Life in South Africa is played out on its vast animal-rich savannahs where nature is at its most primal; during buzzy evenings in Cape Town where the food is good and the company is even better; on the colossal wine route brimming with its sweet nectar and at the top of its incredible mountains that soar above the landscape. An old tourist slogan describes South Africa as ‘the world in one country’ and anyone who visits is compelled to agree. Here are some things to note before your stay.
There’s a surprisingly small time difference between the UK and South Africa – the latter is just two hours ahead, but the social and cultural gap is vast. The country itself is colossal too, at roughly five times bigger in size than the UK.
Along Cape Town’s waterfront there are plenty of beautiful spots to hang your hat – Camps Bay and Hout Bay are both traveller favourites, places where the sun shines bright and there’s a peaceful hum in the air. The same goes for Franschhoek in the heart of South Africa’s wine route on the Western Cape, where green hills abound and your only worry is which vineyard to pounce on next. Elsewhere, it’s wise to take precautions. While the majority of visitors to South Africa experience no difficulties whatsoever, the country does have a high crime rate and it’s advisable to play things safe. The wealth gap in South Africa is huge and theft is common – avoid wearing expensive jewellery or watches that will draw attention to you, be discrete with electronics like phones, laptops and cameras and if you carry a bag, secure any pockets or openings and keep it close to you at all times. Roll car windows up, especially at red lights. Do not walk at night outside of tourist areas, especially if they’re deserted. It’s unlikely you’ll have even the slightest trouble during your trip with us – our hotels are located in safe neighbourhoods and our guides will be able to give you the best possible up-to-date advice for a problem-free trip. For most travellers, the greatest risk of South Africa comes in the form of its penguins, which caught on the wrong day are frankly warlike!
South Africans are generally a friendly lot, they smile, joke and demonstrate enthusiasm readily. An ancient rivalry between Cape Town and Johannesburg still light-heartedly remains today, with both cities claiming to be the best in the world. Cape Town’s natural beauty is undeniable, yet Johannesburg’s spirit is captivating. In short: money is made in Johannesburg and spent in Cape Town and both are excellent stops on your South African journey.
South Africa is a sporting nation and rugby and football matches are big events that dominate the towns and cities. Following South Africa’s 2019’s Rugby World Cup victory, thousands of people flooded the streets of Soweto for a victory parade of epic proportions.
Locals know how to let their hair down and beer and barbecues are almost always on the go. But barbecues aren’t the only food on offer – South African cuisine covers all bases, from delicious bites on street corners to exquisite fine dining. Ingredients are often organic and portions are enormous – so much so, it can be needless ordering three courses, when you can rarely get through them all. Wines are wonderful and plentiful; white, red and everything in between. Food is great value and tipping in restaurants is usually 10% of the total.
In the bush, there are a few key principles to follow: never deviate from the commandments of the rangers. Never get out of a car outside of designated area. When staying in a camp, always wait for staff to come and get you before emerging from your tent. Hippos coming out of water points and passing through camps is a dangerous scenario that alone accounts for more accidents than any other African wildlife meeting.
Using all your senses while on safari is important – your detective skills will be put to the test when tracking elusive animals. Listen to your surroundings as they’ll give you multiple clues. Forget mobile phones and chit chat ¬– to be victorious often means hours of pin-drop silence that eventually results in an incredible sighting. Don’t expect to see The Big Five in one go and on your first game drive though – despite the incredible expertise of rangers, animals are wild and unpredictable, exactly as we love them. Be patient and when you finally do catch sight of the lion you’ve been searching for days, it’ll feel all the sweeter.
A good ranger and tracker are worth their weight in gold as the success of your trip is in their hands. Tipping them following a safari is an appreciated gesture and between 50 and 100 rand per day per person is a good guide. A small gratuity for other staff, including servers, porters and housekeeping staff will also be very welcome – a tip box is sometimes installed at the reception for ease.
If you take a private flight or smaller aircraft to reach your lodge, chances are you’ll be given just 15kgs of luggage allowance, which is ideally stashed in flexible bags that fit better in cramped cargo holds. Travel light – there’s no need for style in the bush and belongings are washed every day. Remember to bring binoculars, a power adapter and especially sunscreen. Gin and tonic has been disproved as an effective treatment against malaria, but we still think it’s worth indulging when you’re back at base camp. After all, there’s nothing like a sparkling sundowner as the day closes on another glorious day out in the wild.
A trip to the rainbow nation will delight, excite and astound in equal measure – with incredible scenery, next-level nature and a rich culture, South Africa disarms anyone who enters.