Drawing from a mix of cultural influences that include Dutch, English, Ndebele, Sazi and Afrikaner people, South Africa is a vibrant country with gourmet cuisine, fine art, wine and endless opportunities for outdoor fun. If you’re planning a trip, here are some travel tips for travelling in South Africa and advice to make the most of your visit.

Beach, cliffs and home on the coast of Victoria Bay Beach in South Africa

Victoria Bay Beach

When to visit

With its multiple biomes and varying climates, South Africa is a year-round travel destination. Being in the Southern Hemisphere, South Africa has the same seasons as Australia. The northern regions get rainfall from November to February, and the cooler months of May to September are the best times for outdoor excursions and wildlife encounters. The southern Cape area has hot, dry weather in the summer months between November and February. If you want to see whale migration, the season falls between July and November.

Where to visit

South Africa is a big country with a lot of diverse experiences, much like Australia. Before you plan your itinerary, it’s good to decide where you want to visit and what’s close by. Most travellers enjoy the modern cities like Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, but you can travel off-the-beaten-path to see attractions like Mountain Zebra National Park, Kosi Bay, Die Hel in Western Cape and Baviaanskloof. You can’t see it all, so be sure to map out destinations close to each other and give yourself time to really experience the attractions in each area.

How to get there and get around

It’s easy to get to South Africa from Australia’s major cities. Flights are available from Sydney, Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide, most of which take 10 to 18 hours. Once you’re there, you can use public transportation. Many of the cities have extensive rail and bus networks, but if you prefer to move around on your own schedule, the best option is to hire a car. If you’re going to be spending time in the bush, a car hire is a must.

What to pack

What to pack for your holiday in South Africa depends on the season and where you intend to travel. It’s best to prepare by checking the historical and predicted weather for the time period of your trip, and consider the weather patterns if you intend to take day trips. Also, even if you’re planning a trip to a warm area, you may experience temperature fluctuations between night and day, so it’s important to pack some layers and a few cool-weather items. If you’re planning to spend time outdoors, bring gear like waterproof boots, a sun hat and other sun protection.

Aerial view of a mountain and forest in South Africa

South Africa wilderness

Keep safety in mind

Travelling to an unfamiliar area is always a concern for first-time travellers, especially with the impressions of South Africa. It has high murder rates and crime issues throughout the country that are all over the media, but that typically occurs in areas that aren’t tourist destinations. If you want to stay safe during your trip, it’s best to exercise basic caution and avoid walking alone in isolated areas at night, don’t leave your bag, food or drinks unattended and stay aware of your surroundings.

Budget carefully

South Africa is relatively inexpensive to visit, especially with the exchange rate. You can find plenty of cheap accommodation options and dining options, but what to know before you go is that there are certain South African experiences that are pricey. For example, if you want to enjoy a well-organized safari with a comfortable sleeping arrangement and a knowledgeable guide, it’s best to budget a few hundred dollars for the experience. It’s best to plan in advance and budget accordingly.

Stick to well-known tour programs and experiences

South Africa has some political turmoil and some areas aren’t regulated. To avoid getting wrapped up in something unsavoury, be sure to know before you go and research what you’re purchasing. This includes tour experiences, animal encounters, volunteer programs and local goods. For example, you can book safaris and animal encounters with large companies that keep conservation in mind, rather than participating in a cruel or even illegal canned hunting experience. The same is true of local goods and choosing companies that obey labor laws and care for their employees.

Mind the car guards

One of the best travel tips you can get is that car guards are commonplace in South Africa. The guards are usually in bright yellow or orange vests and keep an eye on your vehicle to deter break-ins while you’re away. When you return to your vehicle, the guard may say you owe them money for their service. If you don’t pay, they may damage your vehicle in retaliation, so it’s best to give them a few rand for helping you out. Just consider it a tip and keep change on you to anticipate paying guards.

Learn a few phrases

South Africa has 11 official languages, so it’s virtually impossible to prepare for your trip by learning the language. Fortunately, English is enough to get you by in most places, but you should learn a few colloquial phrases to help you communicate better. Some local phrases that can be confusing include ‘shame’, which usually means ‘that’s a shame’, and ‘robot’, which means ‘stoplight’. There’s also ‘lekker’, which is an Afrikaans word that’s equivalent of good or great. Also, time moves fairly slowly in South Africa, so even if someone says ‘just now’, it doesn’t mean right at that moment.

Elephant in Kruger National Park in South Africa

Kruger National Park

Travel to the bush to see wildlife

Despite the image many people have of South Africa, the cities are mostly developed. You’ll wish you knew that wildlife doesn’t roam freely all over the country, so if you have your heart set on seeing the ‘Big Five’ animals: Cape buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros, you’ll need to venture into the bushland. You can find reserves all over the country, but the Kruger National Park is a prime location for some wildlife viewing of Africa’s big game species in a safe, natural place.

Ready for your trip?

Now that you have all the essential information before visiting South Africa, you can start planning your trip. Take a look at deals on South Africa holidays from Expedia to map out your itinerary and prepare for an unforgettable adventure!