Found in the southernmost tip of Africa, South Africa is a great place for those looking for some excitement.
Full of history and home to numerous forests, beaches, lagoons, and mountains, it also has some of the best safari destinations in the world.
See rhinos, lions, buffaloes, elephants, and baboons up-close, just to name a few.
Or, for those who want a gentler trip, head to the art and history museums and shopping areas. There is something for everyone in South Africa.
This South Africa travel guide will help you plan your next vacation.
- Currency: The official currency is the South African rand and 1 rand is equal to 0.067 USD.
- Power: Power voltage is 230V at 50 Hz.
- Entry: To enter, you will need a U.S. passport. If your stay is under 90 days, you will not need a visa.
- Getting Around: The best way to get around is by bus or train. We have also done car rental and loved it.
- Sales tax: The sales tax rate is 15%.
- Best Sim Cards: Cell C, MTN, and Vodacom are the most popular mobile providers. A prepaid SIM card can be purchased through any of them by visiting their official stores or local grocery or drug stores.
- We use KnowRoaming $3.99 per day Unlimited data. PlanetD readers receive an extra 50% off using promo code DDSave50
- When to visit South Africa: South Africa's summer is November and February and it is warm and dry in the south while rainier in the north. Whale watching is best from July to November.
- May to September is the best time for wildlife and safaris.
- Tap water is potable. However, ensure that you take bottled water or a water purifier with you when traveling to remote rural areas and the bush.
- The Capital City of South Africa is Pretoria.
Budget: You can find a number of backpacker hostels for 150 to 230 rand per night. Enjoy dorm-styled or private rooms, shared kitchens, free Wi-Fi, and great locations.
Mid Range: For mid-range hotels, expect to pay 300-600 rand per night and enjoy private rooms, free breakfast, an outdoor pool, a hotel restaurant and bar, a gym, and nearby attractions.
High End: Upscale hotels will range from 1,000 to 22,000 rand per night. Take in the best with top-of-the-line hospitality, polished rooms and suites with ocean views, infinity pools, fine dining, spa services, butler service, sundecks, and more.
If you are starting your trip in Cape Town check out our suggestions for Best Things to do in Cape Town
When in South Africa, try staple dishes like chakalaka and pap (vegetables and beans with porridge). You must make sure to have a South African Braai when in the country. This is their answer to a barbecue.
For something sweeter, some malva pudding (sponge pudding with apricot jam and hot cream sauce). When out and about, look for bunny chow (white bread filled with sambal) or Boeri Rolls (South African sausage in hot dog bun with onion relish, chili, and tomato).
When you’re ready for a sit-down meal, South Africa has a number of restaurants to sample from. In total, expect to pay around 120 rand per meal for most places, or up to 500 rand per meal for more expensive places.
The national dish is Ragu alla Bolognese Sauce (meat-based sauce served in tortellini, gnocchi, or tagliatelle pasta). Other favorites include pizza, lasagna, and bottarga (cured fish roe).
Getting to South Africa
The O.R. Tambo International Airport is the main airport and is 13.5 miles from Johannesburg, while the Cape Town International Airport is 12.5 miles from Cape Town.
Flights: If your budget allows, direct flights are a fast way to get between cities. Go from Johannesburg to Cape Town, for example, in two hours for 1,500 rand.
You can check for the best flights to South Africa on Skyscanner.
Transportation: Trains are a fast way to get around. South Africa comes with overnight trains designed for tourists.
Go from Johannesburg to Cape Town for 700 rands and enjoy dining and shower options. These trains tend to move slower than traditional trains or buses, making them ideal for scenic views.
For faster routes, try the rapid transit system (Gautrain) that departs every 20-30 minutes and moves between major cities at 99 miles per hour. Go from the O.R. Tambo airport to Johannesburg, for example, for 165 rand.
Buses: Buses are a good way to get between major cities and have a variety of services.
The Baz Bus is a good shuttle bus for tourists and travels to major cities like Johannesburg, Durban, and Port Elizabeth, and has prices between 2,600 to 5,400 depending on the distance.
Taxis: Taxis are an alternative way to get around. Prices start at 15 rand and increase 10-12 rand per kilometer traveled.
Car Rental: To rent a car, you must be at least 21 years old and have a U.S. license as well as an International Driver” But you can find great deals for car rentals too so look around.
To rent a car, you need a valid U.S. driver’s license and be at least 18 years old. Prices start at around 600 rand per day.
Uber: Uber is an option, especially in major cities like Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.
When packing for South Africa it is important that you keep your lodgings and planned activities in mind.
It is recommendable that you pack transitional clothing items that can carry you from day to night or from city sightseeing to safari adventures.
- Neutral colors – If you planning on heading out on a safari than it's best to limit your color palette to neutrals, especially on game drives, as bright reds and harsh prints can provoke wildlife.
- Headlamp or flashlight – if traveling to rural areas, battery-powered headlamps or flashlights can help you navigate in the dark if there is limited power or if there is a blackout.
- Insect Repellent – Along with natural beauty and breath-taking wildlife, South Africa is also home to lots of insects and mosquitoes that can carry diseases. Be sure to pack more than one can of DEET or Permethrin insect repellent.
- Mosquito nets and bug spray – If you are staying in basic accommodations, be sure to bring your own mosquito net.
- Malaria pills – there have been increased numbers of malaria cases being reported in South Africa. To reduce your risk take precautionary measures against mosquito bites and consider packing malaria pills for your trip.
- Walking Shoes: Keep your feet comfortable with a sturdy pair of walking shoes.
- Power Adapter: As the voltage is higher than the US, a power adapter will ensure your electronics can be charged properly.
- Sunscreen and Safari Hat: Protect your skin from the beautiful sun with some sunscreen.
See our packing tips for What to Wear on a Safari.
When to Go
The best time to go to South Africa depends on what you want to do there. If you’re going on a safari, travel during the dry season of April to September.
This is a great time to enjoy pleasant temperatures (with highs of 80 degrees Fahrenheit) and also the period where you can spot the most wildlife.
Alternatively, if you want to see the whales, travel between July and November.
Things to Do
- Kayak with Crocodiles and Hippos – If you are feeling adventurous, skip the platoon boat and kayak in the river instead! Nothing but fiberglass separate you from the crocodiles below
Go on a Canopy Tour – Imagine standing 30 metres high on a platform overlooking a magnificent jungle canopy.
Take a microlight flight – Take a thrilling flight over the sugar cane plantations in Durban and the magnificent Dolphin Coast.
- Robben Island: Take a tour through this former prison that includes a museum. A prison that once held Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners fighting to end apartheid, it is now a symbol of
What not to Miss
- Penguins of Simons Town – South Africa has its own little penguin colony and you can see them on your way to the Cape of Good Hope.
- See the Cango Caves – these caves are the oldest tourist attraction in South Africa and one of the best cave systems the PlanetD have ever visited!
- Go on a Safari! – A person can't go to South Africa without going on safari
Places to Stay
Glen Boutique Hotel and Spa: Stay in the heart of Cape Town at this great boutique hotel. Enjoy stylish suites with private balconies and ocean views, spa services, an adult pool as well as an infinity pool and hot tub, flat-screen TVs and coffeemakers in each guest room, bathrobes, and the hotel restaurant and bar. The hotel even provides transportation to the Cape Town airport, located just 13 minutes away. If you’re not ready to leave yet, there are numerous bars and restaurants nearby.
Genesis All-Suite Hotel: One of the best places to stay in Johannesburg is this centrally located four-star hotel. Enjoy suites with kitchenettes and cable TVs, a fitness center, a pool, the hotel’s restaurant and bar, laundry and dry-cleaning services, and free high-speed Wi-Fi. When you’re ready to step out, numerous attractions are just minutes away.
Hilton Durban: Just a mile from South Beach, this upscale hotel has everything you need for a great stay. Enjoy an outdoor pool, dining options, a wine bar, a fitness center, room service, spa services, and a complimentary breakfast. Numerous attractions, including a waterpark, casino, and a botanic garden are just minutes away.
Whenever we travel we make sure to start with these companies.
We have tried a lot of different ones over the years and all of these have consistently proven to be the best when it comes to offering great prices as well as great customer service.
We have used every one of these personally and continue to do so.
Booking.com: This is our go site to when comparing prices for accommodation. It is usually the has the cheapest prices, especially in Europe and we love their interface. Not to mention you get free cancellation and you are guaranteed the best price.
Trip Advisor: What we like about Trip Advisor is that we can look at all the reviews and then book our accommodation. TripAdvisor is where we go when we want to compare prices with multiple accommodation providers.
Air BnB: Airbnb is the main search engine we use when we are looking for a home or apartment rental. It can sometimes be cheaper than hotels and it is the best way to stay in areas that offer a more local feel.
Skyscanner: This is the first place we check for flights. It consistently comes back with the cheapest and best options. It allows us to compare a lot of airlines to get the best price.
Hostelworld: With one of the largest databases of hostels in the world, Hostelworld is the go-to site when you are looking for budget accommodation.
Rome 2 Rio: If you want to see how to get somewhere by plane, train, bus, ferry or car Rome2Rio lays it all out for you as well as related costs. I love how they show it all to you on a Google Map and it works offline.
Get Your Guide: For all your day trip and city guide needs, we use Get Your Guide. It has the world's largest collection of things to do with more than 30,000 activities in 7500 destinations.
World Nomads Insurance: When traveling to South Africa you should always have travel insurance. We have found the best bang for your buck is by far World Nomads.