Traveling to Africa as a whole can be a bit daunting, and even though South Africa is built for tourism, unlike many of its neighbors, a first time visitor can still be lost on where to stay and what to do. If you’re one of those needing a little help in planning your South Africa adventure, here are a few tips that will help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.
What to Know
Weather– The weather in South Africa runs opposite to weather in the U.S. For example, a quick summer jaunt might seem like fun, especially if you caught a deal, but summer in the states is winter in South Africa, so you can expect it to be a bit cool, especially at night. A light denim jacket or sweater will serve you well. If you’re going from the end of September on, welcome to summer in South Africa! It’s the best time to visit, but like anywhere else it can get hot, so make sure you pack light clothing, swimsuits and plenty of sunscreen.
Money – Use sites like XE.com to keep your eye on the exchange rate. The currency in South Africa is the South African Rand (ZAR) and currently $1 USD equals 12.95 ZAR. The dollar goes pretty far in the country which will help you rack up on wine and fabric for the family back home – or yourself. Personally, I like to use my Charles Schwab debit card when I travel because the card comes with no fees when used internationally or at ATMs. When I travel I tend to pull some cash out of the ATM when I arrive for current and best exchange rates and keep the rest on the card. Backup funds are reserved on my day-to-day debit card or credit card, which I try not to use unless it’s an emergency.
Transportation – From O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg you can take the Gautrain, a rapid rail system that runs daily from 5am to 10pm, catch a metered taxi from the designated taxi points, a hotel shuttle (if your hotel provides one) or order an Uber, which is pretty cheap throughout the city. If you’re looking to pop over to Cape Town (CPT), cheap round trip flights between the two cities can be found on the usual flight search sites like Expedia, Skyscanner or Google Flights.
Safety – Johannesburg and Cape Town operate like any other major city in the world. There are good folk and bad folk, but in general both cities are relatively safe. Just use the same common sense you would at home – no dark alleys, no flashing cash or jewelry, and most importantly, always trust your gut!
Where to Stay
There are great hotel options in South Africa. The Four Seasons Westcliff and Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg combine the finest in accommodation, culinary and cultural experiences and are near all the must see sights in the city.
What to Do
There are too many activities to name throughout both Johannesburg and Cape Town, but a few to start off your list are the Apartheid Museum, Nelson Mandela’s House, Soweto (the brave can bungee off the Orlando Towers!) and the Lion & Safari Park.
In Cape Town, head to Boulders Beach, Table Mountain, Robben Island (be sure to get tickets in advance), take a stroll and cooking class in the colorful neighborhood of Bo-Kaap, go caged shark diving or drink all the wine you can stomach on a winery tour with Wine Flies.
If you’re looking for more in depth details on things to do, where to eat or reliable tour guides, check out awesome Facebook groups like South Africa Glitch Gate, head to South Africa’s official tourism website or look up activities on Viator.