South Africa is a vast, beautiful and diverse country. Down south, Cape Town is South Africa’s gateway to its major attractions, with idyllic beaches, vibrant neighborhood and lively nightlife. With the same cosmopolitan vibe, Johannesburg is the most visited city in South Africa and is considered as the commercial heart of the country. In the northeast, you will find one of Africa’s premier safari destinations and home to an incredible variety of wildlife, the Kruger National Park. The landscapes and land-forms are diverse so is the people. South Africa has a plethora of official languages, 11 to be exact, and more than a dozen tribes living in different parts of the country. Despite its tragic past, South Africa is on its way to becoming Africa’s holiday capital.
South Africa has an excellent infrastructure which makes travel easier than expected. With organized and well maintained road systems, good air links and bus networks, a combination of air and road travel is recommended for visitors with more than 10 days of stay. If you only have limited days in South Africa, then just take a flight between two or three key destinations. And of course, there can be no better way of exploring the country than to board a train traversing otherworldly landscapes.
Thing to know before travelling to South Africa:
1. Health Care – South Africa has several world-class private hospitals and medical centers providing specialist services by highly skilled professionals. Though in rural area, hospitals deal with primary health care and limited range of health care, trained medical professionals are deployed around the country. Getting a comprehensive travel insurance before departure is recommended as medical costs can be quite expensive.
2. Recommended Vaccinations – If you are arriving from a yellow-fever endemic area, you are required to get vaccinations four to six weeks prior to your arrival in South Africa and a proof of yellow fever vaccination needs to be presented. Hepatitis B vaccines are required for children 0 to 12 years old who have not yet completed series of vaccinations during infancy. Vaccines for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Typhoid are also recommended. (see more information here)
3. Food and water safety – Hygiene standards in relation to food safety is generally high in most restaurants, hotels and clubs. It is safe to eat vegetables, fresh fruits and salads. Chicken, meat and fish are of excellent quality thus you can enjoy South Africa’s local cuisine. Tap water is potable however, not all water in rural areas is safe to drink ergo bottled water is advised.
4. HIV/AIDS – Exercise safety precautions if engaging in any sexual activities as South Africa has the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS infection.
5. Weather – South Africa is in a subtropical location with plenty of sunny, dry days. Winter is nothing compared to what is experience in Europe and snow is rare. Rainy months are from May to August and summer is from November to March.
6. Safety on Safari – Visitors are advised to follow wildlife regulations and to maintain safe distance when observing wildlife. Listen to your guide. Safari is not a zoo so always stay in the 4WD, animals will eat you if you are not cautious.
7. Tourist Visa – Nationals of the United States of America, Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Germany, Iceland and Argentina do not require a visa to enter South Africa. For a complete list of visa exempt countries, visit the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA) website.
8. Politics – A well-known fact about South Africa is that it was under an all-white government which implemented a system of racial segregation called apartheid. Under this system, non-white South Africans, who are majority of the population, were forced to live in separate areas from whites. From public facilities to marriage, all contacts between whites and people of other races are separated and prohibited. It was only in 1994 that a coalition government composed of non-white majority was established and thus marking the official end of apartheid. Because of this, tourism have improved and international arrivals have surged.
How to stay safe in South Africa:
- Avoid walking alone especially at night.
- Do not wear jewelry and designer clothing. Do not take your phone out unless you are inside your hotel or in a cafe.
- Stay alert and be aware of what’s going on around you.
- If you are renting out a car, always keep the car locked and don’t leave valuables. Do not stop for any hitch hiker or person in trouble on the open road.
- If you are staying in a hotel, leave your passport and other valuables in the safety deposit box in the reception. Just carry a photocopy of your passport.
Flights New York- Cape Town and Johannesburg-New York cost about 820 USD (advanced purchase), London-Cape Town and Johannesburg-London flights cost about 850-900 USD, flight Amsterdam-Cape Town and Johhanesburg-Amsterdam are a real deal at about 720 USD. If your fly from and to Hong Kong – be ready to pay about 525 USD for the flights. Check Tripadvisor and Google Flights for up-to-date prices.
Sample day by day itinerary
Day 1: Arrival in Cape Town
Your adventure in South Africa starts today. Arrive in Cape Town, South Africa’s oldest city and home to soaring Table Mountain along with other gorgeous natural landscapes. Check in to your preferred hotel, before having an afternoon to take in some of the tourists attractions. Cape Town’s metropolitan area is full of things to see and experience – all within easy walking distance.
Where to stay in Cape Town:
Derwent House Boutique Hotel (14 Derwent Road | Tamboerskloof, Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa)
An African Villa (19 Carstens St. | Tamboerskloof, Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa)
Cape Grace (West Quay Road | Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa)
Dysart Boutique Hotel (17 Dysart Rd | Green Point, Cape Town Central 8005, South Africa)
Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel (76 Orange Street | Gardens, Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa)
Have lunch at one of the restaurants along Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Sample the local cuisine known as Cape Malay, or why not some authentic Greek, Italian, French, Thai or Indian cuisine. Most restaurants offer spectacular views of the azure Atlantic Ocean, the golden beaches and the iconic Table Mountain. In the afternoon, wander around the tropical gardens or visit the nearby museums. Or just sit on the terrace of your hotel room, recover from jet lag and prepare for your full day tour tomorrow.
Day 2: Historical tour of Cape Town
Start early and travel to District Six Museum (tickets cost 2.50 USD; 25A Albertus St & Buitenkant Street, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa; tel: +27 21 466 7200). This museum is founded in honor of the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867, a mixed community of merchants, artisans, laborers, freed slaves and immigrants. It was a vibrant center until in 1966, it was forcibly taken down by Apartheid declaring the area a “white-only” zone. Later, visit Langa, Cape Town’s oldest suburb township. During the Apartheid, townships were the designated areas for Black Africans. You can also visit Khayelitsha, the largest township.
In the afternoon, relive history and visit the Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent the first 18 years of his 27-year prison sentence. During the Apartheid years, the island was a place for exile, imprisonment and isolation for those who were regarded as political prisoners and troublemakers.
Day 3: Full day excursion to Cape Peninsula
Head south along the Cape Peninsula to Hout Bay, a lively coastal village with a mesmerizing beach and a lovely harbor where you can purchase some of the best fish and local produce in the world. Then, travel to Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve via Chapmans Peak to the southernmost edge of Cape Peninsula. This is a perfect place for lunch, in particular for fish and chips.
On the way back to Cape Town, stop at Simon’s Town on the False Bay Coast and look out for some remarkable residents there. Watch the colony of African Penguins cover the Boulders Beach and be amazed of their antics. Watch them dive for fish, play on the rocks and explore their natural habitat.
Day 4: Kruger National Park
On your fourth day, catch a domestic flight to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA). Flights Cape Town-Mpumalanga and Mpumalanga-Johannesburg are priced at 215 USD. Check in at one of the safari lodge near Nelspruit and White River in Mpumalanga. Most accommodation in this area are conveniently located outside the park gates and overlooking the beautiful Sabie River Valley.
Where to stay in Mpumalanga:
Belgrace Boutique Hotel (R538 Plaston / Karino Rd | Karino, White River 1204, South Africa)
Oliver’s Restaurant & Lodge (on the White River Country Estate, Pine Lake Drive, White River, South Africa)
Summerfields Rose Retreat & Spa (R536, Sabie Road, Hazyview 1242, South Africa)
Hippo Hollow Country Estate (Hazyview, | Mpumalanga Kruger Area, Hazyview 1242, South Africa)
Protea Hotel Kruger Gate (on Sabi River at the Paul Kruger Gate | Portia Shabangu Rd, Skukuza 1350, South Africa)
In the afternoon, begin your adventure in the Kruger National Park in an open safari vehicle. Explore its vast landscapes and marvel at the views of the abundant African wildlife. In the veining, enjoy a delicious South African dinner on the deck of your chosen lodge.
Day 5: Kruger National Park
A South African experience is never complete without an experience with the cultures and traditions of African people. In the morning, visit Children’s Day School and Shalati Village, located just outside Kruger National Park. In the afternoon, jump into a 4×4 safari and continue your safari adventure in search for lions, rhinos, leopards, elephants and buffalos – Africa’s famed big five. Game drives are conducted by experienced and qualified game rangers and Shangaan trackers who will share the secrets of the wilderness.
Day 6: Karongwe Private Game Reserve
Enjoy an early morning game drive at Karongwe Private Game Reserve, located south-west of the Kruger National Park. It is one of the finest safari destinations in South Africa, with abundant wildlife and distinct vegetation. Basically, it also has the wildlife and wonders of Kruger, but it’s less crowded so it will provide you a feeling of being one with nature. You can also hop on a late evening open safari vehicle game drive.
Day 7: Sabi Sands Game Reserve
Start early and experience a morning game at Sabi Sands Game Reserve, adjacent to South Africa’s flagship Kruger National Park. It is best to go in the open savannah in the early mornings because predators are out hunting and there is a bigger possibility of sighting the famed big five. As the 4×4 goes deeper into the wilderness, you can spot a white rhino or a dozen of them having out together. There is abundance of wildlife in Sabi Sands that you will surely lose count of what’s been spotted.
Day 8: Johannesburg
Where to stay in Johannesburg:
The Residence Boutique Hotel (17 4th Avenue | Houghton, Johannesburg 1477, South Africa)
The Peech Hotel (61 North Street | Melrose, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa)
Monarch Hotel (167 Oxford Road, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa)
54 on Bath (54 Bath Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa)
African Pride Melrose Arch Hotel (1 Melrose Square, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa)
Fly from Mpumalanga to Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. It may not have Cape Town’s Table Mountain backdrop, but its bustling metropolis and neighborhood are some of the most captivating views in South Africa. Start your tour in the afternoon and drop by at Carlton Centre, Africa’s tallest skyscraper. Then, continue on to Constitution Hill passing by the Nelson Mandela Bridge. Have dinner at one of the restaurants in Nelson Mandela Square. From authentic Italian eateries to burger joints, steakhouses and fine dining, there surely is something for everyone’s taste.
Day 9: Johannesburg
On your last day of touring South Africa, join a full day Soweto Bicycle tour (tour prices are between 30 USD and 52 USD; more info at Soweto Bicycle tours). Experience an exciting and eco-friendly tour around the streets of Soweto, get a chance to visit the two former Nobel Prize winners’ previous residence and get a taste of local food and drinks. Learn about Soweto’s history and culture, the people and life today and visit all historical landmarks and some of the hidden spots.
Day 10: Farewell to South Africa
Do not leave South Africa without getting some souvenir from the many mega-malls around Johannesburg. From modern shopping center to local markets, it will certainly be a fun shopping experience. You will surely find great food, widest variety of crafted goods and vintage collectibles and other must-have souvenirs.
Have you been to South Africa? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.