Climate and Seasons
South Africa is located in the Southern Hemisphere. Summer is generally October to March, Autumn is during April, Winter is May to August and Spring is around September.
Summers are generally hot and lightweight clothing is advisable although evenings can be cool around the coast. Sunscreen, hats and sunglasses are a must and remember that sunburn can occur even in overcast weather.
South Africa is generally busiest during the summer months of November - March. Local summer school holidays fall during December and January and at this time local seaside resorts are particularly busy with families and children. Other busy holiday periods are over Easter and during the local June/July school holiday period. For visitors preferring a cooler temperature, fewer tourists and less crowds in general its worth considering visiting in the off-peak months of April/May or September/October.
Public holidays are listed below. In major areas shops, restaurants and cinemas will open on public holidays, except for Christmas Day and New Years Day. If the holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday (next day) will be a holiday.
- 1 January - New Year's Day
- 21 March - Human Rights Day
- 9 April - Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday)
- 12 April - Family Day (the Monday after Easter Sunday)
- 27 April - Freedom Day
- 1 May - Workers Day
- 16 June - Youth Day
- 9 August - Women's Day
- 24 September - Heritage Day
- 16 December - Day of Reconciliation
- 25 December - Christmas Day
- 26 December - Day of Goodwill
South Africa is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year. It is therefore an hour ahead of Central European Winter Time, seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Winter Time and seven hours behind Australian Central Time.
Passports and Visas
Travelling to South Africa is fairly easy and hassle-free. All foreign nationals must be in possession of a valid passport - and in some instances a visa is required. Travellers from Europe, most Commonwealth countries, the USA, Scandinavia and Japan do not need to apply for a visa for vacation purposes. A free entry permit for a period of up to 90-days will be issued on arrival. For visitors wishing to stay longer, an official visa needs to be applied for. See the Visa page for more information.
Value-added-tax (VAT) is charged on most items. Foreign tourists to South Africa can have their 14% VAT refunded provided that the value of the items purchased exceeds R250.00. VAT is refunded at the point of departure and receipts from purchases must be kept and produced.
South Africa's electricity supply: 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz
Exceptions: Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V)
Most plugs have three round pins but some plugs with two smaller pins are also found on appliances. Adaptors can be purchased but may be in short supply. US-made appliances may need a transformer.
The South African currency unit is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R. One hundred cents makes up one R1 (one Rand). Currently the Rand is weaker than many European currencies as well as the dollar, making travelling to South Africa affordable by international standards. Visitors will more than likely find eating out and shopping particularly affordable and of an excellent quality. Foreign currency can be exchanged at local banks and Bureaux de Change. Credit cards are widely accepted including American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa.
Shopping and Banking Hours
Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9:00-15:30 and on Saturdays from 8:30 - 11:00.
Most major shopping centres and malls are open 7 days a week from 09:00 to 17:00. In some cases, Sunday shopping hours are from 09:00 - 14:00 and in some smaller towns shops are closed on a Sunday.
Petrol or gas stations are widespread throughout South Africa and many are open 24-hours. However, if you are planning a long distance trip through a remote area, ensure that your tank is full to avoid running low. A petrol attendant will fill your tank for you and will often wash your windscreen. Petrol stations do not accept credit cards and petrol must be paid for in cash or with a local petrol card.
A valid driver's permit is required to rent a car in South Africa and all drivers must carry a valid driver's licence at all times of driving. The wearing of seatbelts is compulsory and driving while talking on a mobile phone is illegal - a hands free kit must be used.
Drinking and driving is strictly prohibited and strict fines apply. The permissible limit for alcohol consumption is about one glass of wine for the average woman and perhaps 1.5 or two for the average or large man.
Speed limits are 120km/h on the open road, 100km/h on smaller roads and between 60 and 80km/h in towns and residential areas. Road signs will indicate the speed limit. Speeding is strictly enforced with cameras and fines are high.
Bear in mind the following language differences in South Africa - South Africans put petrol in their cars, not gasoline. Trunks are referred to as boots, while hoods are called bonnets.
As a rule South African restaurants do not include a service charge in the total bill. It is customary to leave a 10% tip for good service, or more for excellent service. At petrol station, petrol attendants will fill your tank for you and will offer to wash your windscreen - a tip of whatever small change you have available is appreciated (R1, R2 or R5 if the service was exceptional). In many areas parking attendants will offer to assist you in parking your car and watching over it while you are away - again, a tip of R2 or so is appreciated.
Law prohibits smoking in most public spaces, including airports and railway stations. Most restaurants have designated smoking and non-smoking areas.
South Africa has 11 official languages one of them being English. The majority of the population is able to speak and understand English even if it is not their first language.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Drinking water in South Africa is quite safe when taken from the tap or faucet - in fact our tap water is said to be some of the safest and cleanest in the world.
Standards of hygiene in relation to food in South Africa, are generally high in hotels, restaurants and nightspots.
It is safe to eat fresh fruit and salad, drink tap water and put ice in your drinks. Our fish, meat and chicken are of excellent quality, so there is no need to limit yourself in exploration of South African food, and the many international cuisines found here too.
Malaria is found only in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and on the Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Malaria is at low risk in the winter months. It is only possible to contract malaria by being bitten by an infected mosquito - however, when visiting these areas it is advisable to take the necessary safety and medical precautions. Use mosquito nets and an insect repellent to avoid being bitten. In addition, medication can be taken and should be taken according to the instructions given. Medication should be taken starting two weeks before entering the malaria zone and for four weeks after leaving the area. Consult with your doctor beforehand and note that malaria medication should not be taken during pregnancy.
Health and medical care
South Africa has excellent health services and doctors with some of the best training in the world. There are adequate hospitals and medical care facilities throughout the country. However, visitors should ensure that they have sufficient funds or medical insurance to cover the fees of private facilities.
No vaccinations are required when visiting South Africa and immunisation against cholera and small pox are not required. However, if you are entering South Africa from a yellow fever zone, you must be in possession of a valid international yellow fever inoculation certificate. Infants under the age of one year are exempt.
As in any foreign country, visitors are advised to be aware and alert when travelling to avoid falling prey to petty theft and crime. Most areas and attractions of South Africa can be safely visited. However, use common sense, be discreet with expensive camera equipment and jewellery and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking in deserted areas after dark and when driving, always park in a well lit and designated parking area. In you have any doubts, speak to your hosts and ask for their advice on potential areas to avoid.
This is an area in which South Africa needs to improve on. Generally speaking many accommodation providers have wheelchair ramps and bathroom facilities for the disabled. Most public buildings cater for wheelchair access and most sports stadiums have areas accessible to wheelchairs. National parks usually have at least one wheelchair accessible chalet or room.