About South Africa:
Namukelekile—Welcome to South Africa, the vibrant country where the land and its people are diverse, fascinating, and welcoming. The “Rainbow Nation,” well known for its struggle for freedom, is defined by a vast geography of high plateau, mountain ranges, veld plains, and 1,800 miles of coastline along the Atlantic and Indian oceans. In addition to the Kruger’s “big five,” the country’s many ecosystems support numerous species from whales and giraffes to meerkats and myriad birds.
The Republic of South Africa gained full independence from Great Britain in 1961 but maintained its old colonial system of apartheid until the early 1990s, when the country’s first universal elections (open to people of all races) led to Nelson Mandela becoming president. Today, South Africa is a parliamentary democratic republic, with general elections every five years. The country’s legislative capital and seat of Parliament is Cape Town, while the administrative capital is Pretoria.
South Africa is a multilingual country with 11 officially recognized languages, whose native speakers break down as follows: Zulu 23 percent, Xhosa 16 percent, Afrikaans 14 percent, English 10 percent, Sepedi 9 percent, Setswana 8 percent, Sesotho 8 percent, Xitsonga 5 percent, Siswati 3 percent, Tshivenda 2 percent, and Ndebele 2 percent. Conveniently, English is commonly spoken throughout the country.
South Africa’s population of 48 million encompasses a great diversity of ethnic groups and subgroups, each with its own unique traditions and customs. The African majority (about 40 million people) consists of four broad groups: the Nguni, comprising the Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, and Swazi people; the Sotho-Tswana; the Tsonga; and the Venda. A large proportion of South Africans (about 80 percent) identify themselves as Christian.
South African cuisine is extremely varied, reflecting the nation’s great cultural diversity. Almost all types of food can be found, from French and Italian to African and Indian to fusion. Excellent South African wines and African lager-style beers are also widely appreciated.
South Africa is an ideal year-round destination. The climate is temperate with considerable variation by region. Winter months (June to September) in the Kruger region have little rainfall, with temperatures ranging from 60° to 75° F; during the same period, the Western Cape and Cape Town receive some rain, with temperatures ranging from 50° to 65° F. Summer months (December and January) are extremely hot in the Kalahari Desert, but pleasant, warm, and sunny in the Western Cape region.
The best months for viewing mammals are June to August; for newborn animals, September and October; and for the famous southern right whales in Hermanus, July to November.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required, must be valid for at least 30 days beyond the dates of travel, and must contain at least one clean (unstamped) page at the time entry is sought. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days.
Important note if traveling with children under the age of 18: the South African government requires parents or guardians to produce an unabridged birth certificate reflecting details of both parents, as well as a valid passport per child. This applies even if both parents are traveling with their child. If the child is traveling with a guardian, this adult is required to produce affidavits and copies of passports from both parents giving permission for their child to travel. For the most up-to-date information, including entry requirements for non-U.S. citizens, see www.saembassy.org.
South Africa uses the rand (ZAR). For the most up-to-date exchange rates, see www.oanda.com.
Most large hotels and stores accept U.S. dollars. Credit cards are accepted at some hotels and at restaurants and stores in larger towns. ATMs and major banks are also only available in larger towns. Travelers are allowed to enter South Africa with ZAR 5,000 per person plus an unlimited amount in foreign currency.
No immunizations are required to enter South Africa, with the important exception that proof of yellow fever vaccination is required for all travelers over one year of age if traveling from or transiting through a country with risk of yellow fever transmission; this requirement applies regardless of the amount of time spent in the transit country, and includes travelers arriving from countries with low potential for yellow fever exposure. Please refer to the following website for the most up to date list:
Malaria medication, hepatitis, tetanus, typhoid, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations are also generally recommended for all travelers. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: www.cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Alternating current of 220V/230V and 50Hz is used in South Africa. Plugs are typically Type M and have three round prongs.
South Africa country code: +27
International access code calling out of South Africa: 00
- Cell-phone coverage throughout South Africa is extensive, but cannot be guaranteed at all times, especially in remote areas.
- Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages, but may be less reliable elsewhere.
For more information about South Africa, see the national tourism board website: www.southafrica.net.