This is the first guide of the “What to do and see in…” series. Today, we talk about What to do and see in South Africa.
The main requirement for many countries is a yellow fever certificate.
This certificate is as important as your passport, as it is required both when you leave your country (at the airport check-in) and when you arrive to South Africa. It may be that some people have not been asked to do so, but it is common for them to ask you (we were asked to do so on both of our trips).
When to go to South Africa?
South Africa is a country with a fairly temperate climate compared to the rest of southern Africa. The best times of the year are during spring and autumn. However, depending on the activities you want to do, winter and summer are also interesting. For example, winter is the best time to see wildlife, as the vegetation is less lush and the animals gather near the permanent waterways. Also, as it is a cold but dry climate, it is ideal for some sports. In summer, there are usually very hot days and, in addition, it is the local holidays that fill the main tourist destinations.
Some things that is important to know…
The currency is the Rand (ZAR) and, in may 2018, is equivalent to:
1 dollar: 12.61 South African Rand
1 euro: 14.87 South African Rand
There are 11 official languages in the country. Many people, especially in the cities, speak English.
South Africa has three capitals: Pretoria (administrative), Bloemfontein (judicial) and Cape Town (legislative).
Plugs and Internet
In South Africa, most places have a rare plug for us, so you need to buy adapters, which we recommend you do on the first day. The’male’ part has three broad legs. You can see pictures here.
South Africa is the country in the region with the best internet connection. Altought, there is not always free wifi (sometimes not even in hotels) and in small towns is almost impossible to get connection. But well, sometimes is nice to be disconnected for a few days.
Transportation or how to get around
Finger (or hitchhiking). We hitchhiked in much of the country, especially in the south. Some of our experiences in this link.
There are some long distance bus companies where you can find good services. Among these companies is Intercape, one of the most modern and secure. There are also others, such as Translux and Greyhound.
In South Africa, in addition to the flagship airline, there are two low-cost airlines, which can get good prices online. These are: flymango.com and kulula.com
There are several companies that provide train services in the country. There is a recommended train from Cape Town to Johannesburg, from the Trans Karoo Express company, which runs for about 1,600 km and offers a variety of landscapes and’South Africa’. http://southafricanrailways.co.za is the official South African train website where you can see timetables and fares for all trains in South Africa.
Some examples of travel times. Travel time from Cape Town (Cape Town) by train to….
Durban – 38 hours
Pretoria – 26 hours
Johannesburg – 24 hours
It is a private, combi transport system that links the round trip from Cape Town-Port Elizabeth- Durban to Johannesburg. It has many stops along the Garden Route. It’s kind of a hop on-hop of, but between cities. You can read how it works and all the tips of the service in this link.
In the cities you can take taxis (as we know them) or urban taxis as they call the buses that travel around the city. In these taxis you pay during the journey or when you get off, you don’t have to pay anything. If you’re in the background, it’s just a matter of passing the money on and the passengers themselves will make sure it gets to the driver. In some cities, these combis are quite dilapidated, although not as dilapidated as in other neighbouring countries.
They usually have different routes, as if they were buses and it is necessary to warn the driver with a scream where we want to get off. In addition, in general, to stop them you have to make certain gestures with your hands. For example, if we are in Johannesburg and we want to go to the city centre, we have to make the gesture of the number 1, so that we are stopped by those who make the route 1 which is to the centre. Obviously we must be at the right stop. To know these signs and proper stops nothing better than to ask a local. It is not very common to see foreigners in these combis.
Accommodation in South Africa
South Africa is the most developed country in Southern Africa and has a large number of international visitors, not only for tourism, but also for business or studies. Therefore, it has an extensive hotel infrastructure for all budgets. All its large cities have hotels of up to five stars. In addition, many of its National Parks have luxury lodges. But for those on a low budget, don’t worry because there is also a very wide network of budget hotels and hostels for this profile of travelers. And the good news is, not because they’re cheap, they’re not bad. On the contrary, there are some hostels, where the price of the bed is between 12 and 17 dollars that even have a swimming pool and are located in dreamy places. Many of them are located on the Garden Route and you can see their details on the BazBus website mentioned above. There is always the option (especially in big cities) to do couchsurfing. Here you can find some good hotels to stay in South Africa:
Places to know in South Africa
Although not one of its capital cities, Johannesburg is the most populous city in South Africa. The main point of entry by plane into the country and with a reputation for being unsafe, Joburg, as it is known, has some tourist sites or converted into such, which will give meaning to a stay of a few days.
Before going through it, it is worth reading a little about the events that took place in the country during the Apartheid era, and why whites lived there before, and other details that are worth taking into account in order to understand this city and the rest of the country. Among the places not to be missed are:
Aparthied Museum: a museum that impacts from the very moment it begins its tour when the visitor must choose which door to enter. With a wing of permanent exhibitions and a wing of travelling exhibitions, it provides a complete overview of the causes and consequences of a true absurdity of the many that occurred in the history of humanity. Information about the museum in this link.
Carlton Center: a witness to the past, the tallest building in Africa for many years, today it seems abandoned to its fate and with little maintenance. On the ground floor there are several commercial premises, but if there is anything interesting, it is precisely the top floor from where you can appreciate the whole city with unbeatable views. They could actually be improved by cleaning the glass. If the idea is to visit it, we advise you to do it on weekdays because on weekends, the area does not seem very safe.
Soweto: “South West Township” is the district of the city where the largest concentration of black people was concentrated during the Apartheid regime. Today it has an area converted into a tourist center with bars, shops and hostels that have nothing to do with the sad history that made it famous. You can also visit the home of Nelson Mandela, the Hector Pieterson Museum, who was and is the youngest victim of the regime’s repression of blacks, the home of priest Desmond Tutu or the Regina Mundi Church, the largest Catholic church in South Africa, where you can still see the bullet holes from the clashes in the struggle for independence.
The “no” part of tourism comprises residential areas of all kinds: middle class and shantytowns. Walking the other Sowteo, the real one, can be a great experience. It is advisable to do this with the help of a resident of the “neighbourhood”.