When people ask me to name my favorite travel experience so far, I always say “South Africa.”
I loved the experiences I had in South Africa. From game drives, to exploring Table Mountain, to wine tasting on the Cape, there were so many interesting and varied experiences to enjoy.
I think everyone should experience South Africa. It’s just that amazing.
My tips below will help you prepare for your own trip to South Africa. I hope you love South Africa just as much as I did!
1. Use a local tour guide
As incredible as South Africa is, the reality is that there are some places of the country that are not very safe.
To avoid putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation, I recommend using a local travel guide. A local travel guide can steer you away from unsafe areas and give you tips on navigating your surroundings.
I traveled to South Africa with another female friend. As two single females, we were warned by multiple people from South Africa that we needed to be extremely careful.
To give me (and my family!) piece of mind, I arranged with a local tour company to have a dedicated guide with us for the trip.
The tour guide picked us up at the airport, escorted us on tours, took us to our hotel, and dropped us back off at the airport. It was an incredible experience that I now try to replicate on every trip.
It sounds expensive, but it didn’t cost any more than it would have cost to arrange for transportation and tours individually. We used the Rhino Africa tour company (which I highly recommend!). TripAdvisor also provides information about a number of other great tour companies and tours.
2. Know what vaccinations & medications you’ll need
Unless you’ve traveled to Africa before, you’ll likely need some vaccinations before you go.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website is a great resource for learning what vaccinations you’ll need in South Africa (or any other country).
Once you have an idea of what vaccinations you’ll need, find a local travel clinic that can administer the vaccinations. (I just searched for “travel clinic” to find one near me.)
While the travel clinic should know what vaccinations you’ll need, I felt more comfortable knowing what vaccinations I would need in advance. So when the doctor listed off a bunch of vaccinations I would need, I felt confident in knowing which ones were appropriate for my situation.
In addition to vaccinations, you may need malaria medication. The travel clinic can prescribe this. Be very mindful of the directions on this one. You may need to start taking it in advance of your trip.
Malaria medication can have weird side-effects like strange dreams or an upset belly. But I thought those side-effects were worth it considering the potential effects of malaria.
You may also want a prescription for diarrhea, just in case. While I didn’t have any problems during the trip, it’s no fun to be that far from home, feeling sick, and not having the right medication to help you out. The travel clinic can prescribe this, too.
3. Use extra precautions against disease-carrying insects
Even if you’re taking malaria medication, you should also wear insect repellent to make it clear that those disease-carrying insects are not welcome!
Be on the look-out for ticks, too. Those suckers are all over the bush and Lyme disease is not a souvenir you want to take home from South Africa.
Project yourself by using insect repellent and wearing long pants that you can tuck into socks while walking in the bush. After being in a wilderness area, do a thorough tick check. This is an area where you want to be very safe instead of very sorry.
4. Buy away: It’s very inexpensive
Many international currencies favor well against the South Africa Rand, so buy away!
Five-star hotels, local guides, and extravagant meals are all things that you can get at a bargain in South Africa. Treat yourself to some amazing experiences that might be a little too expensive at home.
And while there are markets where you can barter – maybe don’t barter too hard. Many of the vendors could benefit from the extra income. Since it’s cheaper than the cost at home anyway, it’s okay that you don’t get the absolute cheapest price possible.
5. Splurge on game drives
Game drives (aka, safaris) are one of the few areas you’ll find to be expensive in South Africa.
But this is where you need to splurge and go on as many game drives as possible. Game drives were by far the best part of my favorite vacation of all time.
When you’re staying at a game lodge, you’ll generally go on two game drives a day – one in the morning and one at dusk. No game drive is the same as the last game drive. You’ll see different animals in different places every game drive. And you’ll have so much fun bonding with your fellow travelers over what you saw and experienced.
We spent 2.5 days at this game lodge in South Africa. I loved everything about the experience and 2.5 days was not nearly enough time. Most of our fellow travelers spent double that time on game drives, often splitting their time between different game lodges across South Africa.
You need game drives in your life. If only to send me incredible pictures of what you see!
6. Bring the correct power plug adapters
Power Plug Adapters
Outside of South Africa, many stores will advertise a two-prong plug adapter as working in South Africa. I’m not sure which part of South Africa that adapter works in, but it didn’t work in any of the areas where I stayed.
When I visited South Africa, they used a three-prong plug called a “Type M” plug. But just to keep things interesting, South Africa is now changing to the new “Type N” plug (described here).
You likely won’t find adapters for these plugs on your typical international plug adapter, so you’ll probably need to purchase special adapters for South Africa. You can get them fairly cheap on Amazon.
Because I didn’t bring the right plug adapter with me, I asked the hotels where we stayed if they had an extra adapter I could use. As you’ve likely experienced yourself, people often forget chargers and adapters in their hotel rooms, so there were plenty of adapters available.
Note that plug adapters are not voltage converters. Most computers, phones, and other electronics have voltage converters now (it’s the box-like thing attached to your power cord). For these items, you don’t need a voltage converter as long as you plug your regular power cord (with the box-like thing attached) into the plug adapter.
Things like hair dryers, straighteners, or other cosmetic devices generally don’t have their own voltage converters. If you’re coming from places like the US and Canada, which operate on different voltages, you’d need a voltage converter for these devices. However, in my experience, voltage converters don’t work that well. Melted plastic is no one’s friend.
In this situation, I recommend just buying a device that is dual-voltage so that you can use it both at home and while on travel. I love this little hair dryer for all my travels.
7. English is widely spoken
English-speakers likely won’t have any problems communicating in South Africa. English is widely spoken.
There are eleven official languages in South Africa and many people speak multiple languages.
Be sure to ask your local guide and other locals you meet how many languages they speak. Don’t be surprised if it’s more than five!
Like any English-speaking country, South Africa puts their own spin on certain phrases. Here are a few words and phrases that are helpful to know while in South Africa:
- Just now: If you think this phrase means immediately, you’ll be in for a surprise in South Africa. In South Africa, “just now” generally refers to an unknown amount of time. If someone is picking you up “just now,” it could be in a few minutes, a few hours….or never. We heard this phrase several times while in South Africa.
- Now now: This one is exactly what you think it is – either immediately or ASAP.
- Lekker: A synonym for “cool” or “awesome.”
In My Suitcase: Top Travel Picks for South Africa
These are the items that I recommend that you pack for your trip to South Africa:
- Recommended medications: You’ll likely need some special medications for your trip to South Africa. Allow yourself plenty of time in advance of the trip to get prescriptions filled and packed in your carry-on.
- Long pants that can tuck into socks: Keep away the nasty insects (especially ticks and mosquitos) by wearing long pants during your trip.
- Long socks to pull over pants: As added coverage from ticks, tuck your pants into your socks while on game drives and walking through the bush. Don’t worry about how it looks – your fellow travelers will do the same thing when they see how smart you’re being!
- Light, long-sleeved shirts: In addition to protecting against insects, light-long sleeved shirts give you much-needed sun protection.
- Sturdy shoes for walks through the bush: In between game drives, you’ll likely have an opportunity to walk through the bush and see the smaller creatures you might miss while driving. Make sure you have some sturdy, closed-toe shoes for these walks.
- Hats to shield your face: Hats are an easy way to shield your face from the sun and prevent nasty sunburns. Sunburns on vacation are no fun at all.
- Insect repellent: Make frequent use of insect repellent. The dangers of Lyme disease, malaria, and other insect-carrying diseases are real in South Africa. Use every precaution available to you, including insect repellent.
- Sunscreen: Give yourself some added protection from the sun, too. The sun can be strong in South Africa – make sure you’re prepared with sunscreen.
- Plug adapter: Your standard international plug adapter likely won’t have the right plug adapter for South Africa. You can find plug adapters specifically for South Africa for fairly cheap on Amazon.
- Dual-voltage electronics: Many electronics have their own voltage converters (it’s the box-like thing on your charger), but cosmetic devices like electric shavers, straighteners, and hair dryers often don’t have voltage converters. For these, you’ll have to buy a voltage converter or a device that has dual-voltage like this hair dryer.
- Dinner attire for nice dinners in Cape Town: Casual, athletic attire was my go-to for my trip to South Africa, but I was glad I packed a couple of nice outfits for dinner in Cape Town.
- GoPro: I didn’t think to bring a video camera on my trip to South Africa and have so many regrets about it. A still picture is great, but videos just tell a bigger story about your experience. I take my GoPro everywhere I travel now.