skydiving in Jefferys Bay (photo credit Emily Craik)

Learn Some Local Slang

South Africa boasts 11 official languages. Although English is the third most-spoken language, South Africans have put their own unique twist, with a dash of Zulu, Xhosa, and Afrikaans, etc, together. Take a look at these mix of words thrown in for good measure. Here are some of the most popular South African slang words to help you during your travels:

  • Babbelas: This word is a simple statement for being hungover
  • Braai: A social gathering to braai meat or have a cookout, is to have an outdoor barbeque (or grill)
  • Jol: Expressing a good time, to party, and have fun
  • Eish: A term used to express confusion or surprise
  • Ag man: An Afrikaans equivalent to saying “oh man!” and is used to express pity, irritation, or resignation
  • Haiybo: Derived from Zulu meaning certainly not
  • Robot: South Africans call traffic lights “robots”
  • Aikona: A Zulu term to express disbelief, shock, or something unbelievable
  • Howzit: A standard greeting used instead of saying “hello”, or “hi”
  • Eina: A term used to express a sharp pain
  • Lekker: Obtained from Afrikaans, it means fantastic, good, or great
  • Tekkie: South Africans tend to call their sneakers, trainers, or athletic shoes, “tekkies”
  • Bra/ Bru: A word used to call someone a friend, buddy, or pal
  • Yebo: Often expressed as a double positive together with the English word such as “Yebo, Yes”. It’s used to show approval or agreement.
Brightly coloured dolosse, or concrete block for coastal reinforcement
South African invented dolosse, or concrete block used for coastal reinforcement (photo credit Emily Craik)

Try The Tap Water

Did you know that South Africa boasts some of the cleanest tap water in the world? It’s safe to drink during your trip, so be sure to bring along a reusable water bottle and fill it up for a day excursion. However keep in mind water won’t be as drinkable everywhere. Ask someone if you’re uncertain about drinking the water.

For something a little stronger than water, head off to the South African wine route – the Stellenbosch region – and sample some of the best wines in the world. It is a destination that should be on any South African itinerary.

Buy A Local Sim Card

As soon as you land in South Africa, and you’ve received your luggage, look out for where you can buy a sim card. There are plenty of vendors inside the airport who can assist you with this. Mobile coverage in South Africa is extensive and easy to access. You’ll be able to connect to wifi just about anywhere you go. However, remember in remote areas, like the bush, you’re unlikely to have cellular reception.

The primary connection services are MTN, Telkom, Cell C, and Vodacom. You’ll want to get set up with data bundles to help you stay connected as well as airtime (credit) to make phone calls to your loved ones. Note: A local SIM will only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones. Check with your provider in your country to make sure you can use it before you leave.

While you’re here, don’t forget that you may need adapter plugs.

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Tipping In South Africa

South Africa is a tipping country, and visitors should expect to tip for just about anything, such as for lunch, parking your car, and at gas stations. At restaurants, it’s common practice to tip around 10-15%, and if you’re at a bar, customers often tip the bartenders with their small change from the bill.

If you decide to hire a car for your trip, you’ll soon come into contact with the car guards. These are people who watch your car in exchange for a tip – usually around R2 to R10. When you need to refuel, the fuel stations are called garages and are not self-service. You’ll need to drive onto the forecourt where the petrol attendant will fill the vehicle. This is where you’d want to tip the attendant for their service.

Keep Cash On You

Although credit cards are widely accepted in South Africa, you’ll still want to have some cash on your trip. Once you’ve arrived, draw cash from the ATM. You’ll get a much better exchange rate from the machines rather than using currency exchange services.

Another easy way to pay is once you’ve got your local sim card (local number), download the app “Snapscan”. It’s a safe and easy to use app that connects to your credit cards so you can tap to pay at different places providing QR codes. This is a quick one-step credit card payment.

Buy Travel Insurance

South Africa is an unbelievably beautiful travel destination – an adventure seeker’s dream. Go on stunning multi-day hikes through the Drakensberg, paraglide off Lion’s Head in Cape Town, or go bungee jumping at Bloukrans Bridge, one of the highest bungees in the world. However, if you’re planning on getting your adrenaline fix, make sure you’ve got travel insurance to cover you during your trip to South Africa.

Beach with a sculpture of a surfer and waves
Internationally Renowned Surf Spot, Jefferys Bay (photo credit Emily Craik)

Take a look at general comprehensive travel insurance. With South Africa being such a vast country to travel, it’s a good idea to get covered for any flight delays, or any unforeseen trips to the hospital.

Check For Vaccinations And Health Requirements

There are no vaccinations required when you’re visiting South Africa. However, if you’re entering the country from a yellow fever zone, you need to have an international yellow fever inoculation certificate with you. Some regions may have malaria or be at risk, so first consult your doctor. Rest assured there are ample pharmacies and hospitals in the country to assist you with any medical needs.

Getting Around South Africa

To get around, if you haven’t hired a car, use Uber. Don’t forget to download the app. Taxis are relatively cheap but make sure you use a metered taxi or one organised by your accommodation. Uber is a safe, reliable, and a convenient way to explore your area of interest. If you’re in Gauteng (Johannesburg), you can use the Gautrain. It’s a railway system that stops at most major hubs such as the O R Tambo International Airport. Another option when you are in Cape Town is the MyCiTi bus.

Hire A Car

If you’re looking to explore beyond the major cities of South Africa, perhaps to visit the famous Garden Route or the Highest Pub in Africa in Lesotho, you’ll need a car. Luckily, there are car rental places just about everywhere you look and at much lower prices compared to other countries. A popular option for many travellers is to hire a set of wheels and go on a self-drive safari in the Kruger National Park.

Head of a giraffe and the branches of a big tree
Abby the Giraffe (photo credit Emily Craik)

If you plan to hire a car, keep in mind that South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road.

Cheapest Options To Country Hop In Southern Africa

Suppose you’re looking to fly into Southern Africa from an international destination? In that case, South Africa may be the cheapest option to fly into, such as to O R Tambo International Airport (JNB) or Cape Town International Airport (CPT). From there you can book a connecting flight to surrounding countries on the cheap, such as to Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, and Botswana.

Best Time To Visit South Africa

When is the best time to visit South Africa? Any time really: however, this depends on your travel interests and what you want to get out of your trip. South Africa is popular for its moderate temperature and sunny days, even in the dead of winter (from May to July). It does get cold, but there is no need to grab your thermals and snow boots. If you’re planning an itinerary to the Mother City, Cape Town, keep in mind the Western Cape gets the most rainfall during winter. So it may be preferable to head there in summer.

During summer and school holidays (December and Easter), “silly season” starts and it can get rather crowded around main attractions, and accommodation prices go up. May to August is considered the best time to safari as it’s during the dry season where plenty of animals are spotted at the waterholes.

Final Thoughts Before You Travel To South Africa

South Africa provides travellers with a diverse mix of cultures, boasts a range of picture-perfect landscapes and spectacular wildlife, and flaunts delicious cuisine. You’ll have a splendid time exploring and discovering this beautiful country. Along with the friendly Rainbow Nation, who are always happy to help, what’s not to like? So, grab your bags and favourite travel gear and get ready to explore one of the most awe-inspiring countries the world has to offer.

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About WorldWideWriter

WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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