Travel guide to South Africa

» South Africa
South Africa is a country with a much varied population and landscape. It is a fascinating place - be prepared to experience everything from the most beautiful natural scenery to the deepest misery in the poverty stricken townships.

Facts

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Local name
Republic of South Africa
Capital
Pretoria is the administrative Capital (1,080,187). Cape Town is the parliamentary Capital (2,350,157) Bloemfontein is the judicial Capital (300,150)
Size
1,219,080 square kilometres
Principal Languages
Afrikaan, english, ndebele, pedi, sotho, swati, tsonga, tswana, venda, xhosa and zulu are all official languages in South Africa.
Principal Religion
Almost all religions are represented in South Africa but most people are Christian or Catholic.
Inhabitants
42,130,500 (1999)
Government
Republic
Geography
South Africa is a mountainous country with varied and sometimes almost unbelievably beautiful scenery - where woodland and rough rock landscape perfectly supplement each other. The country borders Namibia to the north-west, Botswana and Zimbabwe to the north and Mozambique to the north-east. The climate is very different depending on which region you visit. But remember - when it is summer in Europe, it is winter in South Africa.

Travel preparation

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Best time to visit

Summer, from November to February, may be very hot in South Africa, especially in the lowvelds. The mountain areas are more pleasant but rainy. The northeast coast can be uncomfortably humid. Spring is a good time to go. This is when the whole scenery is in full bloom and the climate is pleasant. The winters are mild in all parts of the country, except at high altitudes and in the deserts.

Literature

Lonely Planet Africa: The South

Local conditions

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Currency

South African Rand (ZAR)

Net cafes

There are quite a few internet cafés in South Africa. Most are situated in Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and Johannesburg. Most of the cafés have about 10 computers - and a lot of places exist in conjunction with a bar and a café

In case of emergency

For emergency calls in South Africa dial: Police (10-111) Ambulance (999) Fire Department (624-2800) The Hospital in Johannesburg (488-4911)

Tipping

Taxi drivers usually get a 10 per cent tip. Tipping is not required at hotels and restaurants unless service has been exceptional. However, you do give a small tip in restaurants if no service charge has been added on the bill.

Timezone

When it is 12 noon in the UK (summer time), it is 1 pm in South Africa. When it is 12 noon in the UK (winter time), it is 2 pm in South Africa.

Weight and Measures

In South Africa they use the following weights and measures: Weight: kilo Distance: metric system

Photography

Photography is allowed everywhere in South Africa. If you visit places of religious interest you should ask about specific rules. Get permission before you photograph a person, and in Johannesburg it is not wise to wave your camera about under any circumstances.

Drinking water

Do not drink tap water, don't brush your teeth in it and avoid ice cubes. You can buy bottled water anywhere.'

Electricity

In South Africa they use the following power source: 220 volt AC/50Hz. However, in Pretoria they use 250 volt/50Hz.

Behaviour

It's okay to dress casually in South Africa. Smoking is prohibited in cinemas and theatres. If you visit somebody in his or her home the convention is - polite, but relaxed.

Business Hours

Banks are open from 9 am to 3.30 (Monday-Friday) and from 9 am to 11.30 am (Saturdays). Shops are open from 8.30 am to 5 pm (Monday-Friday) and from 8.30 am to 1 pm (Saturdays). Several shops are also open Sundays from 9 am to 1 pm. Office Hours are from 8 am to 1 pm and from 2 pm to 5 pm (Monday-Friday).

Food and drink

On the South African coasts they specialise in inexpensive fish courses - oyster in particular. Typical South African food is sosaties - a kind of kebab, and bobotie, which is minced flesh seasoned with curry. Also there are bredies, which consist of flesh, tomatoes and vegetables. Beer is a popular drink in South Africa, for example 'umgombothi'.

Disabled travellers

South African holiday resorts and cities are very disability-friendly. But disabled people should not visit the national parks and the mountain areas alone or without helpers. Johannesburg, a very dangerous city as it is, is not advisable for disabled people either.

Holidays

New Year's Day, 1 January Human Rights Day, 21 March Freedom Day, 27 April Workers' Day, 1 May Youth Day, 16 June National Women's Day, 9 August Heritage Day, 24 September Day of Reconciliation, 16 December Christmas Day, 25 December Day of Goodwill, 26 December Moveable holidays Family Day, beginning of April Good Friday, end of March or beginning of April.

Accommodation / Hotel

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Camping

There is a wide selection of camping sites in South Africa and facilities are very good almost everywhere.

Hotels

Hotels are everywhere - both humble one-star and expensive five-star luxury hotels.

Bed og breakfast or guesthouse

You can hardly find a town in South Africa, which doesn't have B&B or guest houses. It is wise to book before arrival.

Hostels

Hostels are available many places in South Africa, especially in connection with the cities. Facilities are usually good.

Other Accommodation

In the national parks you'll find protected areas where you can rent a hut with private bath and kitchen. Standards are usually high.

Local transport

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Planes

Domestic flights operate between Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, East London, Kimberley and Bloemfontein.

Bus

All South African cities have a local bus service. If you are going far you may consider a Greyhound or Translux bus, or you can share a minibus.

Trains

There are both fast luxury trains and local trains in South Africa. The Blue Train is a fast train which runs between the cities. Some train companies arrange special safari trips to the national parks, e.g Rovos Rail.

Taxi

You can't just hail a taxi when you need it; you have to call one from a taxi stand. You can also take a combi-taxi, a kind of minibus, which operates over long distances. Combi-taxis are cheap but not always safe.

Car rental

You can rent a car in all major towns and cities in South Africa. In South Africa they drive on the left.

Boat or Ferry

The companies Starlight Cruises and African Sunset Adventure offer trips between the biggest harbours in the country.

Other Transport

Combi-taxis and minibuses operate from all major towns and cities. They are often used for longer distances. They are cheap and fast.

Special conditions

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Johannesburg and other places in South Africa can be dangerous places to stay. Do not wear any visible valuables such as a camera and stay clear of the suburbs and never walk alone during the night. If you're threatened, then give up all your valuables immediately.

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