FAQs - Travel in Southern Africa
Southern Africa is a year-round destination, as different regions are at their most spectacular at different times. South Africa's summer months range from December to April, and winters range from May to November. May to June has moderate days but cool evenings, and from July to September the coldest days and nights are experienced. In winter, snow occurs along our mountain ranges, but does not usually reach the towns and cities. South Africa usually experiences a moderate climate throughout the year with no severe fluctuations between the seasons. The sun intensity is very strong in South Africa and we recommend sun block throughout the year, even if traveling in winter.
What Languages are spoken?
We live in a country that is very rich in diversity and culture. South Africa has 11 official languages, with English, Xhosa and Zulu being the most universally spoken. All South Africans understand, speak and most often write in English, so there is no need to worry about any language barriers. For your information, the other languages are isiNdebele, Northern Sotho, siSwati, Xitsonga, Setswana, Tshivenda and Sepedi, all with their own unique clicks and sounds.
As there is no across-the-board tipping procedure shared between our various continents, here is a rough idea of what is expected of tipping in South Africa - this may help you to avoid any embarrassing moments. For airport and hotel porters (luggage carriers), the norm is to tip them R10-R20 per person, irrespective of the number of bags per person (usually 2 bags per person). In restaurants, 10% of the bill is generally left for your waiter (gratuity is not usually included in the total of the tab).
The standard electricity supply in South Africa is 220/230 volts AC50Hz. Adaptors for all countries can be purchased either at Duty Free, or your hotel curio shop. We would recommend you source an adaptor at the airport, in the unlikely event that your hotel has run out of adaptors to purchase.
If you adhere to basic principles, like you would in any large city anywhere in the world, like: not carrying valuables in plain view, keeping cameras hidden and not go about walking alone at night - you should be safe and sound. Be aware of onlookers and make use of hotel safety deposit boxes. It is not wise to carry all your money while out and about in the city centre. Credit cards are accepted anywhere in South Africa, except at some outdoor markets, where cash is used. Another area to be vigilant is with your luggage, which should not be left unattended. Travelers with Road Travel are the least at risk and self-drive clients are advised to plan in advance which routes they wish to travel and to get all of their destination information ahead of time. If traveling by car, make sure the doors are locked at all times and that no bags or purses are left on passenger seats. While on safari in the bush, the only dangerous creatures are wild animals.
Will my Mobile Phone work in Africa?
Yes, there is extensive coverage throughout Southern Africa. In South Africa, networks cover all national roads, towns and cities. Before traveling, ask your mobile phone service provider to open your phone to allow international roaming.
What to pack?
During summer, light comfortable clothing is recommended. If you are going on safari, make sure you pack a warm jacket for the evenings, as it can get quite chilly on the back of an open vehicle when the sun sets, even in the summer months. Comfortable walking shoes are also advisable. On flying Safaris the light aircrafts used to charter guests into lodges only permit 8 kg of luggage per person. That means one should carry only a few items of light clothing, preferably cottons, for your stay in the bush. Clothing should be in neutral colors, eg, khaki, beige, bush green. A good guideline is two of everything - socks, underwear, slacks/shorts, shirts, and one pullover or cardigan. Bring warm clothing for the winter months as the evenings can be cool.
All purchases made while in South Africa are subject to a government Value Added Tax (set at 14%), which is redeemable to visitors upon departure. You can only claim VAT back on items exceeding R250 and on items you are taking home with you. VAT on hotel bills and items you have consumed in SA is not refundable. The best is to inform the shop assistant that you would like a tax invoice to claim VAT on departure. You should then keep all your slips, and present them to a VAT refund official at the airport. They may wish to see some of the items you have purchased to confirm that they are in fact leaving the country.
Any Health Advise?
All travelers worldwide are recommended to take out travel insurance before trips, which covers health benefits while in another country (please check full benefits with your travel insurer). In some areas of South Africa malaria occurs, but with the correct anti-malaria medication taken before your trip, you will not contract the disease easily. Please contact your local Travel Clinic to find out the best medication currently on the market. The tap water in South Africa is safe to drink. There will always be bottled water available should you not feel comfortable drinking it direct from the tap / faucet.
What about malaria?
Malaria is a dangerous disease, but if you take your anti-malarials, your chances of getting it are extremely slim. Mosquitoes carrying the disease transmit malaria, and as the insects are more active at night, it is recommended that all travelers wear long-sleeved trousers and sleeves at nighttime; sleep under mosquito netting where possible and take along mosquito repellent. Most of the luxury game lodges do supply these.
What are the rules of the road?
Keep left, and pass right. The usual speed limit in the urban areas is 60km/h, and on the national highways it is 120km/h. Keep your eye open for speed limit road signs as there are many speed traps. Wearing seat belts in the front and back of the car is the law. Drink driving is not tolerated. Not all countries need to have an international driving permit for South Africa, but it is advisable to find out from us for confirmation. Public transport is not ideal in cities, as it is quite irregular.
How did the "Big Five" get their name?
The "big five" are leopard, lion, elephant, rhino and buffalo. These animals constitute a wish list for many people on safari. The term is a reference from colonial trophy hunting. Hunters ranked African animals as to how dangerous they were to hunt. This is why hippo and giraffe - despite their stature - are not among this elite, sought-after group.
How far in advance should I book?
It is better to book as far in advance as possible to ensure availability at the time you wish to travel (3-5 months), especially during the peak season. This is especially important for those wishing to travel on private custom tours.