Things you should know when travelling to South Africa

South Africa offers the tourist an incredible opportunity to have the holiday of a lifetime. Its diversity, in people, geography, climate and culture is truly awe-inspiring and with the weak Rand, it offers astounding value for money. Here are some of the questions we are asked most frequently by those considering travelling to South Africa.

Serra Cafema Chalet deck

What’s the local currency and what should I do about cash/cards?

The local currency is Rand and it is currently at a nearly all-time low against the Pound, Euro and Dollar. If you are staying in any of the big cities, you can use your credit or debit card with ease, but if you are visiting more remote areas, it is advisable to take cash with you. In Cape Town, SnapScan is also popular so it’s worth downloading the app before you arrive.

What’s the food like?

We have some world-renowned restaurants here in South Africa. Head this way to find out about some of our favourites in Cape Town, and here for the full list of the top 20 in the country. You can also expect to find similar food to that available in the UK, at supermarkets like Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay.

twelve apostles

Is the water safe to drink?

South Africa is a vast nation so it isn’t possible to give a blanket yes or no to this question. In all the big cities, it is generally considered safe to drink tap water. In more rural areas, out in the bush for example, bottled water or water filtration systems will be recommended. The best thing to do is to ask your host or accommodation for their advice.

How do I go about planning my trip?

South Africa really is huge so you need to think about what you would like to achieve with your first trip to this special place. Is it to truly explore Cape Town and the winelands? Then a whistle-stop Cape Town itinerary could suit you. If it’s to get a taste of the African wilderness and see the Big 5 as well as take in the beauty of the Cape, this 14 Nights Wonders of South Africa package could be what you are after. Decide whether you are after a relaxed holiday (in which case stay somewhere like the Blueviews Penthouse) or whether seeing the sights and animals is what’s going to tick the box.

How long should I plan to stay?

That’s simple. As long as you can. The vastness of South Africa means that you can really stay as long as a long-weekend (fly into Cape Town and enjoy) or for months exploring all there is to offer. The longer you have, the more you’ll be able to take in but for those who have to worry about taking leave, a two week holiday with the right itinerary will be perfect.

Sleep tight at Grand Dedale

Sleep tight at Grand Dedale

Do I need to take malaria pills?

If you are sticking to the main cities, you won’t need to take malaria pills. However, if you plan to venture up north to the game farms, anti-malaria tablets will be recommended.  Here are our favourite malaria-free and family-friendly safari destinations. Wherever you go, it is advisable to take some insect repellent and, if you know there are mosquitoes in the area, sleep under a net.

Do I need any vaccines?

Health professionals advise you to make sure your vaccination programme is up-to-date no matter where you are travelling. There aren’t specific jabs required for South Africa unless you have travelled through a Yellow Fever area recently. Read up here for more advice. It is also worth speaking to your doctor before you travel and, although private health care in South Africa is generally considered excellent, packing some of the medicines you know and trust from your home country. Again, as with travelling anywhere in the world, it is highly recommended that you have travel and medical insurance.

Relax at Buitenverwachting

Relax at Buitenverwachting

How do I get a sim card?

You should be able to get a local sim card pretty easily in any shopping mall with mobile phone providers such as CellC, MTN and Vodacom. Take your passport along. This will only be necessary if you plan on making many phone calls while you are here. Otherwise, speak to your home mobile provider and find out more about the roaming rates.

Do I need a visa?

Most countries do not need a visa to visit South Africa if the visit will be for less than 90 days. You can find out more here.

Are there any tips for ensuring safety and security?

You need to be aware of crime in South Africa. Always keep your personal belongings out of sight (don’t leave your phone on the passenger seat). If you have a safe in your hotel room, lock away any valuables. Don’t head off alone at night without asking the advice of your host, tour operator or hotel manager. Crime varies from area to area so the best people to advise you are locals.

The Test Kitchen, Woodstock

The Test Kitchen, Woodstock

What kind of car should I hire?

If you are hiring a car, ask the rental company for info as to who you should call if you run into any problems with your vehicle. You will only need a 4×4 if you are travelling to more remote areas such as Botswana, Namibia and game reserves in the north of South Africa

What’s the public transport like?

Uber is taking the cities by storm and is a great way to travel. The MyCiTi bus service in Cape Town is also reliable. Before taking the train or any other form of public transport, ask your travel agent.

What should I expect to pay for accommodation and eating out?

There is a huge range of accommodation options so there really is something for every budget. When eating out, a typical main meal costs between R70 and R160. Expect to pay at least a 10% tip and if there are car guards looking after your car, a R5-R10 tip is appropriate.

The Cape's beautiful beaches

The Cape’s beautiful beaches

The best way to ensure you have a stress-free and wonderful holiday in South Africa is to use a travel agent you trust. Get in touch and we would love to work out a bespoke itinerary just for you.

About the Author
Richard is the Founding MD of Greatest Africa & Richard Hilton Vineyards. He lives in Somerset West with his wife and two daughters. He is passionate about the Cape, travel, global wines, wine education and sharing his experiences of this beautiful country that he calls home.

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