And South Africa was, in effect, a great surprise.
In my plans up to just under 48 before purchasing the ticket to Cape Town were the Philippines.
As usual by now, this last year has accustomed me to clicking on a place far from the initial destination that I had considered, and so, with a two days long flight that has taken me back for 17 hours to Addis Abeba, I landed in Cape Town and my long adventure of 2 months in South Africa began in this controversial and interesting city.
The following is a post started before I left that includes the pre-travel technical details and the details of travel in On The Road, or rather, what I had discovered once I had arrived.
Started before my departure, this post that I imagine might turn out useful to all those who, like me, had decided on a destination without having a clue on how to organize themselves, was created on the basis of all the practical lessons I have learned during these first weeks, especially because this country forces you to important choices, due particularly to a detail that we cannot but take into account: the size of the country.
I thought at the beginning that two months was a decent period to travel a good part of it, but the more the time passed the more I became aware that perhaps 3 months would not be enough to be able to travel from north to south and from east to west.
So the itinerary followed, with calm and long periods in some places, was much less extensive than I had at first believed, however, trying to get what I wanted from this gigantic country that offers everything to everyone, but makes the decision difficult. But on this subject and the itineraries followed I will defer to future posts.
Let’s come instead to the technical issues.
I have listed all the information that I have found useful in the planning phase and I hope they can be useful to all the people who wish to discover this controversial country which, I admit, leaves a bit of a bitter taste in the mouth and is not simple to penetrate and understand.
I hope you have at least a month to dedicate to South Africa so as to be able to gain momentum and begin to feel comfortable in it.
As the post is very long, to simplify reading click on the chapter you are interested to find out the contents in detail:
Planning a trip to South Africa – Step by Step
VISA FOR SOUTH AFRICA
Europeans do not need a visa to enter South Africa, that issued to the arrivals is free and is valid for three months .
As always, make sure your passport to be valid for at least 6 months after your entrance in the country .
If you want to stay longer you must contact your own embassy, or if you have already planned to stay longer than the 90 days granted then you must make prior application request for the temporary residence permit .
For more information on the consulate in South Africa click here. On this page you can find an updated list of South African delegations in the world.
INTERNATIONAL DRIVING LICENCE
I drove for 2 months and was stopped at checkpoints but my international driving license was given back to me without being looked at (perhaps they did not even know what it was) .
But to remain within the law, and especially in the unfortunate case of accidents the International driving license, in this case are accepted both the conventions ( Geneva and Vienna, hence that of 3 or 1 year ), is essential.
I must remind you that in case of accidents, the insurance companies may not pay up if you have driven without having the correct documentation, so I know that it is an additional not indifferent cost but I highly recommend you to do it.
For more information on international driving license click here.
HOW TO TRAVEL IN SOUTH AFRICA
Car and self Drive
For the first time in many years of traveling this time instead of the bus, I have chosen car rental and to travel the country by self drive.
After varied research, the option to rent the car fell on Rentalcars.. who had offered us the best rate on a long-term rental.
Car pick-up in Cape Town and drop off in Durban, all inclusive insurance, unlimited mileage and in addition a driver more, for a total of 45 days : € 700 ( € 350 per person).
The cost of petrol in South Africa at the time, December/January 2015/2016: ZAR or rather 0.60 euro, favoured also by a decline of RAND on the euro that in the first three days rose from 15 to 17. I must remind you that in South Africa the driving is on the left, in two days of driving you will find yourself at ease with it.
MyCiti – Getting around Cape Town
For those who do not want to rent a car, but it is really highly recommended to do so, the thing to do for moving around Cape Town is the MyCiti card, that can be done quickly at the airport, before taking the bus towards the Civic Center, it is valid for three years and can be recharged at many bus stations. You pay per mileage.
If you need to take more buses pass the card on IN when you get on the first bus and then on OUT when you arrive at your destination, the buses are equipped with two different readers next to the driver. The magnetic card will do the calculations by itself.
Baz Bus – The backpackers’ bus
To move between the different destinations instead, a very popular option among the backpackers is the Baz Bus, a bus that connects the main tourist destinations, stretching up to Durban and Johannesburg, it will fetch you in front of the hostel (if arranged) and leaves you right in front of the one you have booked to stay in.
The ticket options are: Hop on and Hop Off or the travel pass from 7, 14 and 21 days that allow you to get on and off as many times as you want at no additional cost.
The difference between the two is that the hop on and hop off makes you travel only in one direction while the travel pass at any (so you can do it forwards and backwards).
Baz Bus also offers safari packages and excursions, ideal solution for those who are by themselves and do not want to spend too much.
In alternative for those who prefer the journey without the group and backpackers and completely self-organized, the companies that travel the whole country are: Intercape and Greyhound.
The buses are comfortable, air-conditioned, and certainly do not offer the travel patterns of backpackers. The costs are cheaper than the Baz bus on long routes and more expensive on the short ones, it’s worth checking the cost difference but especially considering beforehand which way of travel you prefer, sometimes it is preferable to pay more to be able to enjoy the traveling in your own way .
Flying in South Africa can be incredibly cheap, the main low cost airlines in the country are: FlyMango and Kukula that offer domestic air flights even at € 30 per flight and numerous offers and last minutes.
To search for the best prices I have always, however, resorted to the ever flight search engine: Skyscanner.
This is a last quite popular travel option and one that offers excellent alternatives to buses and to flights. The rail system is in fact well articulated and the various prices, starting from the economical seats up to luxury.
Shosholoza Meyl is the reference site for travel by train, distinguished in Economical and touristic, and in this link you can find the prices and schedules.
For those who want to live a luxurious experience and of other eras the Blue train is the right choice. The following route is the Pretoria -Cape Town of which prices start from € 800 in low season up to € 1,300 in the high one. This trip includes of course a luxury treatment made up of excellent venom cigars, food and elegant cabins and worthy of the cost that one pays.
WHERE TO STAY IN SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa is certainly one of the African countries better equipped and organized of this continent, at least this is true especially in the tourist areas.
The country also offers a vast selection of campsites, which obviously cost even less and, in the event that you are interested in this possibility, it is recommended for you to leave with camping gear from home (tent , sleeping bag and mat ), alternately Cape Town is well stocked with outdoor equipment stores such as the Sportsman Wharehouse .
The sites that I have used for booking hotels, hostels and apartments are the following:
Incredibly useful is the guide for backpackers that ALL hostels give: South Africa Coast to Coast.
This country is wonderful for backpacker travellers and I have slept in beautiful hostels without ever paying more than € 10.
SEASON AND BEST TIME TO TRAVEL IN SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa is a subtropical region, that covers a coastline of well 2,798 kilometers, starting from the border with Namibia up to the border with Mozambique characterized by a temperate climate, the key factor that makes it a perfect destination all year round thanks to the rather dry climate, in winter, though, contrary to what one might imagine, despite the similarities with Australia, the temperatures, especially at altitude, can drop down a lot, as in Johannesburg, while in coastal regions even winter is pleasant but the best time is probably our winter-time which corresponds to their summer, from November to May just for instance.
South Africa , however, still lives the 4 seasons . Here are some details on these:
Summer – From Mid October to mid February
Summer is from mid-October to mid-February and is characterized by warmth and it is usually sunny even though afternoon thunderstorms often occur but that do not last long.
Autumn – From mid-February to April
Autumn is from mid-February to April and it is an ideal period because it is not too hot and rain is scarse throughout the country, the Cape Town area, in particular, is hot and the evenings are still spent outdoors.
Winter – from May to July
Winter is from May to July, in the areas of the plateau and characterized by the absence of rain, sun and cold nights, days with strong winds can occur.
In the high altitude areas it may snow but it is also a great time to visit KwaZulu-Natal, the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and the Limpopo province.
The high mountains of the Cape and of the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal are usually covered with snow.
Spring – From August to mid-October
The spring begins in August and lasts until mid-October, this is the ideal time to visit the Northern Cape and the Western Cape, besides, it is also in this period that the flowers give their best coloring the usually semi-arid plains. It’s time to visit the Namaqualand.
MONEY AND PRACTICAL DETAILS
The thing that probably gladdens many people is that especially in the Cape Town region and in the towns, everything and practically everywhere you can pay by credit card, a thing to consider to avoid walking with too much cash on you.
Some cash for small purchases is good to have on you, and scattered around the city, shopping centers and stations there are ATMs.
I recommend you to make sure you are in a safe area and that there are no shady types around.
The currency of South Africa is the South African Rand whose code is ZAR. Currently the exchange rate is € 1 = 17 ZAR to stay up-dated on the exchanges I suggest you to download the offline applications on mobile phones (I use the: Currency) so as to always have a clear idea on how much you are paying for something.
SIM CARD AND INTERNET
I imagined that after being able to connect in Ethiopia and Tanzania to be able to do so in South Africa would be a breeze, and in fact the SIM purchase process with connection data was quick and simple.
The companies that I have been recommended are Vodacom and Cell C. The promotions and the offers are equivalent, and having tried both I think they work very well just about everywhere.
Mainly at the moment for 2 gigabytes of internet the offers start from 259 ZAR with both telephone companies .
Internet connections instead are not always very fast as modem, unless you have the fiber, but Cape Town in particular is full of bars and restaurants with free wifi. So to remain connected will not be a problem. For those who want to stay connected always, the phone companies also sell modems for laptops that work just like the phone cards.
Generally in all shopping centers throughout the city center you can find shops where you can buy the card at a cost of 3 ZAR. It’s important to have a passport with you or at least a photocopy.
PRACTICAL TRAVEL TIPS
Simple tips to not arrive unprepared in South Africa :
- First, it is important to have with you the South Africans adapters that are very particular. I bought 4 adapters on amazon for about 23 € for 4. My advice is to buy more than one because otherwise it will be difficult to load too many things. It’s true that many hotels and hostels offer European plugs but if this does not happen it is good to have spare adapters
- Tipping in restaurants or bars are common practice. Leave therefore always something at the time you pay. Usually even if you pay by credit card you are asked the amount you want to pay. Tips paid by card are as good as leaving them on the table
- The tap water is drinkable almost everywhere in urban areas but it is recommended always to ask before drinking
- If you travel by Self drive a gps will be VITAL and ESSENTIAL! Download Free South Africa OffLine Map application, it will be your ace in the “Machine” It will take you just about anywhere without needing to be connected to the network
- If you use the phone as gps you should take with you the multiport Charger to be connected to the cigarette-lighter of the car. ESSENTIAL for not running out of battery and not to lose your way
- Paying by credit card is quite common in urban and more populated areas. In rural areas only cash is accepted
SAFETY AND HAZARDS
South Africa is known to be a country in which to keep eyes wide open, the discriminations but especially the huge social differences make this country one of those at risk .
In my experience, though, you have to simply hold the attitudes that would be the same that you would adopt in many other areas of the world, such as Latin America or other African countries, in particular:
- Carry with you always padlocks with which to close the luggage and lockers in the hostels
- Never leave anything, bags or luggage, unguarded
- Carry with you little money and do not take your passport out in the streets but only a copy of it
- Do not accept assistance at the ATMs
- When you pay by credit card at restaurants let the POS be brought to the table
- Ask at the reception of the hotel and the hostel if it is safe to walk in the area where you are and advice on where to go and where not to go alone
- Avoid walking at night but take a taxi, which cost, among other things very little
- In case of robbery do not resist and give them what you are asked without reacting
- Do not flaunt valuables, but, at the same time, do not live in paranoia
- If, in the street you do not feel safe or you believe someone is following you, walk into a store and wait or ask for a taxi to be called
- Drive in the cities with the windows closed, or, in any case, do not put bags with valuables in them on the seat.
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela – Nelson Mandela – When I saw it I thought I would never have finished it, 600 pages of not very big characters. But I was fascinated right from the first pages. A beautiful autobiography of Nelson Mandela that talks about South Africa from the year 1918, the year he was born.
A Rainbow in the Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa – Wonderful Book. What lucid and incredible fluency that tells a part of the history that is unknown, the birth of Apartheid, which originated from the low and not by the powerful. A controversial book about the roots of the phenomenon. ****** HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation – In 1994, the first elections by universal suffrage, Mandela triumphs. South Africa is made, what remains to be made are the South Africans. “Madiba” invents the most daring and unlikely bet: use the rugby game, the sport of the whites, to unite once and for all the South Africans.
Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland (Travel Guide) – Important guide to start practical planning one’s trip to South Africa.
I travel independently taking mainly public transport. A world trip began in 2011 is not yet finished, my mission is to explore the world and write about it. Travel consultant Galapagos, Argentina, Morocco, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Namibia.