Eight surprising tips for traveling to South Africa for the first time

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

Dave Chapelle once walked away from a multi-million-dollar deal for his show to visit Africa. His reason: he needed to find himself again. I think it’s safe to say the motherland has magical restorative powers. Chapelle is one of the roughly 3.5 million tourists visiting South Africa each year. The beauty. The simplicity. The culture. It’s certainly a location worthy of your bucket list. But if you’re thinking about traveling to South Africa for the first time, you want to make sure that you’re as prepared as possible. While it may not be the scary, impoverished continent that some PSAs choose to show, you still want to ensure that you’re not setting yourself up for failure.


From exchanging money to internet to getting around, here are ten things you should know before travelling to South Africa:


1. Be cautious of the public transportation

It’s not ideal in most foreign travel environments to attempt to navigate through the public transit all on your own (have you ever tried to get around the NYC transit without any help? The navigation may as well be in German). Unless traveling with a tour guide or taking a passenger train with an itinerary, opt to forego the public transportation while traveling in South Africa. Catching a random taxi can be sketchy, too. You may end up somewhere you don’t want to be or possible charged an outlandish amount of money because you are a foreigner. Ask you resort or hotel for recommendations or utilize their services. This is one time that it’s always best to air on the side of caution.


2. Being Vegan is an option – but be mindful of your host

Veganism and Vegetarianism may not be successfully translated in many African languages. However, their diets still have a lot in common with the lifestyle. Meat is a stead-fast part of the culture for most of South Africa, but the motherland also offers inadvertent vegetarian options. A typical meal is based on starches like maize, bread and rice. It may include pap – like grits – served with beans or a meat stew. It’s not If staying with a host, you may very well be offered a meat option. It may not always be appropriate to decline a meal or meat, in some cases. So be mindful of your host and the customs of that region.


3. Internet service will be different

Hopefully if you’re travelling to South Africa, you’re not trying to keep up with the Kardashians. But if you are, you may want to visit a major city in South Africa where the internet service is much more comparable to the states. You will likely need to purchase a sim card, should the free Wi-Fi not offer speed for you. Here’s a great post discussing country-specific options for internet (including prices).


4. It’s safe. Just don’t make yourself a target

South Africa presents several increased risks for a first-time tourist. Crime, limited night visibility or large, roaming livestock each present potential threat for naïve tourist. Avoid driving at night. Don’t wear flashy jewelry or clothing. Be suspicious of anyone too eager to offer help. Don’t carry your passport. While South Africa is often portrayed as one of the most dangerous places to visit, thousands of tourists travel to the area without incident. It’s always great to be mindful of potential threats. Visit the latest Department of State updates here.


5. Currency is based on your destination

South Africa is home to 11 native languages. That should offer some context into the currency offer. It is possible to utilize your American debit in credit cards. If you’ve never traveled outside the country, I’d highly suggest speaking with your bank in advance. One reason is due to the international fees and exchange rates. Unplanned expenses may cause you to unintentionally blow your budget. And you don’t want that. Another reason, some banks have restrictions with foreign transactions and may decline your purchase because it’s not recognized. It’s always a good idea to carry only enough cash with you to get you through the day. If you do take cash, get fresh bills directly from your bank to avoid any potential issues in South Africa. Find a list of country-specific currencies here.


6. Keep apples away from elephants

Believe it or not, an elephant can and will do everything possible to get to apples or citrus fruit. Should you encounter one, stand your ground. Don’t run. But be mindful of where you place your food and ensure to adhere to disposal recommendations. If you so happen to come across a wild animal of any sort, even the seemingly tame, be cautious. Rabies is real. It can also be prevalent in domestic dogs. Even the safe zones pose potential dangers as monkeys and baboons are sneaky and scale gates. If you feel the need to take a picture, get a quick one and get out asap. DON’T FEED THEM. They can become extremely aggressive. If you’re spirit guide compels you jump in a random body of water, consult with your tour guide first as crocodiles are prevalent in some areas of South Africa.


7. Distances between points are huge

South Africa is home to thriving metropolitan areas like Cape Town and Johannesburg. But to get around to various countries, you will likely spend your time traveling in more rural areas. Dress accordingly. Ideally, something that you can wear comfortably for up to five hours if necessary. With limited internet access, you may want to entertain yourself if the natural South African sights won’t suffice. Bring a book. Create a music profile. Bring a phone charger and extra camera battery. Stay hydrated and keep extra water on hand.


8. Try to not take things personally

The South African culture, for the most part, will not seem too different from many American cultural norms. It’s important to try to be open minded and not take things personally when visiting. For instance, South Africans are notoriously direct. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t receive the typical American “sugar-coated response”. You will stand out. Your hair or skin tone will likely look different. Whether you’re black, brown or white. It will also invite unsolicited stares and possible touching. Depending on where you go, some areas in South Africa are not accustomed to tourists and have never met an outsider.


If planning your first trip to South Africa stresses you out, be sure to check out our upcoming tours. World Views offers convenient, flexible guided tours to make South Africa travel much easier. Contact info@worldviewstravel.com and let us plan your first trip!

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