Just like any other place around the world, you may have first-time jitters about visiting the country of South Africa. Is South Africa safe to travel to? Will there be a language barrier? Luckily for you, we’re here to help you navigate the local culture and get you prepared.
First off, it is a country with several big cities, millions of friendly people, and, of course, lots of wildlife experiences. It’s also one of the only countries in Africa where it is legal to grow weed at home. So, don’t be surprised to find grow-tents, cannabis seeds, and LED grow lights in South Africa.
One thing about South Africa that you should know – it’s not what you think it is. There aren’t any wild animals roaming pedestrian crossings or vast acres of land with one lone Amurala tree in the distance. It is an amazing destination for all types of travelers. So, erase any preconceived notions and light up your way there with these tips for traveling to South Africa.
Travel Tips to South Africa
Planning any sort of trip can be a daunting task, especially if you are a first-time visitor. Below you’ll find some savvy tips for traveling to South Africa, and this will help you enjoy your visit more.
Do Your Research on Visiting South Africa for the First Time
There is no shame in doubling down on researching the places you want to see. However, you can cut down the hours on internet research and invest in a good guidebook instead. This way, you can read up on as much as possible before you go and while you’re on the road.
Also, consider what time of year is best to visit and where you want to explore. Visiting South Africa is not like heading to a one-horse town, so it’s best to create a detailed itinerary beforehand. Be realistic about how much time you’re willing to spend there too.
You can get lost in the allure and magic of the rainbow nation, but you won’t be able to see all of it in a couple of days. So, it’s the perfect excuse to plan another trip to South Africa.
Is South Africa Safe to Travel To?
Safety should be your top priority wherever you go, and South Africa is no different. Don’t be discouraged by what you’ve heard about the crime there. And don’t let it deter you from visiting either.
Once you’ve landed, use your instincts, common sense and be hyper-vigilant when traveling around the country. Remember to never walk alone, especially as a female and specifically at night.
Do I Need Travel Insurance?
If you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie, then the short answer is yes. There is an opportunity for adventure at every turn. You could bungee jump off the highest commercial bridge in the world, go on multi-day hikes through the Drakensberg or paraglide off Lion’s Head in Cape Town. Whatever you’re itching to do, make sure your travel insurance covers you.
Get a Sim Card
Unlike other destinations, wifi is not as readily or widely available in South Africa. South Africa’s mobile data prices are also among the steepest in the world, so it’s a smart move to buy a new sim card. You can get data bundles that will help you stay connected as well as airtime for any phone calls you need to make.
Know How to Get Around
Unfortunately, there is no subway or metro anywhere in South Africa. There is, however, one high-speed train called the Gautrain that connects Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The standard trains are not very reliable. But, major cities such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Pretoria do have extensive public bus transport – that is reliable and affordable to use.
Ultimately the best way to get around in South Africa is by car. Also, Uber is your best friend in getting around the major cities. Uber is reliable, convenient, and much cheaper than a metered taxi.
Car rentals are great if you’re traveling long distances. These car rental agencies are located near all the airports, and the prices are very reasonable.
Scout the Neighbourhood
If you’re flying from the U.S, the cheapest international flights to South Africa usually land in either Johannesburg or Cape Town. However, once you’re in the country, take the opportunity to hop to the neighboring countries. There are dozens of super affordable return flights to Namibia, Botswana, and Mozambique.
Cash or Credit?
While credit cards are widely accepted in South Africa, you’ll still need to carry cash throughout your trip. Alternatively, you can download the Snapscan app on your phone. You can simply connect your credit cards to the app and scan a QR code to pay at different shops and vendors. Tons of restaurants and shops use it for quick one-step credit card payments.
Try the Local Cuisine
All foodies unite. One thing to do in South Africa is to join in on the thriving food scene. There is an extensive assortment of amazing local foods to try.
However, we wouldn’t recommend eating out every night. Unlike countries like Asia, eating out in South Africa is not cheap. Make sure you book accommodation with a kitchen or at least one meal included in the price. Many of the local supermarkets offer fresh ready-to-eat meals and great snacks options.
Don’t Forget to Tip
Tipping is common practice in South Africa, and they tip every service rendered – not just the waiters at the restaurants. Anyone in the service industry can be tipped, including the waiter, bartender, car guard, tour guide, and the gentleman who fills up your tank at the gas station.
You Can Drink the Water
It’s perfectly safe to drink tap water in South Africa. In the big cities, feel free to drink straight from the tap. The government actively strives to provide clean, high-quality drinking water to the public. However, in rural areas or any area outside the city, it’s best to drink bottled water instead.
We hope you feel equipped and ready to pack your bags and head to South Africa after reading this guide. The energy of the people and the overall beauty of the country will be an experience you look back on fondly. Many travelers often return to the country after their initial trip – and we know you’ll soon be doing the same.