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How to prepare for your tour of South Africa

Updated on December 8, 2012

Things to know before you go......

I would like to share some information with you, which i hope will make your South African experience a bit more comfortable and a lot more enjoyable.

**Take your time to read this important advice as it may assist you tremendously on your trip.....It may seem like a lot of information at first but if you apply it you soon get into good habits of thorough preparation**

The most important thing to bring along is the right attitude...

The main thing you need to be afraid of is.....missing out

South Africa is an EXPERIENCE. This article is written with the adventurer and explorer in mind. This is definitely not for the person looking for a "back home" experience in Africa.

I take approximately 2500 people on tour, through South Africa, every year. I am amazed how unprepared most people are, despite being briefed, for their African Adventure....their tour of a lifetime.

So, I've decided to address some of the areas where people need to be better prepared.

Africa has been romanticized in novels and movies and the image that most people have of the continent is of People in loin clothes providing Western comforts under the African sun. The African sunset has etched itself into the imaginations of many who dream to spend an endless vacation on it's wide open plains.

South Africa is a WORLD CLASS DESTINATION and therefore worth a visit, but come prepared. It's like no other places you've been to before.It is a country of unsurpassed beauty, adventure opportunities and diversity.

It is also the country with the highest disparities between rich and poor and it is just recovering from a political system which left thousands homeless and dispossessed of their land and thousands more with little or no education. 80% of South Africans are black, only 10% are White and about 9.8% Coloured.

The second largest Indian community outside of India exists here in Durban, South Africa.

Now then, let's get started.........


  • If you're on a Group Tour then remember to obey the time limit set for each of the activities. Stick with the group and don't wander off on your own. Never hold up the group. If you have serious medical conditions then let the group leader know. If you need to have your meals on time, for medical reasons, then you MUST inform your group leader. Read your pre-trip material carefully and be sure of what is expected of you etc.
  • If you're traveling by hired car, be sure that you know exactly where you're going and how long it will take to get there. Always have a back-up plan. Remember that you are trying to enjoy the scenery/experience and trying to concentrate on finding your way around a strange environment.
  • If you would like to hire a tourist guide to drive you around in a vehicle you will need to...
  1. have made contact with that guide prior to your coming here
  2. make the necessary insurance arrangements with the car hire company.
  • If you wish to book excursions with a local tour operator, and you know which ones you'd like to do, it is advised to do so before you arrive here. This is easily done via email. You contact that provider when you arrive here and you may be able to pay on the day you take the excursion.You will have the option of doing a scheduled tour or a private tour in an air-conditioned vehicle and a knowledgeable local tourist guide. The Local DAY TOURS are very enjoyable and offer great value for money.
  • SPECIAL INTEREST and ADVENTURE TOURS are well catered for and you would need to scout around for suitable operators. Some of these tours would include....
  1. Exploring the underground drainage system in Cape Town
  2. Cycling the City
  3. Skydiving
  4. Hot Air Ballooning
  5. Walking with the Indigenous Bushman..!Khwa Ttu
  6. Shark Cage Diving
  7. Ocean Safari
  8. Big Game Fishing
  9. Kloofing and Hiking...nature walks
  10. West Coast Flowers Tours....seasonal
  11. Bungee jumping...worlds' highest commercial jump
  12. Tree Top Canopy Tours
  13. Mine Shaft Tours.... you need to book way in advance as this is a working mine
  • IMPORTANT ADVICE...the cheapest options are not always the best. In my opinion....DO NOT waste your precious time and money on excursions that do not have a HUMAN BEING, but a recording, talking to you. If there is a regular guide you can at least ask questions and interact etc....otherwise you may as well stay home and watch a documentary on TV.
  1. Always ask to see more than one brochure when booking a tour
  2. The more stops offered in a tour, the less you see because the day becomes rushed in order to complete the itinerary
  3. Smaller tour companies almost always offer a better experience since they are always very keen to make a great impression
  • Using public transport....this is a great option if you have the adventurous spirit. The transport system in some of our major cities are always being upgraded. It is becoming much easier and safer to get around. It is a good idea to carry all your daily requirements in a backpack. This allows you to have both hands free as you make your way around the concrete jungle. This is probably the best way to get that "local" experience.


  • Camera....You would need a decent camera for taking pictures. Digital camera's are small and easy to carry but they are lousy for taking pictures of objects that are far away. If you can afford to do so get yourself a descent suitable camera to capture those once in a lifetime moments. Carry more than one memory card and replace with a new one every 3 to 4 days. If you lose the camera at least you have most of the pictures
  • Binoculars...It is important to have a good pare of these. You need one with good magnification, durable, waterproof, good quality lenses and will allow you to see and distinguish clearly between colors. Once again, get good advice.You need to do the comparison between Porro and Roof Prism designs. This is a very important decision.
  • Batteries... ensure that you have back up batteries for you equipment.
  • Power adapters... Ensure that you bring along the correct wall plug adapters. Please note that the adapters sold for Africa is not necessarily the one for South Africa. Hotels may not always be able to assist you.
  • Flashlights...Ensure that you have a good flashlight. There is fantastic new technology in the new flashlights which enable them to operate for very long periods of time. Get one which is small but don't need a "spotlight"
  • Walking Aid...Bring one along if you usually use one for hiking
  • bottled water... you need to carry a good supply. Many of the smaller towns have problems with supplying good potable water or water that is suitable for you to drink.
  • Washcloth... These are not normally supplied at hotels etc. You need to bring your own.
  • Cell. phone...always a good idea to have one handy
  • Insect repellent... This is essential as you may encounter more bugs around you that you're used to. Citronella Oil is a great alternative to DEAT.
  • Maps... These are difficult to come by in Johannesburg. In Cape Town you are very likely to find all sorts of maps that cover the entire country. Please ensure that you get the latest edition maps if you buy one in a store. Older maps do not reflect the newly named cities and towns.
  • A copy of your passport, kept separately from the original
  • The contact details... of the places where you're staying, just in case you get separated from your group or run into difficulties. Always notify your hosts of your planned activities


There are really great restaurants around South Africa. Amongst the best restaurants are found in and around Cape Town. The Victorian and Alfred Waterfront area offer some of the best dining experiences. Franschoek, in the Cape Winelands district offers some of the countries best restaurants.

You don't always have to eat at expensive restaurants...... Major chain stores such as Woolworths, Pick&Pay and SuperSPAR have excellent delicatessens. There are also fast-food places like Kentucky fried chicken, Nando's, Ocean Basket, MacDonalds and Wimpy.

For the adventurer.....there are companies that offer home hosted dinners. This means that they take you to homes on the Cape Flats area where the majority of the Coloured People live. Remember that the majority of the population in the Western Province are Coloured. Most are the descendants of the original indigenous people of South Africa.


  • You must bring along your medication, especially chronic medication, and make sure you pack them according to aviation requirements.
  • Where possible, your chronic medication MUST be carried on as hand luggage during flights
  • Bring along prescriptions of chronic medication and ensure that you will be able to find it locally and where.
  • If you're dependent on spectacles, bring along a copy of your prescription. Your local optometrist is obliged to let you have it.
  • Certain parts of South Africa are Malaria zones and therefor you have to ensure that you have the correct medication and that you take it on time.


It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with the climate patterns of the area you are visiting. The Southern Part of South Africa has a Mediterranean Climate while the Northern part is Tropical.

Rainfall generally occurs during summer (Nov. - March), although around Cape Town it occurs in the winter (Jun. - Aug.) Temperatures are influenced by altitude, terrain, ocean currents and latitude.

There is very little difference in average temp. from north to south. it's, in part, because the inland plateau rises in the North East of the country. Eg. the average temp. in Cape Town is 17deg.C and 17.5 in Pretoria. The distance in latitude between the two is almost 10 deg. Maximum temp. in summer can reach 38deg. in summer. The highest recorded temp. is 48deg. recorded in both the N. Cape and Mpumalanga.

Frost occurs in high altitudes during the winter months. Climate conditions also vary between east and west largely due to the effects of ocean currents.


This is always a big problem. If you're traveling in a large coach then there will most likely be a toilet on board. If you will need the toilet often then check up ahead with your travel agent.Most large coaches have toilets inside, for emergencies. There are public toilets in all major Malls.


If you're going to use it familiarize yourself with the internal flight weight regulations


Inform your bank of your journey.

Arrive with enough local currency to last at least 2 days. ..R1000.00 should be sufficient

It is expensive to change money at the hotel. In South Africa we use Rands but in neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana and Zambia you may use dollars and/or Rands.

There are thousands of ATM machines throughout South Africa.Be aware that if you have more than 3 unsuccessful tries the ATM machine will retain your card. If you are in any way distracted while making a transaction, press CANCEL immediately, take your card and walk away.

The banks are open from around 09h00 until 15h00 on weekdays and Saturdays they close at 11h00

Most shops and restaurants accept credit cards as a method of payment. Never let your credit card out of your sight or allow a stranger to handle it. Most places have the portable hand held units which they can bring to you.

In the hotel you should always keep your money locked up in the room safe.


  • If you don't need your passport then don't carry it around with you.
  • Always carry a duplicate of your passport and drivers license separate from the originals. If you lose those you have the details to apply for the new one at the local consulate.


In our major cities we have amongst the best quality of water in the world, flowing from our taps. In some of the smaller towns the water may not be of a very high quality and in that case you are better off drinking bottled water.

You are responsible for carrying your own bottled water. Drink lots of water...especially when you're doing lots of outdoor activities.


You are spoilt for choices. It is understandable that you are nervous about just booking with anyone. You can safe-guard yourself by checking that the provider is affiliated to an accreditation body. Ask for the details and check it out.

If you are booking a Holiday Accommodation venues then ask for the same information. They may not have as they are not required to have. Ask for the address and type it into "GOOGLE MAPS" to see at least the surrounding area.

So, some of your options for accommodation are..

  • Guesthouse
  • Bed and Breakfast
  • Resort
  • Private Home stay
  • Hotel
  • Camp sites
  • Backpackers Lodge


"What to wear" is always a tricky one to answer. In my experience this new quick dry material is fantastic.

The trousers where the leg sections zip off are very handy. It also means the you can wash your clothes and they will dry overnight. The other advantage is that essentially you need less clothing and the ones you have do not take lots of space.

Otherwise, bring along clothes to wear which you want to give away at the end of the trip and that way you free up a lot of space in your suitcase when you go home.

Old Clothes...If you're going to visit Zimbabwe, as well, as many people do then bring along your old clothes. The traders will swop them for curios.


You will encounter many curio stalls or "BEND DOWN BOUTIQUES" throughout South Africa, and they all seem to be the same. Believe it or not....these stone and wood carvings are all hand made. If you see something you like, BUY IT. Don't walk away from something you like. You may find something similar later on but it will not be the same, leaving you with regrets. Don't compare what you paid for something with that of someone else. Your purchase is unique to you taste and has special meaning to you. You may bargain at these roadside stalls.

If you buy from a shop you will be charged 14%VAT. You will get back 12.5% VAT on leaving the country PROVIDED you hold onto you till slips. These slips should indicate the purchase price and the VAT price separately.


It is customary to tip in South Africa.....

10% on Restaurant bills and in taxi cabs

$3.00 pp per day in the hotel room

$7.00 - $10 .00 p.p per day for any Tourist Guide services

$1 per bag for porterage

You can tip in dollars but make sure the bills are in good condition and unmarked, otherwise they cannot be exchanged into Rands at the Banks. It is considered bad manners not to tip. Some people rely solely on tips as a source of income.

General comments

Find out, beforehand, what level of fitness is required for the tour. I have had people arriving on an adventure tour in a wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen bottle (no kidding); people on crutches; recent knee replacements etc.

When it's hot in Africa, you cook. Be prepared. Come with the right attitude and you'll enjoy it.

Yes, we have ticks, bugs and spiders. Lots of them ......mainly on Safaris.

We have snakes. Venomous ones. I have not seen one for many years....and i travel in the bush a lot.

Most importantly........

when you travel through South Africa, it's not a tour..........It's an EXPERIENCE

**Please feel free to ask any questions or make any comments. I hope that this information has come in handy. If you've done the tour please send me your feedback**


A Durban Spice shop
A Durban Spice shop
Walking Trail on the Garden Route
Walking Trail on the Garden Route
@ 216m..... This is the world's' highest commercial bungee jumping bridge
@ 216m..... This is the world's' highest commercial bungee jumping bridge


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    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I loved our trip in Capetown. My husband and I drove on our own and felt really safe doing it. I will go back anytime as there are so many places to explore and it is a very beautiful destination.

    • Johnathan Muller profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

      Have a look at well for travel advice

    • Mushi-san profile image


      6 years ago

      This is a great hub, Jonathan! My husband and I have visited South Africa several times, both with tour groups and on our own, and I know from experience that your advice is excellent. I especially like the fact that you state that the people are not natives in loin cloths!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Excellent Hub and very practical and useful tips for anyone travelling to our incredibly beautiful country!

      Thanks for sharing these tips and I'm sure many people will have a much better holiday here because of them

      Love and peace



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