South Africa Guide
Five Things First Time Travellers To South Africa Should Know
- Be aware of your surroundings. To avoid becoming a target don't flash your jewellery or use your smartphone in public. It's also not a good idea to leave your bag on an empty chair at restaurants or to walk around alone at night.
- Do your research. There are several parts of South Africa's tourism industry that are unregulated. Before signing up for a township tour or animal experience make sure it's ethical and a grassroots initiative where the money goes back to the community.
- WiFi is available across the country. If you need to get online, head to your nearest coffee shop or buy a local SIM card. Just keep in mind that the data plans are capped, and all but one network still operates on 3G.
- Parking guards are not a scam. In South Africa, it's common to pay someone to look after your car while you go into the shops or run errands. Keep a few coins on hand to pay the car guard when you return, a ZAR 5 to ZAR 10 tip is more than enough.
- There are 11 official languages in South Africa. But don't worry about any communication barriers. English is used on all the road signs, and it is taught as either a first or second language in schools.
Best Time To Visit South Africa
The best time to visit South Africa is during its summer months. The temperatures are warm, the landscape is at its best, and there are loads of activities to take part in.
But if you're coming for game viewing, the best time is between May and October. These drier months will see the country's wildlife making their way to the water holes, giving you plenty of photo opportunities.
For the ultimate Cape Town beach holiday, book your flights anytime between November and February. While the Atlantic ocean is still freezing, it's slightly warmer than other times of the year. Plus the beautiful beaches are full of activities like sunset yoga, kitesurfing and even fire poi. Just make sure you lock in your hotel reservations well in advance especially if you're visiting over Christmas and New Year.
If you're interested in watching the whale migration, visit South Africa from June to November. These gentle giants bring their calves close to the shore at places like Hermanus and are easy to spot around the south-western coast.
For budget travellers, South Africa has two low seasons which offer the best deals. From April to June and August to October, prices for accommodation, flights and drops can drop by as much as 40%.
South African Cities
Cape Town is one of the most breathtaking cities in the world. Nestled between rugged mountain ranges, and hugged by pristine beaches, its natural beauty is in abundance.
Hike to the top of a Wonder of the World, Table Mountain; learn about the city's tumultuous history and indulge your taste buds at South Africa's foodie capital. Its beaches are also home to the endemic African penguin, and its waters are patrolled by majestic Great White sharks.
Johannesburg is South Africa's largest city and the country's most important political and commercial hub.
Nicknamed the City of Gold, it welcomes thousands of visitors every month and is home to many of the country's important historical landmarks.
Visit the Apartheid Museum to learn more about South Africa's dark past or go on a tour of Soweto. It's the former home of Nelson Mandela and has produced two Nobel Prize Peace winners.
Durban is a firm favourite of beach bums from around the world. Its warm Indian Ocean waters attract hundreds of local and international travellers each year.
But what the city is most famous for is its cuisine. Home to the largest Indian population outside of India, Durban's flavourful curries won't disappoint.
The city is also a gateway to the Wild Coast, the Drakensberg and the historical sites of the Zulu Kingdom.
Top Attractions in South Africa
Table Mountain is a nature lovers paradise. Standing at 3,560 ft, it's home to the 1,500 different species of fynbos and more than 250 different types of birds. It's also one of the most recognisable natural icons and is a new 7 Wonder of Nature.
Take the cable car to stand on top of the legendary mountain. It's especially majestic at sunset or right before the cloud cover comes in.
But if you're feeling up for the adventure, climb to the top. Various routes weave their way around, from the challenging Platteklip Gorge to the more relaxed trails that start in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is known around the world for its abundance of wildlife. It's one of South Africa's oldest game reserves and is only a short 4-hour drive from Johannesburg.
Inside, you'll have a chance to see the legendary Big Five, ancient rock paintings and archaeological sites.
Take yourself on a self-drive through the park and stay at one of luxury lodges or self-catering camps. But if you want to explore the park from a different angle, book a balloon safari. Or if you're feeling brave, go track some of Africa's biggest animals on foot.
The Drakensberg is a region of jaw-dropping natural beauty, San Rock art and Africa's tallest waterfall. It's the highest mountain range in Southern Africa towering over the landscape at 3,482 metres high.
Only three hours from Johannesburg, it's easy to spend a weekend or more exploring all that the mountain range has to offer.
Visit the Amphitheatre, regarded as one of the most impressive cliff faces in the world. See the rock art of the San and explore the caves at Golden Gate National Park. Hike up cliffs and chain ladders to impressive waterfalls and explore the Drakensberg from above with a canopy tour.
The Garden Route
Located on the southeast coast, lies 200 km of pristine coastal scenery. The Garden Route stretches from Storms River in the Eastern Cape all the way to Mossel Bay.
It's one of the most scenic drives in the country, with loads to do at the small towns in between. Visit the Garden Route National Park and go hiking through the thick forests. Stop at Oudtshoorn and explore the Cango Caves or jump off the highest bungee from a bridge in the world.
The best way to see the Garden Route is to hire a car. But if that's out of your price range, there are local, long-distance buses that run between the towns.
Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
If you're driving through to Kruger National Park, make a pit stop at the Blyde River Canyon. Located in Mpumalanga, it's the second largest canyon in Africa and full of rich biodiversity.
Follow the scenic driving routes for panoramic views at God's Window. Or if you have the time, ditch your car and go on one of the many treks. The trails will take you past waterfalls, gushing rivers and striking rock formations.
For the more adventurous, you can also go white water rafting, kloofing and hot-air ballooning.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the local wildlife. The canyon is home to a variety of primates, many hippos and crocodiles.
Major International Airports in the South Africa
- OR Tambo International Airport
- Cape Town International Airport
- King Shaka International Airport
- Lanseria International Airport
- Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport