The best time to visit South Africa?
Well, just about all year round.
In the Timbavati Reserve and Kruger National Park, we tend to have dry winters (May – August) and hotter summers (September – April). Winter can be fairly cold at night and during the early morning, so it is wise to pack warm clothes. Summer is our rainy season with short thundershowers in the afternoon / during the day, but mostly does not last for longer than 2-3 days for continuous rains.
- Winter temperatures usually range from 05 – 26 degrees C
- Summer temperatures usually range from 12 – 38 degrees C
- Our autumn months are April / May and spring months September / October
South African temperatures, which are measured in centigrade, average at high of 28°C and a low of 8°C. Average annual rainfall is on the low side at less than 500mm a year, making the country somewhat dry. Most of the rain falls in the Western Cape in the winter, differing from the rest of the country, which experiences a summer rainfall. But on the plus side, the South African climate boasts more than its fair share of sunshine, recording an average of 8.5 hours a day.
South Africa’s climatic conditions generally range from Mediterranean in the south-western corner of the country to temperate in the interior plateau, and subtropical in the north-east. A small region in the north-west has a desert climate. Our relatively mild and short winters do not justify the expense of central heating in many buildings and homes, which may lead visitors to think the winter is colder than it actually is. The answer to this is dressing in layers.
South African Customs
South African Customs regulations afford visitors to the country the opportunity to bring in certain goods without incurring duties and value added tax (VAT). These are limited in quantity and value. On arrival, you can take the green ‘nothing to declare’ channel if you stick to these
- Personal effects
- Other new or used goods not exceeding R3 000 (Additional goods, new or used, exceeding R12 000 will incur a duty charge of 20%)
- Wine not exceeding 2 litres per person over the age of 18
- Spirits and alcohol not exceeding l litre per person over the age of 18
- Cigarettes not exceeding 200 and cigars not exceeding 20 per person over the age of 18
- 250g cigarette tobacco or pipe tobacco per person over the age of 18
- Perfumery not exceeding 50ml and toilet water not exceeding 250ml per person
But, if you have goods in excess of these allowances, take the red channel and declare your items, where you will be billed at the applicable rates by representatives of South African Customs. Note also, that if you are importing for business and commercial intent, you will also not qualify for these allowances, other than personal effects.
Customs in South Africa further stipulates that when you leave the country you are permitted to take up to R500 in South African Reserve Bank notes. A 20% levy is charged on higher amounts.
Banking hours in South Africa
- 08h30/09h00 – 15h30/16h00 Mon-Fri
- 08h30/09h00 – 11h00/11h30/12h00 Sat
Shopping hours in South Africa
- 09H00- 17h00/18h00 Mon-Fri
- 08h30/09h00 – 13h00 Sat (smaller centres)
- 09h00 – 17h00/18h00 Sat (urban areas)
- 10h00 - 15h00/16h00 Sun (urban areas)
Office hours in South Africa
- 08h30/09h00 – 17h00 Mon – Fri
Public / Bank holidays
While supermarkets and bigger shopping malls stay open on public holidays from around 10h00 – 15h00 or 16h00, this is not the case with the corporate world which closes on public holidays
To sketch some background, English and Afrikaans were the official languages spoken in South Africa until the change of political dispensation in 1994. At that point another 9 languages were added to the official list, to give representation to the many languages spoken by black population groups.
These languages of South Africa fall into two main language families, Nguni and Sotho. But good news is that most South Africans are conversant in English, particularly in urban areas, so the tourist need not fear insurmountable language barriers. The Nguni languages include isiZulu, isiXhosa, siSwati and isiNdebele, while the Sotho languages encompass Setswana, Sepedi and Sesotho.
At Shindzela, the staff speaks English, Afrikaans and Shangaan or Sotho
Meals in South Africa
Of their 3 meals a day, most South Africans enjoy their main meal at night. Lunches are generally far lighter, except for the business lunch which may be a full 3-course affair, depending on the occasion. On weekends, however, you may encounter large parties in cafes around mid-morning, as ‘brunch’ becomes increasingly popular for laid-back Saturdays and Sundays.
Lunch hour is the normal 13h00-14h00, but may stretch to before and beyond on a business date. Restaurants generally take bookings in the evenings from 19h00 on. And on that note, it’s a good idea to call ahead and make a reservation, especially at the more popular establishments, which can be booked weeks ahead in peak holiday season.
South African food etiquette is mostly westernised, with some of its own oddities. For instance, it’s ok to eat pasta twirling it onto a fork with aid of a spoon, and lobster with your hands. The popular braai (barbeque) is another occasion where you can use your hands. In rural areas, traditional stew and mealie pap are also eaten with the hands – use your right hand only and roll the pap into a ball with your fingers, then dip it into the stew and eat.
Most restaurants supply bread rolls as you wait for your meals – these should be broken and buttered a piece at a time.
At fine dining restaurants, dress a little more formally towards a ‘smart-casual’ look. Most other eateries, however, are extremely informal, and in the many family-friendly establishments, South African food and general etiquette is relaxed.
If you are invited to dine at the home of South Africans or share a braai with them, it is good etiquette to take a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers, or a small gift as a token of appreciation.
Do visitors need a visa to travel to South Africa?
Visitors from most Western European countries, Japan, and USA don’t require visas. If you aren’t entitled to an entry permit, you’ll need to get a visa before you arrive. Please ask your travel agent or tour operator for up to date advice, or contact our Home Affairs Department
Go straight to the horse’s mouth for information on South African visa requirements, namely the Department of Home Affairs which has a comprehensive website. This website details which nationals are exempt from visas, and which are obliged to make application. Enquiries regarding South African visa info can also be obtained from South African missions in your country, or the nearest one to you.
If you are a national of a country that requires visas, you must make application ahead of your departure, as visas are not issued on arrival. The visa must be affixed in your passport to be shown to immigration officials on landing. Applications must be made through South African diplomatic or consular representatives.
You will have to supply a number of elements in terms of visa requirements in South Africa, such as:
1. A passport valid for no less than 30 days after the expiry of the intended visit, and at least 1 unused page for entry/departure endorsements (sometimes referred to as the visa page).
2. Payment of a prescribed fee.
3. A vaccination certificate, if required (travel through the yellow fever belts of Africa and South America requires inoculation)
4. Statement and/or documentation confirming the purpose and duration of your visit.
5. Two identity photographs (guidelines on website).
6. Proof of financial means in the form of bank statements; salary advices; undertakings by your hosts in South Africa; bursaries; medical cover; or cash available, including credit cards or travellers’ cheques.
7. If travelling by air, a return or onward ticket; or proof of sufficient funds; or lodge a cash deposit of equivalent value to such a ticket.
Take care to request the correct duration of stay and type of visa. Also check on processing time so that you don’t have any last minute panic.
All applicable health and visa (if necessary) documentation is the sole responsibility of the guest. Important: Please note, that anyone traveling to South Africa must have two consecutive blank pages in their passport, which lie side by side when the passport is open (i.e. the left and right hand page). Passports must be valid for at least 6 months after you leave the country. (calculated from the time you get back from South Africa). Passengers traveling to South Africa with passports that do not comply with these requirements will either be stopped from boarding the aircraft or risk deportation on arrival in South Africa
In addition, a parents traveling with children, WITHOUT the other parent, will need a letter of consent from the absent parent. This letter of consent must be certified by the Police.
Does one need an international driver’s license for South Africa?
Foreign driving licenses are valid in South Africa for up to 6 months, but must be printed in English. However if you don’t have such a license, you’ll need to get an International Driving Permit.
Travelling around South Africa
It is relatively easy by air, road and rail. Principal air routes are serviced by SAA and British Airways, operated by Comair. There are 3 low-cost carriers on main routes, namely Kulula.com, Mango and 1time. South African Express and Airlink serve the smaller centres. Facilitating getting around in South Africa are 10 airports managed by the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), among them OR Tambo International Airport (Ortia) and the Durban and Cape Town International Airports. In addition, there are some 90 regional airports, including the E&O E
When arriving from any Kruger Camp, please remember that there is no direct access to Shindzela from within the Kruger park, you will have to exit the Kruger Park Gates and enter the Timbavati Gate
Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Nelspruit and the Skukuza Airport, offering access to the Kruger National Park. An extensive tarred road system makes travelling in South Africa by vehicle convenient. You will find gravel roads in rural areas though.
- A valid international driver’s licence is required.
- We drive on the left hand side.
- Wearing seat belts is compulsory and cellphones can only be used ‘hands free’.
- Speed limits are generally set at 120km on freeways, 100km on secondary roads and 60km in urban areas.
- Toll fees apply on national roads.
- Petrol (gas) stations are widespread. Please note that you must pay for petrol (gas) in cash – very few petrol stations accept credit card paymentsfor petrol
- We refer to traffic lights as “robots”
- South Africa has 4 way stop streets at many intersections, which replace the British system of roundabouts. The rule of thumb is that whichever vehicle stops first at the intersection gets to move off first. You must stop at the 4 ways stop street.
- Please note that traffic police often issue speeding fines to those travelling over the speed limit, and in particular they wait at points coming into or out of small towns. When travelling in small towns stick to the speed limit of 60km’s per hour. If you are issued with a speeding fine, do not pay the traffic police directly – you can arrange to post payment by cheques to the relevant address printed on the fine/ticket.
- Most global car hire firms have branches in South Africa, along with local concerns.
- The Automobile Association (AA) supplies road maps.
- It is wise to hire a cell phone on arrival at the airport in South Africa, and to travel with the phone. Cell phones can be hired from the mobile operators at the airport – Vodacom. MTN or CellC are the only three licensed operators in South Africa..
- If by chance you become lost on your journey, the best place to stop and ask for directions is a petrol (gas) station or well known shop.
- Alternatively, call your tour operator or next accommodation venue.
- Try not to travel at night in South Africa, especially in rural country areas. Some roads are poorly lit and animals and pedestrians often wander across the roads.
What to wear in South Africa:
We’re generally laid back in South Africa, so no need to haul out your best silks and diamonds when you head for our shores.
Here’s some clothing advice when in South Africa:
- For the summers, bring clothes that are cool and comfortable, along with an umbrella or rain jacket, as this is when most of the country gets rain. A light jacket or wrap is a good precaution. Don’t forget a swimming costume.
- The winters are generally mild, comparing favourably with European summers. But we do get some days when temperatures sky-dive, especially in high-lying areas such as the Drakensberg, so be prepared with jerseys and jackets. If you are going to the Cape, rain gear will be needed in this season.
- Always bring a hat – the sun can be strong even in the winter months. Make sunglasses,a hat and sun block a firm part of your skincare kit.
- Walking shoes are a good idea all year-round, with warm socks in the winter.
- If you are doing business in the country, business attire may be called for, although some sectors of the corporate world e.g. media for example tend to dress down these days.
- For game viewing, a couple of neutral-toned items will be useful, but there’s no need to go overboard and kit yourself out like David Livingstone, out to explore Africa for the first time.
- E&O E
- For the evening, if you are dining at an upmarket restaurant or seeing a show, go the smart-casual route.
Leave some room in your suitcase so you can purchase some South African clothing; information on local designers can be obtained from the web. Look out for local labels like Hip Hop, Stoned Cherrie, Maya Prass,
Currency: With the South African unit of currency, the rand, offering favourable rates of exchange against the world’s hard currencies, your South African holiday budget, even if modest, can go surprisingly far.
Rands and cents
- The rand is divided into 100 cents
- Coins come in denominations of 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5
- Notes come in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200
- Traveller’s cheques can be exchanged in banks, bureaux de change and some hotels. It is suggested you bring them in hard currencies.
- Money can also be withdrawn at automated tell machines (ATM) of which there are many countrywide.
- South Africa’s ‘big 4′ banks are Absa Bank, First National Bank, Nedbank and Standard Bank.
- Banking hours are generally 09h00-15h30 on weekdays and 08h30 – 11h00 on Saturdays. Closed on Sundays.
- All major credit cards are accepted in the country, particularly MasterCard, Visa, American Express and Diners Club. Be aware, however, that you can’t purchase fuel on a credit card.
- Please note: As Shindzela Camp does not have electrical power; we do not accept credit card payments for your drinks and / or Timbavati Conservation Levy. Please bring cash.
- Most retail purchases carry a VAT levy of 14%, which is refunded to foreign tourists at departure points, subject to stipulated amounts spent, completion of the necessary forms and presentation of original tax invoices.
Drinking water in South Africa
It 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.
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry recently stated that the country’s national standard compares well with the World Health Organisation’s standards. The responsibility to provide clean water rests with locally-based Water Services Authorities, who regularly monitor the quality of drinking water in South Africa.
Tap water undergoes treatment which ensures it is free of harmful micro-organisms and contaminants. In some areas, South African drinking water is rich in minerals, and may involve a bit of getting used to.
Avoid, however, drinking water from streams and rivers, especially in areas where there is human habitation. These may carry water-borne diseases. But if you encounter an unpolluted mountain steam, a drink should be most refreshing.
Some tap and natural water may have a slight brown tinge from humic acid, which is harmless and does not affect drinking water quality in South Africa. The market for bottled water is growing in South Africa, and supermarket shelves hold numerous brands, some of them well-known international names. Your choice includes still and sparkling waters, and a range of fruit- flavoured types.
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.
Restaurants are subject to national health legislation, which is implemented by local government. Regulations include certification and regular inspections by health inspectors to ensure hygienic standards are maintained.
Street food is not as common in South Africa as it is, for example, in some Asian countries. At markets and events, fast-food chains operate mobile outlets or coffee stands, which are safe to patronise. At markets you will come across individuals making take-away eats like boerewors rolls and other foods typical of South Africa, while in townships it’s more common to come across a vendor boiling corn or the local maize, pap – often an essential part of the township experience.
South African medical facilities are, in general, of a high standard, particularly in urban areas where large state-hospitals and private clinics are in good supply.
State-run hospitals with their subsidized facilities, however, suffer the problems of overcrowding. Private hospitals, which number in the region of 80 countrywide, mostly fall under the control of health providers Netcare or Medi-Clinic. These South African medical centres offer high standards and specialist treatments, but rates are a lot higher. Tourists are advised to take out comprehensive medical cover before their arrival in South Africa.
Having said this, medical treatment here is often less costly than abroad, and visitors sometimes elect to have operations, in the field of plastic surgery for instance, in South Africa.
Provincially-run emergency services, also under pressure, are now assisted by a number or privately-operated services, which attend to roadside and other emergencies, transporting patients in well-equipped ambulances and emergency vehicles to appropriate hospitals.
The standard of training of doctors in South Africa has enjoyed a good reputation for decades. Urban areas are well supplied with general and specialist practitioners, all registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Most require payment on consultation, and may offer discounts for immediate settlement.
South African pharmacists are unable to dispense Schedule 4 drugs and up without a prescription, so tourists on chronic medication who expect to run out during their stay, should come armed with the necessary doctor’s script.
The country has many other medical professionals such as dentists, physiotherapists, psychologists, biokineticists, podiatrists, as well as alternative medical practitioners such as homeopaths, acupuncturists and reflexologists. Health shops abound, often staffed by knowledgeable people offering sound advice.
For travel off the beaten track, it should be noted that rural medical facilities in South Africa are less sophisticated, with the attention on primary medical care.
Over a decade ago the authorities introduced a series of health-related anti-smoking laws, and reinforced these in 2007 with an even tougher set of measures and penalties to close all loopholes. The legislation has had a noticeable effect on the smoking culture in South Africa. The site of small groups of people having a quick puff outside office blocks is now quite a common one.
The South African smoking laws prohibit smoking in public spaces, which are defined as ‘any indoor, enclosed or partially enclosed area which is open to the public and includes a workplace, a club and a public conveyance’. South African airports, as is common around the world, are strict on their anti-smoking stance. The restaurant trade too supportive of anti-smoking legislation in South Africa, and offers designated smoking and non-smoking seating.
So throughout your travels in South Africa, be sensitive to these regulations, and look out for prevalent ‘No Smoking’ signage.
Most parts of the South Africa can be safely visited by travellers, provided they take common sense safety precautions, much as recommended in most countries and big cities.
Here is some good South African safety advice:
- Avoid deserted areas at night, stick to busy and well-lit streets.
- Don’t wear flashy jewellery – in fact leave it at home.
- Keep photographic equipment close to you at all times.
- Keep car doors locked and windows closed, and carry a map in case you should get lost. Don’t leave bags or valuables on the seat next to you – rather lock them in the boot. Park in well lit areas. Don’t leave luggage unattended.
- Store valuables in the hotel safe and leave your hotel room door locked at all times, even when you are in it.
- Limit the amount of money you carry on your person. Don’t accept offers of assistance at ATMs and keep your pin numbers out of the view of others.
- When using a credit card in restaurants, ask the waiter to bring a portable credit card machine to your table. Report stolen or lost cards immediately.
- If you’re in doubt about a place you wish to visit or how to get there, have a word with your hotel concierge first or contact the National Tourism information and Safety Line on 083 123 2345. If you need a taxi, ask the hotel to order one on your behalf from a reliable service.
- In rural areas, watch out for wild or farm animals – road signage will warn you when you need to take care.
- When you are stopped along the road by South African Police, please do ask them for their valid police identification, also note that no tickets are paid in cash, all tickets have to be paid via your bank.
Information courtesy South African Tourism.