10 practical tips for visiting Southern Africa. 

In a land of plenty such as South Africa, where endless landscapes, white beaches, mountain peaks and abundant game reserves await discovery, you’d be forgiven for being rather oblivious to the practical sides of your travel arrangements as excitement runs away with you. To ensure a balance is kept and your trip is neither compromised nor lacking, here are a few useful points to bear in mind while planning your vacation.

1. Make your time there count

For many a visit to South Africa is a trip of a lifetime and will most likely involve a long haul flight. When looking to visit, a stay of 7 to 10 days would be the minimum with the recommendation to focus on no more than two to three regions during that time. Trying to do too much in a limited period of time will dilute your experience.

2. Explore the Destination

Try to avoid one night stays unless it’s for the purpose of transit, as too often they have you arriving late and leaving early, allowing no time to explore the destination. A minimum stay of two nights interspersed with three nights lingers is the ideal. Given that budget is something everybody works with, you may look at combining comfortable more affordable stays with a few treat nights, to ensure the balance. Often these treat nights are best enjoyed on safari and best left for the end of the trip.

3. Getting around South Africa

Getting around South Africa is reasonably easy with internal flights servicing all major routes and air transfers into the more remote destinations available, with man opting to self-drive at least a portion of the trip. If you are self-driving, bear in mind that distances are great and you must allow plenty of time to get from one point to the next. Always aim to arrive well before dark. There’s also a great chance that you will want to deviate from the prescribed route to make your own discoveries, which does take time.  As a precaution, refuel and take a break when the opportunity arises and you would do well to have water and some snacks in the car.

4. A True African Safari

There is nothing more humbling and surreal than a true African Safari and your choice of reserve and lodge matters greatly. It is recommended that you communicate your expectations with your tour operator so that they can match your dream with the right property. Be sure to be clear on your focus be it luxury, big 5, walking, game drives, remote private concessions or national park.

Practical TipsPractical Tips

5. What to pack

What to pack is a key question asked. Mostly South Africa is a casual country, with a tendency to dress smarter by night. Always have good walking shoes, a sun hat, sun block for Summer and a very good waterproof jacket, gloves and scarf for winter. Layers always work well, especially on safari when mornings can be chilly and the days often warm up. Generally a varied wardrobe and in the bush, neutral coloured clothing. Pack a bathing suit just in case and bear in mind that winters In the Cape can be very wet. The luxury trains do require jacket and tie and for ladies to dress for dinner.

6. Food and Wine

Food and wine is an important part of any holiday to South Africa and you will be spoilt with some of the finest meals in upmarket restaurants, hotels, lodges, side street cafe’s and farmer’s markets. Generally, the standard is high and the service friendly and efficient. There is a great pride in the offerings and specifically in the Cape, where countless award-winning wine estates are producing beautiful wine. Make sure you check out the local craft beer and artisan gin scene too.

7. Tips and Gratuities

Tips and gratuities form an integral part of the payment system in South Africa and at most restaurants, a 10-15% gratuity on the bill is suggested. Guides and Trackers should also be tipped and it is common play to leave something for general staff at the accommodation establishments you stay at.

8. Bush Etiquette

While on safari it is very important to adhere to bush etiquette. Listen to your guide, be quiet near the animals, don’t stand up in the vehicles, take photographs with flash or obstruct the other guests and always confirm that you can get off the vehicle before doing so. These are wild animals you’re out there to view, a great privilege to be respectful and mindful of. The same consideration applies to all guided tours.

9. Ethical Guidelines

Ethically speaking, the temptation may be there to interact with wildlife, either at a lion park or by riding elephants, but we strongly recommend against visiting any tourist attraction that exploits animals for profit. You would do well to ask the questions to ensure that the facility is legitimate and as a general guideline if they breed or allow engagement, it probably isn’t, as was so succinctly highlighted in the recently released documentary film Blood Lions. Important to bear in mind that not all attractions deserve support.

10. About the Shopping

You will want to shop. Whether it’s for a precious diamond that like your memories will last forever, or curios and baskets from side street traders and curio stalls. Often tourists make the mistake of hesitating to make that purchase, believing that they will find something better along the way. But as the trip traverses different parts of South Africa, so the offerings will change. If you see something unique that you love and the price and moment is right, you should probably have it.

Enjoy the natural beauty, get a taste of the urban edge and indulge in the food and wine. Meet the locals, listen to their stores and learn a little about our history and the diverse cultural mix that make South Africa so special. Above all, thank you for choosing South Africa as your next holiday destination, enjoy every minute of your stay.

Practical Tips Practical Tips

This article was first published here on Eye See Africa. Read more of my Freelance Writing work here.

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Dawn Bradnick Jorgensen
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