15 Things to know before you visit South Africa in 2023

Things to know before you visit South Africa in 2023

South Africa is a land of diverse cultures, stunning landscapes, and rich history - a great destination for a family-friendly holiday. However, it does have its fair share of issues too. Before embarking on your journey to this beautiful country, it's important to equip yourself with some essential knowledge so that you can be adequately prepared for your trip.

Here are some things you need to know before you visit South Africa

1. Size of the country

South Africa is the 25th largest country in the world by land size. It is twice the size of France and five times larger than the United Kingdom. This means that traveling between cities can take longer than you might expect. For example, a drive from Johannesburg to Cape Town can take around 14 hours. Therefore, it's important to plan your itinerary accordingly and consider internal flights for longer distances.

2. Transport in South Africa

How to use the Gautrain

Public transport is available but not recommended, except for the Gautrain.

Uber is available in major cities. However, self-driving is one of the most popular ways to explore South Africa at your own pace, and people drive on the left-hand side of the road.

3. Renting a car

Renting a car in South Africa is easy. However, you will need a valid credit card and an International Driving Permit at most vehicle rental agencies. Check the rental agreement and make sure you understand the terms and conditions before you sign. Some areas may require a 4x4 vehicle, especially if you plan to go off the beaten track.

4. Visa requirements

Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to enter South Africa. Check the latest visa requirements before your trip.

5. Vaccinations

Ensure you're up-to-date with routine vaccines before traveling. Depending on where you're going, you may also need vaccines for diseases like Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Malaria is present in some parts of the country, so consult with your doctor about taking preventive medication.

6. Traveling with children

If you are travelling with minor children, please note that you are required to have an unabridged birth certificate or an equivalent document for all minor children travelling through any South African port of entry, This is part of South Africa's fight against human trafficking. Always check the latest regulations before you travel.

7. Safety in South Africa

Like most other countries, South Africa has its share of safety issues. It's important to stay in a safe area and always be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded places and tourist areas where pickpockets may be active. Avoid displaying expensive items and always use reliable transportation. Don’t accept help from strangers at ATM machines. If you are self-driving , avoid unsafe areas and night driving.

8. Loadshedding

Loadshedding is a term used to describe planned power outages or electricity cuts, which is a regular occurrence in South Africa. It's a good idea to check the loadshedding schedule app for the area you will be in, so you can plan your day around it. Consider packing a portable charger for your devices, and book accommodation that has backup power if possible.

9. Tap water

Until recently, tap water was safe to drink in the country however this has changed recently with several incidents of contamination. Therefore it is safer to stick to bottled water.

10. Wildlife and safaris

Lion Madikwe


South Africa is famous for its wildlife and is home to the 'Big Five' as well as many other wild creatures that can be seen in the country’s many national parks and game reserves. Remember to respect the wildlife and maintain a safe distance. See more on what to expect on a safari.

11. Currency

The South African Rand (ZAR) is the local currency. Credit cards are widely accepted, but it's always handy to have some cash for smaller establishments or tipping.

12. Tipping

Tipping is customary in South Africa. In restaurants, a tip of 10 % is standard. It's also common to tip taxi drivers, tour guides, game rangers and hotel staff.

13. Weather

South Africa has a temperate climate. The summer months (November to February) can be quite hot, while winters (June to August) are mild to cold. The Western Cape has a Mediterranean climate with wet winters and hot, dry summers.

Pack for the season during which you're visiting. Sunscreen is a must due to the strong African sun. Also, if you're planning on going on a safari, pack neutral-coloured clothing.

14. Diverse culture

South Africa is often referred to as the 'Rainbow Nation' due to its multicultural diversity. Each ethnic group has its own customs and traditions, making South Africa a fascinating cultural melting pot. There are 11 official languages, including English, Afrikaans, Zulu, and Xhosa. Most people speak English too.

15. Food and drink

South African foods


South African cuisine is as diverse as its culture. Don't miss out on trying local dishes like biltong (dried, cured meat), braai (barbeque), and bunny chow (curry-filled bread loaf).

What do you wish you knew before visiting South Africa?

Things to know before you visit South Africa

6 comments on “15 Things to know before you visit South Africa in 2023”

  1. Wow, this was such a helpful post! I didn't know about loadshedding, that would be really important to understand before visiting. Also, I never realized how large South Africa was!

  2. Loadshedding is veryy important to know about before going – I’m glad I was able to manage during my trip to Cape Town.

    1. Too many people get a shock when they come to South Africa and realise there's something called loadshedding - and it's become worse since you were here too.

  3. Nice article! However, I do not understand the tipping culture as a whole. I mean it should not be customary. A tip should completely depend on whether the customer genuinely wants to shell out the money and give it to someone who is already salaried.

    1. I agree. In an ideal world, restaurants should pay their staff appropriate salaries and tipping should be totally at the customer's discretion. Unfortunately, most restaurants pay their staff minimal salaries, and they actually depend on the tips to survive.

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