South Africa Travel Guide
South Africa is a patchwork of cultures, religions and ways of life. The nation has eleven official languages and is home to many indigenous communities and tribes. Its diverse population has earned the country the moniker “Rainbow Nation”— a reference to the nation’s celebration of its multi-cultural heritage.
For travelers who are seeking to immerse themselves in the local lifestyle of the destinations they visit, South Africa is truly an experience unlike any other. It is a spirited country where you’ll often be greeted by smiling townspeople, upbeat and rhythmic mbaqanga music, markets filled with colorful vegetables and elaborate handiwork, and exotic wildlife that exists nowhere else on earth. Thus, traveling to South Africa truly is the adventure of a lifetime.
The Best Time to Visit South Africa
It is always recommended that tourists research the best time to go to South Africa and plan their trip accordingly. The ideal time of year will vary from person to person, based on what experiences they are hoping to have during their trip and what their own personal weather preferences are.
The hot season in South Africa takes place between November and February. Temperatures sit around 23° Celsius (69° Fahrenheit), on average, during this time. Thus, if you’re someone who doesn’t do well in high temperatures, scheduling your trip for early fall or late spring may be more suitable. If you plan on visiting Whale Coast to view pods of southern right whales as they migrate along the south coast, you’ll want to plan your trip for July or August, as this is calving season (when the whales are most likely to be visible).
Lastly, the world-renowned wildflowers along the west coast bloom between August and October, so if you’re interested in viewing these vast, vivid fields, a late-summer or early-fall arrival would be best.
Cape Floral Kingdom
The Cape Floral Kingdom is a UNESCO world heritage site that is home to more than 9,000 plant species, and it is one of the most highly-acclaimed South Africa travel locations. The area spans approximately 2,705,170 acres and more than half of the gorgeous blossoms and unique plants that grow there are unique to the area, meaning they cannot be observed anywhere else in the world.
For these reasons, Cape Floral Kingdom is an idyllic location for hiking, horseback riding, a romantic picnic, or bird watching.
Timbavati Game Reserve
The Timbavati Game Reserve is a national park that is home to many large African animals, including “The Big Five”— lions, leopards, rhinos, buffaloes, and elephants. Unlike zoos and other attractions where wildlife are caged or restricted, animals at the Timbavati Game Reserve are free to roam the national park. After all, it is their home.
Tourists are taken on safari by an experienced armed ranger in an off-road vehicle, where they can observe these wondrous mammals in their natural habitat— a photographer’s paradise!
The Drakensberg Mountains (which translates to “Dragon Mountains” in Afrikaans) are part of the largest mountain range in South Africa. The highest peak, Thabana Ntlenyana, stands at 3,482 meters (11,424 feet) high and is an absolute wonder to behold. People from around the globe travel to South Africa to bear witness to the endless plateaus, slopes, and valleys that can be found throughout the Drakenberg mountain range. There are also natural springs, mysterious caves, and breathtaking waterfalls to be discovered (we recommend checking out Tugela Falls, the highest waterfall in all of South Africa).
Is South Africa Safe?
For those who are planning to travel South Africa, this is often a common question. And, generally, the answer is yes. There are a few precautions that tourists should take, however, to ensure their personal safety and the safety of their belongings.
We recommend taking the preventative measures below:
If you want to explore South Africa townships, always travel with an experienced local guide during daylight hours. Tourists walking alone at night are more susceptible to pickpocketing and theft.
Avoid wearing expensive clothing and brand-name apparel, and leave your costly gadgets at home. If you are a photographer who is committed to bringing a high-end camera, or you need to bring a laptop for work, always keep these items locked and out of sight when they are not in use.
Consider carrying a decoy bag, purse, or wallet. You can place a small amount of petty cash, some discontinued credit cards, or other non-essential items inside. When browsing markets or paying for souvenirs or other small purchases, use your decoy. This way, if someone demands you hand over your backpack, purse, or wallet, you can separate with the item without too much worry, while your actual credit cards and cash remain safely tucked away. Hidden waist wallets, travel bras with concealed compartments, and even your socks are all excellent alternatives to keeping cash in a visible purse or wallet.
One of the best parts about traveling to South Africa is the close proximity to other countries. The nation shares a border with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Mozambique. Plus, the landlocked kingdom of Lesotho can be found within South Africa itself. This makes South Africa a fantastic destination for tourists who want to experience multiple cultures and destinations within a single vacation.
South African Cuisine
When you travel South Africa, you are sure to be delighted by the variety of different dishes and flavors you’ll experience. The food in South Africa is as multi-ethnic as the people, making it an exciting place to expand your palette.
One of the most popular traditional dishes, Chakalaka, is a spicy tomato and bean relish that is elevated with a blend of spices, including curry powder, ginger and cayenne pepper. It is typically served as a side dish with grilled meats or with pap— a cornmeal porridge that is a beloved staple in South Africa.
When you visit, be ready to indulge in rich, savory curries, peppery barbequed meats, and hearty stews, as these are a few of the pillars of the South African diet.
Budgeting for Your Trip
In South Africa, the national currency is the rand. As of 2019, one South African rand is equal to .65 U.S. Dollars. This is quite beneficial for travelers who have South Africa travel plans and will be arriving from countries with higher dollar values. The costs of goods and services in South Africa are also lower, on average, than they would be in North America or Europe.
Below is a breakdown of what tourists can expect to pay:
1 Meal at a Mid Range Restaurant
1 Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)
1 km Taxi Ride
1 Night’s Stay in a 3-Star Hotel
1 Litre of Gasoline
1 Carton of Eggs (12)
1 Short Visit to Doctor’s Office (15 Minutes)
Tourists traveling to South Africa are advised to have a number of vaccines before entering the country.
The vaccines recommended for travel to South Africa include:
Yellow Fever (If traveling from a country where there is a risk of Yellow Fever transmission.)
It is also important to remember that Malaria is present in some regions of South Africa. Thus, tourists who plan to visit areas with a high risk are advised to take extra precautions, especially during the hours between dawn and dusk. These precautions include regularly applying insect repellent to exposed skin, wearing long-sleeved shirts, remaining indoors when possible during peak hours, and sleeping under a mosquito-proof net.