South Africa FAQs
Is South Africa a country, a republic, or a province?
The Republic of South Africa is more than a country; it is a republic with an elected president. Since the 1994 elections, it is redivided into nine provinces, roughly along tribal lines: Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, North West Province, Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
Will I need a visa?
Canadian and US passport holders do not require a visa for entry to South Africa for a stay of up to 90 days. What is required is a valid passport with a minimum of 2 blank pages and a validity of 6 months past your intended return date from South Africa.
When is the best time to go?
Game Viewing: June to October when the vegetation isn't as thick and game viewing is easier but good all year round at private reserves.
Whale Watching: Mid-June to October (Southern Right Whales) and August to December (Humpback Whales).
Diving (Scuba & Shark Cage diving): April to September
Flowers: August to September
Birding: The palaeoarctic migrants arrive in November and the intra-Africa migrants usually by mid-October
How strong is the sun?
The sun throughout South Africa is very strong all year round. Travelers are advised to wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and more if they sunburn easily.
What kind of photo equipment should I bring?
When visiting other countries, it may be fine to bring along any kind of camera, but in the South African bush, travelers need a good camera to accurately record their experiences. Disposable cameras just don't do the landscape justice, and you won't be able to effectively capture the action of the animals without a telephoto lens. Most rangers recommend a 200 mm SLR camera with a zoom lens. They also prefer slower Fuji film (either 50 or 100 ASA), which gives almost perfect quality photos in normal light.
What are the medical facilities like?
The private hospitals in South Africa are some of the best in the world. In fact, doctors at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town performed the world's first heart transplant in 1967. Private hospitals are more advanced than public hospitals and tend to be less crowded. Tourists are advised to visit private hospitals in the event of an emergency and are expected to pay cash for medical services rendered.
Should I get travel insurance?
Yes. Most medical facilities require cash for services rendered, and many health plans in the U.S. will not reimburse expenses incurred out of the country. Check your health plan well before traveling.
Are the animals dangerous?
During game drives in the bush, predatory animals like lions, leopards, and hyena often come so close to your vehicle that danger would seem imminent. Amazingly, the animals who live in and around the private game reserves are accustomed to the sight and sound of a Land Rover filled with people, and will often appear not even to notice you. However, anything could happen in the wild, so guests are instructed not to stand up in the vehicle or make any sudden movements, and all rangers are trained to handle an attack situation and are armed with loaded shotguns.
What are the hotels like?
South Africa is home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. In fact, the Cape Grace in Cape Town was voted "Best Hotel in the World" by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler in 2000. Other five-star properties that have received international acclaim include the magnificent Saxon in Johannesburg, the historic Royal Hotel in Durban, and the elegant Steenberg Country Hotel in the Winelands. An entirely different kind of luxury is found in the bush, where guests can spend an afternoon immersed in their private plunge pool to the sound of elephants in the distance and enjoy dinner by candlelit lanterns in an authentic African boma. There are many bush lodges of note, including Sabi Sabi's romantic Selati Lodge and the more architecturally fascinating Earth Lodge, as well as Richard Branson's celebrity magnet, Ulusaba Safari Lodge.
What is the nightlife like?
The nightlife in South Africa varies from region to region and city to city. In the bush, the only real nightlife involves an exciting evening game drive followed by a traditional African dinner around a smoldering fire in an open-air boma. In Cape Town, long, lingering dinners with plenty of local wine are enough nightlife for some people, but others can take advantage of the many bars and pubs located on the waterfront. Clubs with live music are also popular in Cape Town, as are a number of jazz clubs that double as restaurants. Visitors to Johannesburg can get a taste of traditional and township South African jazz at Kippies in the Market Theatre complex in Newton. Joburg's Rosebank suburb is also rich in nightlife, offering visitors the chance to experience "kwaito," South Africa's version of "house" music at the Palladium. In Durban, some of the best jazz can be heard at Rivets in the Wilton Hotel, and Zoom is a club featuring celebrity DJs. There are also a number of bars and pubs scattered throughout the city.
What is a township?
During apartheid, black South Africans were forced to live in areas set apart from whites. These areas, which came to be known as townships, remain today even though apartheid has disappeared, and many are struggling to overcome poverty, poor housing, and overcrowding. Soweto, which is an acronym for the South Western Township, is home to an estimated two to four million people and is by far the largest township in South Africa. It is also the most developed, boasting 48 high schools, the largest hospital in the world, and a thriving middle class. Other townships throughout South Africa may not be as large as Soweto, but they still have the same warmth, spirit and vibrancy that make a visit unforgettable.
Is South Africa a good place to take kids?
South Africa is the most child-friendly country in Africa, but care should be taken when entering the bush. In fact, most private game reserves will not accept children under 12, which is understandable given that three-hour game drives can be tedious for restless kids. Outside of the bush, however, most hotels offer special amenities for children, and most restaurants have an abundant child's menu.
How are the roads?
All major roads and highways in South Africa are excellent and typical of any first-world country. Some of South Africa's back roads aren't as well maintained, so care should be taken while driving on them. Driving in South Africa occurs on the left-hand side of the road, and the speed limit is 75 miles per hour. Be on the lookout for animals in the bush and in rural areas.
Can I direct dial my phone calls and use my own long-distance service?
Long-distance calls can be direct-dialled by using the appropriate country code (91 for the U.S.). AT&T, MCI, and Sprint all make calling long distance relatively easy, but you may find the local access number blocked in many hotel rooms. A way around this problem is to ask the hotel operator to connect you to the access number instead of placing the call through the hotel operator.
What can I expect at the airport when I leave?
Upon departure, you may want to claim your VAT refund. You can do this at the airport as long as you have the receipts and the merchandise you purchased with you. You will also have to go through customs again.
I hear the seasons are opposite ours, what's the weather like?
The seasons of the southern hemisphere are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere so the summers run from November to February, when most of the country is characterized by hot weather with afternoon thunderstorms. Winters are generally mild and dry. South Africa enjoys one of the world's highest average daily hours of sunshine - 8.5 compared with 3.8 in London, 6.4 in Rome and 6.9 in New York. South Africa has an average annual rainfall of 464 mm, compared to a world average of 857 mm. In the Western Cape, the average rainfall is highest in the winter months, while in other provinces, the average rainfall is highest during summer. Overall South Africa enjoys a temperate and pleasant climate, with lovely warm sunny days most of the year
South Africa Travel Information
At Goway we believe that a well-informed traveller is a safer traveller. With this in mind, we have compiled an easy-to-navigate travel information section dedicated to South Africa.
Learn about the history and culture of South Africa, the must-try food and drink, and what to pack in your suitcase. Read about South Africa's nature and wildlife, weather and geography, along with 'Country Quickfacts' compiled by our travel experts. Our globetrotting tips, as well as our visa and health information, will help ensure you're properly prepared for a safe and enjoyable trip. The only way you could possibly learn more is by embarking on your journey and discovering South Africa for yourself. Start exploring… book one of our South Africa tours today!
Extend Your Stay
Book your South Africa vacation with Goway!
AfricaExperts is the exclusive division of Goway that specializes in planning and organizing South Africa tours and experiences. Choose from a simple city stopover, an exclusive African game lodge, a Holiday of a Lifetime, a stay of distinction, a self-drive tour and more. We want to be your first choice when next you go globetrotting to South Africa.
Get a Trip Quote Order a Brochure