12 essential South Africa travel tips – things NOT to do when you visit!

12 essential South Africa travel tips – things NOT to do when you visit!
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(This post about South Africa travel tips was updated in April 2019)

South Africa is one of my favourite destinations worldwide. Why? Because it has so much to offer visitors – gorgeous scenery, beautiful beaches, amazing wildlife experiences, world class wines, great road trips and more.

If you are planning a holiday in South Africa are a number of tips in this post which will make your time there is memorable for all the right reasons.

As well as general travel tips there are some things it is important to remember in South Africa to ensure you stay safe throughout your travels in the country. As well as drawing on my own experiences of living in southern Africa for 10 years I have also consulted friends who still live there for up-to-date information and tips.

 


DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE SIZE OF THE COUNTRY


South Africa is a big country and although it may be dwarfed by some really large places like Australia don’t underestimate how much time it can take to get around. Driving from Johannesburg to Cape Town is a distance of 14oo kms and takes over 13 hours by car (using toll roads)

When I visit South Africa I find flying between the major cities to be the most time effective way of traveling the longer distances. It ensures I have time to include some of the road trips the country is famous for in my itinerary.

There are quite a few airlines offering internal flights within South Africa for a reasonable cost too so availability should be fine unless you are traveling during school holidays/Christmas/Easter.

 

 


DON’T BUY SPECIAL OUTFITS FOR SAFARIS AND GAME DRIVES


Nothing screams tourist more than a kid in khaki shorts and a pith helmet climbing aboard the jeep. Whilst I wouldn’t advise buying an entirely new wardrobe for a safari is is still sensible to plan your outfits to match the weather and terrain conditions.

If you are planning a game drive/safari or two when you are in South Africa I would suggest reading my complete guide to your first safari (includes guidelines on tipping which is a question I am often asked about)  as well as taking a look at my comprehensive complete safari packing list.

 

 


DON’T BOOK TICKETS FOR TABLE MOUNTAIN TOO FAR IN ADVANCE


Normally I am urging my readers to book tickets for tours and sights well in advance however NOT for Table Mountain. There is never a guarantee that the famous table cloth will not appear on the mountain the day you plan to go or in fact for the weather to be windy or rainy.

I have made it up the mountain on a few occasions but on my last visit missed out due to heavy cloud sitting stubbornly over it every day bar one. And on that day I had booked a tour to Cape Point which I couldn’t cancel.

The best advice I can give is to check the weather forecast up to a week in advance and book tickets as soon as clear skies are predicted. Don’t just turn up at the cableway on a clear day either as chances are tickets will have sold out!

 

Table Mountain in Cape Town

 


DON’T WASTE WATER


There have been water restrictions throughout South Africa in recent years and there were real fears that Cape Town would actually run out of water in 2018. Even if water seems plentiful when you are there please don’t waste it.

 

Dry land in Africa with a tree

In Botswana rain is so precious their currency is named after it – PULA

 


DON’T BE SURPRISED WHEN SOMEONE FILLS YOUR CAR AT THE GAS/PETROL STATION


In South Africa if you pull into a petrol station don’t be surprised if an attendant fills up your tank. This is normal and you will probably have the oil checked, types pumped and windscreen and back window washed by another attendant while you wait.

With petrol attendants earning around R5,600 a month, tips, while not compulsory, are a way to supplement income. If you are traveling from a country with a strong currency such as the US, Canada, Australia or Europe a R5-20 tip is acceptable.

Also you may find that when you park there will be car minders who will take care of your car. Pay them a few Rand on your return. It is perfectly normal in South Africa and ensures your car is being looked after.

petrol pump attendant

 


DON’T FORGET TO TIP


Following on from the point above tipping is widely accepted in South Africa. Many workers supplement low wages with tips. In restaurants leave a tip that equates to approximately 10-15% of the bill.

 

Leaving a tip - SOUTH AFRICA TRAVEL TIPS

 


DON’T GIVE MONEY TO BEGGARS


Unfortunately South Africa like many places in the world has a high level of poverty and you may see beggars approaching cars/pedestrians asking for money. In Cape Town alone there are nearly 5000 homeless people.

If you are approached by a beggar please do not  hand over any cash as it is often used for drugs and alcohol. The most helpful options are to either give food or make a donation to homeless shelters such as ‘The Haven’ based in Cape Town.

 


IMPORTANT SAFETY TIPS WHEN VISITING SOUTH AFRICA


Whenever I suggest South Africa to others as a fantastic holiday destination the first question I am inevitably asked is, “Is it safe?”

Obviously some places in South Africa are safer than others. Cape Town generally has a good reputation and to be honest as long as you take sensible precautions it is as safe or dangerous as any other major tourist destination in the world. There are some areas I would avoid completely and as a tourist these high crime areas will probably not be on your itinerary.

These are the precautions I take myself and have never had any problems. I did however make the same suggestions a few years ago to a friend who ignored them and had a gold necklace snatched from her neck in broad daylight in the middle of Cape Town. Maybe she should have listened!

 

  • DO NOT WEAR EXPENSIVE JEWELLERY/ FLAUNT PHONES AND OTHER EXPENSIVE DEVICES

Leave the expensive jewellery at home. Don’t walk around with your mobile phone in your hand (particularly in the evenings) and take care with expensive equipment such as cameras.

  • DO NOT DRIVE WITH YOUR CAR DOORS UNLOCKED

Car hijackings are unfortunately all too common in some parts of South Africa. It is important to always keep your doors locked. Keep valuables out of sight and don’t leave anything in your car overnight.

  • DO NOT WALK ALONE ON BEACHES OR HIKING TRAILS

I would give this advice for many places in the world and South Africa is no exception. Do not take unecessary risks.

  • DO NOT ACCEPT HELP FROM STRANGERS AT ATMS

Card swopping scams are huge in South Africa. I have heard from my friend in Cape Town that tourists in particular  are being caught out so pay  attention when withdrawing cash.

  • DON’T CARRY LARGE SUMS OF CASH

Don’t withdraw large amounts of cash from ATMs or carry it in your wallet. Credit cards are widely accepted all over South Africa so carry small amounts of cash only.

  • DON’T PUT VALUABLES IN SUITCASES

Keep all valuables in your hand luggage do not leave it in suitcases. Johannesburg airport in particular has a bad reputation for things going missing from cases.

  • DON”T FORGET TO CHECK WITH YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE YOU ARRIVE

Don’t forget to check with your Doctor in case you need to take malaria tablets during your trip. Parts of the country is a malaria zone particularly around Kruger Park so make sure you have the correct medication.

  • DO NOT DRIVE ON THE RIGHT

South Africans drive on the left (like in the UK/Japan/ Australia and New Zealand to name a few other countries)

  • DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS

Don’t get out of your car in a national park. Don’t walk around with food in your hand near baboons. They will most probably try to snatch it and they can be extremely vicious. Be very careful at Cape Point where I have seen baboons become very aggressive when trying to take food (including trying to get into cars)

 

Cape baboon

 


FURTHER INFORMATION FOR VISITING SOUTH AFRICA


To help with your planning some of these other posts about travel in South Africa should prove helpful. If there is a particular topic you would like to know about please let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Top travel bloggers choose their favourite African destinations in the post from Cape Town to Cairo

 

PIN FOR LATER! SOUTH AFRICA TRAVEL TIPS

 

Things not to do in South Africa

Things not to do in South Africa

 

YOU MAY ENJOY THESE POSTS TOO!

 

READ MORE
10 fabulous reasons to visit South Africa

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Things to do in Cape Town South Africa - an insider guide

READ MORE
10 best South African books to read before you visit

 

CLICK FOR EXCLUSIVE ACCESS TO MY RESOURCE LIBRARY

 



 

Author: Tracy

Tracy has lived and worked in 7 countries on 4 continents and travelled to over 50 more. A qualified school teacher with an interest in history, reading, photography, nature and wildlife she is always planning her next trip (preferably by train)

With a lifetime of travel experience, and a network of friends all over the world, she is also able to share genuine insider guides, recommended best book lists and train journey inspiration to help you travel authentically to some of the most beautiful places on earth.

Come and join me as I travel the world one country (and train journey) at a time!

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33 Comments

  1. December 9, 2016 / 9:30 am

    Orchids are glorious aren’t they, such delicate pretty flowers and Singapore looks a wonderful place to go and see them. I never even knew there was a Botanical Garden in SA, with so many other things to see and do there I missed this one which is a shame – as you said, such a beautiful backdrop of Table Mountain … it just gives me a reason to return!

    • December 9, 2016 / 11:10 am

      Singapore’s orchid garden is such a beautiful place to visit. I grew up in South Africa and I love Cape Town its such a fabulous city. The gardens are lovely and I always try to visit when in SA. Definitely a fab destination!

  2. December 9, 2016 / 2:08 pm

    Oh I love a good botantical garden. I wish I had known about the Singapore one when I was there. It looks so beautiful (as of course, everything in Singapore is). The orchid garden looks beautiful… so many different varieties!

    • December 11, 2016 / 5:02 pm

      Hi Anna – the botanical gardens in Singapore are gorgeous especially the orchid garden – well worth a visit!

  3. December 9, 2016 / 7:57 pm

    Being a keen gardener I would love these places! We went to Singapore on our way to Australia too, but sadly didn’t get time for the Orchids, as much as I wanted to, so thanks for sharing and showing what we missed. However we are planning on Cape Town maybe next year so will definitely go to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, looks amazing. Thanks, have pinned for future reference!

    • December 11, 2016 / 5:01 pm

      Thanks Garth – South Africa is an amazing country and Cape Town is wow – one of my favourite cities to visit. There is so much to see and do but try to get to Kirstenbosch as the gardens are lovely and there is now a canopy walk too now i believe since I was last there!

  4. December 9, 2016 / 8:24 pm

    You’ve certainly found yourself in the vicinity of some great gardens through your travels. I’ve heard so much about Cape Town and nice it is there, but never heard of Kirstenbosch so that’s neat.

    • December 11, 2016 / 4:59 pm

      Yes we really love gardens – Kirstenbosch is a must visit if you are in CT!

  5. December 10, 2016 / 10:40 am

    Beautiful gardens, we have visited Singapore a few times now but have not got to the botanical gardens but after reading this post we must on our next visit! The more we read about Cape Town the more we want to visit too. Thanks for sharing. #feetdotravel

    • December 11, 2016 / 4:58 pm

      Definitely visit both! Cape Town is just amazing!

  6. December 10, 2016 / 2:27 pm

    Love visiting gardens, big or small! There is nothing more relaxing than wandering through beautiful flowers and all those smells. Keep sharing your beautiful picks with us!

    • December 11, 2016 / 4:56 pm

      Thanks lisa – glad you are enjoying the posts and pictures 🙂

  7. December 10, 2016 / 11:52 pm

    Love these gardens! I have been to Singapore a few times now but am yet to visit the botanical gardens – now I know that I really need to on my next trip! Looks stunning! Thanks for sharing

    • December 11, 2016 / 4:55 pm

      Yes the botanical gardens particularly the orchid gardens are absolutely gorgeous so def worth a visit next time you are in Singapore!

  8. December 11, 2016 / 8:23 pm

    Thank you for all the information. These are such beautiful gardens! I hope to visit them one day. Also, keep sharing your amazing photos! 🙂

  9. December 12, 2016 / 12:07 am

    I haven’t visited any you listed but I’m glad you’ve made me aware of them! I tend to go to the free botanical gardens in the cities I visit. The most recent one we’ve visited is the Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Las Vegas. It’s not nearly as large as the ones you mentioned but it was still pretty and it was all decorated for the holidays.

    • December 12, 2016 / 8:40 am

      I bet it was gorgeous! We love visiting gardens and these were the 4 that came to mind for the post but I may write about some more in the future! Thanks for leaving a comment 🙂

  10. December 12, 2016 / 5:17 am

    I have enjoyed really enjoy this series. The orchids are beautiful and I love the bird of paradise too. I tried growing it once but I couldn’t get it to flower! I have visited Kew Gardens and Keukenhof in the spring ? Both are great places to see. Thank you for u for sharing this great series ?

    • December 12, 2016 / 8:38 am

      Thanks Sam! I love visiting gardens and Kew is on my horizons for next year (it will have been 20 years since i was last there!). I haven’t been to Keukenhof but would love to!

  11. December 12, 2016 / 6:43 pm

    What beautiful botanical gardens you shared with us. The orchids are just amazing and your photos do them justice. I have been to the gardens in Singapore but not the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in South Africa which looks like a place I must visit when there. How amazing. I will pin this for later and thanks for sharing 🙂

    • December 12, 2016 / 7:56 pm

      Thanks you Stephanie glad you have enjoyed them! 🙂

  12. December 14, 2016 / 1:22 am

    Gorgeous photos Tracy! How long did you have in Singapore? And to have Table Mountain in the backdrop in SA that you dreamed of when you were little! That’s awesome! Good tips on the hat, sunscreen and shoes! Definitely a must!

    • December 14, 2016 / 5:03 pm

      Hi Kreete we had 4 days in Singapore – really want to revisit as we loved it! Yes and Cape Town and my beautiful mountain 🙂 Isn’t it such a beauty?

  13. December 14, 2016 / 10:04 pm

    These are great spots! i just love botanical gardens – they’re such lovely spots! Birds of Paradise are one of my favorite flowers!!

    • December 15, 2016 / 7:41 pm

      I love Birds of Paradise too – they are my favourites! Thanks for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  14. January 11, 2017 / 4:34 am

    I love Kirstenbosch and you have made me even more excited for my upcoming trip to Singapore #citytripping!

    • January 11, 2017 / 7:04 pm

      Oh yes enjoy Singapore! It is amazing!

  15. January 11, 2017 / 7:48 pm

    Funnily I’ve started going to more botanical gardens since my daughter came along – they’re often lovely and cool in the heat and great to run around in. #citytripping

    • January 11, 2017 / 9:10 pm

      Great places to stroll around and have a break from the madness of the cities!

  16. January 15, 2017 / 10:55 pm

    The Cape Town gardens do indeed have a fantastic backdrop to them. I’ve been to Singapore’s botanical gardens and was very impressed too. Love the peace they offer from the busy city. Thanks for linking #citytripping