South Africa at a glance.

We visited South Africa during a 3 months roadtrip through Southern Africa (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland), during october - december 2014.

We enjoyed the country, diverse, easy (really, with good roads, tourist infraestructure), going around in a rental car, mixing a few cities and towns, national parks, seaside, mountains, sleeping in campings and doing couchsurfing.

Diverse: mountains like Drakensberg, oceans, wild animals (we loved Kruger, Uhlhuluwe-Imfolozi and Pilanesberg for beginners), Cape Town and its beautiful surrounds. Don´t miss the black african side of South Africa at Transkei or Kwa-Zulu Natal, there are still traditionnal villages there.

Safe: we always felt safe, we avoided big cities, where the main security problems are. Life is easy for tourists around South Africa, don´t worry.
True, South Africa is still a weird society country. Already 20 years of the "new" South Africa, the "Rainbow Nation", but things haven´t changed so much in a way, still white and black, many tourists we are still surprised by that, you will notice it quick, even at the supermarkets and more in tourist places, the atmosphere is heavy. Also with LGBT community, same sex weddings have been approved in South Africa but the situation is still hard outside some areas of Johannesburg or Cape Town.

Anyway, we loved South Africa! Unique country, diverse, with a weird society, marked by the terrible and unfair recent history. Enjoy!


If you are planing to go to South Africa, this information can be usefull. In the right sidebar menu, you can read specific advices about a low-cost travelling around the country.


   IMMIGRATION, VISAS SOUTH AFRICA   

We travel with a spanish passport (and it´s similar for all UE citizen). You get a 90 days stamp on your passport on arrival in South Africa, no visa needed. You are supposed to have a return ticket.

You will find complete information at the government website for South Africa immigration. Check http://www.home-affairs.gov.za/index.php/immigration-services.
There you find the list of exempt countries from South African visas, ports of entry, etc. 

Warning: in 2014, South Africa changed immigration laws.
Important if travelling with children, now more papers needed. 
If you enter South Africa, get your 90 days stamp on the passport and then travel to neighbor countries or other countries in Africa, without getting back home, and get back to South Africa during this 90 days, you will NOT get a new stamp NOW, as the former 90 days stamp is still avalaible. Yes!
And who knows if getting back home and back to South Africa on the same year they will, they should but  in some places they say only 90 days a year... Try to enquire at the embassy if it´s the case...
And you will be in trouble now if over-passing the number of days, check.


Our experience:

We arrived at Johannesburg airport beginning of october and got a 90 days stamp on the passport without any problem (no return ticket asked... but you are supposed to have one... so better to have "something" to show in your phone...).
After a few days in South Africa, we went to Botswana and Namibia and back in South Africa one month latter. True, NO new stamp, only the entrance back to South Africa. Same thing latter going in and out to Lesotho and Swaziland. 
Only 90 days stamp. Even if you don´t stay all that perior in South Africa. So begining of january we had to leave South Africa.

Border immigration posts of South Africa:

Modern, organised, quick. We never had any problem at the different border crossing we used between South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Even with rental car, easy, nothing special needed just paying a small fee in the neighbor countries (we didn´t cross to Zimbabwe by car, more papers and expensive). Just South Africa-Zimbabwe border was really very crowded (4 hours crossing).
You can check the complete information of our experiences in each one of these visited countries.



   WEATHER IN SOUTH AFRICA   

There´s north and south part of South Africa, with a different weather.

Southern area (Cape Town for example) has a dry and hot summer december to march and a cold and rainy winter june to september. Mediterranean style, but on the southern hemisphere.

Northern South Africa (Johannesburg-Pretoria, Durban for example) has a rainy and hot summer and a dry and cool winter. Subtropical weather.

We travelled around from October til January and had good weather, almost eveywhere in South Africa, except a few days. Even not too much rain (lucky) in the northern part in the supposed rainy season there (december).


   MONEY IN SOUTH AFRICA   

The South Africa currency is the Rand.
The exchange rate was 1 €: 14 Rands in average during end of 2014.

In the main towns, there are banks with ATMs (ususally inside the supermarkets and shopping malls). Also in most of the gas stations. Safe!
No extra charge for foreign cards. Good exchange rate, no extra commissions, good withdraw limit.
Everything (gas stations, supermarkets, hotels, national parks, activities, etc.) can usually be paid directly by card (even small amounts).
But carry some cash just in case.
Easy in South Africa!


   FOOD & DRINKS IN SOUTH AFRICA   

Modern shopping malls and supermarkets are the active centers of the South Africa towns and cities. You will find them almost everywhere, close to the city center and in the neighbourhoods.
Many franchises there, most of them South African brands, like Hungry Lion or Nando´s,  with burgers, pizzas, fried chicken, fish&chips… Prices are correct (we didn´t use them, we prefered to cook).

In the big cities and tourist destinations also lot of restaurants and cafés. Prices are not very expensive compared with Europe.

Not too many markets or street stalls, except in small towns or around the townships.

South Africa is probably one of the cheapest countries of southern Africa.

Supermakets in South Africa:
It´s the way of saving money. Shop and cook!

Shopriteand Spar are almost everywhere. 
The prices usually are lower than in other supermarkets like Checkers and Pick´n Pay (same owners than the first ones). This big offer with so many supermarkets is only in big main towns and in some regions.
Not the same customers everywhere. Sometimes more black, sometimes more white... This is South Africa!

Size of the supermarkets and prices vary from town to town.
Usually very good quality, clean, you find everything.
Even camping stuff (tents, stoves, chairs...) and quite cheap price.
The supermarkets have a “take away” section, and it´s the cheapest option for a prepared meal if you don´t want to cook (less than 2 euros for a dish, prices are usually per kg and also snacks).

The prices are quite cheap, similar at those in south Europe. 
Meat is really cheap and good. So are the fruits and vegetables (but cheaper in the markets, if there are any around). Many good cans (try the chakalaka, but the mild one if you don´t like spicy food). Good and fresh bakery section.
Possible to pay with credit card even a small amount.
Usually open til 20:00 even on Sundays.

We cooked everyday. If no kitchen in your camp, you can always BBQ (“braai” is the favourite activity of the South Africans, white and black). Coal-wood are sold everywhere (2-3 €) or you can pick branches.

Water in South Africa:
Tap water is usually safe to drink. Just ask. We drank it and never had any problem.




Alcohol in South Africa:
Sometimes sold at the supermarkets and mostly sold at the bottle shops, at the sides of the supermarkets. More expensive at the hotels/bakcpackers.
South Africa wine has a big and cheap production. The cheapest bottle is around 25 R (less than 2 euros). Also “bag in box” and “tetra-bick” even cheaper. More white and rosé than red.
Also local beers (SAB is one of the big world companies). A small beer (33cl) costs 8-9 R (0.6 euros) and a big one (75cl) is 14 R (1 euro).


   NATIONAL PARKS IN SOUTH AFRICA   

You can check the complete information at: www.sanparks.org
Some parks in Western Cape (www.capenature.co.za) have a regional management and so have all the Kwa-Zulu-Natal (KZN) parks(www.kznwildlife.com).
All the websites have complete information, maps, accommodation offer and bookings.
Really easy for the travellers.

National Parks included in Wild Card

Different prices for South African&residents, southern african countries and international foreigners. 
Prices vary a lot depending of the parks.
Kruger is one of the most expensive, the foreigner fee is 264 R (aroud 20 €/pp/day), but some are much cheaper, specially in Kwa Zulu Natal.
South African parks, even game parks, are really CHEAP (same in Botswana and Namibia) compared with other EXPENSIVE East Africa parks. Do you know that the famous parks in Kenya and Tanzania (Masai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro) have a 60-80 $/pp/day fee?
Really recommended!

The national parks are really well-managed.
Good roads. Good campsites and lodges. Maps and indiactions. Toilets. 
Great!
And also a lot of wild life! Kruger is really amazing! And really wild and huge!

The best: easy to rent a car and go inside. Self-driving is allowed in most of the SA parks, even with a normal sedan car, no need of 4x4. It´s well explained in the website.
So, South Africa is a great country in Africa and cheap to explore yourself, freely, the game parks and enjoy the wild life. Go!


Wild Card:
www.wildcard.co.za
Complete information online, well-explained.

The Wild Card is a South African National parks program (SANparks) that give you unlimited access to most of Southern Africa’s conservation areas, during one year. They have different types of membership, residents and even for international guests (the most expensive fees), single, couple (or 2 people) and family



If you plan to visit different parks and stay for a while in the country, it´s probably cheaper and more convenient as it will allow you illimited visits to most of the parks in SA.
If you just want to go to Kruger (264 R/day/pp) and stay there for more than 5 days, it worth taking the Wild Card! And much more if planning to visit other parks in South Africa.

In august 2014, when we bought it, it was 2.610 R for 2 foreigners (185 €).
In 2015, it´s 2.770 R.

You book and pay online. Easy!

  There are supposed to send you home (also abroad) the card but it never arrived on time (even ordering more than one month in advance... post strikes). So the email-receipt is also Ok.

   TOURIST INFORMATION IN SOUTH AFRICA   

In the tourist areas and towns of South Africam you will find goverment tourist information offices, with free maps, booklets, advertisements, etc. Similar to the ones in Europe, Australia, USA, etc.
Really useful. Even free-wifi in some.
Also inside the national parks, the information centers offer good advice and some free maps.

   TELECOMS AND SIM CARD IN SOUTH AFRICA   

For the tourist, the easiest way to get a prepaid Sim card is at the supermarket (no need to register):  just near the cashier, you will find them. Vodacom (the main SA company), MTN, Virgin… Only 0,50 R!
At the company shops, you will need to register and a proof of residence, so for a traveller this option is not very easy. 
At the airport, you only need your passport but there´s a big extra charge: a Sim card will cost you 115 R (Vodacom), 61 R (MTN) at Johannesburg airport. And it´s almost FREE at the supermarket.

You can buy airtime everywhere (almost), for only 5R (voucher).
3 G network is avalaible in some places but not everywhere in South Africa (in 2014)... but it can change quick...
You can transfer call Money to data Money. But if you want use data, it´s cheaper to buy “data money” in the company shop (29R for 100 MB, 99R for 500MB, 149R for 1GB, etc. with  Vodacom).


   LANGUAGES - COMMUNICATION IN SOUTH AFRICA   

English is widely spoken, but for many people it´s the second language as the mother tongue is Afrikaans. So communication is fine, but the level of English varies a lot depending of people and regions.
There are 11 official languages in South Africa.

   HEALTH   

Most of South Africa is malaria free zone. Just some places north of KZN near Mozambique and Swaziland borders can be affected, specially during the rainy season (summer) and around Kruger and Zimbabwe and Botswana borders. But things are getting better.

Usually when we asked local people they said it was fine, no risks or malaria free.
Lots of repellent at the supermarkets, like “Sleep Well” or “Tabard”, quite cheap (around 30 to 50 R).
Big AIDS rate…

Public hospitals in the big SA cities have a bad reputation, crowded. Lots of private clinics.
Water is usually safe to drink.
There are many big pharmacies.


   ELECTRIC PLUGS   

Special type of plug, with 3 big round holes. 

You need an adapter if coming from Europe, US or UK for example, easy and cheap to find in a Chinese shop (around 30-40 R), more expensive at the airport. Only sometimes European plug is also avalaible.

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