Useful South African Travel Tips
A few useful things a first time visitor to South Africa should know
First time visitors to South Africa are often surprised by how developed the country is. That being said, there is no doubt that South Africa - and the South African way of life - can be markedly, and sometimes amusingly, different from your own.
We've fielded lots of questions from our overseas guests and have got a feel for the things that confound or trouble our guests the most.
We'll keep adding to it for as long as this wonderful country presents puzzling practices to our visitors...
Using mobile phones (cell phones) in South Africa
You can avoid expensive international roaming charges by purchasing a South African simcards for your mobile (or cell phone as we call it in South Africa).
These can be bought for as little as R2.00 (± 15 pence).
Airtime can be purchased at most major supermarkets and post offices. Most mobile phone networks these days will allow you to insert another country's simcard but it is worth checking with your provider before you leave home.
Booking a restaurant in South Africa
If you are staying in B&Bs it is a good idea to check with the establishment about dinners, as not all B&Bs pre-book restaurants like we do here at The Hideaway.
Sometimes you will find that the local restaurants (especially within walking distance) may be fully booked and the last thing you will feel like after just arriving is getting back into the car to drive to a restaurant.
Should I book early for Robben Island?
We have had many a guest arrive at The Hideaway and tell us how disappointed they were not to be able to visit Robben Island. In the peak season Robin Island ferry trips get fully booked weeks in advance. To avoid this contact the place you are staying in Cape Town and ask them to pre book tickets for you.
South African public holidays
In major areas shops, restaurants and cinemas etc will be open on public holidays, except for Christmas Day and New Years Day. If the holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday (next day) will be a holiday.
- 1 January - New Year's Day
- 21 March - Human Rights Day
- 22 April - Good Friday (the Friday
before Easter Sunday)
- 25 April - Family Day (the Monday
after Easter Sunday)
- 27 April - Freedom Day
- 1 May - Workers Day
- 16 June - Youth Day
- 9 August - Women's Day
- 24 September - Heritage Day
- 16 December - Day of Reconciliation
- 25 December - Christmas Day
- 26 December - Day of Goodwill
South African Tax
Value-added-tax (VAT) is charged on most items. Foreign tourists to South Africa can have their 14% VAT refunded provided that the value of the items purchased exceeds R250.00. VAT is refunded at the point of departure and receipts from purchases must be kept and produced.
Currency & banks in South Africa
The South African currency unit is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R. One hundred cents makes up one R1 (one Rand). Currently the Rand is significantly weaker than many European currencies as well as the dollar, making travelling to South Africa affordable by international standards.
Petrol/Gas stations in South Africa
Petrol or gas stations are widespread throughout South Africa and many are open 24-hours. However, if you are planning a long distance trip through a remote area, ensure that your tank is full to avoid running low. A petrol attendant will fill your tank for you and will often wash your windscreen.
Road safety in South Africa
South Africa has an excellent infrastructure of good quality roads, however the country is large and travelling distances can be long. If you are planning a self-drive holiday, make sure that you allow yourself ample time to reach destinations and make provisions for stop-overs en-route. One of the biggest causes of road accidents on long-distances is fatigue and loss of concentration.
Health and medical care in South Africa
South Africa has excellent health services and doctors with some of the best training in the world. There are adequate hospitals and medical care facilities throughout the country. However, visitors should ensure that they have sufficient funds or medical insurance to cover the fees of private facilities.
Tap water in South Africa is perfectly safe to drink as all water has been treated to the same high levels you'd expect in Europe or the USA.
Hygiene and food preparation are of excellent standards and fresh fruit and vegetables are safe to eat.
Malaria is found only in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and on the Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal.
Is it safe to travel in South Africa?
As in any foreign country, visitors are advised to be aware and alert when travelling to avoid falling prey to petty theft and crime. Most areas and attractions of South Africa can be safely visited. However, use common sense, be discreet with expensive camera equipment and jewellery and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking in deserted areas after dark and when driving, always park in a well lit and designated parking area. In you have any doubts, speak to your hosts and ask for their advice on potential areas to avoid.
South Africa's electricity supply: 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz
Exceptions: Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V)
Most plugs have three round pins but some plugs with two smaller pins are also found on appliances.
Is it OK to speak English in South Africa?
South Africa has 11 official languages one of them being English. The majority of the population is able to speak and understand English even if it is not their first language.
South Africans use a lot of local slang - some of those you are more than likely to come into contact with are listed below:
Howzit - A traditional South African greeting meaning "How are you?" or "How are things?"
Boet - "Boet" is the Afrikaans word for "brother" and is often used as a term of affection between male friends.
Café - the local corner shop selling milk, bread, newspaper and cigarettes etc
Just now - If a South African tells you they will do something "just now", they mean they'll do it in the near future - not immediately.
Lekker - An Afrikaans word meaning nice. It is often used in association with food, as in: "That meal was lekker."
Now now - This is not intended to comfort but means shortly, as in: "I will be there now now."
Rooibos - A popular South African tea made in the Cape. Rooibos is an Afrikaans word meaning "red bush". When people speak of rooibos they are referring to rooibos tea.
Robot - South African's universally call traffic lights 'robots'. So if you're directed to "turn left at the robots", don't be looking out for R2D2 on the pavement - they mean the traffic lights.
Braai - the South African equivalent of a barbeque where meat is cooked over an open fire. A popular weekend and social pastime.
Boerewors/Wors - a type of spicy sausage made from beef or lamb. Generally it is quite thick and is cooked on a braai.