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a personal guide

The basics


Beware of hippos and crocodilesThe main roads are well-maintained, straight and uncrowded, but there are hazards as the picture shows. This was on a major road in Swaziland, just before a bend and a river crossing, where a collision between a motorist and wildlife can be fatal for both parties.

Our coach had a window shot out (probably by a catapault) whilst we were travelling at speed, which was alarming and inconvenient.

Confusingly, traffic lights are known as 'robots'.

There few trains compared to Europe, though the luxurious Blue Train provides a fast travel service linking Cape Town and Pretoria.

Internal flights connect many of the major cities- for instance, we flew from Port Elizabeth to Durban.


Armed response warningTravellers are recommended "not to look too wealthy", which is something we do with ease! As with other countries, the cities are more dangerous than the country areas, and several hotels warned us against venturing out at night. We felt quite safe in the tourist centres of Cape Town and Pretoria, and in the towns on the Garden Route.

Johnannesberg appeared to be a no-go area for the casual vistor on safety grounds. Many commercial and residential buildings all over South Africa have signs like the one shown above.


South African moneyThe Rand is the main money unit, divided into 100 cents. Value Added Tax is added to many purchases, and this can be claimed back before flying home (actually, we kept all of the receipts but in the end we concluded that it wasn't worth the hassle of making a claim at the airport). There are ATMs in the cities, whilst banks in smaller towns will cash travellers cheques. Credit/debit cards are usable in many retail outlets.

Tipping is a way of life in South Africa so 10% should be added to payments in restaurants etc.


South African languagesThere are no less than eleven official languages in South Africa, with Afrikaans and English being used everywhere. The main African language depends on what is mostly used in the province you are in. We found it a friendly thing to speak a little Xhosa (pronounced a bit like 'korsa') when in the Cape, and Zulu when in Kwazulu-natal and Mpumalanga.

Waiters can easily be coaxed to teach you a few words in their language (don't forget to tip them for this extra service), and will be amused by your efforts! In order to avoid a gaffe when trying out new words, it is useful to ask what is the 'first language' of the person you are addressing.


South African weatherSouth Africa's climate varies from 'Mediterranean' in the Cape, through desert in the north-west, to sub-tropical in the north-east. Snow falls on the higher mountains in the winter. We went in October (Spring) and found the weather on the Cape and Garden Route very pleasant, Durban sticky, Lesotho cool and windy, Swaziland hot and Kruger very hot on one day followed by wet and cool the next!

Hotels in South Africa



South Africa - a personal guide

South Africa - the Basics

Places to visit in South Africa

South Africa's Western Cape

South Africa's Garden Route

Kwazulu Natal, South Africa

South Africa: Mpumalanga

South Africa: Gauteng

Lesotho, southern Africa

Hotels in South Africa

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