South Africa

South Africa Travel

Those who travel to South Africa will find that the 'world in one country' is one of the most diverse destinations on the continent.

Introduction

When traveling in South Africa, visitors will encounter many different landscapes across the country, from sub-tropical rain forests and semi-desert stretches to snow-capped mountains, sugar-fine beaches and grassland game reserves. Cape Town, the Cape winelands, the Kruger National Park, Sabi Sand, Timbavati and the Garden Route are the most popular South Africa travel destinations.

Capital City Pretoria
Size 1 219 090 sq km / 470 693 sq mi
Coastline 2 798 km / 1 739 miles
Provinces 9
Official Languages 11
Population 54 300 704
Currency South African Rand (ZAR)

Travel & Vacation Options

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Private Tours

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Personal attention
Privately guided experiences and exceptional personal service.

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Safaris

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Game drives galore
South Africa boasts a remarkable diversity of safari areas.

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Honeymoons

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Unbridled romance
From remote safari lodges to a beautiful bounty of beaches.

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Family Vacations

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For the kids
Family-oriented safari lodges in a malaria-free wilderness areas.

Useful Travel Info

Getting There
Plane

By Air

When traveling to South Africa, most visitors arrive either via OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg or Cape Town International in Cape Town. Many international flights to Cape Town are routed via Johannesburg. Johannesburg is the largest and most populous city in South Africa and the starting and ending point for the majority of our a safaris and tours. Cape Town is the starting point for all our tours in the Western Cape, which, in addition to the city itself, include the Cape winelands, the West Coast and the Garden Route region.

Reasons to Visit
1

Diversity

South Africa's diversity is what makes it such a fine travel destination. Within a single country, visitors can experience cosmopolitan cities, fine sweeps of beach, safaris in authentically wild settings and more. Even the most seasoned travelers will agree that you would be hard-pressed to fine such variety elsewhere, and within such close proximity.

2

Accessibility

South Africa's safari areas and top destinations are also more accessible than those in many other African countries, and its fine primary infrastructure ensures that even overland travel is easy and convenient. South Africa also caters better to travelers on a budget than, for example, Botswana and Zambia.

3

Family-friendly

For families traveling with small children, South Africa is the best choice for a safari, as visitors are able to enjoy safaris in malaria-free areas like Pilanesberg, Madikwe, Shamwari and Addo. The lodges in the private game reserves offer fantastic programs for young nature lovers.

4

Special Interests

The country is also a fine choice for visitors with special interests like history, culture, fine dining, birding, golf, star-gazing, rock art and the like. South Africa truly has something for everyone, whether you are seeking the ultimate adventure, an informative discovery or a leisurely getaway.

Weather & Best Time To Visit

Being a ‘world in one country’, South Africa’s weather varies from corner to corner. The southern Cape has its own weather pattern that is totally different from anywhere else in Africa – and indeed this explains why the Cape's flora is so unique, and why the winelands flourish. From around November to March, whilst it rains in the rest of Southern Africa, the Cape is hot, sunny, dry, and generally perfect for a holiday. Christmas and New Year are lovely in the Cape, although as a result it gets exceedingly busy with South Africans spending their holidays here.

From around April to August it cools down and there's some rain. During these months it can be beautiful and dry one moment, but blustery and wet the next. Rainfall peaks around June and July but the Cape's weather is notoriously changeable; locals say that you can have 'four seasons in one day'. Despite this, the Cape is still pleasant to visit, just as long as you aren't expecting to sunbathe all day. By September and October, the rain becomes a less common event; the sun comes out more and the temperatures rise again. September is the start of the Cape's 'spring', when vast swathes of the open fynbos burst into flower in Namaqualand (north of Cape Town).

The rest of the country experiences much the same rainfall pattern as the rest of Southern Africa. Rain falls in the summer months between October and March, with winters being cool and dry. This is why winter is often considered the best time to visit wilderness areas like the Kruger National Park, as the lack of rainfall means better visibility. These areas can be unpleasantly hot in peak summer periods like December.

Passport & Visa Info

Most European countries are exempt from acquiring visas to enter South Africa. This is also the case for the United Kingdom, the Unites States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and a handful of South American countries.

Naturally, requirements for visitor visas differ from country to country, and the requirements are subject to change. As each application is treated as an individual case and you should make enquiries with your nearest South African mission or consulate abroad or any office of the Department of Home Affairs to see whether or not you are required to apply for a visa.

Visas are not issued at South African ports of entry, and airline officials are obliged to insist on visas before allowing passengers to board. If you arrive without a visa, immigration officials are obliged to put you onto a flight back to your home country.

Medical Considerations

Generally speaking, most travelers to South Africa are only required to be up to date on their routine vaccinations (MMR, DTP, varicella and polio). Anti-malarial medication is only required for those enjoying safaris in the Greater Kruger National Park and the northern low-lying wilderness areas of KwaZulu-Natal like Hluhluwe-iMfolozi, Phinda and the St. Lucia Wetlands. The rest of the country does not carry malaria risk.

South Africa’s tap water is safe to drink, but bottled water is nevertheless available everywhere. The food is of a very high standard and wonderfully fresh. We also have world-class hospitals and medical care. Be sure to bring along any prescription medication that you are taking.

Health & Safety
We pride ourselves on the fact that not one of our guests has ever been involved in any way in a crime or dangerous situation while in our care. Our professional guides will always ensure your safety and will be sure to inform you if a potentially unsafe or dangerous situation arises whilst on safari or tour. Their vigilance might not be obvious at all times but rest assured you will be well taken care of by us.

Experiences to be Savored

The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.

Hiking in the Drakensberg

South Africa's famous Drakensberg escarpment stretches for over 1000km (600 miles) through three provinces and even another country (Lesotho). Breathtaking hiking trails abound through these mountains, which include ancient rock art sites at Kamberg and Giant's Castle.

Meeting the Big Five in Kruger Park

The Kruger Park offers Southern Africa's ultimate Big Five experience. This two million hectare wilderness utopia overflows with wildlife, including the famous Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo). A wide variety of accommodation options are available.

Cosmopolitan Cape Town

South Africa's 'Mother City' is a must-visit destination. The country's oldest settlement is inherently cosmopolitan, and yet still rich with culture, history and natural beauty. Dining is typically both an innovative and world-class experience, yet still unique to the city and its surroundings.

Transportation

The stunning coastal scenery of Chapman's Peak Drive.

When enjoying a guided tour of South Africa with African Sky Safaris & Tours, you will always be privately transported in a comfortable, closed air-conditioned vehicle. This is the case in the Western Cape (when visiting Cape Town, the winelands, the West Coast and/or the Garden Route) and any overland safaris that include accommodation in standard rest camps rather than private safari lodges. During periods of peak demand, particularly over December, we also rent vehicles from various reputable car and bus rental companies. See the Our Office & Vehicles page in the About Us section for more information.

In terms of air travel, most of the regional flights included are commercial flights on reputable airlines (we make regular use of South African Airways and British Airways). Though overland safaris and tours are very cost effective, flying between your destinations significantly reduces travel time, ensuring more hours spent enjoying local highlights or the comforts of your accommodation. That being said, overland travel does invite visitors to immerse themselves deeper into the country’s many offerings, and provides access to areas unreachable by commercial flights.

For more exclusive safaris or lodges in far-flung destinations, we will occasionally make use of light aircraft charter flights. These flights have strict luggage restrictions and are often quite costly.

Alternative transportation options include luxury overnight trains like the Blue Train (which travels between Cape Town and Pretoria) and the Rovos Rail (which travels between Cape Town, Pretoria and the Victoria Falls). Traveling by luxury train is a wonderful way to enjoy the country’s breathtaking scenery, and is considered an exciting addition to a tour or safari rather than a means of just getting from A to B.

Foods to try in South Africa

A thick coil of boerewors sizzling on the braai.

Rooibos

One of South Africa’s most beloved local products, rooibos (red bush) is typically consumed as herbal tea. Naturally caffeine-free and flush with health benefits, enjoy it black, with milk, as a ‘red’ cappuccino or even as iced tea.

Boerewors

Boerewors ('farmer sausage') is a local specialty that makes for popular braai fare. The sausage comprises coarse-minced beef and pork fat, and you will find that most local butchers have their own special recipe of added spices.

Mealiepap

Known as 'sadza' in Zimbabwe and 'nsima' in Zambia, 'mealiepap' is the same porridge made from ground maize. It is a popular dish across most of Southern Africa and can be served in a variety of ways, from stiff and thick to dry and crumbly.

Sweet Treats

Favorites include malva pudding (sticky brown sponge pudding, served with homemade custard), melktert (‘milktart’, a crusted custard-like pudding with cinnamon) and koeksusters (‘cake sisters’, a syrupy, saccharine snack).

FAQ

Where will I be met?
On the day you arrive in South Africa, you’ll be met by our guide or representative at the airport, or alternatively at a pre-arranged location of your choice.
Which electricity supply standard is used?
Establishments in South Africa will make use of a three-pronged wall socket with an on/off switch very similar to that in use in India (i.e. the old British standard). The wall socket is compatible with plugs which have three rounded (not square) pins in a triangle formation.
Will I have internet access and mobile reception?
All major centers in South Africa will have access to the Internet. Cell phone coverage is better than average, but obviously isn’t available in every corner of the country, and is particularly unreliable at remote safari lodges.
Are credit cards accepted?
Visa and MasterCard credit cards are widely accepted, while about 80% of establishments will also accept American Express. Most safari lodges in South Africa have credit card facilities.
Will I have access to an ATM?
ATMs are readily available in South Africa. Most Visa and MasterCard credit cards will work, while debit/bank cards or any other private bank cards are not likely to. Making local cash withdrawals at an ATM is the most cost-effective way of obtaining local currency.
Where is the best place to go on safari?
While South Africa boasts numerous fine safari areas, we will always recommend the Greater Kruger National Park for first-time visitors.
Will safe drinking water be available?
Yes - while South Africa's tap water is of a high standard, bottled mineral water remains readily available wherever you will travel to.
What about crime?
While crime remains an issue in major cities - like elsewhere in the world - none of our guests have ever come to harm. Remain vigilant, and heed the advice of your guide.
How long in advance should I plan my visit?
Should you plan to visit in peak season - particularly over December, or the Greater Kruger area in July or August - we recommend planning your trip at least six months or more ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
Are all tours guided?
Yes - all our tours are privately guided. However, honeymoon couples often prefer more alone time, and our flexibility means that you can decide when you would like to enjoy a tour and when you would like to unwind on your own.
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Wildlife Gallery

The big five, antelope & other mammals

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Client Reviews

Reviews from clients who have been on safaris and tours with African Sky

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Articles

Travel topics and articles about Southern Africa, written by African Sky staff

Riaan's Suggestions

South Africa truly is one of the world's greatest travel destinations. I would recommend spending at least nine nights in South Africa, and to split those nights equally between only three destinations. In my experience, those who spend more time in a few areas end up having a much more enjoyable vacation than people who try to see everything in a very short period of time.

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Client Testimonials

I requested information very last minute – four days before I wanted to leave for my safari in Kruger – and I had a quick response and was able to book. My tour guide (Mary-Anne) picked me up on time. She is very knowledgeable and passionate about her work. Very attentive to the client's needs. She made me feel comfortable and at ease.
Celine Beauparlant, Canada

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South Africa

A young girl proudly displays traditional beadwork.

Popularly referred to as ‘the rainbow nation’, South Africa boasts a melting pot of cultures, each with its own unique customs and traditions. Eleven official languages are enshrined in the constitution. The majority (around 80%) of South Africa’s population consists of black Africans. Although numerous tribes and subdivisions exist – Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Venda, Ndebele and Tswana, to name a few of the most prominent – these groups can all connect their heritage to the Bantu-speakers who migrated to Southern Africa in the early part of the first millennium.

Zulus and Xhosas maintain the highest-profile ethnic identity, with 23% of South Africans speaking Zulu as a first language (including current president Jacob Zuma) and 16% speaking Xhosa as a first language (including former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu). Both groups consider themselves ‘warrior nations’, with remarkable histories of brave resistance against and victory over early colonialists, and legendary figures like Shaka Zulu, Dingane and Cetshwayo.

Although ‘colored’ was initially used as a broad term for anyone who did not fit neatly into the ‘black’, ‘white’ or ‘Indian’ racial categories of the apartheid era, a distinct colored identity exists throughout South Africa. The coloreds’ diversity stretches from the descendants of European colonialists raping their black slaves, political prisoners and exiles from the Dutch East Indies, and in some cases the mixed descendants of South Africa’s oldest inhabitants – the Khoi-San – today known as the Griquas. A prominent subgroup is the Cape Muslims, or Cape Malays, which can trace their origins to India, Indonesia and parts of East Africa. These influences are prevalent in traditional Cape cuisine. 80% of coloreds are Afrikaans-speakers.

Despite their disproportionate influence on the country’s history, South African whites make up a mere 9% of the country’s population. They are typically either Afrikaans-speaking descendants of early European settlers, or English speakers with their roots dating back to the British colonialists of the 1800s. Regardless of their European origins, Afrikaners have a stout and unique local identity and history, including significant events like the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape, the plight of the Voortrekkers as they crossed the treacherous Drakensberg Mountains and the devastating Anglo-Boer War.

The smallest population group belongs to the Asians, which consist largely of Indians. Their origins can be traced to indentured laborers brought to KwaZulu-Natal in the 19th century, which is why the majority of South African Indians still reside in Durban and other urban areas of the province. South African Indians have created their own cultural identity with traditions and tastes unique their geography, like breyani (a fusion of Hindu and Cape Malay influences similar to Indian biryani), samoosas (a South African version of samosas) and bunny chow (a hollowed out loaf a bread filled with curry).

The 17th and 18th centuries in South Africa brought about an extension of the economic world order. Traveling from the Cape of Good Hope to the interior, the European settlers met with the indigenous peoples, who brought with them an African tradition from the north. At the time this area was sparsely inhabited. The 19th century saw the beginning of British colonialism, which resulted in the Great Trek of the Dutch settlers to the north of the Orange River. This migration brought Western civilization to the interior of South Africa. Dutch, French and German music and songs are still characteristic and part of the Afrikaner culture.

A traditional cultural village in South Africa.A reenactment of a battle on the KwaZulu-Natal Battlefields.

Unfortunately, African tradition clashed with Western civilization, and on many occasions warfare was the result between European authorities and the various African peoples. English as well as Afrikaans literature gave different viewpoints, and their contradictions and ideas were spread to the Western world. Wars took place between the Xhosas and the Cape Colony, boundary wars between the British and Afrikaners against the Basotho, inter-tribal warfare amongst the Zulus, the Tswanas and the Matebele under the leadership of Mzilikazi during the difaqane.

It is not a myth that large areas of the interior of South Africa were emptied by the difaqane, allowing Europeans to settle there after the intertribal wars were ended by the Battles of Blood River (1838) and Mosega (1837). The discovery of diamonds and gold during the latter half of the 19th century marked the beginning of the influx of large numbers of foreigners, capital and Western amenities. Urban development in specific islands of prosperity laid the basis for economic upliftment of all peoples in this part of the world.

A statue of a famous Boer war hero.The Union Buildings in the capital city of Pretoria.

Notwithstanding the want for peace, cultural differences amongst the different population groups prohibited the formation of a unitary state in Southern Africa, although British rule intended such a country under the British flag. The 20th century was marked by World Wars I and II and, as an aftermath of these wars, a struggle between the two language groups, Afrikaans and English, which resulted in a whites-only government in the Union of South Africa from 1910 and the Republic of South Africa from 1961.

Under white Afrikaner majority rule, recognition of the vast cultural differences amongst the population groups gave rise to the idea of separate development, duly discredited world-wide as apartheid. Supported the world over, the struggle enabled the African National Congress (ANC) to come to power in 1994, uniting South Africa for the first time as a democratic nation. The 20 years which have followed our first democratic elections have seen great improvements in various areas such as social development and economic prosperity and South Africa has once again taken its rightful position on the world stage.

Late afternoon at the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga.

South Africa is a well-developed country with a few cities and a large number of towns which provide the economic, cultural and social infrastructure in the areas in which they are located. African Sky offers safaris and tours which include visits to some of the most notable cities and towns of South Africa. In the southern part of South Africa, you will find the Western Cape Province. This province is home to the oldest and most historically preserved towns of South Africa. Especially notable cities and towns in this region include Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Swellendam, Knysna and George.

In the northern part of South Africa, you will find the city of Johannesburg in the Gauteng province. It is the economic heart of the country and the African continent. Gauteng is also home to the capital city of Pretoria, which houses the administrative functions of our government and offers a few unique experiences of its own. The cities and towns of KwaZulu-Natal most frequently visited by tourists include Durban and the coastal towns of Umhlanga and Ballito. The dense indigenous vegetation and magnificent sandy beaches which line the shores of the Indian Ocean endow the towns of KwaZulu-Natal with a special character.

Mpumalanga is a holidaymaker's paradise. The hot, steamy climate and the good soil makes the capital city of Nelspruit a top citrus fruit producer. There are many accommodation establishments in Nelspruit, as it is the gateway to the Kruger National Park. There is an airport in Nelspruit as well as daily train services. White River, a farming and tourism center, lies about 20km north of Nelspruit and travelers love the variety of curio stores. White River is also a good base for visiting the Kruger National Park.

In the Free State, Bloemfontein is a popular stopover city for those traveling from Gauteng to Cape Town. The city has plenty of museums and monuments for those interested in culture. Its botanical garden is home to many Karoo plants as well as interesting birds and reptiles. Clarens is a fabulous weekend getaway, lying in the magnificent Maluti Mountains of the eastern Free State. The village is an artist's haven, but it is the exquisite countryside that draws adventurers to it.

The province of Limpopo is regarded as an adventure destination, offering many 4x4 and wilderness trails. The Kruger National Park also forms part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Tzaneen, the second largest town in Limpopo, has a subtropical climate and has made the area significant as a fruit and vegetable producing area. The Letaba River offers magnificent views of Magoebaskloof, George's Valley and Wolkberg.

Rustenburg and the Magaliesberg are important towns in the North West. A number of establishments and places of interest, like the Magalies Meander, offer city dwellers the chance to experience true country hospitality.