Travel to South Africa
It’s not an overstatement when we say that South Africa has something for everyone.
The diverse landscape has it all – beaches, mountains, forests, deserts, cityscapes, winelands and wild African bush.
Enjoy the beautiful beaches, roaming winelands and modern city life in Cape Town or the edgy cultural vibe in Johannesburg and the chilled out beach scenes of Durban. For relaxed bohemian culture check out the small towns along the Garden Route and for even more chilled out deserted life wander through the Karoo. For the ultimate African safari, there’s the Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg, Addo Elephant Park and many other wildlife parks around the country.
The variety on offer is what makes tourists return over and over again to South Africa – as each visit can offer something unique. There are plenty of exciting experiences in South Africa.
Every trip to South Africa needs to include a little bit of everything – some city life paired with beautiful scenic destinations and wildlife.
The diversity extends to its people, with countless ethnic groups and 11 official languages. South African culture is as diverse as its landscapes – there’s a reason that it’s known as the rainbow nation.
While the main cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria may fit the part of first-world cities, there is still a lot of inequality and poverty across South Africa. While travelling across the country, you will see a lot of poverty stricken rural areas.
Visa Requirements for South Africa
There are currently 48 nationalities who can enter South Africa for up to 90 days without a visa, including nationals from the United States, Canada, most of Europe, Russia, Brazil and Argentina.
Another 28 nationalities are able to enter South Africa for up to 30 days without a visa, including Turkey, Poland, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.
Visit this website to find out if you are exempt from getting a visa to enter South Africa.
Citizens from other countries will need to obtain a visa before entering South Africa. Visas for South Africa can be obtained from embassies and consulates. The South African eVisa will soon be available to make this process easier.
For parents traveling with children to South Africa, you may be required to produce your child’s birth certificate before entering the country. While this was a requirement before, the Department of Home Affairs has relaxed travel rules for foreigners visiting South Africa with minors. It would be advisable to double check this before leaving for your trip.
Important Cultural Information
South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. Of these, Zulu is the most widely spoken, followed by Xhosa, then Afrikaans, then English.
South Africans are generally very friendly and welcoming to tourists. The country is very westernized, making it easy for tourists to fit in.
With so many ethnic backgrounds and with the history of Apartheid, racial issues do arise, though generally do not affect tourists in the country.
When traveling to rural areas or townships within the cities, do be aware of the high poverty within these areas. You will also likely come across beggars and homeless people on the streets. It’s up to you whether you give them anything, it’s advisable to rather give food than money.
Banking & Money
South Africa’s currency is the South African Rand (ZAR). The Rand is divided into 100 cents (c). Notes are in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10. Coins are in denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. To exchange money, there are plenty of ATMs, where you can withdraw from your international account usually for a fee, depending on your own bank conditions. Credit cards, both Visa and Mastercard are well accepted all over. But it’s always useful to have a few notes, especially when traveling to more rural areas.
Medical Emergency Information
For any emergency that requires police response, dial 10111. For any medical emergency, dial 10177. There are no compulsory vaccines for travel to South Africa unless you’re visiting from a country where yellow fever is endemic. If this is the case, you will need to provide proof of yellow fever vaccination on arrival. If traveling to Malaria risk areas, you will need to take medication – consult your doctor before traveling. Get a quote for travel insurance through World Nomads below, or visit the SafetyWing website for more options.
Wi-Fi and Internet in South Africa
South Africa has some of the highest mobile phone and data prices in the world. If you’re spending a short amount of time in the country, it may just be cheaper to stick to Wi-Fi spots (easily found in the main cities). If you would like to get a local SIM card, the best mobile providers are Vodacom, Cell C and MTN.
To avoid having to RICA your SIM Card (a process that includes providing a proof of address), use the B4IGO service. This service allows you to purchase a SIM and airtime/data bundle of your choice before you even leave your home country. You can pick up your pre-ordered SIM at any international South African airport upon arrival.
Cape Town is packed with coworking spots, including Workshop 17 (in several locations around the country), Cape Town Office, Work and Co, Inner City Ideas Cartel and Seedspace Cape Town (just a quick Google search will bring up loads of options).
In Joburg the main coworking spaces include Impello, Workshop 17, Perch and Workspace (again, Google for the most updated list). You will also find coffee shops throughout the country offering free Wi-Fi.
Remember to use a VPN while traveling and accessing public Wi-Fi hotspots.
Arrival in South Africa
Most tourists will enter South Africa through O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, though there are international flights to Cape Town and Durban. From Johannesburg, you can then catch domestic flights to all major hubs around the country. For visitors going on safari or staying to explore Johannesburg and surrounds, car hire is available at the airport, otherwise you can catch the Gautrain to major districts within Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Areas of South Africa
There are so many amazing places to visit in South Africa, from the main cities and areas to small off-the-beaten track destinations. You could travel South Africa for months and still not cover all of the ‘must-see’ destinations. However, some of the main areas to visit in South Africa include:
Locally referred to as Jozi or Joburg, Johannesburg is often skipped on international tourists South Africa itineraries. It’s used as an arrival destination before quickly heading off to somewhere else in the country, which is a huge shame. Joburg is a city packed with life, energy and hustle. Top Johannesburg attractions include a tour of Soweto, bungee-jumping off Orlando Towers, a visit to Constitution Hill, Cradle of Humankind, the Apartheid Museum and experiencing city life in Maboneng. When in Johannesburg, make sure to take a trip to South Africa’s administrative capital city Pretoria. Highlights to a Pretoria visit include Parliament and the Voortrekker Monument.
Often ranked among the most beautiful cities in the world, Cape Town is one of South Africa’s main tourist attractions. The Mother City is home to pristine beaches, breathtaking vineyards (producing delicious wine), beautiful views and of course the iconic Table Mountain.
Cape Town also features a fun and vibey city energy, with a large selection of restaurants, bars, hotels and nightlife. Popular sights to visit while in Cape Town includes a trip to Robben Island, a visit to Cape Point, diving with great white sharks, going up Table Mountain and swimming with the penguins at Boulder Beach. Cape Town is also a great base to visit the surrounding winelands including those in Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Worcester.
Durban is the ultimate seaside playground, boasting warm weather throughout the year. Located in KwaZulu-Natal, Durban (or Durbs if you’re speaking to the locals) is South Africa’s chilled out, surf-vibes coastal city. Not only is the weather warm, but so is the water in the Indian Ocean along the beautiful golden beaches. Making watersports a key attraction to the city. Popular things to do in Durban is eat a bunny chow from one of the many Indian restaurants in the city, visit Shaka Marine World and enjoy sunny beach days.
The Garden Route stretches along South Africa’s most scenic coast, from Mossel Bay through to Storms River. 200 kilometers of beautiful scenery, adventure hotspots and cute seaside towns. Go bungee jumping off Bloukrans Bridge, discover the untouched Wilderness, look for whales in Plettenberg Bay, go in hunt for the Knysna Elephant in the Knysna Forest, zipline through the Tsitsikamma or go kayaking down Storms River.
Kruger National Park
For tourists looking for a South African safari experience, you best head to the Kruger National Park. This wildlife park covers nearly two million hectares of preserved wilderness and is home to the big five among thousands of other wildlife species. Here you can explore the bush by game drive or walking safari – there are loads of various safari tour companies available. You will find accommodation both inside the Kruger National Park as well as within its surrounding wildlife reserves and towns. Nearby cities include Nelspruit, White River, Sabi and Hazyview.
The Wild Coast
Not featuring at the top of many South African travel itineraries, the Wild Coast is South Africa’s hidden gem. This beautiful stretch of coast in the Eastern Cape is best described as raw, natural beauty. Popular spots along the Wild Coast Coffee Bay, Chintsa, Morgan’s Bay and Port St. John’s. Don’t expect fancy accommodation here, it’s a ‘camping on the beach’ kind of destination.
The Drakensberg Mountains range is the highest in the country and among the most beautiful in Southern Africa. Stretching for over 1,000km, the mountain range is a massive sight to see. Not only offering stunning scenery, the Drakensberg offers endless outdoor activities including hiking, birdwatching, horse-riding, rock climbing, quadbiking and mountain biking. It’s also home to an interesting collection of San rock paintings.