Frequently asked questions about South Africa

What is the best time to travel?

Generally speaking, throughout the year there is a lovely warm climate during the day, with exceptions only in the deserts where temperatures can reach nearly forty degrees between November and February. These are the months when most of the rain falls, though these showers seldom last long. In June, July and August deserts can be quite chilly at night with occasional frost and temperatures up to 5 degrees.

The more southwards you travel in South Africa, the lesser the differences in temperature between day and night. In summer (November-February) the temperature will be 25-30ºC during the daytime and about 17ºC in winter (June-August). Two-thirds of South Africa receives less than 500 mm of rain. Most of it falls on the Cape peninsula, the garden route and the eastern provinces of Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. In the north and east of South Africa there are some subtropical areas where the climate can be very hot and humid.

What is the best time to see wildlife?

South Africa is a fantastic destination all year round for seeing wildlife. There are many game and nature reserves and an incredible variety of animals and birds. During the dry season (April-October) you’ll have the best chance to see game, because then the growth of bushes and grasses is less thick and the animals are more likely to gather near artificial drinking places.

What are the best festivals and when do they take place?

Apart from New Year’s Day, Easter and Christmas, the following national holidays are celebrated in South Africa: Human Rights Day (21st March), Constitution Day (27th April), Labour Day (1st May), Youth Day (16th June), National Women’s Day (9th August), Heritage Day (24th September) and Reconciliation Day (16th December).

Can I pre-book transfers and extra nights?

Yes you can pre-book transfers (arrival only) and extra nights with Shoestring. You can add these to your booking form.

What about my passport?

You need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months from the date of your departure. You are responsible for having a valid passport and visa when you travel.

Do I need a visa?

You are responsible for having a valid passport and visa when you travel. Please check the embassy if you need a visa for South Africa and check out this link for info about the current situation. Make sure you inquire at least a month before departure if you need a visa so you do not run into time problems. The current information is that UK/EU citizens do not require a visa for entry into South Africa.

Do I need vaccinations or malaria tablets?

Please click here for questions regarding vaccinations or malaria tablets for this country and then contact your local GP or a specialised health centre and make an appointment to get your injections and pills. Please make sure that you allow at least six weeks for a full program of injections. Two weeks should be enough for people who have already had a few injections. You are responsible for having the right protection when going on tour.

What is the recommended currency for South Africa?

South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available (there is a daily limit for cash withdrawals) and major international credit cards are widely accepted, except in petrol stations where cash is required. Visitors should take care and be vigilant when withdrawing cash from ATMs as there is a high incidence of credit card fraud involving the use of ATMs.

What kind of clothing and other stuff is practical to take?

We recommend that you bring thin clothes and a high-necked long-sleeved T-shirt or a thin cotton roll-neck jersey for the nights to protect you against mosquitoes. Additionally, bring a jersey or a sweater and a raincoat. An umbrella is useful as protection against the rain as well as against the fierce sun. A pair of worn-in walking shoes with a good tread and strong soles is important. Acacia thorns can easily perforate soft soles. Sandals or flip flops are comfortable footwear on days we are not walking. Other important items to pack are sunglasses, suntan lotion, toiletries, basic medical travelling kit, sun hat or scarf, photo or film equipment and an adequate amount of film, spare batteries, torch, maybe a pocket knife (not in your hand luggage), alarm clock (wind-up or battery powered), stationery, books, passport, sufficient cheques and cash, copies of passport and travel insurance.

What kind of luggage should I take?

Luggage should be packed in an overnight bag or a backpack. Hard suitcases cannot be taken into the safari truck.
Additionally, a small rucksack or shoulder bag is handy for carrying everyday hand luggage. To keep valuable papers safe, you are best off purchasing a slim cotton money belt that you can wear under your clothes. Be sure to have a change of clothes in your hand luggage in case of delays to your luggage. Keep essentials like the pill, malaria pills, essential medicine, cheques, camera and your toothbrush in your hand luggage. Make sure your luggage is not too heavy. You will not need the maximum weight allowed on the airplane of 20 kg. During your trip, you will certainly buy a number of souvenirs, which means you will soon have too much to carry. Shoestring advises you to bring a maximum of 13 kg of luggage.

What is the situation with electricity in SA?

Please click here to check what voltage and plugs are in use in South Africa. You could also consider taking a universal electric adaptor.

Which travel guides and maps?

If you want to take a travel guide or map, we suggest you click on Lonely Planet.

What is the accommodation like?

In South Africa we use hostels and guesthouses with twin beds

How is accommodation arranged if I book alone?

If you book alone you will share your room with a fellow traveller (same sex when possible) unless you have booked a single room. 

Do I need a sleeping mat or sleeping bag?

Yes we recommend you to take a sleeping bag with you.

Do I need to take a mosquito net?

No, this is not necessary in South Africa.

Do they cater for vegetarians in South Africa?

Vegetarians are well catered for in South Africa, there is an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables.

What kind of transportation is used?

In South Africa we use overland trucks as transportation . If there is a small group these can sometimes be substituted with a small bus or mini-van.

Is South Africa dangerous?

Visitors to South Africa should be aware of the country's high incidence of crime. Although this tends to be concentrated in pockets throughout the country, for example in the township areas, opportunistic crime is fairly widespread. Travellers should always be aware of these risks and exercise the necessary precautions. Doors should be locked when driving and one should not walk alone at night in city streets, isolated beaches or remote areas. Berea and Hillbrow in Johannesburg are high risk areas and visitors should be cautious in these areas. 

What local customs do I need to bear in mind?

Try to read something about the local way of life before departure. That way you will not be too surprised about the primitive circumstances in which people sometimes live. It increases the chance that you will enjoy your trip. Intend to look at everything that is there rather than wondering too long about the things that may be lacking.

In general, South Africa has European standards. However, if you want to have a truly open conversation about serious topics like Mugabe or Aids, be aware of racial sensitivities following white minority rule.

In the big cities, beggars will definitely approach you. They will ask you for money, soap or pens. Sometimes they want sweets. Some beggars immediately mention the sum required of you. By giving them money, you will by no means solve their problems. More likely, it will make them more dependent on this type of income.

Are there opportunities to snorkel or dive?

There are opportunities to snorkel or dive whilst on a trip to South Africa. This can be arranged locally through your guide.

Are there opportunities to swim?

There is the possibility to swim throughout South Africa as the majority of campsites and hostels will have swimming pool facilities, so don’t forget your swimming costume.

What other activities and sports could I do?

There are an immense number of activities and sports that can be done here. You can go snorkelling, deep sea fishing or searching for whales. You can do many walking trails or go mountain climbing or abseiling. The possibilities are endless .

How are communications in SA?

The international access code for South Africa is +27. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code. As of 8 January 2007, South Africa has changed to 10-digit dialling (so city codes must be included, e.g. 021 for Cape Town) and international dialling has changed from 09 to 00. The country is served by three GSM mobile phone networks providing 900 and 1800 frequencies. Mobile service providers offer very cheap 'pay-as-you-go' Sim cards, which are a good option for visitors staying for some time. Internet cafes are widespread. Card and coin operated pay phones are also widespread.

What is the time difference?

Please check the world clock in order to find out the exact time difference.

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