South Africa Travel Information

Visas, Health, Safety and Currency

Aerial view of Johannesburg, South Africa
••• Aerial view of Johannesburg, South Africa. BFG Images/Getty Images

Travel to South Africa and experience one of Africa's best travel destinations for all budgets. South Africa offers excellent safaris, beautiful beaches, diverse cultures, gourmet food and world class wines. This article covers your basic travel information for South Africa including visas, health, safety, weather, currency, when to go, how to get there and local transport options.

Visa Requirements

Most nationalities don't need a visa to enter South Africa as a tourist as long as your stay doesn't exceed 30-90 days.

You need a valid passport that doesn't expire within 6 months and with at least one empty page for endorsements. For a list of visa requirements per nationality see the South Africa Department of Home Affairs site.

Health

South Africa has some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world. As I learned at school, the very first heart transplant was performed in Cape Town. So if you need to be hospitalized you're in good hands. Make sure you get travel insurance since quality health care is not cheap.

You can drink the tap water throughout the country (it's safe even if it looks a little brown coming out of the tap in some areas). Drinking water straight from rivers, however, can put you at risk for bilharzia. More health information follows below.

Immunizations

No vaccinations are required by law to enter South Africa. If you are traveling from a country where Yellow Fever is present you will need to prove you have had the inoculation by presenting a valid international yellow fever inoculation certificate.

Both Typhoid and Hepatitis A vaccinations are highly recommended. Get up to date with your measles vaccine too, there have been recent outbreaks in Cape Town and a few other areas in the country.

Malaria

Most of the main tourist destinations in South Africa are malaria free, making South Africa a particularly good destination to travel to with kids.

The only areas where malaria is still prevalent are the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and on the Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal. It does include the Kruger National Park.

Make sure your doctor or travel clinic knows you are traveling to South Africa (don't just say Africa) so s/he can prescribe the right anti-malarial medication. Reading tips on how to avoid malaria will also help.

AIDS/HIV

South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world so please take precautions if you are planning to have sex.

Safety

Personal Safety

Although there is a high crime rate in South Africa it is mostly restricted to the townships and not tourist areas. You should be careful when changing large amounts of money, make copies of your passport and keep them in your luggage and just be careful about walking around at night especially in the major cities. 

Roads

The roads in South Africa are among the best in Africa which makes it a good place to rent a car and do some independent sightseeing. Try to avoid driving at night since the roads aren't well lit and animals tend to venture on to them at will. Take care when driving on the approaching roads to Kruger National Park, there have been reports of carjackings, although the police are aware and have increased their vigilance.

Currency

The South African unit of currency is called the Rand and it is divided into 100 cents. Coins come in denominations of 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5, and notes in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100, and R200. Due to favorable exchange rates, South Africa is a very inexpensive destination given the quality of lodging, dining and activities offered. You should check online for current ​exchange rate information. Credit Cards are widely accepted (except at gas stations)and ATM machines are widely available in the main cities and towns.

Tipping

It is normal to tip in South Africa, so keep your small change handy. In restaurants 10-15% is standard. Tipping tour guides, trackers, and game rangers are also the norm since they depend on this for most of their income.

Note:
Bartering and exchanging jeans and sneakers (especially name brands) for arts and crafts is common practice.

Bring a few extras along with you.

Travel to South Africa and experience one of Africa's best travel destinations for all budgets. South Africa offers excellent safaris, beautiful beaches, diverse cultures, gourmet food and world class wines. This article covers your basic travel information for South Africa including visas, health, safety, weather, currency, when to go, how to get there and local transport options.

When to Go

South Africa's seasons are the reverse of the northern hemisphere.

  • Spring is September - October
  • Summer is November - March
  • Fall is April - May
  • Winter is June - August

Summers can get quite hot especially around Durban and KwaZulu-Natal where summer rains make it humid and muggy. The winters are generally mild with perhaps a dusting of snow on higher elevations. Click here for today's weather forecast and average annual temperatures.

There's not really a bad time to go to South Africa but depending on what you would like to do, some seasons are better than others.The best time to:

  • Go on safari is June to September (dry season)
  • Visit Cape Town is November to March (summer)
  • Go rafting is December to February (rainy season)
  • See flowers is August to September (spring)
  • Go whale watching is June to December

Note: Most South Africans will plan their vacations during the long school holiday from mid-December to the end of January so hotels, tours, and lodges book up quickly during that time.

Getting to South Africa

By Air

Most tourists fly into South Africa. There are three international airports but the one most people arrive at is the Johannesburg International Airport. It is a large modern airport, very easy to use and there's lots of transport available to get into town.

The other two international airports are Cape Town International Airport and Durban International Airport.

By land

If you are lucky enough to and have the time to travel Overland (or if you live in a neighboring country) there are several borders you can cross. Border posts are open daily, the main ones are as follows:

  • South Africa / Namibia Vioolsdrif 24 hours
  • South Africa / Mozambique Komatiepoort 07:00 22:00
  • South Africa / Botswana Tlokweng 07:00 22:00
  • South Africa / Zimbabwe Beitbridge 06:00 20:00
  • South Africa / Swaziland Oshoek 07:00 22:00

By Bus

There are several luxury bus services that run from South Africa to Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. One such company is Intercape Mainliner.

By Train

It is possible to travel to South Africa by train from a number of countries. Perhaps the best option is the Shongololo Express which travels between South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It's a tourist train and a bit like going on a cruise except you don't have to deal with the waves.

The Rovos Train is another luxurious train which offers regular trips from Pretoria to Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe/Zambia).

Getting Around South Africa

By Air

Domestic flights are numerous and connect most of the major towns and cities. It's a good option if you don't have a lot of time to see the whole country. South African Express offers 13 South African domestic flights and several regional destinations including Namibia, Botswana, and the DRCAirlink offers mainly domestic flights within South Arica but is starting to branch out regionally as well. They offer flights to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Madagascar. Airlink has replaced Swaziland's national airline. Kulula is a low-cost airline operating domestically as well as regionally. Routes include Cape Town, Durban, George, Harare and Lusaka. Mango Airlines launched in December 2006 and flies to several destinations within South Africa including Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, and Bloemfontein. 1Time offers low-cost flights within South Africa and to Zanzibar.

By Bus

There are several bus companies servicing the main towns of South Africa. They are generally very comfortable and luxurious and cheaper than flying. A reputable company is Intercape Mainliner their site has routes and prices as well as a route map. The Greyhound Bus company is also a good option, although their web site isn't quite as easy to use.

For budget travelers, the Baz Bus is an ideal way to get around. The company offers passes where you can get on and off whenever you want. It drops you off and picks you up at your hostel door.

By Train

The Blue Train is the ultimate in luxury train travel, the kind of experience which includes five forks and five knives in the place settings at breakfast. You have to book well in advance since this train ride is truly a legendary experience. It is certainly not about getting from A to B, the train has one basic route, from Pretoria to Cape Town.

The Shosholoza Meyl is an excellent option to get around the country. A luxury train with many routes to choose from it is safe and inexpensive to boot.

By Car

South Africa is an excellent country to rent a car and plan your own trip. The roads are good, gas stations have gas and there are plenty of hotels and lodges to stay at along the way. You need a valid driver's license (get an international one if yours is not in English), and a major credit card.