Every year, 15 million tourists travel south for a South African adventure. Some are looking forward to seeing majestic animals in the wild, others wish to surf some of the world’s best waves.
The rainbow nation has much to offer: from landscapes to climate, from culture to cuisine, South Africa is one of the most diverse countries on the planet.
Before packing and getting on a plane, though, there are a few things travelers need to know to plan the perfect South African holiday. This is a short guide with the top tips for South Africa travel.
Essential South Africa Tourist Information: Location, Population, Language, and More
South Africa sits at the very southern end of the African continent. Its neighbors are Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, and Swaziland. Its shores are washed by the Indian Ocean.
The South African population reaches around 55 million people. The majority of them lives on the eastern half of the country — where better climate and richer mines favor development — and urban areas.
Unlike most countries, South Africa has 3 capital cities. Pretoria is the administrative capital, Cape Town rules legislation, and Bloemfontein is the judicial capital. In order to spend cash during their travels, thourists will need to buy South African currency (the South African Rand or ZAR). Of course, exchange rates vary and we suggest that you use a real-time calculator.
South Africans speak 11 official languages: English has long been the country’s lingua franca while Zulu is the most widely spoken, followed by Xhosa. Most South Africans identify as Christian (around 80%) with the rest of the population being followers of Islam, Hinduism, and Indigenous faiths.
How to Get There in South Africa
Tourists arriving in South Africa by plane will most likely use O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg or Cape Town International Airport, the most popular international airports in the countries.
Foreigners mostly interested in safaris can also benefit from reserve airports. King Shaka International Airport and Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, for example, were specifically built inside popular national parks to support safari tourism.
No matter what airport they choose, most tourists will need a South Africa visa in order to enter the country. You can check the South Africa visa requirements and learn about the online South African visa.
South Africa Travel Info: Security
Caution must always be exercised by tourists traveling abroad. However, there are specific risks that traveling to South Africa may expose you to.
The most common crime committed against tourists is pickpocketing. Although not always avoidable, there are steps you can take in order to minimize the risk, such as trying to avoid particularly crowded places and keeping your valuables out of sight.
Car theft and attacks against drivers are also common in some areas. If you’re driving in South Africa, keep your car windows shut and the doors locked at all times. Don’t open them even if seemingly friendly strangers approach you.
South Africa suffers from a very high rate of HIV/AIDS infection. Travelers should use precautions when engaging in activities that expose them to a risk of infection.
You can read this guide about South Africa safety for a more complete list of safety travel advice.
Why Go to South Africa?
South Africa is a large country — its 1.22 million km² correspond to 5 times the size of the UK. Lovers of nature, beach, and cultural tours alike will have plenty to experience.
Travelers interested in safaris have countless options, from organized tours to DIY parks that allow to rent cars and explore the bush. The best major airport for safaris is Johannesburg’s as it’s at reachable distance from most parks and natural reserves.
The dry season is the ideal time for those wanting to spot the Big Five (lion, African leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo) and the rest of the fauna living in the savannah. That’s because most animals travel close to water sources like rivers and waterholes. The dry season runs between May and September and also happens to be the off-peak season.
Surfers and beach lovers will enjoy the southern part of the country and the area around Cape Town. They will be able to visit a plethora of small coast towns to find the best waves and enjoy freshly caught fish.
Cape Town is also a cultural hub where old and new merge. Tourists can visit museums and relax in top-quality restaurants, find plenty of live music events, and stroll around the city centre and admire its impressive street art.
South African summer months are those between November and February, when Cape Town enjoys dry, sunny weather. Although it’s the best time for beach activities, it also coincides with the high season and local holidays.
What to Pack When Traveling to South Africa
It goes without saying that the right items to pack for a trip to South Africa will depend on what you’re planning to do and the season you chose for your travels. South Africa’s climate is mostly temperate but weather can change swiftly, especially in the Cape Town area.
It’s advisable to bring light clothing (unless you are visiting South Africa during the winter) as well as a rainproof jacket and closed shoes. Sunscreen is also a must.