South Africa

You had me at Merlot.

South Africa Guide

South Africa is home to the world’s longest wine route, Route 62, which spans 528 miles, or 850 kilometers, visiting some of the most excellent wineries along the way.

JST CITY GUIDES:

South Africa is in South African Standard Time (SAST), which is used by all of South Africa. The time-zone is two hours ahead of Universal Time Coordinated (UCT + 2). This means that if you are on the East Coast, South Africa is 7 hours ahead.

All visitors need a valid passport to enter South Africa. Your passport must have at least 30 days remaining from the intended date of departure and 2 blank pages for entry stamps.

U.S. citizens visiting South Africa for 90 days or less do not need visas.

Other visa-exempt countries include:

  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Mozambique
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Zimbabwe

(Check out South Africa Visa for full lists and more information)

South Africa has two major international airports in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Cape Town International has an easily accessible bus service that regularly runs to and from the airport. OR Tambo International, located in Johannesburg, flies to all major destinations worldwide, and if you have a long layover, this airport has a great variety of restaurants, shops, and cafes. It’s connected to the city by the Gautrain – a transportation service that travels to major hubs in Johannesburg. Uber and Lyft are also available to and from airports.

Taking the train is a safe, enjoyable, and quick way to travel between cities. If you’re looking to go to and from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Shosholoza Meyl train is the way to go, as it is comfortable, cheap, and features great views of Table Mountain on the way! Other stops include Durban, Port Elizabeth, and East London. The Blue Train is a world-famous luxury train from Cape Town to Pretoria and although it offers complimentary services like alcohol, cigars, and meals, it is on the more expensive side. A great bus alternative for tourists on a budget is the Baz Bus. This offers a hop-on, hop-off service from Cape Town to Durban and Johannesburg. If you’re looking for a taxi, you’re going to have to pick one up from a stand or transportation hub. Uber and Lyft are available, but if you are outside a major city, you might want to consider getting a rental car because rideshare options may be scarce.

South Africa does have a high rate in crime ranging from pickpocketing to more violent crime. While this may seem off-putting, taking precautionary measures and being smart will help you have a fun and safe trip. Here are some tips:

  • Don’t walk at night, especially alone. Not only do you become a target but pickpocketing is more common. If you do need to get around at night, make sure you are with people you trust or take an Uber/Lyft.
  • Don’t be flashy. Wearing jewelry or designer clothing and taking your phone out in public is going to make you stand out. If you are carrying expensive items, keep them tucked away. Keep your purse/handbag zipped up and don’t hang it off the back of your chair. Don’t travel with a lot of cash on you and always keep your passport in a safe location. Try not to go out with it on you.
  • Be aware. Always be aware of your surroundings. Try not to be alone on a sidewalk, and when you are walking, don’t be on your phone and don’t have headphones in.
  • Use common sense and listen to your instincts. If a situation or place feels unsafe, leave.

Emergency number. You should keep and have ready the number of your hotel for emergencies. If you do feel unsafe, call this number as the concierge is usually available all day and night.

March to May is one of the best times to visit South Africa, as the weather is perfectly warm and dry – ideal for exploring. Summer runs from November to February while winter is from June to August. Summers are long and days get pretty hot, whereas winter is going to be a bit chilly so make sure to bring layers!

Average temperatures include:

  • December-April: 29°C/84°F
  • May-August: 23-25°C/73-77°F
  • September-November: 28°C/82°F

(*Depending on what you want to get out of your experience (ie, safari, whale-watching, great-white shark diving, etc.), the best time to go varies. For more details, check out this month-by-month guide)

Zulu and Xhosa are South Africa’s most common languages. The majority of people speak and understand English, as it is widely used as a second language and common language of communication, mainly in the cities.

(*Fun fact, South Africa’s Constitution recognizes 11 official languages)

Many elements of British social etiquette and customs were taken on post-British colonialization; however, etiquette does vary. Here are some things to note:

  • Greeting: There are several different greeting styles depending upon the ethnic heritage of the person you are meeting. Most South Africans shake hands while maintaining eye contact and smiling. Some women do not shake hands, so it is best to wait for a woman to extend her hand.
  • Dining/Food: Eating with a fork and knife is the norm, except at some traditional African eating occasions where one eats meals with the right hand. It is seen as insulting to leave food on the plate, and because meat plays a big part in South African cuisine, you might get some looks if you are a vegetarian.
  • Respect towards elders: Elders are highly respected throughout all communities. Older men are addressed as Tata (Father in Xhosan) or sir. Older women are addressed as Mama (Mom in Xhosan) or ma’am.
  • Religion: During the month of Ramadan, try to eat, drink, and smoke indoors to show respect towards those fasting. Be patient as prayer calls are very common throughout the day.
  • Guests at a home: If you are invited to a South African’s home, bring local flowers, chocolate, or a bottle of wine. Taking your shoes off when you enter a house is also very common.
  • Driving: South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road.
  • Time: Punctuality is important, especially in Johannesburg. Coastal cities are more laid back.

South Africa uses their own currency: Rand. ATMs can be found throughout cities, and unlike banks in the U.S., South African banks do not charge international ATM withdrawal fees! You can use credit cards throughout the cities, but cash is preferred at local shops and restaurants. They also don’t like splitting the bill with multiple cards, so keep that in mind if you’re in a group.

Tipping: It is customary to tip good service around 10-15%. Most waitstaff depend on tips to make up for the low wages they receive. If you have six or more in your party, restaurants generally add gratuity to your bill.

(*Not required but expected:  Tip your taxi-driver 10%. Tip 10% or 100 Rand for your tour-guide. Tip 10-15 Rand for hotel staff/housekeeper).

South Africa uses four types of plugs: C, D, M, and N. Plug C is has two round pins and is widely used in Europe. Plug D has three round pins in a triangular pattern. Plug M and N both had three round pins.

Voltage: You are going to need a voltage convertor. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. This standard voltage is much higher than that in the United States (120 V).

Type C looks like this:

South Africa does face deforestation, water, and air pollution, and land degradation issues, so it is always important to be aware of the environment and be as eco-friendly as possible while traveling. South Africa is also facing a major water shortage, so try to be mindful of your running water. Check out this list of sustainable hotels in South Africa.

Water is safe for drinking and cooking when taken from taps in urban areas. Not all tap water is safe for consumption in rural areas, so take necessary precautions. Although urban tap water is safe, we recommend filtering the water if possible or just sticking to bottled water depending on where you are. Keep in mind that South Africa is facing a major water shortage, so try to be mindful of your water consumption and disposal throughout your trip.

Wi-Fi is available in most cities in public places. Most restaurants, shops, hotels, cafes, and museums will have internet, but it may not always be free or reliable. If you are traveling to or through rural areas, plan ahead if you need access to the internet as Wi-Fi may not be available. Purchasing a SIM card is not necessary.

Uber and Lyft are available, but if you are outside a major city, you might want to consider getting a rental car because rideshare options may be scarce.

South African society is quite liberal, as same-sex marriage was legalized in 2006 nation-wide. In some rural areas though conservative ideas are still prominent. South Africans usually express affection very openly, so shaking hands, pats on the back, kissing, holding hands, hugging, and other forms of public affection are pretty common in urban areas

The CDC and WHO recommend the following travel vaccinations for South Africa: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, and Rabies. For more information check out Passport Health.  Medical facilities are common and in good condition in major cities and urban areas, however, facilities are limited in rural areas.

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A TIMELINE OF SOUTH AFRICA'S HISTORY

Migrants inhabit the south-western regions of Africa, joining the indigenous San and Khoikhoi people.

4th Century

Portuguese navigator, Bartolomeu Diaz is the first European to travel around the southern tip of Africa.

Bartolomeu Diaz, Voyage to the Cape, 1480

1480s

A sea route to India from southern Africa is well established. Jan van Riebeek, a representative of the Dutch East India Company, founded the Cape Colony at Table Bay.

1652

British forces seize the Cape Colony from the Netherlands. Territory is returned to the Dutch by 1803. In 1806, the Cape is formally ceded to Britain by the Dutch government, beginning the 155-year British rule.

1795 -1806

The Union of South Africa is formed and proclaimed.