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Content – Travel Guide South Africa

Fast facts about the country

The country has a diverse range of landscapes dominated by the massive escarpment that makes up part of the Drakensburg Mountains and runs in arc around the subcontinent from the Eastern Cape to Mpumalanga. From this plains and plateaus, highland and lowveld all make up the stunning natural scenery from extreme environments of harsh Kalahari deserts, beautiful beaches and dramatic coastlines, incredible game parks including the famous Kruger National Park with everything else in between. Added to all this is a wide mix of cultures – no wonder it’s called the Rainbow Nation and one of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations. The Republic of South Africa, is located on the southern tip of the African continent with land boundaries totalling: 4,862 km andhas borders with the following countries Botswana 1, 840 km, Lesotho 909 km, Mozambique 491 km, Namibia 967 km, Swaziland 430 km, Zimbabwe 225 k. Size 1,219,912 sq km (471,011 sq miles) of land. South Africa wholly encompasses the mountain kingdom of Lesotho. South Africa is compiled out of nine provinces: the Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu–Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Northern Cape, North West and the Western Cape. The Northern Cape is by far the largest province, but also has the smallest population while the smallest province is Gauteng, which has the densest population. The country has a population of more than 55 million. There is a wide range of cultural languages spoken though English is readily spoken in tourism regions IsiZ ulu 23.8%, IsiXhosa 17.6%, Afrikaans 13.3%, Sepedi 9.4%, English 8.2%, Setswana 8.2%, Sesotho 7.9%, Xitsonga 4.4%, other 7.2% (2001 census)

Economy: South Africa is an upper–middle–income market as classified by the World Bank, with an abundant supply of natural resources; well–developed financial, legal, communications, energy, and transport sectors; a stock exchange that is 19th largest in the world; and modern infrastructure supporting an efficient distribution of goods to major urban centres throughout the region. Growth was robust from 2004 to 2008 as South Africa reaped the benefits of macro–economic stability and a global commodities boom, but began to slow in the second half of 2008 due to the global financial crisis impact on commodity prices and demand. However, unemployment remains high and outdated infrastructure has constrained growth. At the end of 2007, South Africa began to experience an electricity crisis because state power supplier Eskom suffered supply problems with aged plants, necessitating "load–shedding" cuts to residents and businesses in the major cities. Daunting economic problems remain from the apartheid era – especially poverty, lack of economic empowerment among the disadvantaged groups, and a shortage of public transportation. South African economic policy is fiscally conservative but pragmatic, focusing on controlling inflation, maintaining a budget surplus, and using state–owned enterprises to deliver basic services to low–income areas as a means to increase job growth and household income. Most sectors have continued to decline since then but it is still the second largest economy in Africa after Nigeria.In 2016 the top five challenges to doing business in the country were inefficient government bureaucracy, restrictive labour regulations, a shortage of skilled workers, political instability, and corruption, whilst the country’s strong banking sector was rated as a strongly positive feature of the economy. Main economies include: mining (diamonds, coal, iron ore, platinum, other metals and minerals, machinery and equipment, motor cars, fruits, wines, various agriculture foodstuffs, ground and air military hardware along with other agriculture and manufacturing.

Flora & Fauna:

South Africa is renowned for protecting it wildlife and natural heritage and as such is made up of 16 national parks and around 800 game reserves, along with hundreds of privately owned establishments – all are set in a variety of landscapes from mountains, beaches, forests, savannah and veld through to desert regions and each has a natural charm With an amazing variety of fauna, there are some 23,000 species of flowering plant and indigenous plant life along with 728 species of trees. The Cape alone has 6 natural vegetation zones with 7,700 plant species within the fynbos biome of which over 5,000 are endemic to the Cape. Thanks to the size of the country and the affects of the oceans and zones, weather can vary from one part of the country to the next.

There are 299 species of mammal species in South Africa, with the springbok the national animal, and home to the Big 5 – rhino, lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo. Included in the species is the elegant giraffe down to tiny shrews and mice. However, there 2 are critically endangered, 11 endangered, 15 vulnerable and 13 near threatened species within the country. Kruger and some of the surrounding and more exclusive private reserves, are rated among one of the world’s top wildlife areas, due to location, variation and the ease in which many species can be spotted (particularly in adjacent and some of the decent/larger private reserves where spotting and enjoying large predator sightings are particularly good). Kruger (and surrounds) has nearly 150 species of mammal, and 507 bird species.

Large mammals: The Big 5 (as above), giraffe, hippo and larger antelope such as eland. Let’s not forget marine mammals such as whales and the migration route of species such as southern–right whale particularly close to Hermanus and one of the best places in the world to view from land.
Predators: Big cats include lion, leopard, cheetah, servals, wild cat and spotted cat, while the dog–relatives include wild dog, jackal and foxes. Spotted hyena is found in Kruger and other reserves whilst brown hyena is restricted to regions closer to Botswana and Namibia in northernmost areas (Kgalagadi has good numbers).
Endangered Species – include cheetah and wild dog, rhinos (black and white) over recent years suffered from poaching but in recent years further protection has helped stabilize numbers. Cape mountain zebra, after coming close to extinction have much healthier numbers and generally found in the eastern cape and surrounds. Both Addo and Mountain Zebra NP’s focus on endangered species.

Endemic: Includes the Cape Elephant Shrew, Cape Mole–rat, Cape Grysbok, Bontebok, Cape Kudu, Springbok and the Cape Horseshoe Bat.

Birding: Approximately 850 recorded species in South Africa. As one of the most bio–diverse countries in the world, South Africa boasts an inordinate number of bird species, making it a fabulous destination for keen bird–watchers and wildlife enthusiasts. In fact, of the hundreds of species here, there are more than 160 species that are endemic or near–endemic, which means that they come only from South Africa or its immediate neighbours. Visitors to the South African coast will enjoy spotting the African penguin or the African black oystercatcher (with its striking red beak). Other beautiful endemic or near–endemic species . include the Cape white–eye, Knysna turaco, South African shelduck, Hottentot buttonquail, and the Cape parrot (Birdlife SA) The blue crane is the national bird.

Conservation & Conservancies: For years South Africa has been protecting its animals with many projects running to the benefit of wildlife and the people within the immediate areas. As mentioned above Addo and Mountain Zebra NP’s focus on endangered species, Addo now even takes in a marine section to the park. Private conservancies are encouraged and actively supported by many tour operators as they generally contribute directly to the sustainable conservation areas of habitats outside of national parks and local communities benefit. Many private conservancies charge a levy type fee so money from each tourist contributes directly. There are generally fewer tourists in the private areas so tourism impact reduces. When rural communities benefit employment increases, along with health and education, and poaching/subsistence hunting reduces. Cultural excursions also help directly support local communities and in turn assist in keeping some of the traditions alive and provide income and independence.


Though the country is predominantly sunny, South Africa still experiences seasons and in winter it can be downright chilly! Located in the southern hemisphere, seasons are the reverse of the northern hemisphere with high summer months over December to February, and winter in June/July. Due to the size of the country there are seasonal/regional variations with Cape Town/Garden route and surrounds with a more Mediterranean climate where weather (like everywhere in the world) can be unpredictable and influenced by the Atlantic winds and weather, summers are unpredictable but generally mild and warm (and some rain normally). Locals state March–May are the best months as its mild and less windy (and is often out of main tourist season). Head further along the coast to the balmy KwaZulu – Natal (Durban/Drakensburg) brings warm sunny winters, warm waters and blue skies in summer though its not unusual for snow to fall in the winter over the mountains. Day temperatures are warmer than those of Cape Town in winter around 22c and reach an average of 28c in summer. The capital city of Pretoria and surrounds of Johannesburg lie on a plateau, less humidity than Kwa–Zulu Natal with hot summer days, and dry, cool nights in winter, retreating to day time temperatures of around 15c with summer 26cThe 2 main regions for travellers for Cape Town/Garden Route and Kruger as indicated below:

Western Cape including Cape Town
Summers Dry sunny summers with max temps around 26c. It is often windy and the south–easterly “Cape Doctor” can reach gale force.
Winter: Can be cold with min around 7c and max 17c – snow on higher peaks is not uncommon. Rainy season
Eastern Plateau including Johannesburg
Summer: Often late afternoon showers with storms and max temps around 25c – rarely gets very hot. Kruger region again can vary and get hotter
Winter: Dry & sunny with max around 20c. Can be very cold at night and early morning. During the day, temperatures rise quickly and short pants and short–sleeved shirts can be worn. IT IS COLDER THAN YOU THINK in winter.

Kruger National Park
Summer: Often late afternoon showers with storms and max temps low 30’s but can get hotter – weather here due to altitude can be more extreme than Highveld
Winter: Dry & sunny with max around 20c. Can be very cold at night and early morning. During the day, temperatures rise quickly and short pants and short–sleeved shirts can be worn.

When to Go: Bearing in the mind the above temperatures, South Africa can be a great year–round destination, and will depend what part of the country you wish to visit during your trip. Essentially if you opt for winter, ensure you pack for comfort and warmth – layered clothing works best and a rain jacket is useful. High season is normally between November to March with peak times early December, and then January–March. Shoulder season is April–May and September–October, for those wanting best game viewing times Autumn is considered better though whale season is in Winter to Spring (July–November), prices are generally a little lower in these months, its quieter and a good time to visit Karoo. Winters are mild, dry and good for wildlife viewing. Summers can get very hot and humid, but are a great time for visiting beaches and festivals. Spring is a great time for viewing wildflowers in the Northern and Western Cape provinces, and very little rain falls anywhere in autumn but the days are warm and the nights cool.

Getting around & transport

Thanks to a much larger population and better infrastructure getting around in SA is more straight forward than many other African countries. As a visitor you can join an overland tour and travel across the country with focus on main tourist spots. Alternatively, self–drive or join private tours – most of the roads are tarred and signposting good though there are generally tolls on major roads. There are also many small operators working in local regions offering a range of services, a reasonable train service and some fancy/quirky ones including the Blue Train, cheap flight options between the main cities, along bus/coach services including the intercape and hop–on/hop–off services specifically geared for those travelling on a budget.

Travel documents & information

Passport & Visa Information: It is the clients’ responsibility to ensure that they have allowed adequate time to obtain necessary visas in advance if they require them. We strongly recommend you check your government’s travel advisory for up–to–date information and advice about your destination. Whilst Southern Africa and much of East Africa are stable countries, it will give you current information regarding safety and security, health, safety and security, as well as local laws and customs.Visa Information: It is the clients’ responsibility to ensure that they have allowed adequate time to obtain necessary visas in advance if they require them.

Visas: are not required by EU countries (please check if you are not sure) Canada, USA, Australia & New Zealand (passports are stamped with a visa upon entry). Holders of passports other than those nationalities mentioned should check with their travel agent/government travel advisory regarding visa requirements as each client is held responsible to ensure that they have the appropriate documentation for entering the country. You may be refused entry to South Africa if you need a visa issued prior to arrival. This information is given in good faith but recommend you check in advance. A tourism fee may be charged upon visa issue.Please ensure you provide Chameleon with the correct passport information prior to arrival – passport number, full name as per passport, date of birth and passport expiry date.

IMPORTANT: Travelling with children
Travelling with children in Botswana/Namibia requires an unabridged birth certificate – please ensure you bring the necessary documentation even if are in transit only to Namibia. SA immigration has advised on the following: South African regulations regards a child as any person under the age of 18 years. It is applicable to all nationalities departing from and arriving in South Africa. The unabridged certificate should be submitted during the transit visa application process and both the certificate and visa should be carried on person whilst travelling. Further documentation is required if there is just 1 parent or if they are travelling with guardians. South Africa had the same ruling but has now relaxed it so not required if you are only travelling to SA. It is crucial that you contact the relevant country embassy for further information on exactly what may be required as regulations are changing on a regular basis – this is a guideline only.

Health tips

For additional information check the appropriate country’s government or travel advisory site for any further changes departure, as there are a few health matters that require attention. Here are some guidelines but please remember we are not medical practitioners and recommend you contact your Governments Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and discuss with your doctor about the current situation – as a guideline only and general recommendation. Please do not underestimate heat exhaustion.

South Africa include
Hepatitis A & B – Vaccines give good protection; initially two weeks from first dose and then second dose within 6–12months gives long–term protection
Polio – Within 10years
Typhoid – Recommended and most people have this if regular travellers
TB – recommended and covers long term
Tetanus – Yes – note there is a all–in–one vaccine that covers tetanus, polio and diphtheria
Malaria – Protection against malaria is highly recommended as malaria occurs in certain areas of South Africa including Kruger but not further south of Addo/Port Elizabeth. Please check with your doctor the most appropriate malaria prophylactics.
Yellow Fever – not required in RSA, however, if you are travelling from countries with yellow fever you may be asked to produce the certificate of vaccination – regulations for this are changing on a regular basis and we advise you check in plenty of time before your trip.

Water: Tap water in towns/cities has been treated and is safe to drink though you may prefer bottled mineral water.

Money Issues, Foreign Exchange & Budgeting for your Trip

Money & FX:
South Africa: South African rand
Credit Cards: Visa and MasterCard are generally accepted in shops and restaurants in towns/cities and many lodges. Use of credit cards may incur an additional fee
Cash: Available at ATM machines using credit card and pin number. There are FX bureau’s upon arrival at International Airport for those arriving by air. Rand is also available from most banks in home country.
Recommended Currency for Exchange: USD is readily exchanged and GBP/AUD to a lesser extent. Take your money in a combination of ATM cards and cash

Travel Insurance: As part of the Terms and Conditions to Chameleon Holidays and Travel, it is essential that all clients purchase comprehensive travel insurance. Your insurance should be inclusive of full medical cover including costs of emergency repatriation to your home country, and cancellation and strongly recommend covering for loss, damage, theft of personal luggage and belongings, personal injury, accident or illness. It is your responsibility to arrange appropriate insurance and have read and understood the full terms and conditions of this policy to ensure you are covered for all activities you intend to undertake whilst on your trip. Please carry your insurance details with you at all times and that you have given your details to us before arrival – you may be requested to show your insurance on the morning of safari departure or to complete indemnity so please ensure it is in hand luggage. We will also require a copy of this insurance or details for your insurance, in the very unlikely event that you are involved in an accident or require health care whilst you are on holiday we MAY need to be able to act on your behalf and instruct medical evacuation – please note that much of Africa is not like many first world countries where there is a good local emergency and health service that will automatically assist – here, they don’t! If for any reason you are unconscious we need to be able to act on your behalf and get assistance to you as quickly as possible. Chameleon recommends: www.worldnomads.com

Packing Checklist: Safari: Neutral coloured casual clothing (shorts/long trousers, shirts/t–shirts) for everyday wear, bright colours or white are not suitable for game viewing in game walks or open vehicles; stout shoes (with soles thick enough to protect against thorns and for walking) or robust trainers with good traction soles, light jacket or jumper (summer time), warm jumper and jacket (winter time), light spray jacket during rainy season.
In towns/cities : normal clothing attire though note area you are travelling to
Other clothing: sunhat; nightwear; underwear; socks; sandals; swimwear; scarf/gloves; beanie/warm hat for winter months; thermals useful in winter;

Enquire about our safaris

Namibia Tourism Board
Air Namibia
Budget Car Rentals
Tour & Safari Association