- Getting to South Africa
- When to visit South Africa
- Time differences
- Passports & visas
- Banks and money
- Calling home
- Mobile phones
- Disabled travellers
- Eating out
Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesberg is the major airport in South Africa and is the hub for 45 airlines from all five continents. Flights from Europe are generally overnight and just a sleep away - an aperitif, dinner, sound sleep, and a good breakfast - and voila, you're in South Africa! The direct flights between the USA and Johannesburg or Cape Town are about 15 hours, and flights between London and Johannesburg take about 12 hours.
When To Visit South Africa
When to visit South Africa South Africa is an all year destination, so your visit will depend on your interests. The seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere.
The best time for game viewing is late winter to early spring(July to October). The Namaqualand Flowers bloom between August and November.Whales can be seen off the coast from mid June to the end of October. Diving and surfing are year round activities but are generally best from April to September. The best time for river rafting is at the end of winter in the Cape and during summer(late November to February) in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Spring and autumn are the best months for hiking as summer can be very hot. South Africa’s superb climate allows you to lounge all year round on one of her beaches.
South Africa operates two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year, making it an hour ahead of Central European Winter Time, seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Winter Time and seven hours behind Australian Central Time.
Passports & visas
All visitors to South Africa must be in possession of a valid passport in order to enter the country, and in some cases, a visa. The passport must contain at least ONE unused page when presenting the passport for endorsements.
Travelers from certain regions of the world (Scandinavia, Japan, the USA, and most Western European and Commonwealth countries) do not need to formally apply for a visa. Upon arrival in South Africa, countries falling into this category will automatically be given a free entry permit sticker that outlines how long they may remain in the country. This automatic entry permit is usually for a maximum of 90 days, though the immigration officer may tailor the time period according to the airline tickets held. Foreign nationals from some other countries are offered this service, but for a maximum of 30 days. If visitors want to stay for a longer period, they will have to apply formally for a visa, as opposed to relying on the automatic entry permit.
To determine whether you require a visa to enter South Africa, please see here
Banks and money
The currency unit is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R, with 100 cents(c) making up R1 (one Rand). Coins come in 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R 5 denominations. Notes come in R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200 denominations. Foreign currency can be exchanged at local banks and Bureaux de Changes. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, American Express and Diner’s Card less so. You can also use Visa Electron and Maestro cards to access money at cash machines(ATM’s).
South Africa has only one landline telephone provider called Telkom. Making international calls can be quite costly. You can save on calls home by calling during the off-peak period which is between 7p.m and 7a.m the next morning. Telkom also sells World Call cards which offer cheaper international rates.
Some backpacker lodges and internet shops have skype facilities which you can use for a free.
You can also call home or send text messages using your mobile phone.
Mobile phone operators use the GSM system. Bring along your mobile phone and arrange international roaming with your current network provider before you leave. Alternatively, use ‘pay-as-you-go’ with one of the three mobile networks. They are MTN, Vodacom and Cell C.
Cities have broadband internet access and some WI-FI spots. Many travelers carry their laptops. Dial-up access is available throughout the country. You may also find that your accommodation may have access to the internet.
Generally speaking, our facilities for disabled visitors can be improved. Few backpacker hostels have wheelchair ramps and bathroom facilities for the disabled. Almost every national park has at least one accessible chalet and many accommodation establishments other than backpacker hostels have one or two wheelchair-friendly rooms. Most of our sports stadiums have accessible suites, stands or areas for wheelchairs near accessible parking as well as special toilet facilities. Most public buildings also cater for wheelchair access.
The seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are directly opposite to those of the Northern Hemisphere. For summer months, lightweight (cottons and linens), short-sleeved clothes are best, although a light jersey/jumper might be needed for the cooler evenings. Umbrellas and raincoats are essential for the summers and the Western Cape winters. Warmer clothes are needed for the winter months.
Without going into the stats, we can tell you that AIDS is a big problem in South Africa. AIDS does not discriminate between races, but the sad truth is that most victims are black. Many tourists come to our country curious about the sexuality of Africans. Holiday flings between travellers are also common. If you’re going to have sex in Southern Africa with anyone, a local or a fellow traveller, always use condoms. Using condoms is not the African way, that’s why AIDS and HIV statistics in Southern Africa are so sad. It’s also why you alone are responsible for protecting yourself.
All visitors intending to drive are required to obtain an international drivers permit, visitors found driving without a permit will be fined and not permitted to continue on their journey. Visitors will also not be able to rent a car without a valid driver's permit. The wearing of seatbelts is compulsory and strictly enforced by law.
South Africa's electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz. The exceptions are Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V)
Most plugs have three round pins but some plugs with two smaller pins are also found on appliances. Adaptors can be purchased but may be in short supply. US-made appliances may need a transformer.
South Africa is steadily gaining a reputation for it’s excellent restaurants. Tourists are particularly impressed with the quality of beef, lamb and seafood. Adventurous eaters can sample Venison, crocodile and ostrich. Even our home-grown franchise burger joints beat McDonalds anyday. All restaurants cater for vegetarians. Ask your backpacker hostel for their pick of restaurants in the area.
Most restaurants do not add a service charge to bills - thus it is customary to leave a 10-15% tip. Parking and petrol station attendants should be given whatever small change you have available. This is always appreciated, even though it may seem a small amount.
Most major shopping centres and malls operate 7 days a week, but you will find that in the smaller towns and rural areas that shops are closed on a Sunday. General opening hours are 9a.m to 5p.m on weekdays and 9a.m to 2.pm on a Saturday/Sunday. Don’t be surprised to find supermarkets open for your convenience until 8 at night. However alcohol is not served at the supermarkets, you must purchase this at a liquor store.
Markets, shops and galleries sell a wide variety of African arts and crafts. You can find exquisite sculptures, beading, jewellery, fabric, grasswork and many other beautiful things. Designs are both traditional and contemporary.
Value-added-tax (VAT) is charged on most items. Foreign tourists to South Africa can have their 14% VAT refunded provided that the value of the items purchased exceeds R250. VAT is refunded at the point of departure provided receipts are produced.