South Africa Travel Information
About South Africa
With golden beaches, jagged mountains and national parks overflowing with wildlife, South Africa is the Africa you’ve always imagined. While memories of a troubled past remain, the republic is well on the way to regaining its throne as the holiday capital of Africa, visited by nearly 10 million people every year.
Topping a long list of attractions is the republic’s spectacular wildlife and natural scenery. National parks and nature reserves preserve an incredible variety of landscapes – rolling plains, towering mountains, arid deserts, coastal fynbos (shrubland) and pure blue oceans – home to an incredible variety of wildlife, from lions and elephants to great white sharks and playful penguins.
South Africa’s cities are no less varied. In the far south, lorded over by iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town is South Africa’s most accessible gateway, with gorgeous beaches, vibrant, multicultural neighborhoods, famous vineyards, a lively nightlife and fine dining to rival any European capital. You’ll find a similarly cosmopolitan vibe in Johannesburg, the energetic capital, and in beachside Durban, where the hot sunshine is matched by the scorching curries cooked up by the South Asian community.
In between, you can lose yourself for days on safari. The undisputed top spot for wildlife spotters is world-famous Kruger National Park, where the Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, and rhinos – are joined by hundreds of other African species.
If the landscape sounds diverse, wait until you meet the people. South Africa boasts 11 official languages and more than a dozen tribes, living alongside communities from Africa, Europe, and the Indian subcontinent – little wonder this is known as the Rainbow Nation. This diversity is tangible everywhere, from the architecture and language to the nation’s spectacular cuisine.
Nevertheless, huge inequality remains, still sharply marked out along racial lines. To understand modern South Africa, everyone should visit Johannesburg’s moving Apartheid Museum, and Robben Island prison, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years. Or you could join a township tour in Soweto, which, like the rest of your trip, you’ll never forget.
South Africa Weather, Climate, and Geography
Best Time To Visit
Being in the southern hemisphere, South Africa’s seasons are the opposite of European seasons. The climate is seasonal, but the country enjoys at least seven months of sunshine, with temperatures dropping in the winter months of May to August. April and May are the most temperate months. Temperatures above 32°C (90°F) are fairly common in summer, and frequently exceed 38°C (100°F) in the lower Orange River Valley and the Mpumalanga Lowveld. The barren Northern Cape has some of the most extreme temperatures, sometimes cracking 40°C (104°F) in summer and plummeting to below freezing in winter.
It’s pleasantly warm and sunny in spring and autumn, and delightfully hot in summer (November-March) with frequent heavy tropical rains and sudden spring and summer hailstorms to cool things down. The thunder and lightening storms over Africa’s big skies can be quite spectacular, but are best enjoyed through a window, not out in the open. These tropical storms can be vicious too, often causing flooding and turning urban streets into temporary streams, making driving hazardous. Wait an hour and it will all be over.
Even in winters South Africa’s chill is nothing compared with European standards, with mild frost occasional, and snow a rarity. The rainiest months in Cape Town are May to August, although the weather in Cape Town is generally difficult to predict and can deliver all four seasons in one day.
Christmas can be just too hot for game viewing in the safari parks, and it’s also peak season for South African holidaymakers. Cape Town is a magnet for Jo’burgers at Christmas, so best avoided – visit in spring and autumn, when the weather is good and the crowds are smaller. Of the main cities, Durban is the hottest and can get remarkably hot and sticky in the summer. But it’s perfect in winter, where you can still wear shorts in temperatures that the locals consider a bit nippy.
For summer in Africa you’ll need to keep cool, so pack lightweight clothes. In winter you’ll be surprised at how cold it can be in some areas, so bring a jumper or sweatshirt. You will never need a heavy coat or jacket, but a light raincoat can be useful, especially in Cape Town. For a safari bring long sleeves and long trousers, if only to protect against mosquitoes and thorn bushes. The game drives will either start out chilly with an 0600 start and end under the blazing sun or vice versa, with a hot late afternoon start and a return after sunset, so take a wrap or pullover of some sort.
The Republic of South Africa fills the southern tip of the continent and is lapped by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian Ocean to the east, and a swirling mixture of the two at the very tip.
It totally encloses the independent kingdom of Lesotho and is bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland to the north.
A vast, interior plateau has sharp escarpments that rise above the lowland plains. Mountainous regions include the Drakensberg and Magaliesberg.
The west coast is arid, while the south and southeast coasts are semi-arid, with vegetation fringed by sandy beaches and rocky coves. In contrast, the subtropical northeast has lush wetlands and coastal forests. The wildlife viewing areas are scattered throughout the country, with the famous Kruger National Park so vast that it encloses a wide variety of eco-systems.
Of its nine provinces, Gauteng, which houses Johannesburg and Pretoria in the northeast, is the smallest and most densely populated. The Northern Cape is the largest province covering between a third and quarter of the country, but containing only a tiny percentage of the population in this territory of desert and semi-desert wilderness.
South Africa Passport And Visa Requirements
|Passport Required||Visa Required||Return Ticket Required|
To enter South Africa, a passport valid for at least 30 days after the intended date of departure is required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.
Passports must have at least two blank pages for entry stamps.
Yellow fever certificates are required if the journey starts from or passes through a country with yellow fever.
Visas for South Africa are not required by nationals referred to in the chart above for stays of up to 90 days except:
• Nationals of Cyprus, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, who may stay visa-free for up to 30 days.
• Nationals of (1) Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovenia, who do require a visa.
Nationals not referred to in the chart above are advised to contact the embassy/high commission for visa requirements.
The Department of Home Affairs website (www.dha.gov.za) has comprehensive details on visa requirements and exemptions and the relevant forms for downloading. If you are one of the few travelers subject to visa requirements, you should apply for your visa before you intend to travel. No visas are issued at South African points of entry. If you arrive without the necessary paperwork, immigration officials are obliged to refuse you entry.
Types And Costs
Visitor’s visa: £35.
Visitor’s visa: up to 90 days.
Consulate (or consular section at high commission/embassy). In the UK, VFS Global (www.vfsglobal.com/southafrica/uk) handles visa applications on behalf of the high commission; an additional £35 service charge applies.
For applications in the UK, allow at least seven days for visa processing in the London visa center and nine days for processing in Manchester or Edinburgh.
South Africa Health Care & Vaccinations
|Vaccination identifier||Special precautions|
No vaccinations are essential. However:
* Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga and northern KwaZulu-Natal are low-risk malaria areas during December-April.
** A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers over one-year old arriving from an infected area.
Medical facilities are good in urban areas but can be limited elsewhere. Doctors and hospitals often require immediate cash payment. Comprehensive health insurance is recommended to cover the fees of private facilities. The National Tourism Information and Safety Line is 083 123 2345. The general emergency services number is 10111. Netcare 911 (tel: 082 911; www.netcare911.co.za) is a private emergency service offering road assistance and evacuation, ambulances, private hospitals and emergency over the phone medical advice.
Mains water is safe to drink. Milk is pasteurized and dairy products are safe for consumption, as are local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit, and vegetables. Diarrhea remains the most common cause of ill health in travelers, with South Africa graded as an intermediate risk country. The standard of food safety and preparation is generally good and poses little threat to your health, but sensitive travelers should follow the advice to ‘cook it, peel it or leave it.’
Avoid swimming and paddling in stagnant or slow-moving water as there is a low risk of contracting bilharzia, and a risk of catching E.coli. Cholera is spread by contaminated food or water and occurs in some rural areas of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, where it can be picked up from swimming in contaminated streams. Swimming pools that are well chlorinated and maintained are safe. Vaccinations against tuberculosis and hepatitis B are sometimes recommended.
Department of Health statistics shows the prevalence of HIV/AIDS remains high despite increasing efforts to combat it, with 178 out of 1,000 adults infected, compared to a global average of just 8 in 1,000. Malaria is found in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the north-east of KwaZulu-Natal, and the Department of Health recommends taking preventative drugs during the peak period between September and May.
Sunburn is a much more common risk, with the African sun being far fiercer than most people realize. Tourists are also vulnerable to theft or mugging and the usual precautions apply – keep jewelry, cameras, handbags and other valuables out of sight, do not carry large sums of money, and avoid walking at night or along isolated beaches and streets. Motorists should park in well-lit areas, be alert when waiting for traffic lights to change, and if a hijacking does occur, keep your hands where the attackers can see them and do not try to resist.