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Travel experiences

Experiencing South Africa: 10 things you need to know

20th January, 2021

South Africa is a country of contradictions – of super modern, urban development and untouched ancient woodland, of fabulous leisure and industrial legacy.

It’s a beautiful country. A true tapestry of cultures, treats, and natural wonders, which is what makes it so popular with travellers from across the globe. No matter what your perfect holiday entails, it’s likely that you’ll be able to find something that tickles your fancy within this country’s impressive borders.

If you’re planning a holiday to South Africa, then there are some tips and nuggets of information that it can be handy to know beforehand, leaving you feeling confident and prepared - and able to make the most of enjoying every moment. Here’s everything you need to know about experiencing the magic of South Africa.

1. The official currency is South African Rand

There’s £1 (GBP) to approximately every 21 South African Rand (ZAR). You can either exchange cash in the UK before you leave or simply withdraw ZAR from a South African bank. While there will be an exchange rate, the conversion rate tends to be fair compared to many other countries. If in doubt, research online before you leave to ensure you get the best deal.

2. Don’t be afraid, be street smart

South Africa has a reputation for being dangerous, but following ‘street smart’ rules, which apply wherever you go on holiday, can help ensure you make the most of your holiday without coming across any surprises.

For example, don’t keep valuables on display, be aware of your surroundings, keep cameras on straps, and so on. Doing so will almost eliminate you from being a target of petty theft.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to explore. Like travelling anywhere you’re not familiar with: if you ever feel unsure of an area – for example if you’ve taken a turn onto an empty street – just take a few steps back to a populated street and continue. Millions of people (17.3 million, to be precise) travel safely to and around South Africa every year - so don’t let any worries ruin your adventure.

3. You don’t need to carry a lot of money

You only really need to carry around 500 Rand (approx. £23) at any one time, in case you need to stop for a coffee or pay for a taxi.

The outlets vary but, in more built up areas such as Cape Town, most outlets accept contactless card payments. Failing this, there’s an ATM on almost every street corner, so you won’t have to travel far.

4. Traffic lights are called ‘robots’ in South Africa

Somewhat unusual, but it makes sense. Traffic lights are called ‘robots’ in South Africa, so don’t be confused if someone shouts ‘the robot’s green!’.

5. If you’re travelling to South Africa towards winter, wrap up

If you happen to be travelling to South Africa later in the year, be sure to bring warm clothes. Daytime temperatures can be moderate but nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing.

6. South Africa is beautiful, everywhere

Don’t forget to bring a camera! This country is overflowing with incredible sights and incredible sounds. It’s great to experience it all first-hand, but being able to take pictures of everything that you encounter can also serve to be wonderful reminders of your adventure.

It’s also a great opportunity to develop your photography skills. A lot of South Africa’s delights involved slow-paced, natural sightseeing in and amongst the landscape – perfect for practising taking snaps!

7. There are 11 official languages

There are 11 official languages in South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Venda, Southern Sotho, Tswana, Northern Sotho, Tsonga, Swati, and Ndebele. But there are at least thirty-five languages spoken within the country by indigenous groups. However, most people will have a great level of English, so you shouldn’t have any trouble conversing with people you meet.

8. Be careful when swimming

If you go swimming, don’t go too far out. The waters around the Cape can have sudden rip-tides, and deeper waters can contain sharks.

9. Don’t miss out on Cape Town

Cape Town is a wonderful and comfortable city. It has so much to offer in the way of arts, history, and leisure that’s not to be missed when visiting South Africa.

10. You may need vaccinations

Before visiting South Africa, you may need certain vaccinations.

The highly-recommended vaccines are Hepatitis A and B, Rabies, Cholera, and Tetanus. These aren’t mandatory, but you should seriously consider getting them for your safety, the safety of your family, as well as other travellers. It’s no fun getting ill on holiday, so plan to be safe!

You don’t usually need a Yellow Fever vaccination if you’re coming from the UK, as we’re not affected by it. But, it may be worth considering getting one anyway, as it’s certified for life – so you’ll never need to worry about it again!

If you plan on visiting Kruger National Park, you may also need to take malaria pills. Be sure to consult your doctor well before travelling so that your next getaway is as stress-free as possible.

South Africa is full of adventure, full of beauty and excitement – but, like every adventure, good planning is key.

Ready to start planning your dream holiday to South Africa? See what we have to offer.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.