Nelson Mandela is likely the first thing that comes to mind when you hear South Africa – and for good reasons. But there are plenty of other incredible things about this southernmost country in the African continent.
South Africa is situated at the southern tip of Africa. It’s a huge country, almost twice the size of France, with a population of over 59 million, making it the 25th most populous country in the world.
Here’s what you need to know before traveling to South Africa:
Passport Validity: 6 months from the date you arrive
Blank passport pages: 2 consecutive blank pages in your passport on arrival in South Africa
Tourist Visas: You don’t need a tourist visa when traveling to South Africa for 90 days or less
Currency restrictions for entry: ZAR 25,000; Foreign currency unlimited if declared; No Kruger coins
Currency restrictions for exit: ZAR 25,000; Foreign currency unlimited if the amount was declared on entry; Up to 15 Kruger coins if proof purchased with foreign currency.
Health and Vaccinations: Travelers originating from or transiting through WHO-designated yellow fever countries need to receive the yellow fever vaccine at least 10 days before arrival in South Africa.
Language: South Africa comprises a diverse mix of cultures, languages, and religions. 11 official languages are spoken in South Africa, which is more than any other country in the world!
These languages are Afrikaans, English, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda, and Xitsonga.
Electricity: South Africa operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz. The power sockets are types C, D, M, and N.
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What to See and Do in South Africa
South Africa is a country with a rich history and diverse culture. From the bustling city of Johannesburg to the stunning beaches of Cape Town, there is something for everyone to enjoy in South Africa. Here are just a few of the top attractions that this beautiful country has to offer.
Kruger National Park
One of the most popular tourist destinations in South Africa is Kruger National Park. This world-famous game reserve is home to incredible wildlife, including lions, elephants, and buffalo. Visitors can participate in game drives and safari walks or relax and enjoy the breathtaking scenery.
Another must-see attraction in South Africa is Table Mountain. This iconic landmark offers stunning views of Cape Town and the surrounding area. Visitors can take a cable car to the top of the mountain or hike the many trails that wind their way to the summit.
No visit to South Africa would be complete without a stop at Robben Island. This former prison is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and houses a museum dedicated to the years Nelson Mandela spent incarcerated here. Tours of the island are conducted by former prisoners, providing visitors with a unique perspective on South African history.
Explore the National Parks
South Africa is home to several world-renowned national parks. In addition to Kruger National Park, visitors can enjoy the beauty of the country’s other parks, such as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Hluhluwe and iMfolozi National Park, Addo Elephant National Park, and Addo Elephant National Park.
The Drakensberg Mountain range is one of the most beautiful places in South Africa. The mountains offer stunning views and many hiking and camping opportunities.
See African Penguins
Located just outside of Cape Town in Table Mountain National Park, Boulders Beach is home to a colony of African penguins. These penguins, also often referred to as jackass penguins for the noise they make, are endangered. So, visitors are usually kept from swimming with them or walking on the beach. But a boardwalk runs through the colony, allowing visitors to get up close and personal with these fascinating creatures.
Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and is a bustling metropolis. It is home to many museums, historical sites, and lively nightlife.
Often referred to as the “Mother City,” Cape Town is the capital city of South Africa and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. It is home to several attractions, including Table Mountain, Robben Island, and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
Where to Stay in South Africa
There is no shortage of accommodation options in South Africa. From luxury hotels to budget-friendly guesthouses, there is something for everyone.
What to Eat in South Africa
South African cuisine is a unique blend of influences from around the world. The country’s diverse population means various dishes to choose from. Some of the most popular South African foods include:
- Biltong & droewors – dry and cure beef or game
- Boerewors – traditional South African sausage made from beef, mixed with either pork or lamb and a mixture of spices
- Cape Malay curry
- Malva pudding – sweet and sticky baked sponge pudding made with apricot jam and served smothered in a hot cream sauce
- Chakalaka & pap – A vegetable dish made of tomatoes, onions, beans, carrots, peppers, and spices
- Braai/Shisa nyama – grilled chicken, lamb, pork, beef, and vors (sausages)
- Bunny chow – Hollowed out loaves of bread stuffed with spicy curry
- Amarula Don Pedro – A cream liqueur made from the indigenous marula fruit, blended with ice cream
- Bobotie – Minced meat is simmered with spices, then topped with a mix of milk and egg and baked until set.
- Melktert (Similar to the British custard tart or Portuguese pasteis de nata)
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How to Get Around in South Africa
South Africa has a good infrastructure, and you can get around by taxis, Transportation Network Companies (TNC), rail service, aviation safety oversight, and maritime travel.
By Taxi: The most common way to get around in South Africa is by taxi. You can either hail a cab on the street or call a taxi company to pick you up. It’s important to note that there are two types of taxis in South Africa: metered and minibus. Metered taxis are regulated and have set fares, while minibus taxis are usually not metered, and the fare is negotiable.
By TNC: Many Transportation Network Companies (TNC) operate in South Africa, including Uber, Taxify, and Bolt. These companies allow you to book a ride using their smartphone app, and the fare is then calculated based on the distance traveled.
By Rail: South Africa has a well-developed rail network that connects major cities and towns. The main operator is Metrorail, a division of the South African railways company Transnet.
By Aviation: There are several airports in South Africa, including Cape Town International Airport, OR Tambo International Airport, and King Shaka International Airport.
By Maritime: South Africa has many seaports, including the Port of Durban, Cape Town, and Mossel Bay.
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What is the Best Time to Visit South Africa?
The best time to visit South Africa depends on what you want to do and see. For example, if you’re interested in seeing the wildlife, the best time is during the dry season (May to September). These cooler winter months in the northern regions bring superb conditions for viewing big games. However, if you’re looking to bird-watch, November to February is the best time to go, as this is when many migratory birds can be seen.
Tips for Traveling to South Africa
Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your trip:
- Before you go, check the visa requirements for your country of citizenship. Some countries need to have a visa before visiting the SA.
- South Africa is a large country with many different regions. Do some research before deciding which area best suits your interests and budget.
- If you are planning on going on a safari, book your accommodations and activities in advance. This can help you avoid disappointment and get the best possible rates.
- Pack appropriate clothing for the time of year you’ll be visiting. For example, if you’re going during the summer months (December to March), pack light, loose-fitting clothes as it can get quite hot. And if you’re going during winter (June to August), pack warmer clothes as it can get cold, especially in the evenings.
- Have travel insurance in case of unforeseen circumstances, such as lost luggage or cancellations.
- When traveling within South Africa, be aware of your belongings, as there are instances of petty crime.
- Leave valuables in a safe place, such as a hotel safe, and only carry what you need for the day.
- The official language of South Africa is English, but 11 other official languages are spoken throughout the country. Learning a few key phrases in one of the local languages will go a long way in making your trip more enjoyable.