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Top Ten Tips for Newbies Visiting South Africa

In February, I finally ticked off a country I’d been dying to visit for as long as I can remember – South Africa.

I travelled to Cape Town with my Mum and Sister for a two-week road trip around Cape Town, The Garden Route and The Winelands and was instantly captivated by the country’s kaleidoscopic culture, scenery, wildlife and gastronomic scene.

If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, here are my ten top tips to prepare you for your visit.

Please note: these tips are only relevant to the places I visited on my trip – Cape Town, Knysna, Tsitsikamma National Park, Oudtshoorn, Robertson and Franschhoek.  

Be water savvy

South Africa has been battling with awful droughts for years. These droughts have had detrimental effects on the country, causing devastating forest fires as well as the death of livestock and crops. When you’re visiting South Africa, try to keep this in mind and be conscious of your water usage. 

It’s not as dangerous as you’d expect

South Africa has a very bad reputation for safety. I’ve travelled to a lot of countries considered ‘dangerous’ including, India, Nicaragua and Colombia yet, South Africa was a country I was pretty apprehensive to visit…

However, within five minutes of leaving the airport in our hire car, I was being waved at by a very smiley man from the car next to us on the freeway. This warmth, laughter and hospitality was all we encountered throughout our whole trip in South Africa and shattered any apprehension I had prior to our visit.

Of course there are particular areas of Cape Town, which are dangerous and should be avoided by tourists but, if you use your common sense and follow the advice of the locals your trip should be seamless.

Use Uber

Uber is really popular in South Africa (especially in Cape Town) and is safe, easy and cheap to use. We met a couple who were using Uber as their form of transport to get around Cape Town, along the coast and through the winelands so if you don’t want to rent a car, this could be a great alternative. 

Most people speak English

English is the second language in South Africa, so you don’t have to worry about a language barrier. If you’ve rented a car, navigating is easy as all the road signs are in English and, you can easily chat to the locals to dig a little deeper and learn more about their history, lifestyle and culture. 

FOOD, WINE, FOOD, WINE

The quality of the food and wine in South Africa is insane. Whether you’re eating in a café opposite a petrol station, at a trendy street food market or at a top Michelin star restaurant, the quality of the food is unbelievable (and so cheap!). The food scene is very innovative and it is evident that fresh produce, experimental processes and stunning presentation are rife.

This innovation is most prevalent in the trendy wineries across the Western Cape where the best food and wine in the country come together to create a dream combo for any food and wine lover. 

Check out my review of the restaurant, Protégé in Franschhoek and the Hout Bay Harbour Market in Cape Town to get a taster of the incredible and diverse gastronomic scene South Africa has to offer. 

Tipping 10% is the norm

Tipping culture in South Africa is very similar to the UK. Adding 10% onto your bill is the norm and if you’re dining in one the many high-end restaurants in Cape Town, it may already be added on. Tipping is usually at your own discretion but is very much appreciated.

Rent a car

Renting a car in South Africa is very easy and very cheap. If you’re planning on taking a road trip along The Garden Route, I would highly recommend renting a car. The roads are very well maintained, easy to navigate and will make getting from A to B a lot simpler. Top tip: the stop signs painted on the road mean what they say – STOP – even if there are no cars around.

If you’re staying in Cape Town for your whole trip, I’d say Uber would suffice in getting around. 

You won’t have to get out of your car to fill up petrol

When you go to fill up your car, don’t be surprised when you don’t have to unfasten your seatbelt to do it yourself. There are usually a lovely group of guys who will do it for you and will clean your windows as well.

The norm is to tip around 10-20 rand (50p-£1) on top of the cost of the petrol as a thank you for their help.

Parking etiquette 

There aren’t any parking meters in South Africa.

Instead, there is usually a very friendly parking attendant who will keep an eye on your car for you until you return. Some will ask you to pay up front whilst others will expect payment when you come back. Paying between 5-20 rand (25p – £1) as a thank you is the usual going rate.

You can drink the tap water

Pretty self-explanatory but you can drink the water from the tap in most areas of South Africa. If you’re in a particularly remote area and are in doubt then double-check with the locals.

Have you ever visited South Africa? What would you add to this list to help any newbies travelling to this mesmerising country?

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