As apartheid and all that it represents becomes a thing of the past in South Africa, much of the country is moving forward with rejuvenated ideas, interests, and fair politics. And tourists are flocking back to South Africa in droves. Many of the dangers of traveling to this country have gone by the wayside: political violence is down, and with certain notable exceptions, touring the country is safer and more pleasurable than it was for much of the second half to the twentieth century.
For the uninitiated in Africa, South Africa is a pretty good place to get your feet wet. As the government organizes in the post-apartheid environment, infrastructure improvements and ease of travel have taken great strides forward. The climate is generally mild and–with many national parks and eco-safaris available–South Africa is a fantastic place to view wildlife. However, there’s a lot about this country that still smacks of the Dark Ages: poverty continues to exist in its rawest form, AIDS has overrun the population, and random violence remains a problem. As always, it’s best to use common sense when it comes to traveling safely, but be sure to take an extra measure of precaution in crowded public places such as train and bus stations, shopping bazaars, major cities, etc. Keep your money out of sight and in a place where it’s not easily accessible to pick-pockets, be wary of potentially dangerous situations, and go to South Africa with the understanding that it continues to be a society in flux.
Weather in South Africa
Summer can be quite hot, particularly in the lowveld (coastal plain). High-altitude areas are pleasantly warm over summer, but the mountains are prone to rain. The northeastern regions can be humid, but swimming on the east coast is a year-round activity. Springtime is the best time for wildflowers in the northern and western Cape provinces. Winters are mild everywhere except in the highest country, where there are frosts and occasional snowfalls.
Mid-December to late January is vacation time for South African city dwellers. Resorts and national parks are heavily booked and prices on the coast can more than double during these months. School holidays in April, July, and September can also add congestion to beaches and national parks.
Visas for South Africa
Entry permits are issued free on arrival to visitors on holiday from many Commonwealth and most Western European countries, as well as Japan and the United States. If you aren’t entitled to an entry permit, you’ll need to get a visa (also free) before you arrive.
Health Concerns in South Africa
Malaria is mainly confined to the eastern half of South Africa, especially on the lowveld. Bilharzia is also found mainly in the east but outbreaks do occur in other places, so you should always check with knowledgeable local people before drinking water or swimming in it. AIDS is a major problem throughout Africa, and South Africa is no exception, with upward of 20% of the total population infected. While it is common knowledge to much of the Western world that HIV can only be transmitted through sexual contact, shared intravenous needles, or blood transfusions, in South Africa, only recently have efforts gone underway to educate the people. It’s always a good idea to be aware of such pandemics as you enter a country, for reasons of protecting yourself, as well as gaining a better understanding of the culture and environment.
Cash in South Africa
It’s very possible to spend just US$10 per day, if you’re willing to camp or stay in hostels. Arranging public transport can make this number considerably higher, and some of the more daring souls choose hitch-hiking, in favor of bussing, flying, or taking the train.
If you’d rather have the privacy of a solo hotel room, eat in restaurants, and tour the country by bus or train, expect to spend roughly US$40-60 per day.
Tipping is expected because of low wages. Roughly 10%-15% is the norm.
South Africa Information
Population: 43.1 million
Government: Republic and independent member of the British Commonwealth
Square Miles: 1,221,037 sq km
Capitols: Pretoria (administrative), Bloemfontein (judicial), and Cape Town (legislative)
Languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Pedi, English, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Swati, Venda, Ndebele
People: 77% black, 10% white (60% of whites are of Afrikaner descent, most of the rest are of British descent), 8% mixed race, 2.5% of Indian or Asian descent
Religion: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and traditional religions
Major products/industries: Mining, finance, insurance, food processing