South Africa Holiday Planning Guide
The landscapes of South Africa match its people in terms of diversity, richness, and vitality. From desert lands and coastlines, to the famous nature reserves sheltering the "Big Five" game animals, the country has natural charm in spades. The main cities provide a wealth of bars, clubs, shopping districts, and entertainment options to please the most demanding visitors, while traditional life can still be admired and respected in a collection of villages with beehive-style huts and an age-old cultural heritage. When in need of a minute to digest all that's happened during your trip to South Africa, sit down to a braai (traditional barbecue), and a bottle of wine made at one of the country's thriving vineyards.
Places to Visit in South AfricaKwaZulu-Natal
: Perhaps no other destination in South Africa quite captures the country's rugged charm and diversity like KwaZulu-Natal, a province offering expansive game parks, scenic coastline, and rich indigenous history.Western Cape
: No South Africa itinerary is complete without some time spent in this coastal province, where sandy beaches and iconic mountains score with outdoorsy travelers and adventure seekers.Gauteng
: Ancient history and modern-day marvels meet in Gauteng, where human civilization is believed to have begun, and where thousands of years later a gold rush brought great wealth to Johannesburg.Mpumalanga
: This landlocked state containing half of Kruger National Park serves as a great place to add some hiking and wildlife spotting to your South Africa vacation, with lush rainforests and deep canyons providing habitats for a host of rare animals.
Cities in South AfricaCape Town
: With the iconic Table Mountain in the background and views over sandy beaches and sapphire ocean in the foreground, Cape Town's natural beauty alone makes it a highlight of South Africa tourism. Johannesburg
: Full of skyscrapers and world-class amenities, the inland metropolis of Johannesburg represents the modern face of the nation, while also housing some of the best architectural attractions in South Africa.Durban
: Perched on the Indian Ocean coast and offering excellent opportunities for surfing, Durban stands out as one of the best destinations in South Africa for outdoor tourism.Knysna
: There's perhaps no better place to appreciate South Africa's dramatic coastline than this scenic town, situated within one of the country's indigenous forests.
Popular South Africa Tourist AttractionsTable Mountain National Park
: Casting an imposing shadow over Cape Town, this craggy plateau stands out as the most famous attraction in South Africa, offering exceptional views over the city and the surrounding coastline.Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
: Making the most of its dramatic Table Mountain setting, this expansive garden displays a wide range of native and exotic plants in picturesque themed zones.Gautrain
: There's no more efficient way to get around on your South Africa itinerary than this fast rail service, which offers countless routes in and around Johannesburg.Kruger National Park
: Visit the most famous wildlife reserve in South Africa for a chance to spot rhinos, leopards, elephants, Cape buffalo, and majestic lions roaming free in their natural habitat.Apartheid Museum
: You'll understand the tragedy of one of the most divisive periods of human history as you explore this somber museum, known for its iconic depiction of Nelson Mandela, a crucial figure in the reunification of South Africa.Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
: This iconic Cape Town boardwalk features Victorian-style architecture, which harks back to the colonial era and creates a charming image in contrast with the wild background of Table Mountain.The Cango Caves
: Delve underground to explore this fascinating network of caves, featuring an array of drip formations, crystals, and hidden grottoes.Cape of Good Hope
: Don your windbreaker and admire the ocean views from this legendary promontory, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans converge. Robben Island
: Add this tiny island to your South Africa itinerary for a dose of somber history--this is where Nelson Mandela served his prison sentence during apartheid.uShaka Marine World
: Explore this marine sanctuary for a chance to get close to many species--some friendly, some scary--including sharks, crocodiles, and dolphins.
Planning a South Africa Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in South Africa with Kids
For families embarking on a trip to South Africa, there's perhaps no more exciting prospect than the chance to spot all those wild African animals featured on nature programs.
To ensure the kids don't miss out on this opportunity, start in KwaZulu-Natal
, where you can visit several expansive nature reserves, or just enjoy the outdoorsy vibe of the province's largest city, Durban
Make sure Cape Town
takes its rightful spot on your South Africa itinerary--the iconic coastal city offers plenty of natural attractions for visitors of all ages to enjoy.
Things to Do in South Africa with Kids
If your kids dream of seeing rhinos, elephants, and lions in the wild, head straight to Kruger National Park
for a fun and adrenaline-filled safari.
You can also introduce the family to the country's marine animals at nearby uShaka Marine World
, where kids can admire the toothy smile of a crocodile.
Add a touch of mystery to your South Africa itinerary by taking the kids to The Cango Caves
, where they can let their imagination run wild exploring a subterranean wonderland.
For something more urbane, go for a family stroll along Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Tips for a Family Vacation in South Africa
While the country as a whole offers excellent public transportation connections, you might find it more convenient to rent a car--and a personal driver, if you can afford one--to get the family from place to place during your South Africa holiday.
If you do this, keep an eye on the kids when taking a break in rural areas, and make sure they stay on marked paths, as wild animals can present a danger if you stray too far from the road.
Unfortunately, the country still has a high crime rate, with certain areas in large cities considered unsafe for visitors. Take care in particular when visiting Johannesburg
, and ask the locals about appropriate areas to bring the kids.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in South Africa
Cuisine of South Africa
One of the great pleasures of a vacation in South Africa is the opportunity to try a wide range of traditional dishes across the country.
If heading on an outdoor adventure, make sure you try "potjiekos"--a meat and vegetable stew traditionally cooked on an open campfire--accompanied by a maize porridge and some fermented milk.
When it's time for a snack, try "biltong," South Africa's famous dried meat, which is salty, chewy, and similar to jerky.
During your South Africa holiday, make sure you join in a traditional "braai" barbecue to make new friends, experience the local culture, and eat like a native.
Shopping in South Africa
You can spend days exploring South Africa's malls--like every other city everywhere else in the world, every South African urban center has its fair share of modern shopping options.
The country's malls provide great retail opportunities, lots of entertainment, and delicious food. These venues are safe, air-conditioned, and friendly to kids.
To remember your trip to South Africa, pick up a few souvenirs--malls are filled with gift shops, you'll have no trouble finding one that offers a range of items suited to your budget.
Look for regional wine (a drinkable gift for someone), wooden tribal carvings, beaded crafts, ostrich leather products, and biltong (which you can snack on while sightseeing).
Know Before You Go on a Trip to South Africa
Interesting Facts About South Africa
Widely considered the cradle of humankind, South Africa contains the oldest human remains found in the world, dating back more than 160,000 years
The country has some of the richest mineral deposits in the world, with a large percentage of the planet's gold and platinum
Unlike almost any other nation in the world, South Africa has three capital cities, all with distinct roles
A huge percentage of the world's dinosaur fossils have been discovered in Western Cape
Things You Should NOT Do in South Africa
Sadly, a large and firmly entrenched divide between rich and poor means that street crime and violence remain big issues in this turbulent nation.
You can avoid problems during your South Africa vacation by dressing simply, not displaying flashy jewelry and expensive cameras, and stay out of troubled areas in large cities. It's also wise to avoid loud crowds and demonstrations, as these can quickly turn violent.
Wild animals can present a danger in rural areas, so make sure you remain aware of your surroundings and don't stray too far from marked paths during your trip to South Africa.
Holidays & Festivals in South Africa
Many of South Africa's most important public holidays relate to the country's turbulent political history, commemorating the important steps the nation has made towards a more equal society.
These include Human Rights Day (March 21), Freedom Day (April 27), and Heritage Day (September 24), all of which mark significant political events.
If you visit South Africa during Easter, you'll see celebrations across the country by the large and devout Christian community.
You can also add a range of arts, food, and wine festivals to your South Africa itinerary, no matter what time of year you visit.
Useful South Africa Travel Tips
Common Greetings in South Africa
Aside from typical English introductions, you can greet your hosts in a variety of ways during your South Africa vacation.
When in large, primarily English-speaking cities, say "howzit?" as an informal introduction.
In rural destinations in South Africa, greetings like "heita" and "sharp fede" are more widely used.
Impress your hosts with a few words of Zulu--"unjani" and "sawubona" both roughly translate as "hello."
Climate of South Africa
As a large and geographically diverse country, South Africa has a wide range of climatic zones and seasonal variations.
Coastal destinations in South Africa enjoy a subtropical climate and pleasant temperatures, with warm summers between December and February and mild winters from June to August.
If your South Africa itinerary takes you inland, you can expect similar summers but slightly cooler winters.
The country's most extreme weather can be found in the northwest, where a desert landscape endures scorching hot days and chilly nights.
Transportation in South Africa
Some excellent rail services, especially Gautrain
, offer good connections between major destinations in South Africa.
Many poorer and more remote regions do not benefit from these link. To get between rural areas on your South Africa itinerary, your best bet is to rent a car with a professional driver and make use of the country's generally well-maintained network of roads.
If traveling longer distances, you can often find relatively inexpensive flights between large cities, with links to other African nations.
Tipping in South Africa
Most people who work in tourism in South Africa expect a tip when offering their services.
You should typically add 10-15 percent to your bill at restaurants and bars, and consider offering extra for excellent food or service.
Other people to tip during your South Africa vacation include gas station attendants, concierges, porters, and parking attendants.
Rounding up for the cost of taxi rides and small purchases--especially newspapers--is generally appreciated.