With its powdery beaches, dramatic landscapes, lush mountains, thrilling safaris, star-studded sky and lively cities, South Africa is a dream come true for all the travelers. With a lot of beautiful places to explore and a plethora of adventure activities to take part in, there will be no shortage of activities in order to keep you busy during your vacation. Yes, there may be petty crimes and high rate of corruption, but the rich history, spectacular wildlife and the breathtaking landscape makes a trip to South Africa extremely popular among travelers from all over the world. This is the ultimate South Africa travel guide to help you plan the perfect vacation to this beautiful country.
Languages spoken: Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, English (9.6%)
Currency: Rand (R)
Best time to go: Summer
Main concern for travelers: High crime rate
1. Cape Town
Situated beside the Atlantic Ocean, the oldest city of South Africa is really a stunning place. The sandy beaches, the long stretch of vineyards, glorious weather and the iconic Table Mountain makes Cape Town a city where you can have it all. The city is blessed with a laid back attitude and a plethora of must do activities to choose from. One can spend days after days listening to jazz music, tasting the gourmet offerings, going on wild safaris, taking a helicopter tour above the city or diving under water to witness the Great white sharks.
Johannesburg is the country’s largest urban space, and the economic center of sub-Saharan Africa. The city is not perfect, and used to have a really high rate of crime which was a massive concern for travelers. However, security has improved a lot in the recent years, and the city is seeing a huge footfall of travelers from all over the world. Famous for its diamonds, Johannesburg is a jewel of a city with its colonial architecture, and you can spend days visiting its art galleries and museums. You can also go for many short tours around Johannesburg to places like Victoria Falls, Pilanesberg National Park and many more.
Durban lies beautiful on South Africa’s Indian Ocean Coast, with its sandy white beaches, rich culture and tropical beauty. Spend your days exploring its trendy bars, stylish restaurants and lip-smacking street food. The most popular stretch of beachfront in Durban is the Golden Mile, where you can take part in various water activities. This city is also popular for its extensive marine life and various festivals.
When to Visit:
The weather in South Africa remains great most of the times of the year. However summertime is the best time to experience this beautiful country in all its glory. The high season starts from early November and continues till the end of March. A lot of footfall is seen during early December to mid-January, and prices of accommodation can go up to 50% during this time. April to May, September and October are considered the shoulder period. Sunny spring and autumn weather, along with reasonable prices make it a great time to visit South Africa on a moderate budget. The rainy months, i.e. July and August consists the low season. Prices are generally low, and the weather is ideal for watching wildlife. Great time for budget travelers to experience the country.
Money and Costs:
South Africa is a great place to visit for both budget-oriented backpackers to luxury-loving travelers. The country can be fairly inexpensive, thanks to a weak currency. However, if you like to spend your vacation days in lavishness, you will find a lot of ways to indulge yourself. From luxury accommodation to top notch gourmet food, South Africa has everything in store for you. Our South Africa travel guide lists a range of accommodation, food, transportation and activities costs to suit your budget perfectly.
From pocket friendly dorm rooms to luxurious beachfront hotels, South Africa will spoil you with its accommodation options. The dormitory rooms in budget hotels are quite cheap, starting around R160 per night. However, if you want to have a private room and don’t want to spend a fortune over it, then you can easily find a double bedroom in a hostel for around R350 – R500. Most of these hostel rooms come with included Wi-Fi, and some include breakfast too. Budget oriented hotel rooms start from R850. For luxury accommodations, you’ll have to shell out over R1500/night for a room in n upmarket hotel. You can also go for Airbnb options if you are staying in urban areas. Shared accommodation through Airbnb start around 300-400 ZAR/night, while an entire house or apartment will cost you over R1000/night based on the locality and available facilities.
The cost of food in South Africa is pretty cheap. From cheap restaurants to street food to fast food chains, there are a lot of options for budget travelers. A cheap meal will cost anywhere in between R50 – R100. If you want a nicer meal, then you have to spend over R75 for a main Dish. A three course meal at a mid-range restaurant will cost around R450 for two people. Beers cost upward of R30, and a bottle of wine at a bar or restaurant will start around R50 – R70. Eating at the various gourmet restaurants of South Africa will cost upwards of R150 per dish.
The most reliable and cheapest way to travel around South Africa are the public transport options like Baz, Citiliner and Greyhound Buses. A ride from Cape Town to Johannesburg costs R600 if you choose to travel with Greyhound. Baz Bus offers a unique Hop on – Hop off service, operating between Cape Town and Johannesburg, connecting about 40 different towns. They also conduct various wildlife safaris and tours to different locations. However, train rides are much more comfortable and safer in South Africa. The fares vary a lot depending of the luxury you’re looking for. Cheap first class sleeper fare starts from R650, with fares going over R10,000 for luxury train rides. Taxi service is available in the cities, however booking a small car for yourself for about R300/day or getting a pool car from Uber will be a much better option.
There are an insane amount of activities to choose from in South Africa. You can hike to different natural attractions which won’t cost you nothing. There aren’t any entrance fees in many museums and art galleries too. Entrance fee to game reserves cost about R100 – R300, while wildlife safaris and full day tours can cost anywhere between R500 – R13000, which depends on the luxury quotient. Various water activities like white water rafting starts from R500 – R700. If you want to dive into the oceans of South Africa, then you’ll have to spend over R1000.
Approximate Budget Per Day:
• R1000/day for backpackers, people travelling on a really tight budget including some ground activities and surfboarding.
• R1500 – R2500/day for mid-range budget tourists including budget safaris and few water activities.
• Over R3500/day for a luxurious vacation experience including luxury safaris and tours, helicopter tours, gourmet food and deep water diving.
Budget Tips for Backpackers:
1. Most hostels will allow backpackers to pitch a tent in their yard. You will be able to use their kitchen, bathrooms and other facilities but it will cost you much less.
2. Buying a week’s worth of supplies and cooking your own food will save you a lot of money in South Africa.
3. If your hostel has a bar, then there’s a high chance of getting local beers and wines at a much cheaper rate than in an outside bar or restaurant.
4. You can earn some money by working in winery or a local farm in South Africa.
5. Book a shared ride through Uber instead of riding a Taxi in order to save money.
6. Travel in the night on a train. You’ll get to sleep on the train, and save a night’s accommodation rent.
7. Book any water activities from your hostels to ensure you get the cheapest deal.
Must See Attractions and Must Do Activities in South Africa:
Cape of Good Hope’s Old Lighthouse – Cape Point:
Situated literally at the tip of Africa, this old lighthouse stands quietly surrounded by a breathtaking landscape. It takes about 45 minutes on foot from the new lighthouse. You can also take a tram to this historic landmark.
Enjoy the Charm of Cape Town:
Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the most amazing cities in the world. Explore the lively city center, enjoy the charm and the laid back attitude of the city, and indulge in the live jazz and beautiful food this city has to offer. Experiencing Cape Town is truly one of the must do things while you are in South Africa.
Learn about the Tragic History of Apartheid:
The history of racially segregated Africa is still a recent past. Visit the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, to get a true feeling of those horrific times. Your ticket will come in a white or a non-white version, dictating which entrance you will be allowed to use. A collection of photograph, artefacts, newspaper clippings and multimedia presentations will unfold the horrific story in front of your eyes. Sail to Robben Island from Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela spent 14 years of his life in prison.
Visit the Kruger National Park:
Kruger National Park is the biggest and the most popular wildlife parks present in South Africa. This huge game reserve stretches over 2000 hectors of lush greenery. Your South African safari experience will surely be incomplete if you do not visit this park.
The Big 5 Safari:
Seeing the Big 5, i.e. lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo, is South Africa’s biggest and the most advertised attraction. Seeing all of these five beasts can be tricky, but going on a big 5 safari at Kruger National Park, or the Pilanesberg National Park can work for you favor.
Climb the Table Mountain:
The most iconic view of Cape Town is the famous Table Mountain. This mountain is one of the new Seven Wonders of Nature. The panoramic view of Cape Town city from the top of the mountain is breathtakingly beautiful, which makes a hike to the top of this steep mountain a worthy feat. You can also opt for the cable car ride to the top of the mountain, if you’re feeling less energetic.
Dive among the Sharks:
This is certainly the most adventurous thing that you can do in during your South Africa travel days. Seal Island in the Western Cape is a favorite hunting spot of the great white sharks. You can dive into the water in a steel cage, and observe these majestic predators of the ocean from a relatively safe distance. Various dive operators arranges cage diving among the sharks for you to have an up close and adrenalin filled experience with these fearsome animals.
Surf the Waves:
South Africa is famous for its long coastlines and beautiful waves. Jeffrey’s Bay is one of the world’s most sought after surfing point. Surfers in South Africa are literally spoilt with choices on both the Indian and Atlantic coastlines of this country. You can rent surfboards for the whole at a really cheap rate too. Your South Africa experience won’t be complete if you do not surf on the South African waves.
Visit the Golden Mile Beachfront:
The Golden Mile Beachfront in Durban is the most famous beachfront of South Africa. With its array of watersports, long beaches, upscale restaurants and local markets, this place is a must visit part of every South Africa travel itinerary.
Experience the Big Tree:
The Big Tree should be a must for any nature lover travelling to South Africa. This majestic tree is estimated to be 800 to 900 years old. 36.6 meters tall and with a trunk circumference of 9 meters, the grand physique of this tree will strike anyone with awe.