Alrighty then, seems we need to clear something up. There’s been a rather persistent and popular rumour circulating over the years that we have lions running around not only on our mountains, but even in our streets.
Now, admittedly, we are a crazy, adventure-loving bunch; but risking life and limb every time we go out to get the post would be a little over the top, even for us.
We have plenty of lions, but they all live in game reserves – it is true that some mad-cap people in fact live in these reserves too and do have to watch their backs when they go out to get their post, but that’s another story for another day.
If you’re coming in to South Africa there are a few facts you really just need to be aware of:
Our currency is the Rand, and lucky for you, you’ll find that unless you’re visiting us from neighbouring Zimbabwe your money will stretch pretty far here.
Banks are generally open from 9am to 3.30pm on weekdays, and 8am to 11.30am on Saturdays; but there are thousands of 24-hour automatic teller machines throughout the country, so getting cash shouldn’t be a problem.
Most stores will accept credit cards, but you’ll probably need cash if you want to buy goods from informal traders on the street or at a market.
Tipping at restaurants is customary, and the service charge is not usually included unless you’re with a big group (the usual tip is a minimum of 10% for good service, and more for outstanding service).
Many South Africans also tip petrol attendants and informal parking attendants but that’s really up to you. It’s just our way of creating employment for all!
We have 11 official languages here in South Africa, but don’t worry, we don’t expect you to be able to speak all of them.
Fortunately the most ubiquitous one is English, so if you’re reading this (and particularly if you understood the word “ubiquitous”) you’ll do fine.
South Africans are a jolly bunch, and we do rather enjoy laughing at ourselves. Of course, just like anywhere else in the world, it’s considered bad form to laugh at us unless we start laughing first!
One of the things that make South Africa such a fantastic travel destination is our diversity of cultures – you will experience a range of accents, skin tones, art, music and humour like nowhere else on earth. It’s what makes us unique and, as Nelson Mandela so eloquently (yes another big word!) described us “a Rainbow Nation”.
Oh, by the way, the locals may make jokes about your country of origin – it’s polite to nod vigorously, verbalise your agreement and laugh heartily while giving them a traditional African hand-shake (cup your hand in theirs in the normal fashion, change the grip to hold their thumb and then return to the original grip in three quick, short movements).
We have great weather. No, really, we do. The thing to remember though is that the country doesn’t experience one uniform climate – the northern and eastern parts of the country are summer rainfall regions, whilst the south-western part has its rain in winter (which is the sensible time really, don’t you think?)
PS: Kerry-Anne our resident copy-queen lives in Cape Town – this is a debatable point which we won’t bore you with here. We’ll let you be the judge).
You can expect good weather year-round, but undoubtedly the best times to visit any part of southern Africa are spring and autumn. Spring comes to us from around late September through to early December, and autumn from around March to May.
Bear in mind, of course, that certain adventure activities only operate during seasonal periods, so always check with the operator in question before planning your trip.
Tap water is safe to drink anywhere in the country; in fact South Africa is reputed to have some of the best tap water in the world.
The other health issue you should be aware of is that there is a ban on smoking in public places. You will notice that many restaurants have designated smoking sections; if you light up in a non-smoking area, it’s quite likely that one of the locals will rush to your aid with a fire extinguisher – don’t be alarmed, it’s just another example of our quirky sense of humour. (Seriously though, you could well be fined.)
In some parts of the country you will need to take muti (local lingo for medicine) for malaria, particularly if you are heading up north during the summer season which, as we said earlier, has a summer rainfall. The hot moist conditions are perfect for breeding mozzies (mosquito’s) and they love tourist blood.
If you happen to go walking out in the veld (open grassland areas) check yourself for ticks. These nasty little blighters literally get under your skin and give you a screamer of a headache about 10 days later. Speaking from experience the first 4 days you think you’re going to die and the next 4 you wish you did! If you develop ‘flu like symptoms and your eyes feel like they want to crawl out of your head, go see a doc pretty smartly. The muti is good and quick acting so once you’re on it you’ll feel like taking on another bungy jump pretty quickly.
One last point you need to be aware of. Rabies is an issue in many parts of southern Africa. If you get bitten by a dog please seek medical help immediately. It’s a real biggy (important/life threatening/critical). Quick action could save your life.
Now … you thought it was only the adventure activities which were going to provide the adrenaline rush. For many people just being in this country is enough of an adrenaline boost!
If you’ve read anything whatsoever about South Africa, then you will know that we have pretty high crime statistics. However, there is plenty you can do to avoid being a victim of crime, especially as a tourist (the stats show that most victims of crime are locals).
The first and most important rule of thumb is this: if a local resident says to you, “Don’t go there,” or “Don’t go there alone”, please heed their advice. Unlike almost everything else you will hear whilst in South Africa, this is NOT our sense of humour at work.
Secondly, don’t flash your valuables around (particularly if you’re busy disregarding rule #1 at the time). Treat our cities as you would any other big city in the world – be sensible, be vigilant, and don’t hang around deserted places after dark (or even before dark, for that matter).
The last rule is much the same as the first, but it’s worth repeating: listen, listen, listen. Listen to the proprietor of your hotel, listen to your waiter at the restaurant, listen to the nice lady at the checkout counter, and listen to your instincts.
Southern Africa has so much to offer but it’s not a place for the gullible, trusting, air head that stands on a street corner loaded with jewels turning a map every which way. Be street savvy and you’ll have a fabulous trip making some amazing memories.
If there’s anything else you’d like to know, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_africa or www.southafrica.info for really up-to-date information on travelling to South Africa, including info on visas, communication infrastructure, public holidays, medical facilities, and much more.