All the facts you need to know about the country itself:
Full Country Name Republic of South Africa Area 1,233,404 sq km Population 54.8 million (UN 2015) Capital and largest City Pretoria Borders Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe Religion Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and traditional religions Time Zone Standard time is two hours in advance of Greenwich Mean Time Languages English, Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu are the most common of the 11 official languages. English is the language of administration and is widely spoken. Others are Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tonga, Tswana and Venda. Many foreign languages are spoken in the larger hotels and shops
Country Dialling Code +27
South Africa is a treasure chest of unforgettable scenery, from lofty mountains to sun-baked deserts and dramatic coastlines washed by the Atlantic and Indian oceans. Its game viewing equals the best in Africa and where else can you find both penguins and elephants?
Overshadowed by dramatic Table Mountain and surrounded by the Atlantic, Cape Town is one of the world’s most picturesque cities. You can sample fine wine under the grapes in the tranquil winelands, while the pretty Garden Route offers countryside towns, lagoons and forests to explore. The Wild Coast boasts isolated beaches, rocky coastlines, traditional rural villages and the resorts along the KwaZulu-Natal coast offer lots of family fun.
Inland is the intriguing and moving battlefield sites that lay testament to the Anglo-Boer war. Here too rise the Drakensberg Mountains where vultures ride on the thermals over deeply green valleys and jagged peaks. To the east is the Kruger National Park where the thorny bush harbours the ‘Big Five’ animals to see (the lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino) as well as many other fascinating animals and birds.
South Africa also has a vivid history. Apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu named the newly integrated South Africa the ‘Rainbow Nation’. It is a fitting name for a country with 11 official languages and people of all colours, races and creeds, living in a colourful and sculpted landscape. It is no wonder then that its cities are so cosmopolitan.
When to Travel
When to Travel
There is no right time to travel to South Africa, just the right time for you! For more detailed advice please speak to one of our Africa experts
South Africa is a year round destination!
As it is such a large country the weather varies around the country so you will always find somewhere with weather to suit you!
Our Expert Tip!
The optimum time to go is April-May / September-October because this is when the weather is good in both Kruger and the Cape region.
For the budget conscious travellers September is the ideal time to travel. It is spring so it isn’t too cold, the weather is mostly dry, the whales are still around, wild flowers are in full bloom along the Garden Route and it is excellent value for money. Rates tend to increase on 01 October.
Here is the “need to know” information about visas for South Africa:
I'm Australian, do I need a Visa to Travel to South Africa?
At the time of writing, no visa for South Africa is required for travellers on Australian Passports.
I'm from New Zealand, do I need a visa to travel to South Africa?
As of 16 January 2017 New Zealand passport holders will require a visa to travel to South Africa. Here is all the information that you need to apply for your South African visa.
Travelling to South Africa with Children
Effective from 1st June 2015, new regulations were implemented for travellers arriving with children up to the age of 18 years. Parents are required to produce an unabridged birth certificate for each child travelling, or a certified copy, to be presented at immigration with the passports. If only one parent is travelling, they must also carry consent from the second parent registered on the birth certificate in the form of an affidavit, authorising the child to travel, or a court order granting full parental responsibilities. In the case of children travelling with other relatives or family friends and no parent, an affidavit must be carried to confirm permission from the parents. Any unaccompanied minor must produce to the immigration officer: 1. Proof of consent from one of or both his or her parents or legal guardian, as the case may be, in the form of a letter or affidavit for the child to travel into or depart from the Republic. In the case where one parent provides proof of consent, that parent must also provide a copy of a court order issued to him or her in terms of which he or she has been granted full parental responsibilities and rights in respect of the child. 2. A letter from the person who is to receive the child in the Republic, containing his or her residential address and contact details in the Republic where the child will be residing. 3. A copy of the identity document or valid passport and visa or permanent residence permit of the person who is to receive the child in the Republic. 4. The contact details of the parents or legal guardian of the child. Please double check with your travel agent before departure from Australia as this could change at any time. You must also hold return or onward flight tickets. See the following links for further information: South African High Commission; http://www.sahc.org.au South Africa High Commission in Australia Corner State Circle and Rhodes Place Yarralumla, ACT 2600, Australia Tel: +61 2 6272 7300 Australian High Commission, South Africa 292 Orient Street, Arcadia Pretoria, South Africa Tel: +27 12 423 6000 New requirements for children travelling through South African ports of entry effective 1 June 2015; http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/statements-speeches/621-advisory-new-requirements-for-children-travelling-through-south-african-ports-of-entry-effective-1-june-2015
- It is important to have two blank pages side by side in your passport for the entry and exit stamps to be issued. If there is insufficient space, entry into the country may be denied.
- Visitors must also be in possession of onward travel documents and have sufficient funds for the duration of their stay.
Please double check this with Bench Africa or your travel agent as this may change at any time.
What you need to know about your finances for your holiday in South Africa:
The unit of currency in South Africa is the Rand (ZAR), which is decimalised (ZAR 1 = 100 cents). Notes are in 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 Rand denominations. Coins are ZAR 1 and 2, also 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents.
You Should Know...
A currency declaration form has to be completed on arrival and Customs may ask to see your official exchange receipts as you leave.
Is South Africa the right choice for you and your family? Here’s what you need to know about travelling with children.
South Africa is quite unique in that there are malaria-free safari areas. This means that it is great for families! Our top picks for malaria-free safaris in South Africa would be Madikwe Game Reserve, Kariega Game Reserve, Kwandwe Private Game Reserve and Shamwari Game Reserve.
There are some great lodges that are set up with children in mind, with child-friendly menus, fun and varied activities, as well as kiddies clubs to keep them entertained.
Travelling around South Africa with Children
As the infrastructure in South Africa is of a high standard, travel in South Africa is a lot easier than in other parts of Africa.
Getting into the Country with Children
Effective from 1st June 2015, new regulations were implemented for travellers arriving with children up to the age of 18 years. Please refer to the Visa section of the South Africa Trip Planner for more information.
Although electricity in Africa is a lot more reliable than it used to be, here’s what you need to be aware of:
Voltage & Frequency
The general voltage is 230 and frequency is 50 Hz.
- As the sockets can vary a ‘Travellers Adaptor Set’ is recommended.
- Voltage sometimes fluctuates and whilst power cuts are rare, they are not unknown. It is useful to carry a torch.
Travelling by road in Africa may seem daunting to some so we have put together some information so that you know what you can expect:
- Please note that road surfaces vary from tarmac, gravel, sand and occasionally vehicles may travel “off road”.
- Additionally, if visiting remote areas or National Parks and Reserves, the roads may well be rough, bumpy and in a poor condition and may be affected by adverse weather conditions.
Road travel in Africa can be a risky business. We cannot stress enough how important it is that you travel with a reputable ground operator, who has strictly enforced guidelines regarding speed and road safety. We have spent the best part of 50 years assessing the ground operators in each country that we sell. In booking through Bench you know that you will be the safest that you can be!
Here are our recommendations of books to thumb through either before you leave for your trip to South Africa, or whilst on safari.
- The Elephant Whisperer – My Life with the Herd in the African Wild: Lawrence Anthony
- A Long Walk to Freedom: Nelson Mandela
- Birds of Prey: Wilbur Smith
- Lonely Planet South Africa: Lonely Planet
- 101 Things to Know When You Go on Safari in Africa: Patrick Brakspear
Tipping is a delicate and sensitive issue and many people ask us for tipping guidelines, here is all the information you should require.
Tipping is usually considered customary in Africa although not as widespread as the United States or Europe. It is always at your discretion. If you feel that someone has gone the extra mile to make your stay more enjoyable, a tip would be considered a nice way of saying thank you. To help you budget for your trip, the following is given as a guideline only (shown in South African Rand): Driver (per person per half day): ZAR 30.00 Driver (per person per full day): ZAR 50.00 Guide (per person per half day): ZAR 50.00 Guide (per person per full day): ZAR 100.00 Game ranger (per person per half day): ZAR 100.00 Game ranger (per person per full day): ZAR 100.00 Camp Staff (per person per full day): ZAR 50.00 Hotel Porter (per bag): ZAR 15.00 Restaurant (per person per meal): ZAR 15.00 A la Carte dining (% of the bill): 10%
Here are some numbers you might need while you’re travelling.
South Africa High Commission in Australia
Corner State Circle and Rhodes Place Yarralumla ACT 2600, Australia Tel: +61 2 6272 7300
Australian High Commission, South Africa
292 Orient Street, Arcadia Pretoria, South Africa Tel: +27 12 423 6000
In South Africa it is safe enough to self-drive. Here are our tips for those wishing to discover South Africa at their own pace:
Bench Top Tips
- Although South Africa is widely regarded as a safe destination on a self-drive itinerary you may need to be prepared to drive relatively long distances.
- It must also be noted that on entry into National Parks, a local fee will have to be paid in cash.
- Please note, an International Drivers License is required when hiring a vehicle.
Why Self Drive in South Africa?
For those looking to explore South Africa at their own pace, the Bench experts recommend a self-drive holiday from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, which offers everything from vibrant cities to vineyards, gorgeous beaches to game parks! South Africa drives on the same side of the road as Australia and the major roads are tarred, well-maintained, and very well sign-posted with plenty of friendly service stations along the way. Enjoy driving through scenic countryside, rugged coastline and magnificent mountain passes at a leisurely pace, never travelling more than 5 hours in one day.
At Bench Africa we carefully select the properties that we use, and one size certainly does not fit all. Here is a list of all the different types of accommodation awaiting you in Africa.
We recommend this for the more intrepid travellers who want to get their hands dirty! Guests will put up their own tents and may be required to help around the campsite. The basics are catered for, as well as two-man tents and sleeping mats and campsites preselected to stay at along the journey. The amenities at these campsites can vary quite drastically depending where you are in Africa and what you pay. For example in the Serengeti there is no running water at the campsites, however in other parts of Africa the campsite may have a swimming pool.
Fully Serviced Camping
For those that want to experience a traditional safari, under canvas but would still like the chance to relax and take time to enjoy their environment we would recommend fully serviced camping. On arrival the mobile camp is set up and ready to go. The tents are spacious and can be really quite luxurious, often with camp beds and en-suite bathrooms, as well as a full staff of chefs, waiters and other helping hands. Here you will have lighting, hot water and cold drinks but you still have that amazing feeling of being at one with nature!
Luxury Tented Camping
Luxury tented camps are a very popular choice on safari because these camps are very intimate, usually with no more than 20 tents on site. These luxury tents offer spacious rooms with electricity, proper beds, as well as en-suite bathrooms with running hot and cold water. The cuisine and service is of a very high standard and you will eat like a king, with 3 decadent meals a day, as well as snacks. All luxury tented camps offer an all-inclusive package to incorporate meals, local drinks and game viewing activities. At night you can still go to sleep, under canvas with the sounds of the African wilderness around you. This is how you do safari in style!
Safari Lodges vary considerably in size and architectural design but essentially these are much more permanent structures, often with many more rooms than luxury tented camps. They will often have a swimming pool and conferencing facilities. A lodge will celebrate the nature surrounding it and will usually blend in with its surrounds and built making natural, locally sourced materials.
This would commonly be the largest of all the accommodation types but again can vary quite dramatically in style, size and the amenities that it offers. There is typically a reception area, with rooms opening directly onto a hallway. They would be less exclusive that the aforementioned accommodation types, with restaurants and other facilities open to the public.
A boutique hotel is a 5-star establishment providing all the features and facilities of a standard hotel but is always unique and very stylish. These properties are usually smaller and more intimate than a hotel and offer a very high-end service.
Hotels, lodges and tented camps in Africa range from good tourist standard to award- winning deluxe properties. On occasions it may be necessary to change a hotel, lodge or camp due to various reasons, which would be out of the control of Bench Africa. In this situation we will make every effort to give you as much advance warning as possible. In the event of this happening we may not be able to send out up-to-date information on this substitute property. For more information on the individual hotels, lodges or tented camps where you will be staying please refer to your itinerary or speak to one of our Africa experts.
Here are some guidelines for travelling by light aircraft in South Africa.
- Please ask the local operator at your hotel/lodge to reconfirm all onward flights prior to departure to ensure the flight timings are still correct.
- Most departure taxes (domestic and international) are included on tickets, however some regional and private airports have taxes to be paid for locally.
What to Pack
What to Pack
Here we have listed our recommendations of what you should pack for your travels in South Africa.
- Formal clothing is generally not needed throughout most of Africa. We recommend that you limit your luggage to the basics. More formal attire is usually only required when staying in the more prestigious city hotel establishments and on luxury rail journeys such as Rovos Rail or the Blue Train, in South Africa.
- On a wildlife safari, casual cotton clothing is the most practical. Calm neutral colours such as tan or khaki are a good idea although a bush outfit is not essential. Some form of headgear is recommended, and sunglasses are essential. A warm fleece or jacket is advisable for colder evenings and early mornings. A lightweight raincoat may be useful as some seasonal rains can occur.
- Heavy footwear is not required, but sturdy, comfortable walking shoes or boots are recommended for nature walks, with a change of shoes (such as trainers) for the camp.
- The dress code is informal at all of the camps and it is advisable to bring long sleeved shirts and trousers for the evenings to minimise insect bites.
- Good laundry facilities are readily available at many hotels, game lodges and camps, and often on a complimentary service where the amount of luggage is restricted. However, on a busy itinerary it is advisable to check that your clothes will be ready before your departure. If your trip contains any light aircraft flights, then you may be subject to some very strict baggage restrictions. You will be limited to a certain weight, often between 15–20 KG. Bags also have to be soft-sided cases so that they can fit in the hold. These restrictions cannot be avoided, as there simply is not the capacity on these small planes so bear this in mind when you are packing for your Africa trip.
- It is always a good idea to dress in layers on activities to accommodate the early morning and late afternoon change of temperature. Winter months will definitely require a warm jacket and perhaps a beanie, gloves and a scarf.
- Hat for protection from the sun
- Good quality sunglasses preferably polarized
- Camera, charger and adaptor
- If you wear contact lenses, we recommend that you bring along a pair of glasses in case of dust irritation.
- Good walking shoes, trainers as well as sandals
- Socks (long socks, if you are doing a gorilla trek)
- Long trousers/slacks
- T-shirts/long-sleeved cotton shirt for cooler evenings
- Sweater/fleece/raincoat. These may be required for early morning and late afternoon game activities throughout the year.
- Lip balm
- Sports bra – ladies, you may need this for bumpy game drive
- Swimming costume
- Basic medical kit (aspirins, elastoplasts, Imodium, antiseptic cream etc
- Malaria tablets AND anti-histamine cream
- Insect repellent (many lodges do supply sprays)
- Protective suntan lotion particularly for pale and sensitive skins
- Tissues or ‘wet wipes’
Food & Drink
Food & Drink
What to expect from the food and drink in South Africa.
- Most lodges and safari camps have restaurants and licensed bars, and the food offered ranges from good basic meals to gourmet style. The standard of food in lodges and camps is generally very good.
- Bottled water is available in all tourist centres. It is advisable to drink at least 2-3 litres of water per day whilst on safari as dehydration can occur quickly, especially in the summer months.
- It is best to assume that water is NOT safe to drink unless it has been boiled. It is always wise to double check locally if in any doubt.
- Drinks are reasonably priced and easily available as are soft drinks (Pepsi, Coca Cola etc) and bottled water.
It is vital that you visit your doctor at least 6 weeks prior to travel.
- We are not health proffessionals and as such we recommend you speak to your GP or local Travel Doctor for up-to-date information and advice.
- Malaria: It is recommended that precautions against malaria be taken for travel to most regions in South Africa. We suggest you contact your doctor for advice on which prophylactic is recommended.
Make sure that you are covered from the moment you place your booking with us!
Our Tips for Choosing Insurance
- We strongly recommend you take out Comprehensive Travel Insurance at the time of booking your trip.
- Note, it is essential that you are fully aware of the Terms and Conditions of your travel insurance policy therefore we recommend that you read your policy wording carefully and contact your insurer should you have any questions.
Here is some “need-to-know” information about taking photos in South Africa.
Photographing of airports, Government buildings, etc is prohibited. Some local people strongly object to photographs being taken without permission, but will sometimes agree upon payment of a small tip. Please check with your guide.
- Film and memory cards are generally available, but stocks can be limited and could be expensive, so we suggest you carry with you adequate supplies.
- Telephoto lenses for game viewing, lens hood and ultra violet filters will be useful – bring your dust cover.
- Batteries can be recharged at most lodges and hotels, but it is advisable to bring spares.
Safety and Security
Safety and Security
Although Africa is now safer to travel than it ever has been it is important to take note of the following information.
- Doors should be locked when driving after dark.
- Don’t walk alone at night in city streets, isolated beaches or remote areas.
- Travellers should not display unnecessary signs of wealth (e.g. mobile phones, money, and expensive jewellery) on the streets.
- Leave all your valuables including passports locked in the room safe where available.
Safety on Safari
- The wild animals are not like those found in theme parks – they aren’t tame.
- Most of the safari camps are unfenced and dangerous animals can (and do!) wander through the camps. Many of the animals and reptiles you will see are potentially dangerous. Attacks by wild animals are rare, however, there are no guarantees that such incidents will not occur. Bench Africa, our staff members, associates, agents, or their suppliers cannot be held liable for any injuries caused during an incident involving the behavior of wild animals.
- Please listen to the camp staff and guides. The safety precautions need to be taken seriously, and strictly adhered to.
- Do not go wandering off on your own without a guide – even to your rooms. After retiring to your rooms at night, do not leave them.
- Observe animals silently and with a minimum of disturbance to their natural activities. Loud talking on game drives can frighten the animals away.
- Never attempt to attract an animal’s attention. Do not imitate animal sounds, clap your hands, pound the vehicle or throw objects.
- Please respect your driver/guide’s judgment about proximity to lions, cheetahs and leopards. Don’t insist that he/she takes the vehicle closer so you can get a better photograph. A vehicle driven too close can hinder a hunt or cause animals to abandon a hard-earned meal.
- Litter tossed on the ground can choke or poison animals and birds and is unsightly.
- Never attempt to feed or approach any wild animal on foot. This is especially important near lodges or in campsites where animals may have become accustomed to human visitors.
- Refrain from smoking on game drives. The dry African bush ignites very easily, and a flash fire can kill animals.
A little handy advice to get the best out of your shopping in South Africa!
- There is an abundance of wonderful souvenirs and crafts to buy. Look for colourful materials, sisal bags, wood or stone carvings, unusual artwork, handcrafted jewellery, woven goods and attractive basketry are recommended.
- Bargaining is expected at markets and roadside stalls, but not in shops. The locals may start off with highly inflated “tourist prices” and you will need to bargain until you feel you are paying what the product is worth.
- Cash in local currency is accepted, as well as US Dollars, while credit cards may only be accepted in larger shops.
- Do not purchase ivory, rhino horn, animal furs/hides, tortoise shell, coral, game skin, trophies or elephant hair bracelets. These items are prohibited as hunting was banned in 1976.