South Africa Travel Guide: the whole world in one country!

25

PARKS & GAME RESERVES EXPLORED

6/10
SA UNESCO SITES VISITED
7/19

SA NATIONAL PARKS VISITED

South Africa Travel Guide

South Africa is a unique travel destination renowned for its cultural diversity, the richness of wildlife, and varied topography. Whether it’s your first time traveling to South Africa or one of many visits, you will always have a blast! Imagine yourself in a 4X4 safari vehicle, in search of animals like rhinos, lions, giraffes, and elephants while enjoying the diverse landscapes and stunning views. South Africa is the perfect country to experience a safari of a lifetime in combination with exploring Cape Town, one of the most beautiful cities in the world!

Together with neighboring countries Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Lesotho, the country is part of the Southern Africa region. South Africa has no fewer than 11 official spoken languages, including English, which makes it easy to have conversations. Cape Town is the legislative capital of South Africa. The other two capital cities are Pretoria (executive capital) and Bloemfontein (judicial capital).

With 19 official South Africa National Parks (SANParks), 10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and many game reserves there's enough to see! 

Check out this ultimate South Africa guide where I share the most popular places to visit in South Africa including some of the best things to do and things to know before you travel to South Africa, for example, the best time to visit.

Interesting Facts South Africa

  Flag of South Africa

South Africa Country Flag

 South Africa's National Animal
Springbok

 South African Dish
Bobotie is the (informal) national dish. The most popular South-African snack is Biltong.

  Currency in South Africa

South African Rand (R)

 South Africa Time Zone
South Africa Standard Time or SAST (GMT/UTC +2 hours). It's the same as Central Africa Time (CAT).

Best time to visit South Africa

The best time to travel to South Africa depends on the places you would like to visit and the activities you would like to do, but it can be visited all year round.

The best time to visit the western part of South Africa is in summer, from November to April and the best time to visit the eastern part of South Africa is in the cooler months from May to October. The overall best time to visit South Africa is September because wildlife viewings are good with pleasant temperatures.

In general, South Africa has two main seasons: summer from October to April and winter from May to September. Winters are quite cold and summer is often hot. Spring and autumn are satisfyingly warm and sunny. 

  • South Africa's high season is during the summer months, between November and March. This is also the holiday season in South Africa, which means National Parks and Game Reserves are busy and temperatures are high. December is also a very popular month to visit South Africa, especially at Christmas time.
  • Between May and September, fewer tourists visit South Africa because these are South Africa's winter months and South Africa's low season, however wildlife viewing can be very satisfying. Keep in mind that temperatures can be low (and freezing).

The best time to experience a South Africa Safari is from May to October and the best time to enjoy the beaches of Cape Town is from November to March. Self-drive the Garden Route is a great thing to do all year round!

Things to know before you travel to Africa

Safety in South Africa

It is safe to travel to South Africa, but you should be aware of safety risks. South Africa struggles with a high crime level, a high amount of poverty and international media presents South Africa as a dangerous country to visit. The risks of crime and violence often occur outside the tourist destinations. Just use your common sense and avoid walking alone after dark, don't go to townships alone, and don't wear valuables, especially at night.

Do I need a visa when traveling to Africa?

Visa requirements for South Africa

Some countries require a visa to enter South Africa and others don't. If you want to know if you need a visa I would advise visiting the website of the Department of Home Affairs SA. At the moment of writing most European countries as well as North America, Australia, and some Asian countries have visa-free access to South Africa for 30 days, but this can obviously change any time. 

Sustainable Tourism and Responsible Travel Choices for Traveling to Africa

Responsible Travel and Conservation in South Africa

Benefit the local communities and contribute to conservation efforts while traveling in South Africa by visiting a township, staying in locally owned eco-hotels, buying local, and by booking your trip with a responsible (local) tour operator. South Africa’s wildlife, environment, and people depend on sustainable tourism. Try to spend your money in a way to help the local economy. But most of all, be respectful of the wildlife, the environment, and to the locals.

Which vaccinations and antimalarials do I need for Africa?

Vaccinations & anti-Malaria tablets for South Africa

Required vaccinations depend on what you will be doing in South Africa, which places you will be visiting, and how long you will stay. However, most travelers to South Africa require Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, TDAP, and Typhoid. There is no Yellow Fever in South Africa, but vaccination is required if you're coming from - or was in transit in - a high-risk country for Yellow Fever. Malaria is present in some regions of South Africa and not all year round. Use mosquito repellents, mosquito nets, and antimalarials if you are traveling to these areas. Consult a travel clinic for personal advice regarding your travel plans.

What language do they speak in Africa?

Spoken languages in South Africa

Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English, Northern Sotho, Sesotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Swati, Venda, Southern Ndebele

What is the Time Zone and Time Difference in Africa

Time Zone in South Africa

South Africa Standard Time or SAST (GMT/UTC +2 hours). It's the same as Central Africa Time (CAT).

Featured African Safari Tips

Game Drive in Africa with private guide and landcruser
Guide to game drives in Africa featuring 15 things you need to know to make the most out of your safari in Africa to see wildlife and birdlife in their natural habitat.
Best views in Eswatini at Shewula Mountain Camp

Things to do in Eswatini

Things to do in Eswatini including ✓Safari in Hlane ✓Canopy Tour ✓Quad Biking ✓Rhino Trekking ✓Mantenga Cultural Village ✓Hiking Sibebe Rock ✓Shewula

What to pack for safari in Africa?

Your ultimate safari packing guide, including what to wear on safari, what to bring on a game drive, must-have safari essentials, and detailed safari packing list.

Things to do in South Africa to cross off your bucket list

Reasons to visit Limpopo South Africa

Explore the lesser traveled Limpopo Province

Limpopo, also called Africa's Eden, is South Africa’s northernmost province, named after the Limpopo River bordering Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. Limpopo is a more rural tourist destination rich in wildlife and offering contrasting landscapes, ideal for people who prefer taking the road less traveled to seek authentic and unique experiences, especially in the far North of Limpopo. The stunning landscapes vary from rocky and arid landscapes in UNESCO's Mapungubwe National Park to a Mountainous landscape in the Waterberg region and savannah in Kruger National Park.
Best things to do in Cape Town: visit Table Mountain National Park

Hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town

Table Mountain is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the 7 wonders of nature! Hiking Table Mountain is one of the best things to do in Cape Town and in South Africa. From Blouberg, you have one of the best views of Cape Town's impressive Table Mountain. Definitely go there to enjoy the beaches and to admire the views.

Self-Drive the Garden Route in South Africa

Self-Drive the popular Garden Route

The Garden Route is a must-do when you travel to South Africa. It's the most popular self-drive route in South Africa, offering scenic views everywhere! Along the Garden Route, there are lots of things to see and do: from wine tastings to hiking trails, whale watching activities, stunning beaches, nature reserves, and wildlife viewing. A beautiful stop along the Garden Route is for example Tsitsikamma National Park. One of the best things to do is the Mouth Trail to the Suspension Bridge, the hanging bridge over the Storms River.
Spot the Big Five on a Safari Trip in South Africa

Spot South Africa's Big 5

The number one reason most people visit South Africa is for a Safari trip in search of Africa's Big Five in one of the many (private) game reserves like Shamwari, Samara, Welgevonden, Manyeleti, and Thanda Game Reserve or (National) Parks, like Hluhluwe, Kruger National Park, and Addo Elephant National Park. South Africa offers enough opportunities to spot the Big Five and other safari animals. Going on a safari game drive is one of the best things to do in South Africa.

Visit Boulders Beach in Cape Town to watch penguins on the beach

Spot African Penguin colonies

Spot African Penguins on Boulders Beach in Cape Town (near Simons Town) or opt for the less touristy Stoney Point. Stoney Point is one of the highlights and places to visit along the scenic R44, better known as the Clarence Drive, leading from Cape Town to Hermanus.
Baobab Reflection in the rice fields of Morondava in Madagascar
Kenya Photo Safari Masai Mara

Featured Africa Travel Knowledge

What are the Big 5 safari animals of Africa and where to find them?

Definition and expectations of an African sundowner on safari

What is a typical sundowner on safari in Africa?