South Africa is known as the continent's "rainbow nation," thanks to the diversity of its people. The Khoi-San (bushmen) are one of the world's oldest tribes – their ancestors' rock and cave paintings date to 26,000 years old! South Africa is also home to Zulu, Tswana, Ndebele, Xhosa, Sotho, Indian, Afrikaans and citizens of British origin. Historically speaking, apartheid ended in 1994, so it is no surprise that colour is very much a part of a South African's identity.
There are 11 official languages, but English is the most common in public and commercial life. The country is known for its beer, brandy and South African wines. The music scene is vibrant, and South Africans are also proud of their literature.
Johannesburg is an African hub for air travel. There are numerous direct and stopover South Africa flights, especially for travellers arriving from Europe and North America. Major international airports in South Africa include Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.
South Africa does not require a visa from citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, the United States, Switzerland and most member countries of the European Union. Selected other countries fall under a visa waiver for stays of 30-90 days. Upon arrival in South Africa, all visitors are required to hold valid passports with expiration no fewer than 30 days after their scheduled dates of departure. These requirements are subject to change, and should be verified prior to travel.
South African hotels and resorts are prevalent in tourist destinations, and most meet international standards for amenities and services. These options appeal to the needs and budget of every type of visitor, from a cost-conscious student to a discerning luxury traveller. Accommodations encompass hotels, game lodges and camps, resorts, health spas, motels, guesthouses, bed and breakfasts, holiday farms, beach cottages, holiday flats and bungalows. There are also hundreds of camp and caravan sites in the country.
Daily flights service many of South Africa's major cities, including Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, East London, Johannesburg, Kimberley, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria. Local flights are a convenient and fast way to travel, and therefore are a popular choice for South Africa tours.
Rail services of varying quality link the main cities. The luxury Blue Train offers an express service between Pretoria, Victoria Falls, Hoedspruit, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Long-distance trains are equipped with sleeping compartments. Reserve in advance, especially for overnight journeys.
Several bus operators run intercity express links on modern, air-conditioned coaches. Additionally, self-drive and chauffeur-driven South Africa rental cars are widely available. If you plan to drive, you must have an international driver's license. Cars drive on the left.
Before travel, verify that your health insurance covers international travel (or buy travel health insurance). Additionally, we recommend purchasing travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation.
South Africa enjoys a temperate, generally warm climate with about seven months of glorious sunshine every year. The cooler months span May-August, although weather is often defined not by month but by location. For example, the KwaZulu-Natal coast, Mpumalanga and Northern Province are hotter and more humid than the rest of the country, so June and July – the coolest winter months – are the preferred holiday months.
Winters (May-July) in South Africa are generally mild except at high altitudes, where snow occasionally falls. Summer temperatures soar in the Low Veld, the lower Orange River Valley, and the Mpumalanga Low Veld. Around Cape Town, rainfall increases during the winter, while the rest of South Africa experiences more rain in the summer. Game-viewing is best in the winter, when the grass is short and animals are easier to spot.
Before travelling to South Africa, double-check that you are up-to-date on all standard vaccinations: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and the flu vaccine. Additionally, talk with your doctor about vaccines against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, and rabies. You should also consider taking anti-malaria prevention, especially if you'll be travelling to the Northern Province, Eastern Transvaal, including the Kruger National Park, and north-east of KwaZulu-Natal. If necessary, also arrange for protection against STIs, including HIV-AIDS.
Though there is no risk of yellow fever in South Africa, all entering travellers (age 1+) who have visited yellow fever-infected countries are required to show an international certificate of vaccination against yellow fever. Citizens of certain nations, for example EU member countries and the United States, Australia, and New Zealand, are exempt from this requirement.
Freshwater in northern and eastern South Africa carry the risk of schistosomiasis (bilharzia), so avoid swimming or paddling in these areas. Chlorinated swimming pools are safe at most hotels. If you have serious allergies or a medical condition, wear a medical alert bracelet.
South Africa's local currency is the South African Rand (ZAR). Major credit cards, including Visa and MasterCard, are widely accepted throughout the country. American Express and Diners Club are less common.
Travellers cheques may be exchanged at banks, hotels, shops and restaurants; the best exchange rates are for U.S. Dollars, Euros, and British Pounds Sterling. You may use your debit card or major credit card to access funds through most ATMs, 24 hours a day.