British, Canadian and American passport holders do not currently require a visa to enter South Africa. For up to date entry requirement please visit this site.
South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, so it is summer here when it’s winter in Europe and North America (November to February), which makes it ideal for anyone wanting to escape the cold weather. We’ll be visiting in the shoulder season at the end of summer and beginning of Autumn.
South Africa is known for its long sunny days, hence the title, ‘Sunny South Africa’. Most of the nine provinces have summer rainfall, except for the Western Cape, which experiences winter rainfall.
Average day temperatures in summer range from a minimum of 15°C (59°F) to a maximum of 28°C (82°F), depending on where you are. In winter, average day temperatures are 19°C to 23°C (66°F to 73°F), although it can get chilly at night, especially at altitude.
Cape Town’s best seasons are spring and autumn. Autumn offers a respite from the summer heat and the vineyards of the Cape Winelands are starting to change colour.
What to pack
Given the variable weather we’re likely to experience in South Africa you will need clothes for hot weather as well as a warm, waterproof jacket. Pack light, and remember the basic essentials: camera and attachments; a good pair of lightweight binoculars; adaptor plugs; toiletries including insect repellent and sunblock; medications and prescriptions; extra reading glasses; sunhat; and notebook or journal. For the safaris it’s wise to pack khaki clothing as this blends into the bush better. A pair of comfortable walking shoes are also recommended.
South Africa has a well-developed healthcare system. There are public hospitals throughout South Africa, but as in many other countries, you’ll probably get quicker care at a private hospital. It is essential that you have medical insurance in place before leaving home. Well-qualified doctors, dentists and other specialists can be found in the main centres but you will have to make an appointment to see one, unless it’s an emergency.
Malaria: While most of South Africa is malaria-free, this mosquito-borne disease is prevalent throughout the year in the Kruger National Park and the low-lying areas of northern KwaZulu-Natal so please consult a healthcare professional about a suitable prophylactic.
The old adage ‘prevention is the best cure’ also holds true. Use repellent and cover up at dawn and dusk when the mosquitoes are most active by wearing long trousers, long-sleeved shirts, shoes and socks, if possible.
TRAVEL TIP: If you develop a bad headache, have aching joints, and recurring fevers and chills after your trip, advise your doctor that you have been in a malarial area. Malaria symptoms can sometimes be confused with flu symptoms.
Personal medication: There are pharmacies throughout South Africa, and many everyday medications, such as painkillers, are available over the counter. Some large chain stores, like Clicks, also have in-store pharmacies that offer good value for money.
If you have a specific medical condition, it’s wise to carry the relevant doctor’s prescription with you. In the event of you losing your medication, a qualified pharmacist should be able to source a replacement, even if the trade name differs in South Africa.
Travelling with CPAP or other Medical Machines
Inform The Big Journey Company that you are travelling with such a device as early as possible and well before you travel. This is especially important in places where there may be issues with power supply, such as on safari or small cruise ships. Also,
-Check that you have the correct electrical and voltage adapters for the country and accommodation you are visiting;
-Check with your airline that they allow your device to be carried as additional hand luggage and ensure that your device is easily accessible and properly labelled as medical machinery;
-Always carry a letter from your medical practitioner prescribing its use for you;
-Ensure you have details of your machine separately in case of the need to secure repairs/replacements whilst you are travelling;
-Check with your medical practitioner about the use of tap or bottled water in the event that distilled water cannot be sourced in the country you are travelling to.
Please note, if you require distilled or ionised water, you must inform The Big Journey Company of this at least two weeks ahead of travel so we are able to make preparations with our ground agents. There will be an additional charge for this.
Smoking: Smoking is banned in public places, but there are usually designated areas where people can smoke.
South Africa has a well-developed communications infrastructure. A number of cellphone/mobile phone providers offer national coverage and there are well-established landline phone networks. Internet and Wi-Fi are easily accessible in most urban areas. South Africa has 4 world class mobile phone operators, namely Vodacom- the biggest and most popular - MTN, Cell C and Virgin Mobile. Sim cards can be purchased almost anywhere and can be as little as R3. Pay-as-you-go airtime is recommended for tourists.
South Africa is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GTM), one hour ahead of Central European Winter Time, 8 hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time and 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Winter Time. There is no daylight saving and no time-zone changes between South Africa and its neighbouring countries, or between the 9 provinces of South Africa.
Currency and Money
The unit of currency is the South African Rand, denoted by the symbol R. One hundred cents makes up one Rand (R1). Coins are available in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5, and notes in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200. Your foreign currency can be exchanged at most local banks and Bureaux de Change. There are many banks and ATM's all around South Africa, including airports, petrol stations and malls.
TRAVEL TIP: Most places accept credit cards. You might like to consider arranging a prepaid currency card which you would use in the same way you use an ordinary credit card. You load it for the currency/currencies of the countries you are travelling to and has the advantage of not being linked to your bank account in case of loss/theft.
There are many of these types of cards available from different providers. Travelex offer this service: US site
Bank Opening Hours
Operating hours for banks are 09:00am - 15:30pm on Mondays to Fridays, and 08:30am - 11:00am on Saturdays. Banks are closed on Sundays and public holidays. Credit cards are widely accepted, including American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa.
We are limited to one piece of hold luggage at a maximum of 23kg (50lb) per piece and dimensions of 158cm (62inches) per piece.
Please remember when you are shopping that if you are flying to Victoria Falls after South Africa, these same luggage restrictions apply for flights to Victoria Falls. One piece of hand luggage at 8kg (18lb) and 56cm(L) 36cm (W) 23cm (H) so that it fits under the seat in front of you or in the overhead lockers. Additionally, ane small personal item (E.G. Small purse, small laptop case) is also allowed. Larger laptop bags and standard/bulkier briefcases will NOT be considered a personal item and will count as the normal piece of hand baggage.
Our local travel service providers are paid well and fairly for their work. However, it is usual for groups to tip guides, rangers and drivers and it would be reasonable for each group member to factor in a contribution of around USD10/£8 per day (paid locally in rands).
Everyone has their own spending habits and so suggesting a budget is always difficult to provide advice on. Remember that your accommodation, transport, activities and many meals are included already in the cost of the tour. We will make stops at ATMs if you need to ‘top up’ and most places accept credit cards. As a guide, you can expect to pay anything from R100 to R500 for individual curios; R50-R80 for a single takeaway meal; R100-R200 per person for a restaurant meal plus 10% tip; and R75-R100 for a bottle of wine; R30-R60 for a cocktail and R15-R25 for a beer at restaurants.
Shopping in South Africa is a very popular pastime for South Africans. International visitors are often attracted to goods that are proudly South African and the attractive exchange rate against many other major currencies means these can often be picked up for a song.
With gold and diamonds being among the most-famed resources, buying jewellery and gemstones in South Africa is often high on the international visitor's shopping list. Shoppers are often attracted to blue-coloured Tanzanite, a rare stone from Tanzania which is expertly crafted into dazzling pieces.
South African wines are another sought-after purchase, and most wine estates and dealers will make arrangements to ship your selection abroad.
Colourful curios and carvings, representing a myriad of South African and African cultures, are also popular purchases and include wooden and soft stone carvings, beading, weaving, pottery and basketware. Articles imaginatively made of ostrich eggshell, wire and recycled goods are sought after.
Bear in mind when shopping in South Africa foreign tourists can get a VAT refund on purchases. A tax invoice must be requested from the vendor for the items purchased. The invoice must bear the seller's name and address, their VAT registration number, a description of the purchased goods, the cost of the goods in South African Rands, and the amount of VAT charged. VAT is levied at a rate of 14%. For purchases of more than R3000, the buyer's name and address must appear on the tax invoice.
Customs in South Africa stipulates that individual travellers are entitled to a duty-free allowance of R5 000 per person, where no duties or VAT apply. These allowances may not be pooled and only apply on a per person basis.
South African Food
South Africa boasts excellent fresh produce, meat, fruit, wines and seafood. Types of dishes served include sosaties (a type of kebab), bobotie (curried mince), crayfish, biltong (seasoned dried meat), and potjiekos (a casserole cooked for hours in a three-legged iron pot). Also try some traditional African and Afro-fusion dishes. South Africa’s local beers, Cape wines, brandies and liqueurs are renowned the world over. The traditional beer -umqombothi - is a home-brewed sorghum beer sold in many African townships.
South Africa is a multilingual country and there are 11 official languages, namely: English, Afrikaans, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga. Although only about 10% of the population has English as its mother tongue, English is the language most widely understood, and is the second language of the majority of South Africans.
About 80% of South Africa's population is Christian. Other major religious groups include Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. A minority does not belong to any of the major religions. The Constitution guarantees freedom of worship.
In urban areas tap water is usually of high quality and safe to drink. It’s quite safe to have ice in drinks and to eat salads. However, when travelling to remote rural areas and the bush you should drink bottled water only.
The South African electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC 50 HZ. With a few exceptions (in deep rural areas), electricity is available almost everywhere.
Most plugs are 15 amp 3-prong or 5 amp 2-prong, with round pins. If an adaptor and/or converter is called for, please bring one with you. Most hotel rooms have 110 volt outlets for electric shavers and appliances. South Africa has power outages and so it is wise to carry a torch with you.
Safety and Security
Use common sense and take basic safety precautions. Keep valuables locked away and don’t wear expensive watches or jewellery, flash expensive cameras, or walk in deserted areas. Keep car doors and windows locked at all times. If in doubt, ask our local guide or at your accommodation for safety guidelines.
If you have any questions that haven’t been answered here please let us know!