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Know Before You Go

South Africa

Know South Africa before safari Few countries rival South Africa's scenic splendor. Rolling farmlands and fertile vineyards abound,traditional tribal villages, 20th century skylines.... South Africa has attracted settlers from all corners of the globe. Today, the country's cultural diversity is one of its most dynamic components. South Africa occupies 1,223,410 million square km (472,359 square miles) at the southernmost tip of the African continent, stretching from the Limpopo River in the north to Cape Agulhas in the south. It is five times the size of Britain, twice as big as France is and about one-eighth the size of the United States. South Africa is the home to an extraordinary variety of ethnic groups, cultures, creeds and languages. The history of this human diversity extends over millennia to the original inhabitants – the Stone Age hunter-gatherers known as Bushman. Black migrants arrived from the north to supplant them, who were, in turn, followed by European and Indian immigrants. South Africa today is a dynamic, cosmopolitan kaleidoscope representing most of these different cultural components.


All visitors must have valid passports and return tickets. Please ensure your passport does not expire for at least six months after your return home and has sufficient blank pages (at least two full double pages) for any visas required and for entry/departure stamps. Entry into South Africa is permitted for a maximum duration of 90 days for most nationalities. Note: Please check with your nearest South Africa Consulate for up to date information for other than US citizens. Direct inquiries can be made to the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria: Civitas Building, Struben Street, Private Bag X114, Pretoria 0001. Telephone: 27 12 314-8911; Fax: 27 12 314-8516. Visitors who intend to travel to South Africa’s neighboring countries and back to South Africa are advised to apply for multiple entry visas (as applicable for those requiring visas). Please note that travelers from countries where yellow fever is prevalent (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) must have a yellow fever vaccination certificate to enter South Africa.


The currency unit is the South African Rand (ZAR), which equals 100 cents. Travelers can exchange their currency into ZAR on arrival at Johannesburg International Airport (located in the International arrival hall - open 24 hours) or in most commercial banks in the country. Banks are open Monday to Friday 9:00 am – 3:30 pm and Saturdays 8:30 am – 11:00 am. The following banks offer foreign exchange services: First National, Nedbank, Standard Bank, and ABSA. Various teller machines (ATM's) are found in every large town. Several international banks have branches in the main cities as well. The banks and the Bureau de Change at most airports offer the best exchange rates, but it is also possible to change money at the hotel reception. Credit cards (Visa, MasterCard) are widely accepted (except in rural areas). American Express and Diner’s Club are less widely accepted, however more acceptable in the main city centers. Automatic teller machines (ATMs) are available in most towns and cities and offer a 24-hour service. Visitors can import and export their foreign currency without restriction provided it is declared upon arrival. When entering South Africa, visitors may bring with them ZAR2000 in South African bank notes. Visitors and South African residents are only permitted to take bank notes totaling ZAR500 out of South Africa.


Although South Africa is generally a sunny country, the climate varies from sub tropical in the north and east to Mediterranean in the coastal areas. The central regions have a continental climate, often cold at night but hot during the day. Some inland areas like the Karoo and the high mountain ranges experience frost and snow in winter. The highest temperatures occur in the Karoo and far northern (tropical) parts of the country, sometimes going above 100° F. During the summer months of October to April, temperatures average between 60° – 95° F. The winter months of May to August are generally dry and sunny but with cold nights with temperatures in the 41° F range. However, the winter months in the Cape and along the Garden Route can experience heavy rains and high winds, producing severe weather conditions.

Temperature (ºF) – These are the average lows and highs
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
JNB 59/79 57/77 55/75 52/72 46/66 41/61 41/61 45/66 48/72 54/75 55/77 57/77
DBN 70/82 70/82 68/82 63/79 55/75 50/73 50/73 54/73 59/73 63/75 64/77 68/81
CPT 61/79 59/79 57/77 54/73 50/68 46/64 45/63 45/64 46/66 50/70 55/75 59/77

Rainfall (inches) – This varies according to the year and where you are.
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
JNB 4.41 3.78 2.91 2.40 0.90 0.31 0.31 0.19 0.11 2.71 4.60 4.29
DBN 5.12 4.49 5.31 4.21 2.12 1.22 1.41 1.69 2.40 3.90 4.49 4.60
CPT 0.59 0.70 0.70 1.97 3.54 3.34 3.54 3.15 1.97 1.41 0.51 0.59


Water is plentiful and safe in all parts of the country.


All electrical appliances run on 220 volts. Outlets are round 3 pin, 15 amp plugs. Special adapters for video cameras, chargers and hairdryers are needed and can sometimes be supplied by hotel receptions. However, please note that the hotel’s supply of adapters are for the use of all guests and may not be available on demand. Therefore, you may want to consider bringing your own adapter so that it will be readily available when you need it. Various safari camps and lodges may not have 220 volts and may operate on solar powered 12-volt electricity. You should ensure that if you want batteries charged, you bring a spare battery for use while the other is being charged as well as a power converter for 220v, if applicable.


Telecommunications in the urban areas are readily available and accessible but please note that the safari lodges and camps you may be visiting are likely to be located in very remote parts of South Africa and often do not have telephones or cell phone reception. Therefore, telephone, e mail and internet services generally are not available on safari. Communication is by radio link only. Cell phones can be hired at the airport. Internet cafes can be found in most major towns. A direct international dialing service is available from the major hotels and lodges in South Africa. The international code for South Africa when dialling from abroad is 27. Regional country codes are available from the operator. Do not dial “0” before the city code, e.g. Johannesburg would be +27 11. To call overseas from your hotel room, dial “0” to get a line and then “09” (from South Africa) and then the international country code e.g. 1 (USA) and the local number, once again omitting the “0” from the area code.


Greenwich Mean Time + 2 hours during Daylight Savings; Greenwich Mean Time + 1 hour throughout the rest of the year.


Unless otherwise specified, standard check-in times are usually after 1:00pm. If you are delayed and do not expect to arrive until after 6:00 pm, please advise the hotel or lodge that is expecting you of your revised estimated time of arrival. Checkout times are generally accepted as being 10:00am for most hotels.


South Africa has 11 official languages, with English being the most widely spoken. The other major languages are: Afrikaans, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. The English-speaking visitor to South Africa will have no problems while traveling throughout the country.


To hire a car in South Africa, the driver must be in possession of a valid driver’s license and must have a minimum of five years’ driving experience. The driver must also be older than 25 years of age. Cars can be hired at any of the nine major airports. Remember to drive on the left hand side of the road in South Africa. There is a general speed limit of 120 km/h on open roads (although it is recommended you reduce speed on gravel roads). Safety belts must be worn. Road signs are internationally recognized symbols, and road and turnoffs are clearly signposted. Road signs warning to be aware of animals should be taken seriously, especially at night when they are blinded by headlights.


Filling stations are conveniently situated throughout the country. Unleaded petrol is available. Most filling stations are open 24 hours a day. Please bear in mind that you are only able to pay for petrol with cash.


It's sensible to take the same precautions in major cities as you would in any of the world's metropolitan areas. Never leave luggage unattended in front of the hotel or in the lobby. Deposit your valuables in the hotel's safety deposit box or guest room safe. Don't stroll around the streets after dark. Always lock your car doors and keep the windows closed. Do not walk around the city looking like a tourist and keep your camera concealed. Do not walk around with large amounts of cash and with cameras around your neck.


Department of Home Affairs
Medical Rescue
Automobile Association
Life Line
(012) 314-8911/ (012) 324-1860
(011) 403-7080
0800-010101 (Toll free)
0800-012322 (Toll free)


In the cities, you can buy anything from a karakul coat to a crocodile bag, antiques, and hand-woven rugs and individually designed treasures in gold, diamonds and other precious stones. Craftsmen practice ancient skills in aromatic Indian Bazaars, and that’s where you’ll find filigree jewelry, oriental ornaments, silk saris and spices. Curio shops and flea markets are the places to browse for African arts, crafts and ethnic chic. A bit of music is guaranteed to liven up the serious business of trading in the marketplace. The Cape is renowned for its investment wines. Antique shops offer Cape Dutch, Victorian and Georgian furniture, rare books, old jewelry, maps and bric-a-brac.


Cigarettes: 400, Cigars: 50, Cigarette or pipe tobacco: 250g, Wine: 2 litres, Spirits or other alcoholic beverages: 1 litre, Perfume: 50ml, Eau de Toilette: 250ml, Gifts, souvenirs and all other goods ZAR500. No person under 18 is entitled to a tobacco or alcohol allowance.


Cape Town
Cavendish Square
Victoria Wharf

Claremont (15 minutes from the city centre)
Victoria & Alfred Hotel
Sandton City and Sandton Square
Village Walk
Rosebank Mall
Sunstar Diamond Cutting Works

Adjacent to the Sandton Sun Hotel
Adjacent to The Grace
1147 Richard Road, Midrand (Peter)
La Lucia Mall
The Pavillion
Gateway Shopping Centre

La Lucia (near Umhlanga)
Umhlanga Rocks turnoff from the N2


Foreign tourists visiting South Africa can have their sales tax paid (known as Value Added Tax - VAT) refunded at a port of exit, provided the value of the items purchased exceeds R250. Visitors should obtain proof of payment for all items purchased during their stay to claim any refunds. To qualify for a refund, visitors must be in possession of a valid passport, the necessary forms, and cash register receipts. Please note that a receipt stating “for information only” is not accepted by the VAT refunders. It has to say VAT invoice and show the amount. The VAT rate is 14 percent and is levied on most products. Goods are also not to be utilized/consumed whilst in South Africa and must be in original packaging.


1 January
New Years Day
21 March Human Rights
31 March
Family Day
27 April Freedom Day
1 May Worker’s Day
16 June Youth Day
9 August
National Women’s Day
24 September Heritage Day
16 December Day of Reconciliation
25 December Christmas Day
26 December Day of Goodwill