You will need to carry cash. Street traders, car guards, hotel porters etc are paid and tipped in cash. I tend to try and accumulate larger denomination coins (R1, R2 and R5) for tipping. Salaries are low in South Africa so I always try to tip as generously as possible. When it comes to car guards, check that they have the correct bib. Sometimes chancers fling on an old bib and pretend to look after your car.
If you don’t drive, it is probably best to choose an organised tour, as the public transport/intercity bus and train/taxi networks are not developed to the same extent as in Europe. In all but the largest cities, they are pretty rudimentary. If you do drive, you can find cheap rental cars during low season.
June/July is midwinter in South Africa but the weather is usually mild, low-season specials abound, and there are no great masses of tourists in the coastal cities like there are in December/January. This means you will not battle to find accommodation if you choose to just drive and stop along the way without planning in advance. Most places offer great specials if you stay two nights in winter (you often get a third night for free or some extras added on).
In midsummer (December/January), locals from the north of the country move to the coast for their annual holidays in great numbers so accommodation can be scarce, prices can be high, and traffic/crowds can be a nightmare. It can also be very hot. But I think as many people as possible need to experience a midsummer Christmas and New Year in the southern hemisphere!
The South African rand is weak against most larger currencies, which makes it good value for tourists from other countries. It also boosts the local economy. Locals in South Africa tend to complain about how expensive things are. For us from Sweden though, we saved 30% when we paid in rands, and the prices were already very low compared to Sweden, where eating/drinking/services are really expensive.
If you need to be internet-connected, make sure that the places at which you are staying have good WiFi. Roaming charges are high if you are in foreign countries, and many restaurants and hotels in smaller areas do not offer free WiFi. Our ‘free WiFi’ at the Tsitsikamma Forest Lodge and Spa didn’t even last 5 minutes. We then had to buy more at rather high prices.
The roads are good with very clear signposting. In addition, the decrepit minibus taxis have been replaced by new white minibuses thanks to a government initiative, and there is a constant police presence on the roads. We were stopped twice (almost three times!) to have licences checked, and everywhere we went there were police, traffic police, traffic checks, and traffic services monitoring the roads by driving with the traffic. This applied from Cape Town right through to Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape (the poorest province in South Africa). The only problem may be if you are used to driving on the other side of the road (South Africa drives on the left) but you quickly get used to it. You need to watch for monkeys/sheep/donkeys/cows/goats/pedestrians on the national highways but you soon get used to it.
Everywhere we went that was ‘touristy’ – for example Table Mountain, the Cango Caves, the Knysna Heads, Storm’s River Mouth – was clean and very well-organised. Signposting was clear, people were knowledgeable and friendly, and everything worked very efficiently. Most people in South Africa speak English and people are friendly so even if you get lost or confused, there will always be someone to help you.
We actually used paper maps and enjoyed them. We had no internet while we were driving and it was fun to mark our route on the map.
Categories: Southern Africa