South Africa travel guide
One of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations, South Africa is a modern, exciting and multi-ethnic melting pot, set among beautiful landscapes and wildlife reserves. Although the country is still recovering from its violent, apartheid-scarred history, it is now gaining a reputation as a frontrunner in many areas, from fashion and architecture to nightlife and culture.
From Cape Town’s world-famous Table Mountain which offers thrilling hiking opportunities, and its selection of white, sandy beaches, to Kruger National Park, South Africa truly offers everything. You can discover the country’s history by visiting Johannesburg’s infamous township Soweto and explore South Africa’s unique flora and fauna along the Garden Route, before sampling the country’s contemporary offerings, which include art galleries and craft markets, as well as numerous bars and restaurants.
South Africa comprises an enchanting mix of old and new, bravely bridging the gap between a difficult past and a promising future. With its lively, cosmopolitan atmosphere, beautiful climate and breathtaking scenery, it’s no wonder that it’s fast becoming one of the world’s biggest tourist traps.
With a temperate climate that promises good vacation weather year-round, any time is a good time to visit South Africa. During the summer (November to March) the weather is hot and humid, almost tropical along the Indian Ocean coast. There can be some rain and mist because of the humidity, but it is perfect beach weather, and a great opportunity for north hemispherians to find some strong winter sunshine. However, this is also peak tourist season and hotspots get very crowded.
In the winter (June to September), the weather is dry and cooler, ideal for hiking and outdoor adventure trips. Spring and Autumn are slightly warmer and are undoubtedly the most pleasant periods to go, particularly spring, when wild flowers carpet acres of the Northern Cape.
For the latest weather info use the Pampo weather forecast tool.
Commonwealth citizens and visitors from Japan, the USA and most western European countries do not require visa to enter South Africa. A free entry permit is issued upon arrival, valid for 90 days.
For those requiring a visa, these are also free but must be obtained before travelling from a South African consulate or Embassy. Allow enough time for these to be processed.
South Africa has a popular ‘eating out’ culture and there are numerous restaurants offering foreign and varied cuisine, including Japanese, Moroccan, West African and Chinese, in addition to traditional South African restaurants.
Meat is a very common in South Africa, and for this reason, barbecues – or braais – are a popular eating arrangement. With the country’s sports-centric culture, a braai is an easy and relaxed way to socialise with friends, watch the cricket or rugby and eat some good, wholesome food.
Classic South African dishes include:
- Biltong – dried, salty meat which is a popular export
- Boerewors – seasoned sausage
- Mealie pap – a corn meal mix, which is used in lots of dishes from soup to bread
South Africa is well-known for its wine, which is grown mainly in the Western Cape and exported around the world. It is a popular drink, often consumed at a formal lunch or at dinner time. Beer is also popular. South Africa’s own brand, Castle, is widely available, as is Black Label, Amstel and many other varieties.
South Africa’s currency is the Rand (R) which is circulated in notes of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200. There are plenty of ATM machines around the country and major credit cards, such as Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted. For the latest info on your rates, please use the Pampo exchange rates calculator.
- Johannesburg International Airport (JNB) is the main airport for South Africa and much of the surrounding region
- Cape Town International Airport (CPT) is another primary airport and receives many flights from Europe
- Durban International Airport (DUR) operates domestic flights
- Mpumalanga Kruger International Airport (MQP) handles domestic flights and serves travellers to Kruger National Park
- The national flower of South Africa is the protea
- Vilikazi Street in Soweto has housed two Nobel Peace Prize winners: Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela
- South Africa has 11 official languages
- Cape Town’s Table Mountain was first lit up by floodlights to celebrate the visit by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
- South Africa is one of the biggest diamond exporters in the world
- The world’s first heart transplant was carried out in South Africa in 1967
- South Africa’s Vredefort Dome, a UNESCO heritage site, is the oldest meteor scar in the world
- Tugela Falls is the second highest waterfall in the world with an 850 metre drop