South Africa is renowned for its excellent tourist infrastructure and wide range of accommodation, from luxury game lodges and five-star hotels to friendly country houses, small hotels, B&Bs, and camping and self-catering establishments.
Budget: South Africa has a well-developed network of backpacker accommodation options, some of which are surprisingly comfortable and luxurious. There is also an active camping community and you will find well- serviced campsites throughout the country, particularly in the national parks, including the popular Kruger National Park. Pre-booking is generally advisable.
Mid-range: To save a bit of money, consider checking into one of the numerous bed-and-breakfast establishments on offer, or even hire a self-catering unit. Self- catering accommodation ranges from apartments and holiday villas to chalets and farm cottages. Guest houses are generally slightly more expensive, but also worth considering if you want to experience a warm South African welcome.
Luxury: South Africa has some of the most luxurious lodges and hotels in the world, with names such as Mala Mala, Londolozi, Singita, and the Mount Nelson and Twelve Apostles hotels (and many others) globally famous. You’ll also find that you often pay less in South Africa for your luxury than elsewhere in the world. Safari lodges usually offer an all-inclusive package incorporating game drives, meals and drinks. Most upmarket establishments also have spa facilities on site.
Special events: South Africa offers a range of accommodation for special celebrations, including weddings. Plan an authentic African wedding, a ceremony in the bush with wildlife around you, a beach or mountain wedding, or a reception in the romantic Cape Winelands.
Nip and tuck: South Africa is among the most sought-after destinations to receive the best medical procedures and treatments at reasonable cost with, if time permits, a recuperative holiday in the sun and some spectacular sightseeing thrown in. Medical tourism includes medical procedures such as cosmetic surgery, dentistry, fertility or rehabilitation, for which there are many excellent private facilities in South Africa.
TRAVEL TIP: Bear in mind that grading in South Africa is voluntary and so there may be many guest houses and B&Bs that do not have star-grading but are still quality establishments. Look for recommendations from fellow travellers. Also check for off-season specials as there are great bargains to be had, especially in the luxury sector.
When to visit
South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, so it is summer here when it’s winter in Europe and North America (November to February), which makes it ideal for anyone wanting to escape the cold weather.
Average day temperatures in summer range from a minimum of 15°C (59°F) to a maximum of 28°C (82°F), depending on where you are. In winter, average day temperatures are 19°C to 23°C (66°F to 73°F), although it can get chilly at night, especially at altitude in Johannesburg and Pretoria.
If you’re planning a safari, winters in Mpumalanga and Limpopo are very pleasant as it’s sunny and warm during the day and dry and cool at night. Late winter is popular for game spotting game because the vegetation is sparse and animals visit the waterholes to drink. Summer in the Lowveld (which is what these low-lying areas are called) can be very hot and sticky due to high humidity. A winter beach holiday in Durban or on the KwaZulu-Natal coast is ideal as average temperatures hover around the 26°C (79°F) mark. Once again, summers are characterised by high humidity.
Cape Town’s best seasons are spring and autumn. In spring, southern right whales visit the coastline and the flowers are in bloom. Autumn offers a respite from the summer heat and the vineyards of the Cape Winelands are starting to change colour. Winters are characterised by wet and windy spells when cold fronts pass through. That said, the wet weather is often interspersed with sparkling, sunny days with temperatures hovering in the early 20°C (around 68°F).
What to pack
What you bring with you depends on what time of year you are visiting. A warm, waterproof jacket is essential all year round. Pack light, and remember the basic essentials: camera and attachments; a good pair of lightweight binoculars; adaptor plugs; toiletries including insect repellent and sunblock; medications and prescriptions; extra reading glasses; a Swiss army knife or some such (remember to pack it in your main luggage); sunhat; and notebook or journal. If you are going on safari, then it’s wise to pack khaki clothing, especially if you are planning to do any hiking, as this blends into the bush better.
South Africa has a well-developed healthcare system. There are public hospitals throughout South Africa, but as in many other countries, you’ll probably get quicker care at a private hospital. Be sure to top up on medical insurance before leaving home. Well-qualified doctors, dentists and other specialists can be found in the main centres but you will have to make an appointment to see one, unless it’s an emergency.
Malaria: While most of South Africa is malaria-free, this mosquito-borne disease is prevalent throughout the year in the Kruger National Park and the low-lying areas of northern KwaZulu-Natal.
Consult a healthcare professional about a suitable prophylactic. Your choice of drug will depend on how long you are visiting the malarial area, the time of year and your personal health.
The old adage ‘prevention is the best cure’ also holds true. Use repellent and cover up at dawn and dusk when the mosquitoes are most active by wearing long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and shoes and socks, if possible.
There are many malaria-free game reserves, such as Madikwe or Pilanesberg in North West province, the Waterberg in Limpopo, or private reserves in the Eastern, Western and Northern Cape, where you can also have a wildlife experience. These are worth considering, particularly if you are travelling with children aged six and under or are pregnant.
TRAVEL TIP: If you develop a bad headache, have aching joints, and recurring fevers and chills after your trip, advise your doctor that you have been in a malarial area. Malaria symptoms can sometimes be confused with flu symptoms.
HIV/Aids: While southern Africa has a high prevalence of HIV/Aids, your only real risk of contracting this syndrome is if you have unprotected sex with an infected individual. There should be no reason for unprotected sex as condoms are freely available in pharmacies and convenience stores. Antiretrovirals are issued free to rape victims at South African hospitals. Should you be the victim of a sexual assault, it’s essential that you get prophylactic treatment for HIV/Aids within 72 hours.
Personal medication: There are pharmacies throughout South Africa, and many everyday medications, such as painkillers, are available over the counter. Some large chain stores, like Clicks, also have in-store pharmacies that offer good value for money.
If you have a specific medical condition, it’s wise to carry the relevant doctor’s prescription with you. In the event of you losing your medication, a qualified pharmacist should be able to source a replacement, even if the trade name differs in South Africa.