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Holidays in South Africa

Understanding South Africa

If you want to travel in southern Africa then South Africa is a good place to start While you can fly into any country in southern Africa, most flights will route through South Africa anyway South Africa is also a good place to get used to traveling in the region though some would argue that Namibia is better for that Of course South Africa is not only a jumping off point, it is itself a superb destination rich in culture, fauna & flora and history

Outsiders' views of South Africa are colored by the same stereotypes as the rest of Africa Contrary to popular belief, South Africa is not devastatingly poor with an unstable government that is rapidly going to pot Although the rural part of South Africa remains among the poorest and the least developed parts of the world and poverty in the townships can be appalling, progress is being made The process of recovering from apartheid, which lasted almost 46 years, is quite slow In fact, South Africa's United Nations Human Development Index which was slowly improving in the final years of apartheid, has declined dramatically since 1996, largely due to the AIDS pandemic, and poverty levels appear to be on the increase South Africa boasts a well-developed infrastructure and has all the modern amenities and technologies, much of it developed during the years of white minority rule The government is stable, although corruption is common The government and the primary political parties generally have a high level of respect for democratic institutions and human rights, although the government's support of the misrule of neighboring Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has raised questions about its commitment to human rights and even democracy itself


The tip of Africa has been home to the Khoisan collective name for HottentotKoi and BushmenSan people for thousands of years Their rock art can still be found in many places throughout South Africa Bantu tribes started expanding into Southern Africa around 2500 years ago and by around 500 AD the different cultural groups as we know them today had been established in the area

The first permanent European settlement was built after the Dutch East India Company reached the Cape of Good Hope in April 1652 In the late 1700's the Boers the settling farmers slowly started expanding into the interior In 1795 Britain took control of the Cape and in 1820 a large group of British Settlers arrived in the region In 1835 large numbers of Boers started out on the Groot Trek into the interior after becoming dissatisfied with the British rule In the interior they established their own republics after a number of bloody conflicts with the local population

Two wars for control over the region were fought between the Boers and the British in 1880 and 1899 This was when the British contained the Boer population in the first modern concentration camps

The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, consolidating the various Boer republics and British colonies From this, the Republic of South Africa was formed in 1961 Non-Europeans were largely excluded in all these political changes and even with the creation of the Union were not given the right to vote From 1948 additional apartheid laws were introduced to erode the right of the black population further Since then, South Africa at least the government itself, became almost synonymous with fascism, racism, and many other pejorative descriptions In the years to follow, the country, despite having strong economic growth until the 1980s, experienced frequent uprisings and other social disturbances in response to the apartheid laws Among them: weapons embargoes, being banned from the Olympic Games, and deliberate violations of the laws by black radicals

In 1992, 68% of the voting white population voted in a referendum to have the apartheid system abolished This was quickly followed by a new constitution in 1993 and the first fully democratic election in 1994

Place names

Many region, city, street and building names in South Africa have been changed after the end of apartheid and some of them are still being changed today These changes can sometimes lead to confusion as many of the new names are not yet well known This travel guide will use the official new names, but also mention the previous names where possible


Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs °C 30 30 30 27 25 24 23 26 29 29 32 30
Nightly lows °C 23 23 21 17 12 8 8 11 16 18 21 22
Precipitation cm 166 10 39 35 09 03 16 16 24 49 114 112

The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer, except in the Western Cape where the rains come in the winter Rainfall in the Eastern Cape is distributed evenly throughout the year Winter temperatures hover around zero, summers can be very hot, in excess of 35 Celsius in some places

The South African Weather Service 2 provide up to date weather information, forecasts and radar imaging

Public Holidays

The public holidays in South Africa are:

  • New Year's Day January 1
  • Human Rights Day March 21
  • Easter weekend 4 day long weekend in March/April - Consisting of "Good Friday", "Easter Saturday", "Easter Sunday", and "Easter Monday", the dates are set according to the Western Christian tradition
  • Freedom Day April 27
  • Workers Day May 1
  • Youth Day June 16
  • Woman's Day August 9
  • Heritage Day September 24
  • Day of Reconciliation December 16 - see Bloodriver
  • Christmas Day December 25
  • Day of Goodwill December 26

If a public holiday falls on a Sunday, then the Monday following will be a holiday

School holidays 3 occur early December to middle January, early in April, middle June to middle July and late September Most South Africans go on leave during these times and accommodation will be harder to find

Tourism Offices

South African Tourism operates a number of offices in other countries You might wish to contact the office in your country for any additional information or assistance

  • Australia Level 1, 117 York Street, Sydney +61 2 9261-5000 infoau@southafricanet +61 2 9261-2000
  • France 61 Rue La Boetie, 75008 Paris +33 1 456-10197 +33 1 456-10196 infofr@southafricanet
  • Germany Friedensstrasse 6-10, Frankfurt +49 69 929-1290 +49 69 28-0950 infode@southafricanet
  • Italy Via XX Settembre 24, 3rd Floor, Milano +39 02 4391-1765 +39 02 4391-1158 infoit@southafricanet
  • Japan Akasaka Lions Building, 1-1-2 Moto Akasaka, Minato-Ku, Tokyo +81 33 478-7601 +81 33 478-7605 info@southafricantourismorjp
  • Netherlands Jozef Israëlskade 48 A, Amsterdam +31 20 471-3181 +31 20 662-9761 infonl@southafricanet
  • UK No 5 & 6 Alt Grove, Wimbledon, London +44 20 8971-9350 +44 20 8944-6705 infouk@southafricanet
  • USA 500 Fifth Avenue, 20th Floor, Suite 2040, New York +1 212 730-2929 +1 212 764-1980 infous@southafricanet

Talking in South Africa

South Africa has 11 official languages, namely Afrikaans, Southern Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda and English Most people other than rural black Africans speak English, although not many as a first language Only about 8% of the population speak English as a first language, almost exclusively in the white population which is ironically declining as a first language, while it is already a lingua franca among South Africans, and about 60% of the population can understand English South African English is heavily influenced by Afrikaans Afrikaans is also widely spoken, especially by the white and coloured population Often Afrikaans is incorrectly called 'afrikan' or 'african' by foreigners Note this is very incorrect as 'African' for a South African corresponds with the native-African languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi etc and, of course, there are thousands of languages in Africa so no single language can be called 'African' Afrikaans has roots in 17th century Dutch dialects, so it can be understood by Dutch speakers and sometimes deciphered by German speakers Other widely spoken languages are Zulu mainly in KwaZulu-Natal - South Africa's largest single linguistic group and Xhosa mainly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, as well as Sotho and Venda This changes, according to the region you are in

A few words you may encounter are:

  • eish - as in, "eish, it's hot today", "eish, that's expensive" or "eish, that's too far to drive"
  • lekker - nice, enjoyable
  • howzit - how is it? generally a rhetorical question
  • yebo - yes
  • boet, bru, china or ou - brother or man equivalent to dude or bro
  • koppie - a small hill can also mean a cup
  • Madiba - Nelson Mandela
  • Molo - Hello in Xhosa
  • robot - traffic light
  • tannie - auntie respectful term for an older woman
  • oom - uncle respectful term for an older man
  • tinkle - phone call
  • just now - sometime soon from Afrikaans "net-nou"
  • now now - sooner than just now! from Afrikaans "nou-nou", pronounced no-no
  • braai - barbecue
  • cheers - we use this for saying good-bye, as well as saying thank you and for the occasional toast
  • heita - hello
  • sharp - usually pronounced quickly OK
  • sure-sure more pronounced like sho-sho - Correct, Agreement, Thank you
  • ayoba - something cool


In general English spelling follows British rules rather than American; litre rather than liter, centre rather than center etc

What to do in South Africa

  • Dive, see Diving in South Africa for details
  • River Rafting: The Orange River on the border to Namibia is a popular destination for rafting tours Several tour operators launch 4-6 day trips in blow-up boats from Vioolsdrif with camping under the stars

Buying stuff in South Africa


The currency is the Rand ZAR, divided into 100 cents c Notes are in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10 Higher value notes are slightly larger in physical size than small value notes All notes have a metallic security strip and a watermark Note that there are two types of R5 coins in circulation One is a silver-colored coin while the other is silver-colored with a copper insert Both are legal currency

Coins are in denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c Production of 2c and 1c coins was suspended in April 2002, but those still in circulation remain legal tender All transactions are rounded down to the nearest lower 5c, so as not to require the use of 2c and 1c coins

Rough conversion 27 rates December 2009 are: 8:1 USD, 11:1 EUR and 12:1 GBP Carry one of the above currencies, as conversion between any of them and the Rand can be done at any bank without trouble South Africa is part of the Southern African Common Monetary Area and the Rand can be used in Namibia where it is an official currency along with the Namibian Dollar as well as Lesotho and Swaziland where it is widely accepted, but not an official currency

Traveler's Checks are a safe way of carrying money around You can exchange them at all banks which are found throughout the country even in rural areas and you will get a refund if they are stolen The disadvantage is that you cannot pay with them and you will need change when exchanging them into Rand Use ATMs instead if possible

Automated Teller Machines ATMs, linked to all major international networks, are available throughout the country and will generally dispense money in a mixture of denominations between R200 and and R10, with about 80% of the value requested being high value notes and the rest in smaller denominations You can use any Cirrus or Maestro card as well as all major credit and debit cards at the ATMs

It is best to use only ATMs that are inside a mall or other building Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about scams eg machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN The till points at some major retail stores such as Pick 'n Pay also act as ATMs; simply tell the checkout clerk that you would like to withdraw money

VISA and MasterCard's are accepted almost everywhere, while American Express and Diners Club are also accepted, but not as widely

Most retail stores accept credit cards and pin based debit cards as payment

VAT Value Added Tax is levied at 14% on almost all products in South Africa By law, advertised prices should be inclusive of VAT except when explicitly stated otherwise Foreign passport holders may claim back the VAT on products that were bought in South Africa and are being taken out of the country, provided that the total value of the goods exceeds R250 Full details of the procedure to follow are available from the Department of Foreign Affairs 28 and their new TAX Refund for tourists 29 site VAT Refund Administrator's offices are available at both Johannesburg OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airports


Petrol and Diesel

Liquid fuel prices in South Africa are regulated and are fixed by region monthly In general petrol is cheaper near the ports Durban, Cape town, Port Elizabeth In December 2009 a litre of petrol would cost around R800 See the current prices 30

Toll roads

The most expensive toll gate in South Africa is the Machado plaza on the N4 between Pretoria and Nelspruit, cost is R49 for a normal car In total, road tolls between Pretoria and Nelspruit or between Johannesburg and Cape Town will cost you just under R100


  • You can buy three McDonald's burgers a hamburger, cheese burger and chicken burger for around R18
  • A sit down lunch in an average establishment will cost you between R80 and R140 per person
  • A decent 30cm pizza will cost you between R35 and R55


Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter Tipping is the norm in restaurants and at gas-stations which are all full-service Indeed, most of these businesses pay their staff the legal minimum-wage, relying on customer-tips to bring staff incomes up to live-able levels Tips of around 10% of the bill are considered the norm

Most restaurants and even pubs have been declared "smoke-free" areas In some restarants you will find a dedicated smokers area where children are not allowed Rule of thumb is to check for an ashtray on your table You will, however, in all probability be greeted at the door of the stablishment with a "smoking-or-nonsmoking" Check as smoking in non-designated areas are not permitted and you'll be met with some rude gestures

Food and eating in South Africa

South African cuisine is just as diverse as its cultures, with influences from British, Dutch, German, Indian, Malay, Portuguese and of course all the indigenous tribes

  • Braaivleis, meat roasted over an open wood or charcoal fire, is very popular and generally done at weekend social events The act of roasting the meat as well as the social event is referred to as a braai
  • Pap, a porridge made with corn meal Slappap runny porridge, is smooth and often eaten as a breakfast porridge, Stywepap stiff porridge has a doughy and more lumpy consistency and is often used as a replacement for rice or other starches Krummelpap crumby porridge is drier, resembles couscous and is often served at a braai covered in a saucy tomato relish
  • Potjiekos, a meat and vegetable stew made in a cast iron pot over an open fire A favorite at braais
  • Boerewors, a spicy sausage Boerewors Rolls are hotdog buns with boerewors rather than hotdogs, traditionally garnished with an onion and tomato relish
  • Biltong and Droëwors, seasoned meat or sausage that has been dried Beef, game and ostrich meat is often used A favourite at sports events and while travelling
  • Bunny chows, half a loaf of bread with the inside replaced by lamb or beef curry is a dish not to be missed when traveling to KwaZulu Natal
  • Bobotie, meatloaf with a Cape Malay influence, seasoned with curry and spices, topped with a savoury custard
  • Morogo, a wild spinach on its own or with potato Sometimes served with pap
  • Waterblommetjiebredie, mutton and indigenous water lily stew
  • Masonja, for the culinary adventurer, fried Mopanie worms

Fast food

You will find the usual array of international fast food outlets McDonalds, KFC and Wimpy are well represented throughout the country

Local franchises worth mentioning are Black Steer and Steers for the best burgers and Nando's 31 peri-peri chicken

Pizza delivery is available in most urban areas

Drinking in South Africa

Municipal tap water is usually safe to drink In some area such as Hartebeespoort Dam, it is advisable to boil your water before drinking

The legal age to purchase and drink alcohol in South Africa is 18 Almost all restaurants are licensed to serve liquor

Be very careful if offered witblits or mampoer; those are the local names for moonshine or firewater They have extremely high alcohol content and pack a lethal blow


Local beer production is dominated by SABMiller 32 with Castle, Hansa, Black Label and Castle Milk Stout being most popular brands

Imported beers such as Stella Artois and Grolsch are also widely available

The Namibian Windhoek brand beers are also popular and generally available

Prices can vary widely depending on the establishment Expect to pay anything from R7 to R18 for a beer


South Africa has a well established wine industry with most of the wine produced concentrated in the Cape Winelands in the Western Cape and along the Orange River in the Northern Cape


Amarula Cream 33 is made from the marula fruit The marula fruit is a favorite treat for African elephants, baboons and monkeys and in the liqueur form definitely not something to be passed over by humans Pour over crushed ice and enjoy The taste, color and texture is very similar to the world famous Baileys Irish Cream Cape Velvet is a favorite in and around Cape Town

Tea and Coffee

The local Rooibos tea, made from a herb from the Cederberg Mountains is a favorite for many South Africans You will find coffee shops in most shopping malls, such as Mugg&Bean 34 and House of Coffees 35 Coffee shops similar in concept to Starbucks, like Seattle Coffee Company and Vida e Caffe 36 Portuguese themed, are becoming commonplace

Accommodation in South Africa

Establishments in South Africa can have themselves graded by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa 37 on a 5 star basis Many establishments make use of this service and you will see the star grading displayed on most advertising material

  • 1 star - Clean, comfortable and functional
  • 2 star - Good: Quality furnishings, service and guest care
  • 3 star - Very good: Better furnishings, service and guest care
  • 4 star - Superior: Excellent comfort and very high standard furnishings, service and guest care
  • 5 star - Exceptional: Top of the line quality and luxurious accommodation to match the best international standards Flawless service and guest care


There are a number of Hotel chains that operate nationally

  • Best Western http://wwwbestwesterncoza/ +27 021 461-0727 info@capesuitescoza From R590
  • African Sun http://wwwafricansunhotelscom/ +27 011 442 0488 PACRO@africansunhotelscom Offers comfortable and quality hotels in and around Africa
  • City Lodge https://wwwcitylodgecoza +27 011 557-2600 info@citylodgecoza From around R400 sharing
  • Formula 1 http://wwwhotelformula1coza/ +27 011 807-0750 all@formule1coza R249 per room max 3 people
  • Protea Hotels http://wwwproteahotelscom/ +27 021 430-5000 info@proteahotelscom From R200 per person sharing
  • Southern Sun http://wwwsouthernsuncom/ +27 011 461-9744 contactus@southernsuncom Wide range of accommodation from budget to splurge

Backpacker Lodges

Backpacking lodges or hostels are widespread all over the country Most establishments offer great value tours and activities in the areas There is a great network of transport around the country making it suitable for single and younger travelers Some lodges provide meals especially in the more remote areas Most have self catering facilities and shared bathrooms although en-suite bathrooms are also common Backpacking South Africa 38


Bed and Breakfast establishments are becoming very popular The accommodation is usually provided in a family private home and the owner/manager lives in the house or on the property Breakfast is usually served Bathroom facilities may be en-suite In general, the guest shares the public areas with the host family

Self Catering

A house, cottage, chalet, bungalow, flat, studio, apartment, villa, houseboat, tents or similar accommodation where facilities and equipment are provided for guests to cater for themselves This can include a fridge, oven, stove, microwave etc The facilities should be adequate to cater for the maximum advertised number of residents the facility can accommodate

Guest House

A guest house is either a converted house, manor, etc adapted to accommodate overnight guests or it may be a purpose built facility A guest house is run as a commercial operation and is often owner-managed A guest house has areas which are for the exclusive use of the guest The owner/manager either lives off-site, or in a separate area within the property

Camping and caravaning

Caravan parks can be found in most towns that are holiday destinations Most caravan parks also offer camping sites where you can pitch a tent double check because sometime tents are excluded

The parks generally have central ablution facilities

Also see the By motorhome and By offroad vehicle sections for additional camping options


There are many timeshare resorts in South Africa, most participate in international exchange agreements Many timeshare owners also rent their time when they can not make use of it


Many real estate agents in South Africa also offer rental services The rental properties are mostly available on unfurnished long term lease, but you will also find furnished properties on offer with 1 to 12 month lease agreements

Your local branch of an international estate agent with a presence in South Africa might also be able to assist you

Working in South Africa

Due to the large number of unemployed South Africans, there are limited work opportunities for foreigners in South Africa

Non South African citizens are only allowed to work in South Africa if they are in possession of a work permit Students in Canada can apply for a work visa through SWAP 40, although costs are high the service is helpful and well organized

The process of applying for a work permit is similar to applying for a study permit, contact a South African High Commission, Embassy, Consulate or Trade Mission in your country of origin, or in the nearest country, should there be no South African representation is available in your country Government form B1-159 A&C needs to be completed for the application Processing of the application will take 8 to 12 weeks

Scarce Skills and Work Permit Quotas

There are some skills that are in short supply in the country and the Department of Home Affairs has a Quota Work Permit program aimed at sourcing these skills from abroad A list of skills in demand and set quotas for each of those skills are published yearly Applicants with formal qualification and work experience in the required fields may apply for a quota work permit This permit costs around R1600 and applications will take between 6 to 8 weeks to process If the application is approved one will have a 90 day period from the time of entering the country to find employment in the field that the permit was issued for Once employed, the permit will stay valid as long as one is employed within the same field of work changing employers is allowed More information, as well as the skills and quotas list for the current year, can be found on the Department of Home Affairs homepage 41

Cities in South Africa

adelaide  alice  aliwal north  allanridge  atlantis  balfour  ballitoville  barberton  barkly west  belfast  benoni  bethal  bethlehem  bisho  bloemfontein  bloemhof  boksburg  botshabelo  brakpan  brandfort  bredasdorp  breyten  brits  bronkhorstspruit  burgersdorp  butterworth  caledon  calvinia  cape town  carnarvon  ceres  christiana  clocolan  colesberg  cradock  cullinan  danielskuil  de aar  delmas  deneysville  dordrecht  duiwelskloof  dundee  durban  east london  ekangala  ekuvukeni  elliot  ellisras  empangeni  ermelo  eshowe  fochville  fort beaufort  frankfort  george  giyani  glencoe  graaff-reinet  grabouw  grahamstown  greytown  harrismith  heidelberg  heilbron  hendrina  hennenman  hermanus  hoopstad  howick  ilinge  jan kempdorp  johannesburg  kathu  kimberley  kirkwood  klerksdorp  knysna  kokstad  komatipoort  koppies  koster  kriel  kroonstad  krugersdorp  kruisfontein  kuruman  ladybrand  lady frere  lebowakgomo  lichtenburg  louis trichardt  lydenburg  mabopane  malmesbury  margate  marquard  messina  middelburg  middelburg  midrand  mmabatho  mogwase  molteno  mondlo  mooi river  mpophomeni  nelspruit  newcastle  nigel  nkowakowa  nylstroom  orkney  oudtshoorn  paarl  pampierstad  parys  phalaborwa  phuthaditjhaba  pietermaritzburg  pietersburg  piet retief  plettenberg bay  port alfred  port elizabeth  port shepstone  potchefstroom  potgietersrus  pretoria  prieska  queenstown  randfontein  reitz  richards bay  richmond  ritchie  robertson  rustenburg  saldanha  sasolburg  scottsburgh  secunda  senekal  siyabuswa  somerset east  somerset west  soweto  springbok  springs  standerton  stanger  stellenbosch  stilfontein  stutterheim  sundumbili  swellendam  temba  tembisa  thaba nchu  thabazimbi  theunissen  thohoyandou  tzaneen  uitenhage  ulundi  umkomaas  umtata  umzimvubu  upington  utrecht  vanderbijlpark  ventersburg  vereeniging  verwoerdburg  viljoenskroon  villiers  virginia  volksrust  vredefort  vredendal  vrede  vryburg  vryheid  warmbad  warrenton  welkom  wesselsbron  westonaria  whittlesea  willowmore  winburg  witbank  witrivier  wolmaranstad  worcester  zastron  zeerust  

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