Haggling is common in African craft markets; in most other instances you’re expected to pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Keep things in perspective and don't be overly paranoid, but do remember that South Africa has a high crime rate and you need to be cautious.
- Look out for ATM and credit-card scams.
- If you're using public transport and venturing outside tourist environments, it is preferable to travel with a friend or in a group.
- Remember that violence against women is widespread throughout South Africa; exercise caution.
- Ask locals about areas to avoid and don't walk around after dark, when the risk of mugging is high.
Beating The ATM Scams
There are dozens of ATM scams that involve stealing your cash, your card or your personal identification number (PIN) – usually all three. Thieves are just as likely to operate in Stellenbosch as in downtown Jo'burg, and they are masters of blending in with the crowd.
In the most common scam the thief tampers with the ATM so your card becomes jammed. By the time you realize this you've entered your PIN. The thief will have seen this, and when you go inside to report that your card has been swallowed, he will take the card – along with several thousand rand. In a less common but equally surreptitious scam, a wireless device that records PINs is attached to the ATM. Bearing the following rules in mind will help you avoid mishaps.
- Avoid ATMs at night and in secluded places. Rows of machines in shopping malls are usually safest.
- Most ATMs have security guards. If there's no guard around when you're withdrawing cash, watch your back or get someone else to watch it.
- Watch the people using the ATM ahead of you carefully. If something seems off, go to another machine.
- Use ATMs during banking hours and, if possible, take a friend. If your card jams in a machine, one person can stay at the ATM while the other seeks assistance from the bank.
- Do not use an ATM if it appears to have been tampered with.
- When you put your card into the ATM, press cancel immediately. If the card is returned, you know there is no blockage in the machine and it should be safe to proceed.
- Refuse any offers of help to complete your transaction – or requests of help to complete someone else's.
- If someone does offer assistance, end your transaction immediately and find another machine.
- Carry your bank's emergency phone number, and report card loss immediately.
- Avoid using ATMs that inform you at the beginning of the transaction that it will not issue a receipt.
- If there are complications or the withdrawal fails, don't try again; retrieve your card.
Apart from car accidents, crime is the major risk that you'll face here. However, try to keep things in perspective: despite the statistics and newspaper headlines, the majority of travelers visit without incident.
The risks are highest in Jo'burg, followed by some townships and other urban centers. You can minimize risks by following basic safety precautions:
- Store your travel documents and valuables in your room (if it's secure), in a safe or at least out of sight.
- If your room does not have a safe or is not secure, inquire if there is a safe at reception.
- Don't flash around valuables such as cameras, watches and jewelery.
- Don't look like you might be carrying valuables; avoid wearing expensive-looking clothes.
- Completely avoid external money pouches.
- Divide your cash into a few separate stashes, with some "decoy" money or a "decoy" wallet ready to hand over if you are mugged.
- Keep a small amount of cash handy and separate from your other money so that you don't need to pull out a large wad of bills to make a purchase.
- Don't keep money in your back pocket.
- Listen to local advice on unsafe areas.
- Avoid deserted areas day and night, including isolated beaches and parts of Cape Town's mountains.
- Avoid the downtown and CBD areas of larger towns and cities at night and weekends.
- If you're visiting a township, join a tour or hire a trusted guide.
- Try not to look apprehensive or lost.
- If you get a local phone number, bear in mind that 419-style telephone and SMS scams are rife.
- On the flight over, keep your valuables in your hand luggage.
- If arriving or changing planes at OR Tambo International Airport (Jo'burg), vacuum-wrap your baggage. Items are sometimes pilfered from bags before they reach the carousel.
- To travel around towns and cities after dark, take a taxi or, if your destination is very close, drive or walk with others.
- As a general rule, avoid walking by yourself or driving at night.
- Keep your car doors locked and windows up.
- Put your home mobile phone on roaming, buy a local SIM card or hire a phone, especially if you'll be driving alone.
- Leave your car in secure parking at night and avoid parking in secluded areas during the day.
- Don't leave anything valuable in your car or give the impression that you are on a road trip and have bags in the boot.
- If you leave bags in the boot of a parked car, never open it before walking away.
- One of the greatest dangers during muggings or carjackings (most common in Jo'burg) is that your assailants will assume you are armed and could kill them. Stay calm and don't resist or give them any reason to think you will fight back.
- The legal system does not distinguish between soft and hard drugs.
- Dagga or zol (marijuana) is illegal but widely used.
- People often use marijuana openly, as you may discover in some backpacker hostels and bars. This is not recommended; there are heavy penalties for use and possession.
- Ecstasy is as much a part of club culture and the rave scene in South Africa as it is elsewhere.
- South Africa is a major market for the barbiturate Mandrax (known locally as "buttons"), which is banned here and in many other countries because of its devastating effects.
- Drugs such as cocaine and heroin are becoming widely available and their use accounts for much crime.
- Local drugs, including tik (crystal meth) in Cape Town, compound social problems in the townships.
Government Travel Advice
For the latest information, check the following websites:
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development (www.travel.gc.ca)
German Federal Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mofa.go.jp)
Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.minbuza.nl)
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-office)
US Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs (www.travel.state.gov)
- Solo travel is straightforward.
- While you may be a minor curiosity in rural areas – especially so for solo women travelers – in most places it's likely that nobody will even bat an eyelid.
- Times when you should join a tour or group include at night and on hiking trails.
- Particularly for women, going it alone on hiking trails is not recommended. There is normally a three-person minimum on trails for safety reasons.
- Especially in urban areas and at night, lone women travelers should use caution and avoid isolating situations.
- A valid student ID will get you discounts on bus tickets, museum admissions and so on.
- If you're planning to spend several days in national parks, consider buying a Wild Card (www.sanparks.org/wild). A year pass for individual foreigners is R2430 (R3800 per couple, R4545 per family), which gives free access to more than 80 parks and reserves run by SANParks, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Cape Nature, Msinsi and Swazi organisations.
- Some cities also offer discount cards for a number of their attractions.
There are frequent power cuts nationwide.
Embassies & Consulates
Most countries have their main embassy in Pretoria, with an office or consulate in Cape Town.
Most open for visa services and consular matters on weekday mornings, between about 9am and noon. For more information, see www.dirco.gov.za/foreign/forrep/index.htm.
- Australian High Commission
- Botswanan High Commission Also has a consulate in Jo'burg.
- Canadian High Commission
- Dutch Embassy Also has a consulate in Cape Town.
- French Embassy Also has consulates in Cape Town and Jo'burg.
- German Embassy Also has a consulate in Cape Town.
- Irish Embassy Also has a liaison office in Cape Town.
- Lesotho High Commission Also has consulates in Jo'burg and Durban.
- Mozambican High Commission Also has consulates in Cape Town, Nelspruit, Durban and Jo'burg.
- Namibian High Commission
- New Zealand High Commission Also has an honorary consul in Cape Town.
- Swaziland High Commission Also has a consulate in Jo'burg.
- UK High Commission Also has consulates in Cape Town and Durban.
- US Embassy Also has consulates in Cape Town, Durban and Jo'burg.
- Zimbabwean Embassy Also has a consulate in Jo'burg.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|South Africa's country code||27|
|International access code||00|
|Emergencies (from mobiles)||112|
Other Important Numbers
|Cape Town emergencies||107|
|Cape Town emergencies (from mobiles)||021-480 7700|
|Cape Town rape crisis hotline||021-447 9762|
|International call centre||10900, 10903|
|Lifeline Johannesburg (rape counselling)||011-728 1347|
|Mobile Yellow Pages||34310|
|Netcare 911 medical emergencies (private service)||082 911|
|Talking Yellow Pages||10118|
Entry & Exit Formalities
South Africa is straightforward and hassle-free to enter, although airport customs officers often check bags for expensive gifts and items purchased overseas.
Immigration officials rarely ask to see it, but travellers should technically be able to show an onward ticket – preferably an air ticket, although an overland ticket is also acceptable. The same applies to proof that you have sufficient funds for your stay; it pays to be neat, clean and polite.
- Immigration rules have been changing with regards to travelling with children, which involve unabridged birth certificates etc, so check the latest details well before departure.
- If you have travelled in a yellow-fever area within six days of arriving, or even transited for more than 12 hours en route, you need to show a vaccination certificate to enter South Africa.
- For more information see www.brandsouthafrica.com.
- You're permitted to bring 2L of wine, 1L of spirits and other alcoholic beverages, 200 cigarettes and up to R5000 worth of goods into South Africa without paying duties.
- Imported and exported protected-animal products such as ivory must be declared.
- For more information, visit www.brandsouthafrica.com and search for its customs guide.
Travellers from most Commonwealth countries (excluding New Zealand), most Western European nations, Japan and the USA receive a free, 90-day visitor's permit on arrival.
- Your passport should be valid for at least six months from the date of your entry to South Africa.
- For any entry – whether you require a visa or not – you need to have at least two completely blank facing pages in your passport, excluding the last two pages.
- Children aged under 18 must show an unabridged birth certificate, with additional paperwork needed in some cases. Your airline will likely alert you to these immigration regulations when you buy your flight.
- Immigration officers rarely ask to see it, but you should technically be able to present evidence of a return flight, or onward travel, from South Africa.
- If you have an onward flight, print a copy of your e-ticket, or ask your airline's help desk at the departing airport to print a copy of your itinerary.
- If you aren't entitled to a visitor's permit, you'll need to obtain a visa at a South African diplomatic mission in your home country, or one nearby. New Zealand citizens require visas.
- Visas are not issued at the borders.
- If you do need a visa, get a multiple-entry visa if you plan to visit Lesotho, Swaziland or any other neighbouring country. This avoids the hassle of applying for another South African visa.
- For more information, visit websites such the Department of Home Affairs (www.dha.gov.za), Brand South Africa (www.brandsouthafrica.com) and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/south-africa/entry-requirements).
- It is possible to extend your visitor's permit for an additional 90 days. Apply soon after arrival through VFS Global (www.vfsglobal.com/dha/southafrica).
- VFS Global also processes applications for temporary residence permits, which last anything from two to five years. It has offices in 11 cities, including Cape Town, Durban, Jo'burg and Port Elizabeth.
- Immigration consultants include the International English School in Somerset West, near Cape Town.
- Extension applications cost R1775 and take eight to 10 weeks to process. They must be submitted in person, and required documents include an onward flight ticket, three months' bank statements and medical and radiological reports.
- Changes made to the immigration regulations in 2014 preclude 'visa runs'. If you reenter South Africa with a still-valid visa, you will not be given a new one unless you are coming from your country of residence. If your visa has expired, you will be given a visa allowing entry for up to seven days, unless you are coming from your country of residence, in which case you will be granted your full entitlement.
If you have travelled in a yellow-fever area within six days of arriving, or transited through one for more than 12 hours, you will need to show a vaccination certificate to enter South Africa.
- Informality South Africa is largely informal; behaviour and expectations familiar from Western countries prevail in tourist venues.
- Clothes Even for special events such as weddings, locals often dress relatively casually.
- Cultural diversity In this multicultural country, etiquette varies wildly between ethnic and demographic groups, so check with your guide or a local if unsure.
- Conversation It's possible to discuss most subjects, including race, as long as you maintain a positive and lighthearted tone.
- Religion Christianity is taken more seriously and followed more widely than in secular Western countries; jokes about religion may offend.
- Grace Saying grace before meals, while possibly holding hands, is common in Afrikaner households.
- Greetings Shake hands with men. Women greet with a light hug rather than an air kiss.
- Introductions Use people's surnames as well as their Christian names.
- Drink driving This is widespread and locals have a relaxed attitude to it, but definitely don't do it yourself.
South Africa's constitution is one of the few in the world that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Gay sexual relationships are legal and same-sex marriages are recognized. There are active LGBTQI+ communities and scenes in Cape Town and Jo'burg, and to a lesser degree in Pretoria and Durban. Cape Town is the focal point, and is the most openly gay city on the continent.
But despite the liberality of the new constitution, it will be a while before attitudes in the more conservative sections of society begin to change towards acceptance. Outside larger city centers, exercise discretion.
Check chain bookstores like CNA and LGBTQI+ venues for newspapers and magazines. In addition to the organizations listed here, most major cities have an LGBTQI+ support organization.
Behind the Mask (@BehindTheMask99) Jo'burg-based media and activist organization, supplying information and a platform for dialogue about LGBTQI+ issues in Africa.
Deo Gloria Family Church (www.deogloria.org) LGBT-affirming charismatic church in Durban, registered to conduct same-sex marriages.
Durban Lesbian & Gay Community & Health Centre (www.gaycentre.org.za) LGBTI drop-in centre.
Exit (www.exit.co.za) LGBTI monthly newspaper.
GAP Leisure (www.gapleisure.com) Gay-friendly travel agency.
Gay & Lesbian Network (www.gaylesbian.org.za) Health program in Pietermaritzburg and the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands.
Gay Pages (www.gaypagessa.co.za) Quarterly glossy magazine, available throughout South Africa.
GayCapeTown4u (www.gaycapetown4u.com) Gay guide to the Mother City.
GaySA Radio (www.gaysaradio.co.za) Download the app and podcasts or listen online.
Health4Men (www.health4men.co.za) Jo'burg-based health service.
Lunch Box Media (www.lunchboxmedia.co.za) Look out for its publications, including monthly newspaper The Pink Tongue.
Mamba (www.mambaonline.com) News, information, listings and links.
Mamba Girl (www.mambagirl.com) Lesbian-focused site.
Pink South Africa (www.pinksa.co.za) Online gay-tourism directory.
Triangle Project (http://triangle.org.za) This Cape Town–based organisation campaigns for LGBTQI rights and supports the community through various programs.
Cape Town Pride Parades, pageants, parties and other events, mostly in De Waterkant, from late February to early March.
Johannesburg Pride Dating to 1990, Africa's first-ever LGBTQI+ pride parade takes place every October.
MCQP One of Cape Town's main LGBTQI+ events, this fabulous fancy-dress dance party is held every December.
Miss Gay Western Cape Cape Town's long-running beauty pageant, usually held in early November.
Pink Loerie Festival Knysna's Mardi Gras in late April and early May.
- Travel insurance covering theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended.
- Before choosing a policy, shop around; policies designed for short European package tours may not be suitable for the South African veld.
- Read the fine print – some policies specifically exclude 'dangerous activities', which can mean scuba diving, motorcycling, bungee jumping and more.
- Some policies ask you to call (reverse charges) a centre in your home country, where an immediate assessment of your problem is made.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you're already on the road.
- Internet access is widely available in South Africa, though connections are often slow and temperamental outside the cities.
- Accommodation options usually offer wi-fi or, less commonly, a computer with internet access for guest use.
- Many malls, cafes, bars and restaurants (including chains) have wi-fi, often for free. Alternatively, it may be through a provider such as Skyrove (www.skyrove.com) or Red Button (www.redbutton.co.za), for which you will need to buy credit online or from the hot spot owner.
- Look out for the AlwaysOn (www.alwayson.co.za) network, which generally allows you 30 minutes free connection per hot spot if you sign up. It's available at airports and some cafes, malls and banks.
- If you are staying for some time, a USB modem or smartphone data package may be useful.
- Local mobile-phone companies such as MTN (www.mtn.co.za) sell USB modems and data packages.
- There are internet cafes in major towns and, sometimes, smaller locations. Charges are about R40 per hour.
- Branches of PostNet (www.postnet.co.za) often have a few computers with web access.
- Key areas to watch out for are traffic offences such as speeding and drink driving, and drug use and possession.
- Despite a relatively open drug culture, use and possession are illegal: arrests happen and penalties are stiff.
- South Africans may complain about police corruption and claim to have bribed police officers, but offering bribes is not recommended.
- If you get arrested in South Africa, you have the following rights: to remain silent; to be released on bail or warning, unless there's a good reason to keep you in jail; to a lawyer; and to food and decent conditions.
ATMs are found throughout the country and cards are widely accepted. Inform your bank of your travel plans to avoid declined credit-card transactions.
- South Africa's currency is the rand (R), which is divided into 100 cents. The notes are R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200; the coins are R1, R2 and R5, and five, 10, 20 and 50 cents. Transactions are often rounded up or down by a few cents.
- The rand is weak against Western currencies, making travelling in South Africa less expensive than in Europe and North America.
- The best foreign currencies to bring in cash are US dollars, euros or British pounds, but a debit or credit card will be more useful, as most businesses only accept rand.
- Cash is readily exchanged at banks and foreign-exchange bureaus in the cities.
- Keep at least some of your exchange receipts, as you'll need them to convert leftover rand when you leave.
Because South Africa has a reputation for scams, many overseas banks automatically prevent transactions in the country. If you plan to use a credit card in South Africa, contact your bank before leaving home and inform it of your travel plans to avoid having your purchases declined automatically. If you have done this and a credit- or debit-card transaction unexpectedly fails, it's safest to try another card or pay with cash, as two transactions enable scammers to clone your card.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Keep a small stash of cash hidden away if visiting rural areas such as Kruger National Park, where ATMs are often scarce and temperamental.
- Thomas Cook, Visa and American Express travellers cheques in major currencies can be cashed at banks, foreign-exchange bureaus and some hotels – with varying commissions.
- Buying cheques in a stronger currency such as US dollars will work out better than buying them in rand.
- If you buy rand or rand cheques, watch the market, as the currency can be pretty volatile. Failing that, buying them just before departure will minimise the effects of devaluation.
- There are American Express (www.americanexpressforex.co.za) foreign-exchange offices in major cities.
Wages are low here, and tipping is expected.
Restaurants & cafes Tip 10% to 15% of the total in restaurants; 10% in cafes.
Hotels A standard tip of R10 to R20 is welcomed.
Car guards Offer R2, or R5 for longer periods.
Petrol stations Anything from R5 – more if the attendant washes the windscreen and checks the tyres etc.
Taxis Tips not expected but rounding up the fare will be appreciated.
Banks 9am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday, to 11am Saturday
Post offices 8.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday, to noon Saturday
Government offices 8am to 3pm Monday to Friday, to noon Saturday
Cafes 8am to 5pm
Restaurants 11.30am to 3pm and 6.30pm to 10pm (last orders); many open 3pm to 6.30pm
Bars 4pm to 2am
Businesses and shopping 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday; some supermarkets open weekday evenings, and all day Saturday and Sunday; major shopping centres until 9pm daily
- In South Africa cameras, memory cards, film and accessories are readily available in large towns.
- Don't photograph or film soldiers, police, airports, defence installations, border posts and government buildings.
- You should always ask permission before taking a photo of anyone, but particularly if you're in a tribal village.
- In Cape Town a recommended camera and equipment shop is Orms (www.ormsdirect.co.za).
- Pick up Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Photography for inspiration and advice.
- Domestic and international deliveries are generally reliable but can be slow.
- Periodic postal strikes cause further delays.
- Delivery times are considerably quicker for items leaving South Africa than for items entering the country.
- For mailing anything valuable or important, use a private mail service such as PostNet (www.postnet.co.za).
- Post Office (www.postoffice.co.za) branches are widespread.
- Do not have anything of value sent to you from overseas, as parcels are often impounded by customs.
New Year's Day 1 January
Human Rights Day 21 March
Good Friday March/April
Family Day March/April
Freedom Day 27 April
Workers' Day 1 May
Youth Day 16 June
National Women's Day 9 August
Heritage Day 24 September
Day of Reconciliation 16 December
Christmas Day 25 December
Day of Goodwill 26 December
- Smoking Forbidden in all enclosed public places. Some pubs and airports have a designated smoking area.
Taxes & Refunds
South Africa has a value-added tax (VAT) of 14%, but departing foreign visitors can reclaim most of it on goods being taken out of the country. To make a claim, the goods must have been bought at a VAT-registered vendor, their total value must exceed R250 and you need a tax invoice for each item. Visit www.taxrefunds.co.za for comprehensive information.
Claiming Tax Refunds
- Your receipt usually covers the requirements for a tax invoice. It must include the following: the words 'VAT invoice', the seller's name, address and 10-digit VAT registration number (starting with a 4); a description of the goods purchased; the cost of the goods in rand; the amount of VAT charged, or a statement that VAT is included in the total cost; an invoice number; the date of the transaction; the quantity or volume of the goods; and for purchases more than R3000, the buyer's name and physical address.
- All invoices must be originals – no photocopies.
- A commission of 1.3% of the reclaimed sum is charged for the service (minimum R10, maximum R250).
- At your point of departure, you'll need to fill in a form or two and show the goods to a customs inspector.
- At airports, if your purchases are too large for hand luggage, make sure you have them checked by the inspector before you check in your bags.
- After going through immigration, make the claim and pick up your refund, normally issued as a MasterCard or Visa electronic card, which will be loaded with your home (or another foreign) currency and can be used to make purchases or withdraw money within three days.
- If your claim comes to more than R3000, the refund will not be given on the spot; it will be loaded onto the card you are given up to three months later.
- You can claim at Jo'burg, Cape Town and Durban's major international airports, and in the smaller airports at Lanseria (Jo'burg), Bloemfontein, Polokwane (Pietersburg), Nelspruit, Pilansberg, Port Elizabeth and Upington.
- It's also possible to claim at major harbours and some train stations.
- You can claim the refund by post within three months of leaving South Africa, but it is much easier to do it in person.
South Africa has good telephone facilities, operated by Telkom (www.telkom.co.za). A good way to avoid high charges when calling home, or to make reverse-charge calls, is to make a 'home direct' or 'direct dial' call through Telkom's 24-hour international call centre.
- Mobile-phone networks cover most of South Africa, on GSM, 3G and 4G digital networks. GSM phones on roaming should work here, apart from older dual-band phones from North America and tri-band phones from Central and South America.
- South Africa's 10-digit mobile-phone numbers begin with 06, 07 or 08.
- The major mobile networks are Cell C (www.cellc.co.za), MTN (www.mtn.co.za), Virgin Mobile (www.virginmobile.co.za) and the Vodafone-owned Vodacom (www.vodacom.co.za).
- You can hire a mobile phone through your car-rental provider or a rental operation such as B4i.travel (www.b4i.travel).
- A cheaper alternative is to use a local prepaid SIM card in your own phone, provided it's unlocked and on roaming.
- SIM cards and credit are available almost everywhere in shops and malls throughout cities and larger towns.
- A new SIM should cost about R20; they tend to be more expensive in airport shops.
- You need some form of ID and proof of South African address to buy and 'RICA' (register) a SIM card. The proof of address can be a signed statement from your accommodation that you are residing with them, a receipt or a reservation with a letterhead. If you are staying at a private address, your host will need to sign an affidavit confirming that you are residing with him or her.
- Various prepaid plans and airtime or data bundles are available. On Vodacom's Anytime Per Second plan, for example, calls cost R1.20 per minute, local SMS texts are R0.50 and international texts R1.74.
Telephone numbers in South Africa are 10 digits, including the local area code, which must always be dialled. There are several four-digit nationwide prefixes, followed by six-digit numbers. These include:
- 080 (usually 0800; toll free)
- 0860 (charged as a local call)
- 0861 (flat-rate calls)
Telkom WorldCall prepaid calling cards are widely available, in denominations from R10 to R500. WorldCall charges per minute are R0.46 for domestic calls to landlines, and R1.30 for calling a mobile phone. International charges per minute from landlines include R0.93 to an Australian landline, R0.57 to Canada and R0.60 to the UK.
Rates drop between 8pm and 7am Monday to Friday, and over the weekend.
- SAST (South Africa Standard Time) is two hours ahead of GMT/UTC.
- There is no daylight-saving period.
- Lesotho and Swaziland are in the same time zone as South Africa.
- This is a wide region to be covered by one time zone; the sun can rise and set an hour earlier in Durban than in Cape Town.
- Most timetables and businesses use the 24-hour clock.
Differences from Standard South Africa Time
|Country||Capital City||Difference from South Africa|
- Finding a clean, sit-down toilet in South Africa is usually not a problem.
- There are few public toilets, but malls generally have them.
- Tourist offices and restaurants are normally happy to let you use their facilities.
Almost every town in the country has a tourist office. These are often private entities, which will only recommend member organisations and may add commissions to bookings they make on your behalf. They are worth visiting, but you may have to push to find out about all the possible options.
In state-run offices, staff are often lacking in information and lethargic; asking for assistance at your accommodation may prove more useful.
South African Tourism (www.southafrica.net) has a helpful website, with practical information and inspirational features.
Provincial Tourist Boards
Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency (www.visiteasterncape.co.za)
Free State Tourism (www.freestatetourism.org)
Gauteng Tourism Authority (www.gauteng.net)
Limpopo Tourism Agency (www.golimpopo.com)
Mpumalanga Tourism & Parks Agency (www.mpumalanga.com)
North West Tourism (www.tourismnorthwest.co.za)
Northern Cape Tourism (www.experiencenortherncape.com)
Tourism KwaZulu-Natal (www.zulu.org.za)
Western Cape Tourism (www.goto.capetown)
Tourist Offices Abroad
Visit www.southafrica.net for details of South African Tourism's offices and call centres in Amsterdam, Beijing, Frankfurt, London, Milan, Mumbai, New York, Paris, Tokyo and Sydney.
Travel with Children
With its abundance of national parks, beaches, swimming pools and hiking trails suitable for a wide range of competencies, plus a good collection of museums and a handful of amusement parks, South Africa offers plenty for children of all ages in hazard-free settings.
Best Regions for Kids
- Cape Town
Botanical gardens, an aquarium, the Table Mountain cable car, beaches, Greenmarket Square market, harbour cruises, activities, good facilities and a relaxed atmosphere – the vibrant Mother City is a superb family destination.
- Western Cape
Surrounding Cape Town, the Western Cape has good infrastructure as well as stunning scenery. Near the city, the Winelands offers numerous family-friendly wine estates, markets and attractions. Further afield, Garden Route spots such as Mossel Bay and Nature's Valley are particularly well set up for family holidays, with beaches and activities galore.
Durban has beaches, one of the world's largest aquariums and hot weather. The sandy fun continues along the surrounding Indian Ocean coastline, with activities from whale watching to kayak safaris in iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Head inland for walking and camping opportunities in the stunning Drakensberg.
South Africa for Kids
Most South Africans are welcoming to children, and you will probably receive many offers of assistance. Get used to passing your child around like a curio; they will excite much interest and attention, particularly in rural and traditional parts of the country.
- Table Mountain, Cape Town Walking up the mountain will give older children a tremendous sense of achievement.
- Royal Natal National Park, KwaZulu-Natal Hiking and camping in Drakensberg parks such as this will be a memorable experience for older children and teenagers.
- Hogsback, Eastern Cape With its fairy meander and easy trails through gardens and forests, it's suitable for nature-loving parents with small children.
- Clifton 4th Beach, Cape Town Sitting on a Mother City beach such as this Blue Flag beauty, among multicultural Capetonians, will be an interesting experience for all the family.
- Arniston, Western Cape Has a sheltered beach with caves and rock pools near Africa's southernmost point.
- Water sports South Africa offers lots of water sports for older children to get stuck into, including surfing, diving, canoeing, kayaking, tubing and rafting.
- Jeffrey's Bay, Eastern Cape One of the world's best surf spots.
- Themed tours Teenagers will enjoy tours geared towards their interests, such as Cape Malay cooking, township jazz, Venda art or urban murals.
- Wild Coast, Eastern Cape Adventurous teenagers will enjoy glimpses of Xhosa culture at community-run backpackers such as Bulungula Lodge, which offers activities and cultural experiences.
- Kruger National Park Inhabited by the Big Five, Kruger has easy accessibility and family-friendly rest camps.
- Pilanesberg National Park, North West Province Constructed with weekending families in mind, this malaria-free park near Jo'burg (and Sun City) has sealed roads.
- Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape There is a good chance of spotting elephants in this malaria-free park.
- Oudtshoorn, Western Cape Has ostrich farms and a meerkat conservation project.
- Penguin colonies and rehabilitation centres Found at Boulders Beach (Cape Town), Betty's Bay (Western Cape), Cape St Francis (Eastern Cape) and Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape).
- Family-oriented accommodation, such as triple or quadruple hotel rooms and four- to six-person self-catering cottages, is common throughout South Africa.
- Camping and self-catering are good options for families seeking affordability and privacy, with quality campgrounds and well-equipped cabins, cottages and chalets found nationwide.
- In KwaZulu-Natal, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife offers good-value accommodation to groups and families – although animals roam freely in many of its parks.
- SAN (South Africa National) Parks accommodation is generally excellent, but pricey; it often works out cheaper to stay outside the park.
- Many wildlife lodges have restrictions on children under 12 years, so in parks and reserves the main accommodation options will sometimes be camping and self-catering.
- Many hotels and self-catering options can provide cots.
- Safaris are suitable for older children who have the patience to sit for long periods in a vehicle or hide, but less suitable for younger kids.
- Guided drives in large vehicles are excellent, with more chance of sightings and an expert to answer questions and take care of safety.
- Activities for children are offered in Kruger, Pilanesberg and other parks.
- Many upscale hotels and resorts in tourist areas can arrange childcare, and short-term day care may also be available.
- Especially during the high season, many South African coastal resorts have kids' clubs, offering daily children's activities.
- Children are usually admitted at discounted rates to national parks, museums and other sights (often free for babies and toddlers, and discounted for teenagers and younger).
- Many hotels and transport operators, including bus companies, offer children's discounts.
- Restaurants often have children's menus with dishes at good prices, or offer smaller portions of regular dishes at discounted prices.
- Baby-changing rooms are not common in South Africa, but clean restrooms abound; in most, you should be able to find a makeshift spot to change a nappy (diaper).
- The monthly magazine Child (www.childmag.co.za) has Cape Town, Durban, Jo'burg and Pretoria editions and a useful website.
- Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children has tips for keeping children and parents happy on the road.
- Nappies, powdered milk and baby food are widely available, except in very rural areas.
- Outside supermarkets in major towns, it's difficult to find processed baby food without added sugar.
- Merry Pop Ins (www.merrypopins.co.za) in central Cape Town sells used clothes, furniture and equipment for children from newborns to 12-year-olds.
- Most car-rental agencies can provide safety seats, but you'll need to book them in advance and usually pay extra.
- Distances can be vast (the bus from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth takes 12 hours), so try to stagger journeys where possible.
- Tourist-class trains with private sleeper compartments, such as the 27-hour trans-Karoo service from Jo'burg to Cape Town, have ample space and dining cars.
- Breastfeeding in public won't raise an eyebrow among many Africans, but in other circles it's best to be discreet.
- Overall there are few health risks, and should your child become ill, good-quality medical care is available in the cities.
- Avoid government hospitals where possible and use private hospitals.
- Mediclinic (www.mediclinic.co.za) operates private hospitals from Cape Town to Limpopo.
- Seek medical advice about vaccinations months before your trip; not all are suitable for children or pregnant women.
- Specifically, seek medical advice on malaria prophylactics for children if you'll be in malarial areas (including Kruger National Park and the lowveld).
- Think twice before taking young children to malarial areas and try to visit in the winter, when the risk of mosquito bites is lower.
- Regardless of malaria, insect bites can be painful, so come prepared with nets, repellent and suitable clothing.
- Swimming in streams should generally be avoided, due to the risk of bilharzia (schistosomiasis) infection.
- In drought-struck areas such as Cape Town, drink bottled or treated water in preference to tap water.
Since 2015 all children under 18 years travelling to South Africa have been required to show an unabridged birth certificate (UBC) in addition to their passport. If you do not have one already, UBCs are easy to apply for in most Western countries; unlike abridged birth certificates, they show the parents' details.
If one or neither parent is travelling with a child, the new immigration regulations ask for paperwork over and above the UBC, namely an affidavit giving permission for the child to travel, a court order in some cases and a death certificate if a parent is deceased. Where only one parent’s particulars appear on the UBC or equivalent document, no parental consent affidavit is required when that parent travels with the child. The controversial new regulations, which, according to the Department of Home Affairs, are designed to combat child trafficking, have received immense opposition and may possibly be relaxed in the future.
For further information and updates, check www.brandsouthafrica.com, www.home-affairs.gov.za, or with your government's travel advisory or your airline.
- South Africa is one of the best destinations on the continent for travellers with disabilities, with an ever-expanding network of facilities catering to those who are mobility or visually impaired.
- We've noted establishments and destinations with facilities and access for travellers with disabilities.
- Several gardens and nature reserves have Braille trails for the visually impaired.
- Boardwalks for wheelchair access are found at many parks and attractions, and some can organise activities for travellers with disabilities.
- Hand-controlled vehicles can be hired at major car-rental agencies.
- Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Brand South Africa (www.brandsouthafrica.com) Has an overview of facilities and links to tour operators and local organisations.
Cape Town Tourism (www.capetown.travel) List of wheelchair-friendly activities in the Mother City. Search for 'wheelchair' on the homepage.
Disabled Travel (www.disabledtravel.co.za) South Africa–wide recommendations of accommodation, restaurants and services from an occupational therapist.
Linx Africa (www.linx.co.za/trails/lists/disalist.html) Lists accessible nature trails.
National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa Local information.
QuadPara Association of South Africa (www.qasa.co.za) Has wheelchairs for beach use in Durban and the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.
Safari Guide Africa (www.safariguideafrica.com) Beginner's guide to safaris for travellers with disabilities. Search for 'disabled' on the homepage and look under 'pages and posts found'.
SANParks (www.sanparks.org) Has a detailed and inspirational overview of accommodation and accessibility for blind, deaf and mobility-impaired travellers at its parks, including Kruger. Available to download as a PDF or app. On the homepage (bottom left), look for 'People With Disabilities' under 'Special Groups'.
Sponge Project (http://thespongeproject.yolasite.com) SMS information service for people with disabilities.
Access 2 Africa Safaris (www.access2africasafaris.com) Tours including Kruger and Swaziland.
Enabled Online Travel (www.enabled-travel.com) Tours including Cape Town and the Garden Route.
Endeavour Safaris (www.endeavour-safaris.com) Southern Africa safaris.
Epic Enabled (www.epic-enabled.com) Offers accommodation and tours, including Kruger safaris.
Flamingo Tours (www.flamingotours.co.za) Tours around Cape Town, along the Garden Route and elsewhere.
RollingSA (www.rollingsa.co.za) Tours include a nine-day safari covering Kruger.
Travel with Renè (www.travelwithrene.co.za) Quadriplegic Renè Moses offers South African tours, including a whale-watching trip.
Volunteering is a growing area, with opportunities nationwide. But there are some rip-off operators, often around animal-related projects. Book through local rather than foreign organisations, get previous volunteers' opinions and check that most of your payment will go to the schemes involved rather than middlemen.
To work on an unpaid, voluntary basis for a short period, a visitor's permit or visa suffices. If you want to take a lengthy placement (longer than the 90 days afforded by a visitor's permit), the organisation facilitating your placement should help you apply for the correct visa.
Shorter experiences of a few hours, days or weeks are available through accommodation options and tourist businesses, which often give ongoing support to one or two local schemes. But keep in mind that while short visits are interesting for the visitor, they may be of limited use to the project, beyond any fee paid for the trip. Some prominent volunteer organisations have actually suggested that short-term volunteers may do more harm than good.
African Conservation Experience (www.conservationafrica.net) Conservation projects and courses in Southern Africa.
African Impact (www.africanimpact.com) Volunteering and internship opportunities in areas such as healthcare and conservation.
Aviva (www.aviva-sa.com) Cape Town–based organisation offering wide-ranging volunteering opportunities, including great white shark and African penguin conservation.
GoAbroad.com (www.goabroad.com) Listings of opportunities in South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Greater Good SA (www.greatergoodsa.co.za) Has details on many local charities and development projects.
Grow (www.facebook.com/GROWMokhotlong) There are opportunities with this NGO implementing community-development programs in eastern Lesotho.
Kick4Life (www.kick4life.org) Opportunities in Lesotho, including the annual football tour, which mixes HIV education and soccer matches.
Life Skills (www.lifeskillsinsa.com) Reforestation and other green projects on the Garden Route.
One World 365 (www.oneworld365.org) Opportunities in areas such as human rights, conservation, English teaching and healthcare.
Streetfootballworld (www.streetfootballworld.org) A starting point for football-related volunteering opportunities.
Travel Now Now (www.travelnownow.co.za) Province-by-province listings of opportunities.
Uthando South Africa (www.uthandosa.org) A tour company that supports a range of charitable projects.
Wilderness Foundation (www.wildernessfoundation.org) Conservation NGO running projects throughout South Africa.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (www.wwoofsa.co.za) Opportunities to stay and work on organic farms across South Africa; Fynbos Estate (www.fynbosestate.co.za) near Cape Town is recommended.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures South Africa uses the metric system.
If you would like to stay put somewhere for a month or two, the easiest option is to find informal, cash-in-hand work at a backpackers or cafe, possibly with room and board included. Opportunities exist in the tourism and hotel industries, but your employer will have to help you procure a work permit through VFS Global. Using an immigration consultant is recommended.
The same applies to other sectors such as business and aid, where there are opportunities for people with special skills. Bear in mind that jobs are poorly paid in South Africa compared with Western countries, even taking the exchange rate into account. Working remotely for foreign clients takes advantage of the weak rand.