Complete Travel Guide For Southern Africa

Are you thinking about taking a trip to Southern Africa? Diverse, large and full to the brim with natural beauty, South Africa is a beautiful country that varies from incredible safari destinations in the Northern region all the way to bustling city life over on the Western Cape. 

When visiting a new country, it only makes sense that you should want to make sure that you’ve planned and prepared to make the trip as safe and as enjoyable as possible. From places to visit, how to get around all the way to staying safe - there’s lots to do your research on, and this is where we come in to lend a helping hand.

Below, we’re going to be talking you through everything that you need to know when preparing for a trip to South Africa. To help streamline the process of planning your journey, as well as to make sure that you are able to get the most out of your trip, we’ve made sure to cover all bases in this guide. 

So, just keep on reading to discover our complete travel guide to exploring Southern Africa! Whenever you’re ready, let’s begin.


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Where To Go In South Africa

Southern Africa has plenty of different places for you to explore, so it only makes sense that you might currently be wondering where you should go first! Below, let’s take a look at all of the top places that you should consider paying a visit to if you are going to be heading to South Africa:

    • Cape Town

First up, we have Cape Town. Situated right between steep mountains and the rolling waves of the Indian ocean, Cape Town is famous for its culture and atmosphere - and is a must visit if you are going to be spending some time in South Africa. Thanks to the unique landscape of Cape Town, it means that you will be able to enjoy everything from gardens, beaches, grasslands, nature reserves as well as a vast array of winelands to explore. 


    • Durban

Besides being able to take in a vast array of stunning landscapes, Cape Town is also known for its bustling atmosphere and vibrant city center that features street food vendors, local architecture, plenty of independent shops to explore and, of course, plenty of restaurants. Cape Town is also known for being blessed with warm weather, which makes it an ideal place to visit for anyone looking to take in all the best that South Africa has to offer while also being able to catch a tan.

Another place that you should consider visiting while in South Africa is Durban! Durban is South Africa’s third-largest City and is known as being one of the biggest and most vibrant urban areas across the country. Similar to Cape Town, Durban gets plenty of warm weather all throughout the year, which makes it an ideal destination for anyone looking to enjoy a sun-filled vacation.  

If all that wasn’t impressive enough, Durban is also located super close to the Indian ocean, which means that Durban also has plenty of beaches that you’ll be able to visit whenever you’re in the mood to kick back in the sun and spend some time enjoying the water.

Durban is also famous for its markets, so if you’re someone that enjoys shopping, then you should definitely make sure that you factor a visit to this vibrant city into your itinerary! In particular, you’ll be able to take a deep dive into the rich and vast history of Durban by exploring the Zulu and Indian markets, although there are a variety of other markets that you’ll be able to explore here, as well.


    • Johannesburg

If you’re only planning to visit one part of South Africa during your upcoming trip and you’re not sure which city is going to be the right option - you aren’t going to be disappointed with making the journey to Johannesburg.

Regardless of whether you’re a newbie traveler or you’ve been to more places than you can count, Johannesburg is most definitely worth the visit. Besides being one of the most iconic cities in South Africa, Johannesburg is also deemed as being one of the best cities in the world for visitors that are looking for an authentic, cultural experience like no other.

Besides offering great food, drink and entertainment, Johannesburg is also rich in history, and culture, which means that you will have the opportunity to explore all of the different historical sites, galleries and museums that Johannesburg has to offer.


    • Pretoria

Another place certainly worth visiting in South Africa is Pretoria, which is famous among tourists and locals alike for being a scholastic city full to the brim with culture and history. Besides containing many different research centers, Pretoria is also home to three elite colleges, including the iconic South African Bureau of Standards as well as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). 

Besides that, Pretoria is also full to the brim with many different historical monuments, museums, galleries and even protected nature reserves that will allow you to delve deep into the rich history of South Africa. Of course, you’ll also find an array of delicious restaurants and stylish bars to kick back in after you’re done exploring, while the warm weather will help to ensure a pleasant experience. 

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the diverse culture of South Africa, you’ll be making the right choice to explore Pretoria.

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Best Things to Do in South Africa:

There are plenty of different things to see and do in South Africa! Below, let’s take a look at some of the best places that you can  visit during your time in South Africa:


    • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

One of the most popular places to visit in South Africa is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park! Situated in southern Kalahari, 73% of this national park is situated in Botswana, while the other 27% is situated in South Africa. A top tourist attraction, this conservation area is famous for being home to a wide variety of wildlife to view, including lions, cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and plenty of other animals including antelope. 


    • Winelands

Another popular tourist destination that you should consider placing on your itinerary during your stay in South Africa are the winelands. The Cape Winelands are situated extremely close to Cape Town, and they are famous for producing some of the best wines in the world. During your visit, you’ll be able to enjoy stunning views of the vineyards and even enjoy a mouthwateringly good meal at the various restaurants located here. You’ll also be able to learn about the history of the winelands during your tour, too.  If you’re heading to Cape Town with friends or you're a special someone, visiting the winelands area is sure to be a great day out filled with breathtaking views and the chance to learn more the rich history of this area in the Western Cape. 


    • Kruger National Park

If you’re someone that loves being outdoors (or you simply want to capture some beautiful photos of South Africa’s natural beauty) then you’ll want to make sure that you take a trip to Kruger National Park! Known for its history and legend, Kruger is not to be missed during your trip to South Africa. There’s even a safari you can go on, which will provide you with the opportunity to spot large game including rhinos, elephants, leopards, buffalos and, of course, lions.


    • The Drakensberg

If you’re not afraid of heights or you love nothing more than going on a hike, we think that you might love the Drakensberg mountains. Situated between Lesotho and South Africa, the Drakensberg mountains are packed full of natural phenomena and beautiful views, including a 5-kilometer long cliff face, as well as the second highest waterfall in the world. 

If you’re daring enough to reach the top, you’ll even be able to kick back, relax and take in the mountainous views with an ice-cold beer at the top of the 3,000 meter vantage point! If you’re in search of a thrill during your trip to South Africa, you’re not going to be disappointed with the Drakensberg mountains. 


    • Live music in Johannesburg

Besides being rich in culture and history, did you know that South Africa is also famous for its live music events? That’s right, and you’ll be able to dance the night away enjoying live music  and a good atmosphere in the heart of South Africa: Johannesburg! The city is famous for its bustling nightlife, so we’re sure that you’ll be pleased to hear that you’ll be able to enjoy a wide variety of live music events there all throughout the year.

From intimate local artists that regularly perform throughout the many different quaint restaurants in Johannesburg, all the way to full-blown concerts featuring a wide variety of music genres including jazz and reggaeton, you’re sure to discover a variety of live music events in Joburg that you’ll remember for years to come.


    • Addo Elephant National Park

Who doesn’t love elephants? The third largest national park in South Africa, Addo Elephant National Park is the place to be if you want to explore South African landscapes, fauna, biodiversity and, of course, view some majestic elephants in their natural habitat, But, that’s not all! Despite its name, Addo Elephant National Park is also the only park in the world that currently offers shelter and protection to “Africa’s Big 7” which includes lion, buffalo, whale, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and even great white shark. It’s a must-visit to anyone taking a trip to South Africa!


    • Table Mountain

Considered to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the world, Table Mountain is another place worthy of taking a trip to during your stay in South Africa. Besides boasting total natural beauty, Table Mountain is rich in floral biodiversity and is currently part of the Cape Floral Kingdom World Heritage Site. Fun fact: Table Mountain is home to around 8,200 plant species! 

If you’re interested in taking the trip to Table Mountain, you’ll be able to decide which type of hike you’d like to embark on. For those interested in reaching the vantage point, you’ll need to be prepared for a 5 kilometer walk that will take you around 5 hours to complete. Alternatively, if this isn’t something you’d like to do, you can opt for the half-day hike which is three kilometers and will take you around 3 hours to complete.


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How to Get Around South Africa


    • Public Transportation

If you’re going to be visiting South Africa, you’re going to need to make sure that you are able to travel around safely. One of the most common ways that people traveling in South Africa tend to get from place to place is public transportation. At the time of writing, public transport in South Africa is primarily made up of buses, with routes all throughout the country. 

However, it is worth noting that there is no singular service that runs throughout South Africa, instead there are various bus companies that operate within each municipality. So, if you are planning to visit a certain part of South Africa and want to get around primarily on a bus, you should be sure to do your research ahead of time to learn what bus company operates there.


    • Taxi or Ridesharing

Along with buses, another way that you can get around in South Africa is via a taxi. In order to stay safe during your time in South Africa, it is greatly recommended that you ask your hotel for assistance on reliable taxi companies to use when you arrive in South Africa, as they will be able to provide you with information on taxi services in your specific area. 

Alternatively, if you want to try and save some money, you can opt to use services such as Uber in order to rideshare, which is significantly cheaper than a regular taxi or Uber trip. If you’re interested in a rideshare, you will essentially share the ride service with other people who are on the same route as you, which might allow you to save upwards of 20%! This means that you will be able to save money and put it towards other areas of your South Africa trip.


    • Train

If buses and taxis aren’t an available option for you, then you can alternatively opt to utilize the South African train service. There are over 17 operational train lines that run throughout South Africa (at the time of writing) and besides helping you get from one destination to the next, trains also provide travelers with the unique opportunity to take in some breathtaking views of some of the most beautiful places in South Africa. 


    • Car Rental

If you don’t want to go down the route of the transportation options that we have shared in the points above, then another option that you have available to you to consider is car rental! If you want to rent a car during your time in South Africa, you will need to make sure that you have your driver's license, as well as factor in additional money in your spending budget to ensure that you will be able to afford the rental for the length of your stay, as well as insurance and gas.


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How to Stay Safe in South Africa

When traveling through South Africa, you’re going to need to make sure that you are keeping safe while you are enjoying your travels. Of course, while South Africa is considered to be a relatively safe place, just like with anywhere else in the world, you’re going to need to make sure that you are keeping your wits about you and taking the necessary safety precautions for a safe trip. 

Below, let’s take a look at some of the main ways that you can help to ensure you stay safe while traveling in South Africa:


    • Staying Safe In The Airport:

While you are traveling through the airport, you should make sure that all of the baggage and luggage you are planning to bring along with you have name tags and that they are locked. 

This will help to make sure that you are able to easily identify your luggage and baggage in the instance that it goes missing or it gets misplaced, while also ensuring that your belongings are safely locked away from people that might try to get inside.

Along with the above, you should also make sure that you do not let anyone tamper with your bags. If you feel that your baggage or luggage might have been tampered with without your knowledge (or against your permission) then it is very important to make sure that you speak with a member of the Airport staff or the South African police. 

Additionally, while you are traveling through a South African airport, it is also important to make sure that when seeking directions on getting to a certain destination in South Africa, you only take information from official information desks. 

If you cannot find any information desks while you are at the airport, you can alternatively seek assistance from an alternative help desk at the airport, and we’re sure that the members of staff there will be more than happy to assist you. 


    • Staying Safe At The Accommodation/Hotel:

When you are at your hotel or alternative accommodation while in South Africa, there are a few different precautions and things that you can do to make sure that you stay safe. If you are going to be heading straight from the airport to your accommodation, you should make sure that you catch your transfer after collecting your luggage. 

Alternatively, if you do not have a transfer, you can opt to get a taxi from the airport. For safety reasons, you should only catch a taxi from the official airport taxi ranks that are located at the exits. 

While you are at your accommodation, you should ensure that you never leave your luggage unattended unless you are planning to lock it safely away in your room. As well as this, it is also highly recommended that you keep all of your valuables in a safety deposit box, which the majority of hotels will tend to supply in the rooms. If you do not have one in your accommodation, you can usually rent them out - just ask at the reception desk for more information on this. 

If someone knocks at your door while you are in your hotel room/accomodation room, it is very important that you make sure to check who is at the door prior to opening it up. If you have any reasons to be concerned about who might be at the door, proceed to keep your door locked and immediately contact the reception desk for further assistance. 


    • Staying Safe On The Street:

While exploring all of the places that you plan to visit in South Africa, there are a few different things that you can do to remain safe while adventuring:

First things first, you are going to want to make sure that you are avoiding being overly “flashy” with the various valuables that you might choose to bring with you while you are exploring. This includes everything from your mobile phone all the way to certain jewelry that you might be wearing. 

Along with this, you are also going to want to make sure that you are keeping your handbag or backpack zipped up while you are out, and of course, ensure that you do not leave it unattended. In addition to this, you are also going to want to make sure you have your mobile phone at all times.

 Not only is it important that you have your phone on you in case you need to contact someone or get directions, but it is also important that you keep your phone on you at all times in order to prevent the chances of someone stealing it.

You should make sure that you avoid carrying large sums of money with you, as in the event someone did try to take money from you, opting to keep money in your safety deposit box will ensure that not all of it is taken. 

Regardless of whether you are going to be traveling in a group or alone, it is very important to make sure that you are doing the majority of traveling during the day, and if you are going to be out at night, sticking to well-lit areas. 
While exploring South Africa, we also recommend that you take the time to plan your route before setting out on it. By doing so, you will be able to familiarize yourself with where you are planning to go, which will help you to plan for unexpected circumstances.

If you find that you get lost while you are traveling, you should refrain from asking for directions from strangers on the street. Instead, you should use your mobile phone to find directions, and if this is not possible, then you ask a police or traffic officer for assistance. They will be happy to help you get to where you need to be. 

If you would like to use public transportation, then you should ensure that you take a look at the public transportation routes in preparation for the trip. Alternatively, if the public transport does not go to the place that you want to visit, you can opt to phone for a taxi or Uber.

Your hotel or accommodation will be able to provide you with help on reliable taxi services to use, but if you are out and in need of immediate assistance, you can contact the South African Tourism helpline on: 083-123-6789 for further assistance on taxi services that you will be able to use.


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Safari Essentials to Remember:


    • Camera, Video And Binoculars

During your time out in the wild, you’re going to be able to get a first-hand view of  big game and plenty of other wild animals! So, it only makes sense that you should make sure to bring along binoculars to get a clear view of all the action, as well as a camera or video recorder to capture the moments forever.


    • Long Sleeve/Pants

Even though it might be tempting to simply pack shorts and vests (especially if you are planning on visiting South Africa during the summer) you should also make sure that you are bringing along a few pairs of long sleeve tops and pants! Not only will these types of clothing offer you an additional layer of warmth and comfort should you need them, but they will also be able to act as a barrier between you and bugs, twigs, bushes and all the other things that you’re undoubtedly going to encounter while out in the wild!


    • Wear Neutral Colors

Generally speaking, it’s recommended that you pack plenty of clothing that is neutral in color if you are planning on visiting a safari destination during your stay in South Africa. This includes colors such as green, khaki, beige, light browns and even light to medium blues, as these are all suitable colors for viewing games. 

If you want to avoid looking like a total beginner while on the safari, you should make sure that you avoid wearing colors such as bright yellow, red, purple and even white. Plus, you should also make sure that you steer clear of dark blue and black clothing, as these darker colors can often attract tsetse flies, which you definitely don’t want.


    • Safari Hats

During your safari trip, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the great South African outdoors in order to view the game. This means that, besides being outdoors and exploring the beauty of South Africa, you’re going to be exposed to the sun for long periods of time, as well. For this reason, it’s very important to make sure that you bring along a few safari hats for protection from the sun’s rays, as well as to provide your eyes with a little bit of shade.


    • Dress In Layers

While enjoying your safari trip, it’s highly likely that you will find yourself heading out to view games either very early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This means that you might find yourself getting cold! For this reason, you’re going to want to make sure that you have brought along with you clothes that you can layer if you feel a chill, such as long-sleeved shirts, a jacket, sweaters, jerseys and other warmer items of clothing.


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What’s the Best Time to Go to South Africa?

If you are thinking about heading to South Africa, it’s only natural that you might be wondering when the best time to actually go might be. While you can visit South Africa at any time of the year, many people believe that the best time to visit South Africa is from May to September. 


During this time of year, the cooler winter months within the northern regions typically tend to allow for awesome conditions for walking around and exploring,and is also the best time to go on a safari. Thanks to the cooler weather, it means that you will have a much higher chance of being able to spot large game in places such as Kruger, Madikwe, Pilanseberg and other places in the Northern regions. 

Alternatively, if you are interested in visiting South Africa to catch a tan during your stay there, the hottest month in South Africa is January. Even though there tends to be a lot of tropical rainfall, this is the best time of year to visit if you want to spend time kicking back on one of South Africa’s many beautiful beaches.


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Is it Expensive to Travel to South Africa?

If you are considering a trip to South Africa, it’s important to make sure that you are budgeting so that you’re going to have enough money to safely travel the country, accommodate for any unexpected circumstances as well as make sure that you’re going to be able to get back home. 

Generally speaking, South Africa is considered to be a relatively affordable place to visit for travelers, and you should find that you are able to spend time in South Africa while sticking to a budget. For many travelers heading to South Africa for a week, you should expect to spend a few thousand dollars in order to be able to cover the money you’ll need to spend on food, transportation, accommodation and excursions.


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All in all, South Africa is a wonderful place to visit regardless of whether you happen to be a first time traveler or a seasoned explorer. From national parks that will allow you to spot big game in their natural habitat, all the way to bustling cities that will allow you to take in the rich culture of South Africa, there’s plenty of things to see and do that are sure to make your trip totally unforgettable.

The only question left to ask is, which part of South Africa are you planning on exploring first? Thanks for reading, and we hope that you have a great time in South Africa!


By Alex
Expert in United States

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