Saturday, October 13, 2007

General information on South Africa

South Africa is a vast country with large contrasts, and two weeks are a very short period as there is so much to see. I have, however picked up some pieces of information I would like to share with you. I was lucky, as I travelled with people that had lived there, and they knew the do's and the don'ts. But if you are planning a trip without any prior knowledge to the country you are advised to do some research.

Getting there

Most major airlines operate services to the main South African international airports, i.e. Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Peak season is during the Southern summer from the beginning of October to the end of March.

I checked the prices when we planned our trip, and as we travel from Scandinavia there are no non-stop flights, and we had to travel through one of the major European hubs. We chose (regrettably) Heathrow as our transfer. You may get some great deals if you book on the net, and check different sites as prices may vary. We managed to get a ticket at around €800 round trip, and ended up around €1000 including taxes.

As the flight takes around 10 hours and that South Africa is located on Central European time, many flights are night time flights.

Health precautions

Consult your doctor in order to get the right shots before you leave. I got shots for diphtheria, polio and hepatitis A. I was also given a drinking vaccine against ETEC-diarrhea. As we planned to go to one of the malaria areas, we were given malaria tablets. Most of South Africa is malaria free, except the east parts of the country bordering Mozambique. If you e.g. go to Kruger National Park, you must take Malaria medication.

It is vital that you check with your doctor as the consequences of not doing so, may be serious to your health.

I found that the food standard provided in South Africa comparable to that of Europe, but beware of food enjoyed off the beaten track. Our Norwegian acquaintance that lived there confirmed this impression. I generally stay away from dishes that contains raw eggs. You may also get effects from the fact that there is a different bacteria culture in the food. This may give you nausea, even if you are not ill. It may therefore be a good idea to give your digestive system a little boost adding some good pro biotic remedies. Consult your pharmacist.

I am sensitive to mosquito bites and had a bad allergic reaction in South Africa. Cover your legs and lower arms during dusk and night and use an efficient repellent. I regret that I did not.

Money and prices

The local currency is South African rand (ZAR), and you'll get approximately 8 ZAR for 1 USD, and 10 ZAR for 1 EUR.

Once there, you'll find that you get much for your rands compared to Europe and the United States. You can get a good double room for under 500 ZAR a night including breakfast. Remember to give tips to service provided by the cleaning staff in hotels, and for many other services.

South Africa provides the same challenges for the shopaholic, as the rest of the developed world, as there are so much to buy. Gold is comparatively cheap to buy, but beware - much of the gold is only 9 ct, and not 14 ct. And do go to an authorized dealer, as you may end up with even less precious metals if you don't

Getting around

South Africa is a vast country so if you want to travel long distances you may have to book a domestic flights, if you do have not much time.

Public transportation in e.g. Johannesburg is based on small minibuses, and these are mostly used by the African population. There are very few ordinary bus services.

There are bus services between the largest centres, and Greyhound is one of them.

If you choose to rent a car you will find that it is reasonably cheap. We paid around 400 ZAR pr. day for the car on the picture. Be aware that you drive on the left side of the road.

The main roads have a very high standard and the speed limit is mostly 120 mph. and this will bring you quickly from one of the large cities to another, but the distances in this vast country may make a domestic flight a good alternative to cover the longest distances. You may see the general motorway standard on this short clip. But beware - South Africa has everything from the smallest dirt road to motorways comparable to the US and European ones.


I was surprised to find that South Africa had its seasons. When we landed in Johannesburg the trees were bare and every where we travelled we discovered that trees and plants were in full bloom. As this spectacular flower one of the trees in Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal.

When travelling during winter (April through September), be prepared for low temperatures, and snow may be found on higher grounds. During summer temperatures and humidity may vary. One lady from Pretoria warned me on Durban in February, whereas some friends found Cape Town in February very pleasant. So check the conditions where you go and dress accordingly.

Flora and fauna

South Africa has a vast variation in scenery and what lives there. You will find breathtaking flowers during spring and even during the summer. I highly recommend a visit to one of the many parks to enjoy the rich wildlife that this country has to offer. Kruger National Park is the biggest but you may see more animals in one of the smaller parks.

I encountered the wildlife at Pilanesberg, and that was a truly remarkable experience. I will share my moments from there later.


This pasta with chicken in a creamed peanut sauce was served at the Orange Acorn in Melville, a part of Johannesburg. It was remarkable. I have enjoyed some remarkable dinners, and some less so, but you have so much to choose from. Indulge!!

A good meal starts at 25-30 ZAR. Wine is also cheap, both in restaurants and in shops. But do remember to add another 20% to you restaurant bill, as a tip to the waiters.

I will share my culinary experiences from my two weeks in South Africa, and much, much more.......

For those of you that considers to go to South Africa, do!! It is a remarkable country with a remarkable population that has achieved so much after the fall of the apartheid.

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