South Africa holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
SOUTH AFRICA HOLIDAYS
South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, Zulu, Swazi and English. Although only about eight per cent of the population speaks English as a first language, around 60 per cent are fluent in the language. In the tourist industry, English is widely spoken. Afrikaans has its roots in the Dutch language, so it can be understood by most Dutch speakers.
The official currency is the South African rand (R). R1 is made up of 100 cents and the currency come in banknote and coin forms. Converting euro, pounds sterling or US dollars can be done at any bank. The same goes for travellers’ cheques. Banks can be found throughout South Africa, including in small towns and rural areas. ATMs are available across the country and accept major cards such as Maestro and Visa. It’s also possible to get cash out at the checkouts of big stores. Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants, hotels and large shops.
Tourists from the EU and the UK do not need a visa to enter South Africa for up to 90 days. All that is required is a valid passport and proof of a return flight. Nationals of many other nations are granted a visa-free stay for up to 30 days, while those visitors needing a visa to enter should arrange this via a South African embassy prior to travel.
The climate ranges from desert in the northwest to sub-tropical in the east. The summer (October to January) doubles as the rainy season. The exception is the Western Cape; here, rain tends to fall during the winter (June to August). Summer across the country tends to be hot and humid with temperatures of around 30ºC. Winter is cooler, with temperatures of around 26ºC, and considerably drier.
There are 10 international airports in South Africa. The two major ones are OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and Cape Town International in Cape Town. Durban International Airport in Durban is the third biggest airport, with most international flights landing at one of these three key air hubs. The majority of flights from the UK land in Cape Town, yet Johannesburg’s airport is the country’s primary air gateway.
British Airways and South African Airways both have daily direct flights from London- Heathrow to Cape Town. Emirates also fly this route. Both British Airways and South African Airways also fly from London-Heathrow to Johannesburg and then onto Cape Town. This can be a cheaper way to arrive in Cape Town. The average direct flight time from London to Johannesburg is 11 hours, 30 minutes.
It can be cheaper to land in Johannesburg and then continue onto Cape Town. Remember to book both flights at the same time, as this can save money. There isn’t really a low season in South Africa, as with each season different types of holiday are offered. However, July and August tend to see flight fares rise, so booking in the shoulder months of June and September is best.
Many cruise lines offer Cape Town as a stop or final destination, with visitors then able to fly back to their home country. Princess Cruises is one such liner. It’s also possible to enter South Africa by car from neighbouring Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. There is a charge to come over the border and not all border checkpoints are open 24 hours.
Domestic flights are common and there are some cheap deals to be found. However, the bus is the cheapest and easiest way of getting around, with the train a good option for travelling between the major cities. The road network is extensive and car rental is easy to arrange, but it’s important to shop around for the best deal.
All 10 of South Africa’s international airports receive domestic flights, with flights between major cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town frequent. Mango and Kulula airlines both offer deals and often have the cheapest prices. Although South African Airlines can sometimes be pricey, is occasionally has online specials so it is worth checking.
Services connect Cape Town with Johannesburg and Durban, along with other major cities. These services also stop at smaller towns in between. The main bus companies are Greyhound, Translux and SA Roadlink. Between these three companies, there is a daily service to all the main destinations. Air conditioning isn’t always as standard, but travelling by bus is a cheap and easy way of getting around.
The national rail operator, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, runs services across South Africa. Between the major cities, there is a budget service known as Shosholoza Meyl. Then there’s luxury service, or premier class, available between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. Luxury tickets cost substantially more that regular tickets, but offer a more comfortable way to travel. Tickets can be booked online or at train stations.
Renting a car is quick and easy, and bookings can either be made online before arrival or on-the-spot at any town, city or airport. The main companies are Avis and Hertz, but aThrifty Car Rental and Tempest Car Hire also have depots. Most of the roads are in good condition; however, in the more rural areas they can be poorly maintained. Driving is on the left.
Cape Town, with its natural beauty, bustling city atmosphere and beautiful beaches, is one of the star attractions in South Africa. There is a wide range of restaurants and bars to be explored along with the exciting district of Bo-Kaap, great shops, botanical gardens and the likes of Clifton Beach and Camps Bay for sunbathing.
Just east of Cape Town are the Winelands. Along with some wonderfully preserved Dutch architecture dating back to the 17th century, the region is known for its wine tours. The towns of Stellenbosch, Wellington and Paarl are all known for their amazing wine tasting tours. There are also some great restaurants throughout the towns, so visitors can enjoy a meal with their wine.
Knysna, on the Garden Route, is one of the best places to visit in South Africa. There are a number of activities to enjoy here, as the lagoon is perfect for many water sports. The surrounding forests are great places for strolls and there are plenty of nice bars and restaurants to enjoy of an evening.
South Africa has plenty of wildlife to see, and Kruger National Park is the oldest wildlife park in Africa. Established in 1898, it offers some of the most amazing safari experiences as hippos, cheetah, crocodiles and giraffe can all be seen here, along with lions, rhino and elephants. It’s even possible to stay in the park, as there is a range of accommodation options, from camping to cottages.
Hermanus on the Western Cape is a major tourist destination. One of the main reasons for this is that it is the best place in the world to spot whales, particularly the Southern right whale. The best time to see these creatures is August to November. However, the town is still a popular resort with a pleasant, small town vibe throughout the rest of the year.
For those wanting to learn about the history of South Africa, Robben Island off Cape Town’s coast is a must-visit. From the 17th to 20th century, it was a place of imprisonment. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years incarcerated here during apartheid as a political prisoner. The former prison is now a museum dedicated to the history of apartheid.
Soweto is an important and interesting place with regards to the history of South Africa. This town, just outside of Johannesburg, was the site of most of the struggle against apartheid. It’s now a mix of rich suburbs and poor shantytowns that are home to some of the most vibrant music and theatre in the country.
The Drakensburg Mountains stretch around 600 miles along the length of KwaZulu-Natal’s western boundary. They are ideal for hiking and bird watching, along with game viewing and trout fishing. Here, visitors can take the Karkloof Canopy Tour and zip-wire from one platform to another at heights of around 30 metres. It’s also a great place to see bushman rock art. The San Bushmen who originally inhabited the mountains left behind some stunning cave paintings, the best of which can be seen in Kamberg National Park.
The Royal Natal National Park can also be found in these mountains and encompasses the Mont-aux-Sources, one of the highest mountains in the Drakensbergs. It is the source of the stunning Tugela Falls, which tumble over 3,000 feet across five separate tiers.
The Amotola Mountains are a wonderful site, with Hogsback is an amazing spot to visit here. The lush, green landscape of this area is dotted with a number of waterfalls and streams that are suitable to swim in. There’re many different species of birds that call this great place for walking and horseback riding home.
South Africa has a lot to offer in the way of entertainment, from theatres and nightclubs, to live music venues and even drive-in cinemas if the weather permits. Comedy clubs are also extremely popular and can be found in just about every city and town across the country.
Cape Town is known for its nightlife and has a number of big nightclubs, while the Nico Theatre Centre is the performing arts hub of the city. There’s an opera house, a large-scale arena and a coffee shop here. Shows are performed throughout the year, with a diverse range of genres on offer.
Maynardville Open Air Theatre, also in Cape Town, has a number of seasons, such Shakespeare and ballet, but for rock and popular music concerts, most people head to Plumstead, a venue in the city centre that has something for all music tastes.
Johannesburg has plenty to offer visitors, too. There are many bars and nightclubs, and a number of theatres, such as the Alhambra Theatre and the Market Theatre. For a late night, Roxy’s club is well known for its rock and pop nights, often going on into the early hours of the morning.
Gambling was made legal in South Africa in 1994, and since then many small casinos have opened up. However, it’s best to stick to the large ones in the big cities. Sun Coast in Durban and the Grand West Casino in Cape Town are popular spots for those looking to get lucky.
There are cinemas in all cities and towns, and all show the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Menlyn Park Drive-In in Pretoria is a great place to experience a drive-in movie for those visitors who have a car, but there are also a number of IMAX and art house cinemas across the country for those travelling without wheels.
South African cuisine is extremely diverse and has been influenced by British, Dutch, Indian and German foods, along with of course, native African flavours. This has created a fusion of tastes ranging from classic British dishes, to an array of spicy meats, and thanks to the Indian influence, curries are extremely popular across the nation.
However, there are a number of local dishes to sample as well. Braaivleis is meat roasted in an open charcoal or wood fire. This is a common dish at social events. Potiekos is a meat and vegetable stew, cooked in an iron pot over an open fire.
Boerewors, spicy sausage, is often found in cafés and is typically served as boerewors rolls. Similar to hotdogs but with boerewors instead, this snack is topped off with a tomato and onion relish. Bilog, seasoned meat, either beef or ostrich, dried and seasoned, is a popular dish at sports events.
Bunny chow is traditional to KwaZulu Natal. Half a loaf of bread filled with either beef or lamb curry, it can be found in many restaurants. In terms of desserts, melktert, a milk tart, and koeksisters, a sticky, deep-fried dessert, are both worth trying. They are good ways to round off a meal.
For those wanting a taste of the familiar, British restaurants serving traditional sausage and mash can be found in most cities and Italian cuisine and American style diners are common. The usual fast food outlets are also represented.
South Africa is renowned for its wines and almost all restaurants serve this local produce. A wine tour is recommended to fully appreciate the way that the grapes are grown and the wine is created, and obviously a few samples are a must.
The Eastern Cape boasts some of the finest beaches in South Africa. East London and Port Elizabeth are best for surfing, while the west coast is known for its wilder waters but stunning beaches. Port St John’s can be found here, and this reasonably undeveloped beach is perfect for swimming and lazing about in the coastal lagoons.
There are a number of eco reserves in Knysna where couples can sip champagne and watch the stars from their own private tree house before heading to one of the nearby lagoons for a dip. For those wanting a beach getaway, the wonderfully secluded Rocktail Beach in KwaZulu Natal is tucked away in the forest. The waters here are popular with dolphins, turtles and occasionally, whales.
Taking the kids on a safari is a must when visiting South Africa. There are plenty of small wildlife parks that feature plenty of wildlife without having to drive for miles, and many are all-inclusive with buffet lunch, dinner and accommodation. Any of the game parks along the Garden Route are ideal. It’s also possible to find malaria-free game parks so that children will not have to take malaria precautions.
The Drakensburg Mountains are perfect for adventure, as here tourists can rent quad bikes and go rock climbing or white water rafting. South Africa is also an amazing place for scuba diving. The Western Cape is great for diving, with False Bay on the Cape Town peninsula one of the best sites. Partridge Point and Tafelberg are other well-known dive sites.