12 Essential South Africa Travel Tips To Know Before Visiting
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Johnny Chen
Johnny is originally from the US and Canada and he grew up constantly moving and never spent more than 4 years in one place. Johnny never thought about this as a kid but looking back on it now, it really shaped his lifestyle and desires as an adult.
17th Jun | 15 min read

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    At GAFFL, we love the opportunity to share expert travel tips with our readers. GAFFL is a global community where travelers can connect with each other, plan trips, and adventure together. In this post, Johnny, who is the creator of Johnny Africa, shares his best tips for traveling around South Africa.

    Johnny is originally from the US and Canada and he grew up constantly moving and never spent more than 4 years in one place. Johnny never thought about this as a kid but looking back on it now, it really shaped his lifestyle and desires as an adult.

    Johnny is probably a little different than most travel bloggers. He didn’t just sell everything, pack his bags, and try to make a business of his blog as a way to travel the world, whereas he had a “traditional” job working in financial services in New York after graduating from University. In fact, he barely left the country until he was 25, like a typical “American”. When Johnny took his first trip to Thailand in 2011, the travel bug hit him hard and he traveled to 90 countries in the next 11 years!

    Over the next 10 years, Johnny traveled as much as he could while working a full-time job. He took a transfer to South Africa and lived in the Rainbow nation for two years. It was during these two years that his love for travel really started to blossom thanks to the insane vacation allotment he was given. Johnny visited almost every country in Eastern and Southern Africa and even took a 6-month break to visit beautiful places like Madagascar, and Mozambique, gorilla trekking in the Congo, and more.

    south africa travel tips

    After South Africa, he moved back to the US for a few years before realizing he was not meant to stay in one place. A few years passed and he got an opportunity to work in Germany! Johnny always wanted to live in Europe and this was a golden opportunity to explore Europe but also gain a new view of the world.

    All the while, he was working towards financial independence by saving and investing money. For those unfamiliar with the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement, it’s simply saving enough money so that you can forever live off of your investments and never work again. While he didn’t hate his “day job”, it wasn’t interesting and he knew that there was more to life than this. Johnny reached the financial independence stage in late 2020 and has been traveling full-time ever since. He's lived in places like Zanzibar, Greece, Thailand, and most recently Bali. He's even started to work as a dive instructor which has been one of his biggest passions in life.

    Johnny runs his blog, Johnny Africa which is a travel and finance blog. It was always a passion project of his as he wanted to really document his stories beyond the typical Instagram and Facebook route. He also finds writing to be therapeutic and it gives him something to look forward to after traveling!

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    Top Reason To Backpack In South Africa

    South Africa is one of my favorite places in the world. The country has some of the most beautiful national wonders you can find. Nelson Mandela famously declared the Western Cape to be South Africa’s gift to the world and I couldn’t agree more.

    South Africa combines the best of both worlds with a beautiful cosmopolitan city with world-class nature at your fingerprint. You have incredible mountain ranges, beautiful beaches, safaris galore, world-class wine, amazing food, and super-friendly people.

    south africa travel tips

    Above all, South Africa is a cheap place to travel. The Rand (South Africa’s currency) is constantly under pressure so you’ll find it quite affordable if you’re coming from a country like the US or Europe.

    It’s also become a digital nomad hotspot in recent years with Cape Town leading the pack.

    Tip 1: Ideal 2-week Itinerary For South Africa

    You could spend months in South Africa and not see it all. I lived in South Africa for two years after all and there are still so many places I didn’t see.

    However, not everyone has this amount of time so I would say two to three weeks is a perfect amount of time to backpack for those with time constraints. I would focus my time around Cape Town, the wine country (if you’re into that), the Garden Route, and a safari in and around the Kruger.

    Day 1: Land in Cape Town and explore the city
    Day 2: Explore Cape Town, hike Lions Head
    Day 3: Cable Car up Table Mountain, drive to Cape Point in the afternoon
    Day 4: Explore Stellenbosch
    Day 5: Stellenbosch/Franschhoek
    Day 6: Cage diving with great whites, explore Hermanus
    Day 7: Drive to Oudtshoorn, visit ostrich farm at night
    Day 8: Morning visit to Cango Caves, drive to Plettenberg/Knysna
    Day 9: Plettenberg/Knysna
    Day 10: Plettenberg/Knysna
    Day 11: Bloukrans, Tsitsikama, Port Elizabeth
    Day 12: Fly to Johannesburg in the morning, Kruger National Park
    Day 13: Kruger National Park
    Day 14: Kruger NP in the morning, end in Johannesburg
    Day 15: Early morning flight home

    Tip 2: Best Places To Visit In South Africa

    South Africa has a wonderful mix of beaches, mountains, nature, and city life. Cape Town is the crown jewel of South Africa and it is the most naturally beautiful city in the world. Yes, that is my firm belief (yes I’m looking at your Rio because Cape Town is more beautiful!) and these are fighting words.

    Nearby Cape Town you’ll find the most beautiful wine region in the world. After traveling to 90 countries, I’ve been to countless wine regions and I still hold that South Africa is the most visually stunning. Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are my favorites with so many incredible wineries offering wine tastings at affordable prices.

    After the wine regions, a road trip through the Garden Route is a must. Places like Knysna and Plettenberg Bay are beautiful yet relaxing. Make sure to try the oysters when they are in season.

    south africa travel tips

    For the avid hikers out there, a visit to the Drakenberg National Park will blow you away. These mountains are incredible and the views from the top of the valley will rival anything you’ve seen. If you have extra time, you can even drive over to the mountain kingdom of Lesotho which is a whole different world than South Africa.

    Finally, a safari is at the top of everyone’s list in South Africa. While it’s not as picturesque and famous as a safari in the Serengeti of Tanzania, you will surely see the big 5 in South Africa. While the Kruger is the most popular place for a safari, I actually prefer the landscapes in the Limpopo province. There are beautiful lodges here that are ultra-luxurious but cheaper than their counterparts in the Kruger.

    Tip 3: Top Things To Do In South Africa 

    In no particular order:

    ·  Climb Lion’s Head and have a drink with one of the most stunning views in the world (BYOB)

    ·  Visit Cape Point and hike the Cape of Good Hope

    ·  Drink copious amounts of wine in Stellenbosch and be blown away by the views

    ·  Visit the heads in Knsyna

    ·  Get your adrenaline on by bungy-jumping off the tallest bridge in Bloukrans (210 meters)

    ·  Hike through the Tsitsikamma National park

    ·  Road trip along the Garden Route

    ·  Hike in the Drakensberg National Park

    ·  Self-drive on a safari in the Kruger (if you’re on a budget), or go to a luxurious private lodge in the Limpopo province

    ·  Dive in the South African sardine run during the winter months. This is probably one of the most epic dives you can do in the world but you must time it right

    ·  Get your surf on in Jeffrey’s Bay

    Tip 4: Ideal Budget To Explore South Africa

    I would say you should expect to spend $50-$100 a day in South Africa. Because South Africa is so diverse in what you do, it’s impossible to quantify one set of budgets for the entire country.

    south africa travel tips

    You can expect to pay something like the following in Cape Town:

    ·  Hostels: $10-20 a night

    ·  Meal at a mid-tier restaurant: $15-20

    ·  Meal at a cheap restaurant: $5-$10

    ·  Glass of beer: $2-$3

    ·  Glass of wine: $3-5

    ·  Uber between Camps Bay and CBD: $6

    ·  Cocktail at a cool bar: $5-8

    ·  Mobile data: $15 per month for 20 GBs data

    · One-way Flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg: $50

    Of course, if you want to stay at a nice place in Cape Town, for example, you can easily spend $200+ a night, especially during the summer season.

    Alternatively, when you go on a safari you expect to pay much more. South Africa is great as there are many price tiers for lodging given how developed it is. You can stay in cheap budget bungalow accommodations, all the way to 5* ultra-luxury lodges where you can pay $2000 a night.

    If you’re a solo traveler, you can expect to pay about $150-$250 a night for a basic safari. This includes your room which is usually just a basic chalet/bungalow with a communal bathroom. This price also includes your daily game drives with a professional ranger as well as meals.

    If you’re traveling with another person, it would be cheaper to just pay for the rooms but self-drive.

    Tip 5: How To Pack For South Africa

    South Africa is a developed country so you will find everything you need in the cities. Otherwise, I would just pack the typical items you take on your normal travels and of course a big sense of adventure. The winter months can be cold in South Africa but not overly so. I would pack a nice fleece jacket, especially for the morning hours.

    Many people wanted to know about the need for malaria medication in the country. The answer is no. As well, there is no need for yellow fever or typhoid vaccinations.

    south africa travel tips

    Tip 6: Best Time To Visit South Africa

    In Cape Town, the summer months between November and April are the best times to visit.

    You can expect temperatures to be in the mid-20s to low 30s for this time with plenty of sunshine.

    The winter months are also mild with lows in the mid-teens. The weather is more volatile during these months and you can expect more rain and wind.

    south africa travel tips

    In Johannesburg and the surrounding areas, the winter months have sunshine with temperatures ranging between 10-20 degrees. The summer months are warmer and filled with some of the most epic thunderstorms you’ll ever see.

    The best time to go on a safari in Johannesburg is actually during the winter months as this is the dry season.

    The dry season means there are fewer drops of rain so animals are forced to visit and interact at the watering holes. There is also less rush during these months making it easier to see the animals.

    Tip 7: Safety Tips To Travel Around South Africa

    South Africa is known worldwide to be an ultra-dangerous place which is unfortunate for its reputation. The truth of the matter is South Africa does have really unappealing crime statistics due to the history of the country and the immense racial inequalities the country still faces.

    When I lived there, my South African colleagues would routinely tell me about the crimes they’ve seen and things like never stopping at a red light at night.

    south africa travel tips

    However, most of the violent crime in South Africa happens far away from the typical tourist places. It’s unlike other cities where you could take a wrong turn somewhere and end up somewhere you don’t want to be. You need to really want to visit areas that are crime-ridden.

    As a foreigner with a fresh perspective, I didn’t find crime and safety to be that big of an issue. With that said, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vigilant.

    Like most places in the world, don’t flash the cash, and don’t bring anything super expensive.

    Cab drivers routinely try to rip off tourists so always stick to using Uber which is very cheap in cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg.

    Tip 8: Working Opportunities For Backpackers 

    There are plenty of volunteering opportunities available in the country. There are many areas of the country that are still heavily impoverished and many charities need help in these areas. As well, I know many people who volunteer at animal shelters working with beautiful animals like lions, cheetahs, rhinos, etc.

    south africa travel tips

    Tip 9: Visa Requirements For South Africa

    South Africa is easy to enter for most nationalities. You can obtain a free 90-day visa on arrival for most countries in the world.  Make sure to check out the visa requirements

    Tip 10: Ways To Travel Around South Africa

    The best way to get around South Africa is by car. Many of the sights in South Africa are nature-based and there isn’t much of a bus system to these types of places. South Africans love their cars after all.

    If you are traveling with a friend and can split the cost, then a popular route is the road trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

    The Garden Route is one of the best places to take a road trip and having a car gives you the flexibility and freedom to go wherever you want. Additionally, you can save a lot of money by self-driving through the Kruger National Park as a DIY type of safari.

    south africa travel tips

    There is a hop-on hop-off bus that travels through the Garden Route. If you’re a solo traveler, this is a great option to save money and meet people but you’ll want to make sure you have a few extra days for this option. The problem is once you get to a town along the Garden Route, you don’t have many options besides just walking around the town. The beaches and hikes nearby are almost impossible to reach without a car.

    From Johannesburg to Cape Town, take a cheap flight with one of the many local airlines in South Africa (~$50 one way).

    Tip 11: Food To Try In South Africa

    South Africa has no shortage of amazing food. The local cuisine is heavily into meat so if you are a meat lover, you will be in heaven.

    The steaks in South Africa are among the cheapest in the world next to Argentina. They are world-class and won’t set you back a small fortune.

    south africa travel tips

    You must try the local delicacies as well including

    ·  Biltong, the South African version of beef jerky but 100x more delicious

    ·  Droewors – A type of dried sausage which is another beloved snack of South Africa

    ·  Bunny Chow – A South African Indian dish popular in Durban

    ·  Nandos – grilled chicken with peri peri. Nandos comes from South Africa and the best version is definitely in South Africa.

    ·  Game meats – all different types of animals can be tried in South Africa including springbok, kudu, buffalo, warthog, ostrich, and even giraffe

    ·  Any of the Cape Malay cuisine – Sadly, I did not eat as much Cape Malay food as I would have liked. This incredible blend of different cuisines is South Africa’s best-kept secret.

    Tip 12: Unique Experiences In South Africa

    Having lived in South Africa, there are countless experiences on my mind!  

    South Africa is also a very diverse country. Most people know there are white and black people in the country but there is also a huge Indian diaspora that moved here during colonial times. As well, there were also people from SE Asia sent here during colonial times to work. These people all mixed with the local population creating another group of people in the Western Cape called the “Cape Colored” people. Yes, this sounds incredibly racist if you’re coming from the US but this is actually what they call themselves and there’s nothing racist about it.

    south africa travel tips

    I was really pleasantly surprised by the amount of diversity I saw around me and it was unlike anything I had experienced before. Being Asian American, I was kind of that outside racial group that no one really understood but was welcomed in with open arms by all. The existing racial tensions (which there still is plenty of) didn’t really apply to me because I didn’t fall into the existing buckets in South Africa.

    On a more serious note, it was very eye-opening to see income equality in South Africa. I thought the US had a major income inequality problem (and it definitely does) but South Africa is on another level. Given its appalling history with Apartheid where blacks (and other nonwhite groups) were systematically stripped of rights and openly discriminated against, this ensured that all the wealth of the country was concentrated in the tiny white minority. This lasted until 1994 when Nelson Mandela took power. However, the effects of Apartheid are still felt to this day as it takes many generations for something like this to get better.

    Some of my highlights in South Africa are the following:

    · Bungy jumping at Bloukrans. I was terrified because this bridge is damn high. I have a funny video of me being terrified to jump

    · Hiking Lion’s Head: I must have made this hike at least 10x and it never ever got old

    · Partying in the townships with my black South African friends.

    Playing with almost grown lions. I visited a private game reserve where the lioness had a litter that was too big. Given that these are wild animals, the lioness would have killed her cubs as she couldn’t support so many. The owners of the game reserve decided to take these cubs and raise them separately from the pride. These lions were raised around people and domesticated which meant they were totally friendly to people, almost like dogs. Getting this close to such a big animal like a lion really gets your heart pumping. A lot of people do think this is a very questionable practice so do keep this in mind.

    south africa travel tips

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