This page is intended to dispel any concerns travellers might have on visiting South Africa in terms of crime, useful tips, what to expect, rich versus poor and some highlights that are a must for the first time visitor to South Africa.

In particular it cover the key areas of the Winelands, the Garden Route, the battlefields and wonderful valleys of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Cape Town area. 

The South African people are welcoming, friendly and very proud of their country. Yes, some are very poor and it tugs at your heartstrings to see some living in shanty towns and small functional homes, walking miles each day to/from work and school but, hopefully the investment will continue in building proper accommodation to replace the shanty towns and to encourage them into a broader field of education, and eventually the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" will lessen.

Nevertheless, even the have-nots are still friendly proud people who openly welcome you to their country, so smile back and acknowledge them and they will give you a big warm smile back and a wave in return. 

The sights and scenery of South Africa are truly spectacular, the food is excellent and very reasonably priced compared to UK standards and the wine in restaurants and bars is less in price compared to the UK for example.

If you have time, leave the cities and visit the surrounding countryside to experience all that South Africa has to offer;  and you will want to return soon for more.

Of course, you need to be sensible, but if you take the same precautions that you would if you were travelling in big cities at home, then you will have a wonderful time and return home with many memories to treasure.

And be sure to try local foods such as Ostrich and game such as Springbok/Impala etc, which are not overpowering and surprisingly tender.

Where to be cautious:

  • Lock your car doors in big cities, keep valuables out of sight (both in your car and on your person) and stay on the main tourist routes.
  • Don't walk around in non-tourist areas after dark. Places like the V&A waterfront are completely safe after dark but if your accommodation is not at the waterfront, then take a taxi. Some B&B's in Cape Town will lend you a local mobile phone with restaurant & taxi numbers already entered, which is a nice touch, but you probably won't get that kind of service in the big hotels (Blackheath Lodge in Cape Town does offer loaned mobile phones in all their rooms).
  • Be careful at ATM machines to conceal your pin number and check for any tampering of machines as the latest in crime is to clone your card. (but really this the the same organised crime that is evident throughout the world!)

 Useful knowledge:

  • If you are entering South African you must declare currency in excess R25000 and/or US$10000 when arriving/entering South Africa. There are also limits when departing from South Africa.
  • If you are touring Kwa-Zulu Natal, petrol stations are few and far between (mainly in key towns only) 
  • Petrol stations now often accept both cash and credit.  There should be a sign outside that tells you if they do not accept credit.  If only cash is accepted there is often an ATM inside.  It is still wise to carry enough cash for petrol in the off-chance the station you stop at doesn't offer any of the aforementioned options.
  • Keep small change for tolls on major roads.
  • Likewise, unless you are on a major road, don't expect "service stations" with toilet facilities on back roads. If you need to use these kind of facilities head for restaurants in towns etc or use facilities at tourist sites etc.
  • Watch out for speed cameras, which are plentiful and will often appear as simple tripod cameras set up under the shade of a tree along the road with a policeman nearby.
  • Roadworks on small back roads can mean waits of up to 20 minutes, so be patient if two-way traffic has been halted due to roadworks. They tend to let the traffic from one direction go for 20 minutes, then they rotate it and let the traffic from the other direction go for 20 minutes,  and will push a barrier across the road in front of you whilst the oncoming traffic has priority.
  • Pick'n Pay, Checkers, and SuperSpar are the major supermarket chains found in most towns, if you need to buy groceries etc. They stock a good range of everything you might need.  
  • Note that if you are visiting areas such as Kwa-Zulu Natal, whilst it can be very hot during the day, the evenings get quite cool so do bring a warm fleece even in the height of Summer.
  • Inland towns such as the winelands and places like Oudtshoorn can get as hot as 36-40 deg C in the height of summer (Feb) whilst coastal areas are usually a more pleasant 23-30 deg C.
  • The plug sockets are very different. You need to buy a special plug adaptor which is readily available for purchase in advance on the internet. You can see it pictured here: http://www.walkabouttravelgear.com/c_...

Where should you go and for how long?

  • The Winelands are a short 45min-1hr drive from Cape Town, so you can either base yourself in and around the Cape Town area, or split your time in both areas.
  • If you are foodie, then do stay overnight in Franschhoek as it has many wonderful quality restaurants, but do book a table well in advance or you will be disappointed!!  Failing that, lots of wineries usually have excellent restaurants and some operate like resorts with accommodation also.
  • If you are young at heart and like the beach and restaurant/night-life then Camps Bay is a fun place to stay the in the Cape Town area.
  • You can easily fill 3 full days minimum in Cape Town : 1 full day at the V&A Waterfront to include a visit to Robben Island Prison, where Mandela was incarcerated, ending the day with a meal and drink at the waterfront watching the sun go down. 1-2 days visiting the many wineries,and enjoying pretty towns like Franschhoek &  Stellenbosch including a visit to Table Mountain en-route. 1 full day touring the peninsula to Cape Point. (do the circular drive to see the whole of the peninsula and note there is a toll on western section of the drive)
  • Go early in the morning (8.30am) to Table Mountain or the queues build fast for tickets and then the cable car to the top, There are paths at the top as well as bathroom facilities and a shop/restaurant. Check in advance if the cable car is operating as Cape Town is windy and it will not if the wind is too strong. 
  • Cape Point is a full days sightseeing from Cape Town if you stop along the way. Simonstown and Hout Bay are nice towns to stop at along the route, and do make a stop to see the very cute African Penguins on the beach at Boulders Bay (entry charge)
  • No visit to South Africa is complete without experiencing a Safari for a minimum of 2 nights. You will participate in an early morning (5.30-6am) game drive and also a late afternoon one (4pm). Each drive is approx 3hrs and usually includes a stop for drinks and a snack, but no toilets so go before you get in the land-rover or you will be going "alfresco"!!  Don't be tempted to omit the early morning game drive for a lie in, as these can often be the most exciting and best light for taking photos. There are game reserves all over South Africa and the best known are adjacent to the Kruger National Park. In fact, Kruger can be your destination for a safari, if you will provide your own food or eat in a camp cafe. The private reserves offer a step up in comfort and services, at a higher cost. The most luxurious are quite expensive. All of these are in malaria zones and precautions should be taken. There are also fine national parks and private reserves outside the malaria zones. 
  • The Garden Route is a highly publicized tourism experience, located in the eastern part of the Western Cape. It will appeal to travelers with the time to explore and enjoy an unstructured tour of the small towns. If your journey begins in Cape Town, you can do the winelands (staying overnight for a couple of days) then head on through the mountains via Robertson (do visit the Graham Beck Winery) and Barrydale (nice place to stop for lunch), Calitzdorp (visit Boplaas Port winery for a unique experience), staying overnight in Oudtshoorn for a night or two, to experience the Ostrich capital of South Africa and the Cango Caves.
  • The "real" Garden Route is between the towns of Wilderness, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, onwards to Port Elizabeth. Knysna has a lovely waterfront area with boat and eco tours to the Featherbed Nature Reserve, shops and waterfront restaurants. Plettenberg Bay is more geared to whale-watching, wonderful beaches and great restaurants. Both towns also offer elephant sanctuaries where you can up close with the animals and are also good places to stay to enjoy everything that the area has to offer.
  • Note whale-watching season ends in November/December, if you want to see them. The town of Hermanus (a day trip from Cape Town) is a great place to whale-watch as is the community on the opposite side of the bay, De Kelders.
  • Allow 2-3 days to visit Kwa-Zulu Natal (a 3.5hr drive from Durban Airport to Dundee/Ladysmith) if you want to visit the Anglo-Boer-Zulu battlefields, and be warned that many are down dirt tracks so make sure you rent a sturdy car, or book a trip with a local registered battlefield guide (highly recommended) as they all drive 4x4 vehicles and know all the best places for back road viewpoints etc.  Dundee is a"nicer" town to stay at compared to Ladysmith. Try and stay out of town in a B&B/Lodge offering food, rather than in the center of towns for a better overall experience.  Most of the battlefield sites charge a 20 Rand pp entry fee and often have no facilities other than a toilet, so bring water/picnics if you can.

For those of you contemplating your first trip to South Africa. This should hopefully give you a flavour of what to expect and what to do, so have a wonderful time in this diverse and exciting country.