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South Africa Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

British Airways, South African Airlines and Virgin Atlantic operate direct flights from London Heathrow to Johannesburg. There are also daily direct flights between London Heathrow and Cape Town with British Airways. Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Turkish Airlines also connect the UK with a selection of key South African cities via their respective hubs.

Flying times from UK

Direct flights from the UK to Johannesburg take around 11 hours and 11½ hours to Cape Town. Flights with stops en-route take between 14 and 17 hours.

Time zone

South Africa is +2 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

Holders of British Citizen passports travelling for tourism purposes for up to 90 days do not need a visa. Immigration rules in relation to travelling with children were updated in June 2015 and insist that parents travelling with children under the age of 18 need to show the child’s full unabridged birth certificate. Your passport must be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of exit from South Africa and you will need at least two blank pages in your passport.

Do’s and don’ts

Tourists should always be vigilant when travelling around South Africa and you should avoid walking alone or in isolated areas late at night or early in the morning.

Permission should always be asked before taking a person’s picture.

If you are self-driving always lock your valuables in the boot and out of sight, both when you are in and out of the car.

If it is your first visit try to incorporate a safari into your holiday. Few countries can offer the range of ethical wildlife experiences that South Africa can.

Money

The currency of South Africa is the South African Rand (ZAR) and comes in notes and coins. Exchanging money is easy to do in the UK before you travel or at airports, banks, bureaux de change and hotels in South Africa. It is always a good idea to ask for some small note denominations when you exchange money. ATMs are widely available in all towns, cities, shopping centres and many petrol stations and will accept international cards. It is always advised to contact your bank before you travel so they are aware you will be in South Africa.

Tipping

This is left to your discretion, however, tipping for good service in South Africa is common courtesy. In restaurants an acceptable amount is 10-15% however you do not need to tip if you see a service charge added to your bill. Service is often added automatically for groups of six people or more.

For drivers, guides and room service, the following amounts should act as a guideline:

Tour driver         R50 per person per day
Tour guide         R75 per person per day
Tour guide         R50 per person per half day
Hotel porter       R15 per suitcase
Housekeeper    R25 a night

 

Food and drink

Arguably South Africa’s national dish, bobotie consists of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping and should be tried at least once. However, a South African institution is the ‘braai’ or South African barbecue. Everybody braais and facilities can be found almost anywhere from public outdoor picnic areas to hotels and safari lodges. Game meats are commonly found throughout South Africa with ostrich and kudu particularly popular and, with such a vast coastline, it is not surprising that the country has an impressive range of seafood. South Africa is also renowned throughout the world for excellent wines with the finest vineyards found in the Western Cape close to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

South Africa has a wide variety of festivals and events throughout the year including The Cape Town Jazz Festival and the Klein Karoo Festival in Oudtshoorn which both take place in April. The Knysna Oyster Festival takes place in June and from the middle of the year right through to November, you can experience whale watching along the Cape coast. In July join in the celebrations at the Stellenbosch Wine Festival. September brings the Johannesburg Good Food and Wine Show and October enjoys the fun and rhythm of the Afrikaans Music Festival in Cape West. Freedom Day, held in April, and Day of Reconciliation in December are important public holidays.

Shopping

Ranging from local craft markets to huge shopping centres, you will be spoilt for choice with the variety of shopping opportunities available in South Africa. Souvenirs and local wares are best brought in the local markets found in most cities, along the side of the road or outside popular tourist attractions. Haggling is expected in the markets, just make sure both you and the seller are happy with the price. You can expect to pick up items such as painted ostrich eggs, art work, handcrafted jewellery and wooden carved animals and masks. Local wines also make excellent buys as they are often low in price and high in quality.

Suggested reading

Footprint, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet have excellent guide books whilst Marco Polo have comprehensive and up to date maps of the country. There is also a wide range of literature available including:

‘Long Walk to Freedom’ by Nelson Mandela
‘After Mandela: The Battle for the Soul of South Africa’ by Alec Russell
‘A History of South Africa’ by Leonard Thompson and Lynn Berat
‘A Short History of South Africa’ by Gail Nattrass
‘The Scramble for Africa’ by Thomas Pakenham
‘Zulu Rising: The Epic Story of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift’ by Ian Knight
‘Diamonds, Gold and War: The Making of South Africa’ by Martin Meredith
‘Guidebook to the Anglo-Zulu War Battlefields’ by David Rattray
‘Invictus’ by John Carlin
‘Born a Crime’ by Trevor Noah
‘Burger's Daughter’ by Nadine Gordimer
‘Cry, the Beloved Country’ by Alan Paton
‘Ways of Dying’ by Zakes Mda
‘Hum If You Don't Know the Words’ by Bianca Marais

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current advice recommends you should be vaccinated against Hepatitis A. You might also consider vaccinations against Diphtheria, Tetanus, Typhoid Fever, Hepatitis B, Rabies, Cholera and Tuberculosis (TB). For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org.  The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/home.aspx) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on South Africa the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

South Africa Holiday Review

Just to let you know that we are now home after a fantastic time in South Africa.

When I booked this I never dreamed we would be lucky to do so much: Table Mountain, townships, wine, shark diving, swimming with seals, by chance falling on a complete school of dolphins and getting to swim with them, lots of whales. Not forgetting all our wildlife, topped off by watching a pack of white lions devour their zebra kill.

All our accommodation was fantastic and Pumba Game Reserve is out of this world. The driving didn't phase us and if anything allowed us to go for lunch/coffee off the beaten track. Night driving was the biggest experience. We loved it and have about 2000 photos between us. Everyone was so helpful to me... wouldn't have been able to do half of the activities without them.

Thanks for organising such a great trip for us.

AN - South Africa - October 2015

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