South Africa – What you Need to Know

South Africa is possibly my favorite country to travel to, and I’ve been to over 50. As with any new place, it can take a while to get used to the local norms. It is also helpful to get a few safety tips in advance rather than learning the hard way.

Transportation (General)

Watch yourself at red lights. Close your windows, whether it is in a car or on a train. Thieves will reach into the window and snatch your phone or other valuables and be gone before you can even react. I had Uber drivers and random strangers who were passengers on the train with me remind of this and tell me to close the window and/or put my phone away when we stopped.

Trains

I only took the local trains in Cape Town. I used the Southern Route train to get from Cape Town to the southern peninsula seaside towns. The train is not in great condition and it is not overrun with tourists. It is extremely cheap and gets you where you need to go, just maybe not when expected as it can often be late or early. I would use it again but it would’t be my first choice.

Uber

When you’re in most cities, Uber is very common and quite cheap. I used this everywhere in Cape Town in particular and had safe, reliable transport everywhere. No haggling or worries. I highly recommend using Uber in South Africa.

Driving

For me, I’ve driven on the left before, but not a stick shift. It took a little getting used to and was fine, in general. Other cars will overtake you, even in no-passing zones, depending on where you are. Be cautious and aware of the cars around you.

Parking

This was a strange one for me. There are men everywhere wearing random neon vests who will ask for money to watch your car. I, personally, think it is a variation of extortion. They will run up to your car when you park or as you’re leaving and ask for money. Some say they have to give it to an ‘office’ while others are simply asking for cash unabashedly to ensure that no one messes with your car. In some cases I paid, in others I did not (usually paid if they asked right when I parked, before I left the area). Your call really, but be ready for it.

NOTE: I did get my hubcaps stolen while parked right in front of my hotel in Port Elizabeth despite having specifically asked about security for my car.

Tipping

The standard is 10% in restaurants. When you get your bill, if you’re paying with a card some waitstaff will ask how much you want to charge (you can’t add on afterward). You can give them the total you’d like to pay and they will charge that amount to your card. This is what I found to be the easiest way to tip.

Drinking water

South Africa is very proud of their drinking water and you can drink tap water pretty much everywhere. When you’re on safari or on a game reserve may be the only exception. Your host or hotel will likely tell you if the water is not okay to drink. It doesn’t always taste great, but I drank it everyday for a month with no negative consequences.

Honestly, you’re in South Africa. Wine is cheap, delicious and pure. Just drink local wine.

WiFi & SIM Cards

I grabbed a Vodacom SIM card upon arrival and got a fairly good deal. It was about $USD 30 for 5G of data over 30 days. Refilling was $USD 30 for 3G so you may as well just get a new SIM. Many bars and restaurants also have free WiFi.

Malaria and Mosquitos

This is not an issue in most of the major cities. Also, many private game reserves, like Manyoni, are 99% malaria free. If you’re going to Kruger National Park (the most popular tourist attraction in the country) there is a malaria risk. You should talk to your doctor before traveling and get preventative medication.

Seafood

I love the variety of food in South Africa, from local game to seafood. Everywhere you go the restaurant will boast the best Fish-n-Chips. I highly recommend trying Kinglip (whether battered or not), as it was one of my favorite dishes in multiple dining spots.

Game dishes

I tried a few tasty game dishes during my South African tour. I really enjoyed Kudu carpaccio and some of the various antelope steaks that were served. My recommendation here is to just go or it. Most of the ‘game’ dishes were much less ‘gamey’ than similar dishes I’ve tried in the US. Try everything.

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