Overview of South Africa

Roughly the size of Spain and France combined, or Texas, South Africa is situated at the very southern tip of Africa. The Atlantic and the Indian Oceans wash its shores and meet at Cape Agulhas

– one of the only places in the world where a person can watch two oceans meet.

South Africa has nine provinces. Probably the best known to international visitors are the Western Cape, home of Cape Town and the Cape Winelands; Mpumalanga, famous for its spectacular scenery and the Kruger National Park; and KwaZulu-Natal, with its capital city, Durban, historic battlefields and wonderful beaches. The other six provinces – the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Gauteng, Limpopo, North West and Free State – also offer their own unique sights and experiences, and you’ll find out about them later on when you study the different province modules.

South Africa, since its first democratic election in 1994 after which Nelson Mandela became president, is a fully integrated society of more than 50-million people with a rich, fascinating mix of cultures ranging from Zulu and Xhosa (pronounced koh-sa), to Afrikaans and English and many, many more. There are 11 official languages – but nearly everybody understands and speaks English.

More than 70 international airlines fly into South Africa’s world-class airports from all over the world. There are also African airlines that have regular routes in and out of South Africa to the rest of the continent.

South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, so it’s summer here when it’s winter up north. Travellers can usually find fantastic bargain prices in the low (winter) and shoulder (spring and autumn) seasons.

  • Spring:  September, October, November
  • Summer: December through  March Autumn: April, May
  • Winter: June through  August

Weather

Average day temperatures in summer range from a minimum of 15°C (59F) to a maximum of 28°C (82F). In winter, average day temperatures are 19°C to 23°C (66F to 73F). Cape Town winters tend to be wet and windy, but a winter beach holiday in Durban or on the KwaZulu-Natal coast is fine as average temperatures hover around the 26°C mark. Winter in Mpumalanga and Limpopo is dry and cold at night but sunny and warm in the day, perfect for spotting game because the vegetation is low and game is forced to drink at waterholes.

South Africa has excellent mobile phone (cellphone) service providers. In case you need to set up international roaming, or buy a prepaid SIM card at the airport when arriving to use locally on their own phones, please inform our safari consultant. Airtime can be purchased at shops and malls almost anywhere in South Africa. Network coverage is fairly widespread, except deep in the bush or in very rural areas.

There are internet cafés in most towns and cities, and Wi-Fi is widely available throughout the country, even in some game reserves, and certainly in luxury game lodges and high-end accommodation.

South Africa’s metric system uses kilograms, grams, kilometres, and degrees Celsius instead of Fahrenheit.

South Africa uses the United Kingdom system.

There are grocery stores, supermarkets and bottle stores throughout the country. Excellent wine can be found in supermarkets, but for beer and the hard stuff such as whiskey and other spirits, visitors will have to use a bottle store.

There’s no duty on personal effects, and airlines will let their passengers know about duty-free amounts.

South Africa has one of the most advanced banking systems in the world. Its banks and financial systems use world-class technology and facilities, and instant cash is available with major credit cards from ATMs (automatic teller machines) throughout the country. There are also forex booths at airports and shopping malls. Most of the larger hotels also offer money-changing facilities.

  • South Africa’s currency is the rand with a range of coins (10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R5), and notes in denominations of R10, R50, R100 and R200.
  • Banking hours are 09h00 to 15h30 on weekdays, and Saturdays 09h00 to 11h00, although it’s much quicker and simpler to use the readily available countrywide ATMs, which are open 24/7. ATMs are the best to use due to their speed and accessibility.
  • Major credit cards are accepted throughout the country, but it is advisable to have  cash (including some smaller denominations) when  doing roadside shopping, or when  in a small village or rural area.
  • Tipping is at a customer’s discretion, although 10% to 15% of the bill is customary. Game lodges suggest suitable tips in their in-room information.

Though it is generally safe to South Africa, please take all the usual precautions that as in any foreign country, such as locking valuables away, not wearing expensive jewellery, keeping to tourist-friendly areas, and locking car doors and windows.

South Africa has been at the forefront of medical care and services ever since Professor Christiaan Barnard made world medical history in 1967 with the first-ever human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town.

Malaria

Malaria, which is only carried by mosquitoes, is prevalent throughout the year in many of the main game-viewing areas of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and northern KwaZulu-Natal. You are advised to consult a healthcare professional about medication at least a month before leaving home.

As a precaution, it is advised to put on long pants, long-sleeved shirts, shoes and socks should be worn in the evenings when mosquitoes are at their busiest, and relevant bug spray should be used. There are areas that are malaria-free like game reserves such as Madikwe or Pilanesberg in North West province, the Waterberg in Limpopo, or private reserves in the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape.

HIV/Aids

There is no danger in contracting this syndrome unless he/she has unprotected sex with someone they don’t know, uses an old syringe, or exchanges bodily fluids in some other way.

Drinking water

South Africa has some of the cleanest tap water in the world, and it is treated and safe to drink, except perhaps in very rural areas. It’s quite safe to have ice in drinks and to eat salads.

No problem. South Africans love children. Most establishments welcome them and many provide special facilities such as family rooms. Many private game lodges have special programmes for kids on safari. All the national parks are child-friendly.

Although your clients can book one in South Africa, it is best to pre-book before they leave home. If they’re going to the bush or into any of the game reserves or national parks, it is advisable to spend some extra pennies and hire a van (combi) or SUV; they’ll have more legroom and sit much higher up for better game viewing. A valid driving licence issued in your client’s own country is permitted, as long as it has a photograph, the signature of the holder and is in English. Otherwise, it’s easy to obtain an international driving licence before your client leaves home. Remember, he or she will be driving on the lefthand-side of the road.

There are facilities for disabled people (although fewer than in the United States or many parts of Europe), and there are also specially organised tours. All major hotels will have facilities for disabled people. If your client is renting a vehicle, consult with the company over special needs and parking dispensations

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