Before you travel

Although South Africa is a Westernised country in many areas such as food, accommodation, shopping and the dominant culture as far as the official economy is concerned, a certain amount of research is vital before a visit to the country and its neighbours especially when no bookings were made before arrival. Lodging is seldom a problem (except during peak periods) and a wide variety is readily available from basic backpackers accommodation and guesthouses to exclusive private game lodges and luxury international hotel groups. The following information will go a long way in supplying a solid basic knowledge of the country.

Transport

When one is use to the public transport networks in developed countries, the local transport prove to be inadequate in getting around without any form of privately organised transport. Public transport in cities is infrequent and unreliable and as a means of getting around a city and between cities. Air travel is generally used between cities, but it is expensive and infrequent except between the major centres. Tourists do not generally use intercity trains as crime is sometimes a part of this way of travel. Intercity coach travel is a fairly reasonable option, but it is time consuming and getting to the depots from where the buses depart and arrive could in itself pose a problem if expensive taxi services are to be avoided. Asking for a ride (hiking) along the main roads is not recommended and also illegal on most intercity freeways. This leave car rental, self-drive packages or pre-arranged transport by private operators as reliable ways of getting around for those not that adventurous and who demand traveling around the country without any possible stress. Prices in private transport range from a reasonable backpackers bus running on a scheduled network around the country with easy hop on, hop off facilities to a range of more expensive luxury scheduled tour networks and finally expensive tailor-made and private exclusive packages. Car rental is generally reasonable to expensive depending on the type of vehicle rented and our fuel is half the price of European fuel. Toll plaza's are situated on all the main freeways and intercity routes and are not too expensive.

Banking

All major banks offer foreign exchange services at a small commission. Try and exchange your money in the cities as it goes much quicker. Avoid exchanging money in hotels; the best rate of exchange you will get is at a reputable Bureau de Change such as Thomas Cook or American Express. We suggest that your traveler's cheques are either in US Dollars, British Pounds or Euro, although other currencies are also changed. Banking hours are generally from 09:00 to 15:30 on weekdays and 09:00 to 11:00 on Saturdays - closed on Sundays. Bureau de Change outlets in the main centres are open longer and virtually 24/7 at the major airports. Automated Teller Machines (ATM's) are readily available throughout the country for cash withdrawals 24 hours per day. A point to remember when using this method; do not allow any assistance except when you are certain it is from authorised bank staff - not even the security staff. Any proposed assistance from any other person must be refused - rather ask your guide to assist.

If you still insist on using traveler's cheques, it can be cashed into the local currency at any bank or Bureau de Change. Some shops, restaurants, etc also accept them as payment provided their value is in the local currency, although all major international credit cards are widely accepted.

Climate

The seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere. South Africa's mild climate lends itself to near-perfect holiday weather year round. Cape Town has cool and often rainy winters with the most perfect sunny days in between from May to September and warm dry summers. Johannesburg and Gauteng have dry and crisp winters from April to August with occasional frosty nights and warm days, hot summers with rain generally in the form of quick afternoon thundershowers. The subtropical coastline of Kwazulu Natal has summer all year round with warm, dry winters and hot, sunny and humid months from December to March with quick thundershowers in the afternoons / early evenings, leaving them refreshingly cooler. For more information click here.

Communication

A direct dialing service connects all centres except for villages in remote rural districts. The international telephone service links South Africa with countries around the world. Calls from hotels generally carry a (sometimes expensive) surcharge. Most hotels have fax and e-mail facilities. To dial South Africa start off with your country's international code, the international dialing code for South Africa is '27' followed by the area code (minus the first 0) and the subscriber's number. For dialing out of South Africa to, for example your home, start off with (00) then your country code, your area code without the preceding (0) if any, followed by your number. The cheapest way to phone is to buy a card for access to public telephones. The cards are available at post offices, most bigger shops and discount stores.

Mobile phones are widely used in South Africa and can be rented from all major airports. The country generally has a good coverage on all major arteries and most other provincial roads. Mobile phones from most countries will operate in South Africa, contact your local service provider and ensure that your phone is on 'international roaming' mode. Check with your SP what the costs per call would be, otherwise rather hire one when you arrive in South Africa.

Our guides all carry mobile phones with them so our offices are in constant contact with our vehicles.

Currency

The South African Currency unit is the Rand (ZAR), denoted by symbol R1. R1 = 100 cents. Coins up to R5, and notes R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200 are available. Use our currency converter on the home page for conversion to your currency.

Tipping, Gratuities and Porterage

Tipping in South Africa is not mandatory, but recognised as acknowledgement of a job well-done. It is accepted in restaurants, hotels and other service providers. Around 10 to a maximum of 15 percent of the cost of the service is average depending on your level of satisfaction with the service.

Tipping guides after tours is totally up to your discretion and seen by the guides as acknowledgement of a great time being had. Somewhere between ZAR30 and ZAR50 per day per person may serve as an idea.

Porterage of around R10 - 15 per suitcase/person is asked from staff handling your luggage at hotels and the airports. This often forms a big part of their salaries.

If you do not want to pay porterage, decline their offer to assist and carry your own suitcases. On some tours porterage is included or you can ask for it to be included in your initial cost of the tour.

Customs & Excise

All used personal effects are admitted duty free. Adults are allowed 1 litre of sprits, 2 litres of wine, 400 cigarettes and 50 cigars free of duty into South Africa. However, these consumables are much cheaper in South Africa than most other countries.

Electricity

City and town power systems are generally 220 to 240volts AC, 50 hertz (cycles); 115/230v shaver sockets are available in most hotels. The wall plugs are not compatible with Europe, US and the East. Special adapters are available at airport duty free shops, discounts stores, etc. Our offices can also provide these adapters on request.

Health Hazards

Malaria occurs in the extreme northern and northeastern areas of South Africa during summer months (November through April). Preventive medication is available from all South African pharmacies and is generally cheaper than elsewhere. They also have the latest information on recommended medication for the specific areas. However, your doctor will also be able to assist, or visit our Medical Page under Useful Info.

People arriving in South Africa from a yellow fever zone must have a valid international yellow fever inoculation certificate. Infants under the age of one year are exempt. Immunisation against cholera and small pocks is not required. South Africa has no national health scheme. It is strongly advisable to purchase travel insurance that covers medical expenses during the period of your stay. Please contact your local agency or us for assistance or click here for more information.

HIV/AIDS is widespread in certain areas of South Africa and we strongly recommend that you take precautions or avoid any sexual contact with strangers and prostitutes. Prostitution is illegal in South Africa. Hospitals and medical emergency services have the same stringent precautions as anywhere in the first world with regards to blood donation, so you do not have to arrive in South Africa with your own blood bank. Click here for more information.

South African restaurants are required to follow strict sanitation and hygienic guidelines policed by the South African Department of Health and are therefore extremely safe.

Just be aware of a few points; before using the facility ensure it is a bona fide restaurant, avoid dodgy looking eating-places in the in similar looking areas. Be careful when you buy fresh fruit from informal vendors (people selling goods from temporary structures, etc) next to the main roads. Most of the time the fruit is fresh and really great tasting as the informal vendors selling it take great care to keep it fresh.. it is their livelihood. When buying from them take care to look for signs of the fruit being in the sun for long periods and if it feels warm, avoid buying it. Nuts left in the sun can be very dangerous, so be careful when you buy them on the side of the road. Ask your tourist guide to assist you.

In the unlikely event that an extra-ordinary, temporary or otherwise, health risk may occur in an area that may affect you while on holiday in South Africa, we post it here for your information.

Insurance

When you travel with us in our vehicles, you are automatically covered against medical emergencies should the vehicle be in an accident, but we strongly recommend that you take out insurance against medical incidents outside our vehicles, illness, tour cancellation and loss and theft of personal belongings. Ensure that the insurance operate in South Africa otherwise you may find yourself having to pay all costs beforehand and afterwards claim from the insurance.

We offer medical insurance that excludes these heavy cash deposits normally required by hospitals for foreign medical insurance holders. Please contact our head office at nic@southerncircle.com or click here for more information.

Languages

English is readily spoken throughout the country. However, specific language guides are available on request and our office is competent in German.

Safety Guidelines

It is sensible to take the same precautions in major cities as you would in any of the world's metropolitan areas. Consult with your guide. For more information please click here.

Shopping

Shopping hours is generally from 08:00 to 17:00 on weekdays and 09:00 to 13:00 on Saturdays.

Many Shopping Centres (Shopping Malls) in the bigger city centres are open seven days a week and some also in the evenings Bargaining is not readily accepted except at roadside stalls and in flea markets.

Taxis

As a rule local taxis do not cruise. Telephone a taxi company or find your way to a taxi rank.

Always ensure that the meter starts from zero. Our staff can advise you on local reputable taxi companies. Taxis in South Africa are generally expensive. Check with your guide for the best way of getting around.

Value Added Tax

Foreign visitors are not exempt from paying VAT on tours and purchased goods. They may however claim back VAT paid on items taken out of the country when the total exceeds a prescribed amount (currently R350). Your guide will advise you.

Water

Tap water is purified and safe to drink in South Africa. Bottled water is also readily available. Avoid drinking the water if you cannot verify where it originates from if not from a tap, or it is not supplied in a bona fide establishment. Interesting fact: There are only 12 countries in the world that supply tap water that is fit to drink, and South Africa is one of them. Our tap water quality is rated third best in the world.

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