South Africa travel advice
South Africa is as diverse as its history.
Wildlife of South Africa
In the Kruger, Sabi Sands and other reserves, game drives astound with an abundance of lion, leopard, cheetah and Big Five sightings, and some game areas even offer malaria-free safari options.
Cape Town and the beaches of the coast offer the perfect way to relax after your safari.
Reflecting its status as "The Rainbow Nation" South Africa has eleven official languages. Thankfully you will very seldom encounter someone who cannot speak English. The most widely spoken languages are Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans. Signs are normally in English and Afrikaans.
Food and Drink
South Africa doesn't really have a national cuisine, and most of what you eat will be international dishes, but cooked with local produce, which is excellent. Cape Malay cuisine is definitely worth trying, and consists mainly of mild, aromatic curries. Other than this, you should try some of the game meats on offer: kudu and crocodile both appear on menus, and ostrich is absolutely fabulous: well prepared, it tastes like a superb cut of beef.
Local beers tend to be a bit cheaper than imported ones - Castle is the main brew, and is pretty decent, although Windhoek, from Namibia, gets the nod in our opinion.
South Africa wines enjoy a deservedly good reputation, and you will have ample opportunities to try some. It is worth bearing in mind that you are probably paying 50-70% less for wine in South Africa than the same bottle would cost you in the UK, so by pushing the boat out a bit, you can get a really excellent bottle of wine. Estates whose produce we have really enjoyed over the years include: Meerlust, Hamilton Russell, Alto, Haute Cabriere, Warwick, KWV, Robert's Rock, Fairview, La Motte and Kanonkop - but you should experiment, and ask the opinion of your waiter, ranger, lodge manager or hotel owner, who will all be happy to share their thoughts with you. Those who are really looking forward to this aspect of the trip, or are considering buying lots of wine whilst in South Africa should consider buying the John Platter South African Wine Guide - a popular and indispensable listing for nearly all South African vineyards.
Tipping is not compulsory. If, however, you want to tip because you have received good service, we have enclosed a brief guideline to assist you:
a) Specialist guides and rangers - if the guide has done a good job, we recommend ZAR150 per guest per day.
b) Trackers (if you have one on safari) - we suggest ZAR100 per guest per day.
b) The general camp / lodge staff - here we recommend about ZAR50 per guest per day. This should be placed in the communal tipping box.
c) Drivers - again, here we would suggest about ZAR25 per guest per day.
d) Porters - about ZAR10 per porterage.
c) Restaurants - unless the bill states that service is included, 10% is an acceptable tip to leave if you are satisfied with the service.
The currency of South Africa is the rand (ZAR). This is a volatile currency, and has swung between ZAR10 to £1 and ZAR18 to £1 over the last couple of years. It is worth checking the rate before you leave so you have some idea what to expect; try www.xe.com. Credit cards, especially Visa and Mastercard, are widely accepted at most hotels, lodges and restaurants in South Africa, AMEX and Diners less so. The notable exception is petrol stations: here you will always need to pay cash. You can change money easily in most towns, at banks and bureaux de change, as well as some restaurants and some hotels. There are some ATMs which will issue cash advances on credit cards (and sometimes Visa Connect cards) as well. In rural areas you will find it much harder to change money so it would be a good idea to have as much cash on you as you are likely to need before you reach the next major town.
Day-to-day expenses do not have to be very high: you could get by on £15 per person per day if you ate in simple restaurants and cafes, although £20-£25 a day will see you eating and drinking very well. Petrol is about 2/3rds of the price of petrol in the UK, and ZAR750 will be about the cost of a full tank (including a tip for the pump attendant).
Our country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office website.
When to go to South Africa
You'll find temperature and rainfall information, together with a month-by-month guide on visiting, on our guide for when to go to South Africa.