When it comes to daily budgets, your biggest expense is likely to be accommodation. If you’re willing to stay in backpacker dorms and self-cater, you should be able to sleep and eat for under £22/$36/€25 per person a day. If you stay in B&Bs and guesthouses, eat out once a day, and have a snack or two, you should budget for at least double that. In luxury hotels expect to pay upwards of £150/$250/€175 a day, while luxury safari lodges in major game reserves will set you back from £200/$325/€230 a day to way beyond. Extras such as car rental, outdoor activities, horseriding and safaris will add to these figures substantially. While most museums and art galleries impose an entry fee, it’s usually quite low: only the most sophisticated attractions charge more than £1/$1.50/€1.
t10177. Netcare 911 private hospital network t082 911.
Applications for visa extensions must be made at one of the main offices of the Department of Home Affairs, where you will be quizzed about your intentions and your funds. In Cape Town, go to 56 Barrack St (t021 468 4500); in Johannesburg, the office is at the corner of Plein and Harrison streets (t011 639 4000). The Department also has offices in a number of towns – check in the telephone directory or on its website (wwww.dha.gov.za/index.php/contact-us/22-provincial-offices), and make sure that the office you’re intending to visit is able to grant extensions.
Canada 15 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1M 1M8 t613/744-0330, wsouthafrica-canada.ca.
Ireland 2nd Floor, Alexandra House, Earlsfort Centre, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin t01 661 5553.
New Zealand c/o the High Commission in Australia.
UK Consular Section, 15 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DD t020/7925 8900, wsouthafricahouseuk.com.
US 4301 Connecticut Ave, NW, Van Ness Building Suite 220 Washington, DC 20008 t202/232-4400, wwww.southafrica-newyork.net/homeaffairs/index.htm. Consulates: 333 E 38th St, 9th floor, New York, NY 10016 t212/213-4880; 6300 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 600, Los Angeles, CA 90048 t323/651-0902.
South African Tourism, on the other hand, is well aware of the potential of pink spending power and actively woos gay travellers – an effort that is evidently paying off, with Cape Town ranking among the world’s top gay destinations. The city is South Africa’s – and indeed, the African continent’s – gay capital. Like many things in the city, Cape Town’s gay scene is white dominated, though there are a few gay-friendly clubs starting to emerge in the surrounding townships. The gay scene is a lot more multiracial in Johannesburg, especially in the clubs. The Pretoria gay and lesbian scene has grown enormously over the past few years. There are also gay scenes in Port Elizabeth and Durban and you’ll find a growing number of gay-run or gay-friendly establishments in small towns all over the country. There are gay pride festivals in Cape Town in February–March (wcapetownpride.org) and in Jo’burg in September (wjoburgpride.org), while the South African Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (woia.co.za) takes place in Cape Town and Johannesburg in October/November.
For unlimited Wi-Fi on the go whilst travelling South Africa, buy a Skyroam Solis, which works in 130+ countries at one flat daily rate, paid for on a pay-as-you-go basis. You can connect up to five devices at once. Prices start from as little as €5 a day.
Most towns of any size have a post office, generally open Monday to Friday 8.30am to 4.30pm and Saturday 8am to 11.30am (closing earlier in some places). The ubiquitous private PostNet outlets (wwww.postnet.co.za) offer many of the same postal services as the post office and more, including courier services. Courier companies like FedEx (t0800 033 339, wwww.fedex.com/za) and DHL (t086 034 5000, wwww.dhl.co.za) are more expensive and available only in the larger towns, but they are far more reliable than the mail.
Stamps are available at post offices and also from newsagents, such as the CNA chain, as well as supermarkets. Postage is relatively inexpensive – it costs about R5 to send a postcard or small letter by airmail to anywhere in the world. You’ll find poste restante facilities at the main post office in most larger centres, and in many backpackers’ hostels.
South Africa’s motoring organization, the Automobile Association, sells a wide selection of good regional maps (free to members) that you can pick up from its offices.
For travel around the Western Cape (including the Cape Peninsula) and the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, the most accurate, up-to-date and attractive touring and hiking maps – the best bar none – are those produced by local cartographers Slingsby Maps (wslingsbymaps.com), which you buy from bookshops.
All but the tiniest settlement will have a bank where you can change money swiftly and easily. Banking hours are Monday to Friday 9am to 3.30pm, and Saturday 9am to 11am; the banks in smaller towns usually close for lunch. In major cities, some banks operate bureaux de change that stay open until 7pm. Outside banking hours, some hotels will change money, although this entails a fairly hefty commission. You can also change money at branches of American Express and Rennies Travel.
Travellers’ cheques make a useful backup as they can be replaced if lost or stolen. American Express, Visa and Thomas Cook are all widely recognized brands; both US dollar and sterling cheques are accepted in South Africa.
Travellers’ cheques and plastic are useless if you’re heading into remote areas, where you’ll need to carry cash, preferably in a safe place, such as a leather pouch or waist-level money belt that you can keep under your clothes.
Some establishments have summer and winter opening times. In such situations, you can take winter to mean April to August or September, while summer constitutes the rest of the year.
School holidays in South Africa can disrupt your plans, especially if you want to camp, or stay in the national parks and the cheaper end of accommodation (self-catering, cheaper B&Bs, etc), all of which are likely to be booked solid during those periods. If you do travel to South Africa over the school holidays, book your accommodation well in advance, especially for the national parks.
The longest and busiest holiday period is Christmas (summer), which for schools stretches over most of December and January. Flights and train berths can be hard to get from December 16 to January 2, when many businesses and offices close for their annual break. You should book your flights – long-haul and domestic – as early as six months in advance for the Christmas period. The inland and coastal provinces stagger their school holidays, but as a general rule the remaining school holidays roughly cover the following periods: Easter, mid-March to mid-April; winter, mid-June to mid-July; and spring, late September to early October. Exact dates for each year are given on the government’s information website: wwww.info.gov.za/aboutsa/schoolcal.htm.
Mobile phones (referred to locally as cell phones or simply cells) are extremely widely used in South Africa, with more mobile than landline handsets in use. The competing networks – Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and VirginMobile – cover all the main areas and the national roads connecting them.
You can use a GSM/tri-band phone from outside the country in South Africa, but you will need to arrange a roaming agreement with your provider at home; be warned that this is likely to be expensive. A far cheaper alternative is to buy a local SIM card that replaces your home SIM card while you’re in South Africa. (For this to work, you’ll need to check that your phone hasn’t been locked to your home network.) The local SIM card contains your South African phone number, and you pay for airtime. Very inexpensive starter packs (R100 or less) containing a SIM card and some airtime can be bought from the ubiquitous mobile phone shops and a number of other outlets, including supermarkets and the CNA chain of newsagents and supermarkets.
Another option is to rent just a South African SIM card or a phone and SIM card when you arrive. Cards start at R5 a day and phones at R7. Phone (and GPS) rental can also be arranged when you arrange car rental. Among the companies that offer this are Avis, Budget, Hertz and National (see Car rental) as does the Baz backpacker bus. There are rental outlets at the major airports: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and George.
wwww.southafrica.net, which includes content specific to users in South Africa, the UK, the US, Canada, Germany and France.
In South Africa itself, nearly every town, even down to the sleepiest dorp, has some sort of tourist office – sometimes connected to the museum, municipal offices or library – where you can pick up local maps, lists of B&Bs and travel advice. In larger cities such as Cape Town and Durban, you’ll find several branches offering everything from hotel bookings to organized safari trips. We’ve given precise opening hours of tourist offices in most cases; they generally adhere to a standard schedule of Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5pm, with many offices also open on Saturdays and Sundays. In smaller towns some close between 1pm and 2pm, while in the bigger centres some have extended hours.
In this fast-changing country the best way of finding out what’s happening is often by word of mouth, and for this, backpacker hostels are invaluable. If you’re seeing South Africa on a budget, the useful notice boards, constant traveller traffic and largely helpful and friendly staff in the hostels will greatly smooth your travels.
To find out what’s on, check out the entertainment pages of the daily newspapers or better still buy the Mail & Guardian, which comes out every Friday and lists the coming week’s offerings in a comprehensive pullout supplement.
If you want to be more independent on your travels, it’s important to know where you can expect help and where you must be self-reliant, especially regarding transport and accommodation. It’s also vital to know your limitations, and to make sure others know them. If you do not use a wheelchair all the time but your walking capabilities are limited, remember that you are likely to need to cover greater distances while travelling (often over rougher terrain and in hotter temperatures) than you are used to. If you use a wheelchair, have it serviced before you go and take a repair kit with you.
Although children up to 24 months only pay ten percent of the adult airfare, the illusion that this is a bargain rapidly evaporates when you discover that they get no seat or baggage allowance. Given this, you’d be well advised to secure bulkhead seats and reserve a basinet or sky cot, which can be attached to the bulkhead. Basinets are usually allocated to babies under six months, though some airlines use weight (under 10kg) as the criterion. When you reconfirm your flights, check that your seat and basinet are still available. A child who has a seat will usually be charged fifty percent of the adult fare and is entitled to a full baggage allowance.
For getting to and from the aircraft, and for use during your stay, take a lightweight collapsible buggy – not counted as part of your luggage allowance. A child-carrier backpack is another useful accessory.
Given the size of the country, you’re likely to be driving long distances. Aim to go slowly and plan a route that allows frequent stops – or perhaps take trains or flights between centres. The Garden Route, for example, is an ideal drive, with easy stops for picnics, particularly on the section between Mossel Bay and Storms River. The route between Johannesburg and Cape Town, conversely, is tedious.
Game viewing can be boring for young children, since it too involves a lot of driving – and disappointment, should the promised beasts fail to put in an appearance. Furthermore, of course, toddlers won’t particularly enjoy watching animals from afar and through a window. If they are old enough to enjoy the experience, make sure they have their own binoculars. To get in closer, some animal parks, such as Tshukudu near Kruger, have semi-tame animals, while snake and reptile parks are an old South African favourite.
Family accommodation is plentiful, and hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs and a growing number of backpacker lodges have rooms with extra beds or interconnecting rooms. Kids usually stay for half-price. Self-catering options are worth considering, as most such establishments have a good deal of space to play in, and there’ll often be a pool. A number of resorts are specifically aimed at families with older children, with suitable activities offered. The pick of the bunch is the Forever chain (wwww.foreversa.co.za), which has resorts in beautiful settings, including Keurboomstrand near Plettenberg Bay, and two close to the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga. Another excellent option is full-board family hotels, of which there are a number along the Wild Coast, where not only are there playgrounds and canoes for paddling about lagoons, but also often nannies to look after the kids during meals or for the whole day. Note that many safari camps don’t allow children under 12, so you’ll have to self-cater or camp at the national parks and those in KwaZulu-Natal.
Eating out with a baby or toddler is easy, particularly if you go to an outdoor venue where they can get on unhindered with their exploration of the world. Some restaurants have highchairs and offer small portions. If in doubt, there are always the ubiquitous family-oriented chains such as Spur, Nando’s or Wimpy.
Breast-feeding is practised by the majority of African mothers wherever they are, though you won’t see many white women doing it in public. Be discreet, especially in more conservative areas – which is most of the country outside middle-class Cape Town, Johannesburg or Durban. There are relatively few baby rooms in public places for changing or feeding, although the situation is improving all the time and you shouldn’t have a problem at shopping malls in the cities. You can buy disposable nappies wherever you go (imported brands are best), as well as wipes, bottles, formula and dummies. High-street chemists and the Clicks chain are the best places to buy baby goods. If you run out of clothes, the Woolworths chain has good-quality stuff, while the ubiquitous Pep stores, which are present in even the smallest towns, are an excellent source of extremely cheap, functional clothes.
Malaria affects only a small part of the country, but think carefully about visiting such areas as the preventatives aren’t recommended for under-2s. Avoid most of the major game reserves, particularly the Kruger National Park and those in KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Limpopo provinces, and opt instead for malaria-free reserves – Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape is an excellent choice. Malarial zones carry a considerably reduced risk in winter, so if you are set on going, this is the best time. Tuberculosis (TB) is widespread in South Africa, mostly (but by no means exclusively) affecting the poor, so make sure your child has had a BCG jab. Sun protection is another important consideration.
Each of the larger cities has its own English-language broadsheet, most of them published by South Africa’s largest newspaper publisher, Independent News & Media, a subsidiary of the Irish company that owns London’s Independent newspaper and the Irish Independent. In Johannesburg, The Star (www.thestar.co.za), the group’s South African flagship, has a roughly equal number of black and white readers and offers somewhat uninspired Jo’burg coverage, padded out with international bits and pieces piped in from Dublin and London. Cape Town’s morning Cape Times (www.capetimes.co.za) and Cape Argus (www.capeargus.co.za), published in the afternoon, follow broadly the same tried (and tired) formula, as do the Pretoria News (www.pretorianews.co.za), the Herald (www.theherald.co.za) in Port Elizabeth and the Daily News (www.dailynews.co.za) in Durban.
The country’s biggest-selling paper is the Daily Sun, a Jo’burg-based tabloid that taps into the concerns of township dwellers, with a giddy cocktail of gruesome crime stories, tales of witchcraft and the supernatural, and coverage of the everyday problems of ordinary people. Another Jo’burg tabloid is the Sowetan (www.sowetan.co.za), which has been going since the 1980s, but is a far more serious publication than the Sun. In Cape Town, the studiedly sleazy Voice attempts to emulate the Sun in the coloured community, with a downbeat mixture of crime, the supernatural and sex advice.
Unquestionably the country’s intellectual heavyweight, the Mail & Guardian (www.mg.co.za), published every Friday, frequently delivers nonpartisan and fearless investigative journalism, but at times tends towards the turgid.
The Sunday Times (www.sundaytimes.co.za), on the other hand, can attribute its sales – roughly half a million copies – to its well-calculated mix of investigative reporting, gossipy stories and rewrites of salacious scandal lifted from foreign tabloids, while the Sunday Independent (www.sundayindependent.co.za), from the Independent stable, projects a more thoughtful image but is a bit thin.
The easiest places to buy newspapers are corner stores and newsagents, especially the CNA chain. These outlets also sell international publications such as Time, Newsweek, The Economist and the weekly overseas editions of the British Daily Mail, the Telegraph and the Express – you’ll also find copies of the daily and weekend international editions of the Financial Times.
South Africa’s first and only free-to-air independent commercial channel e.tv (www.etv.co.za) won its franchise in 1998 on the promise of providing a showcase for local productions, a pledge it has signally failed to meet.
There is no cable TV in South Africa, but DSTV (www.dstv.co.za) offers a satellite television subscription service with a selection of sports, movies, news and specialist channels, some of which are piped into hotels.
To get a taste of what makes South Africans tick, tune into the privately owned Gauteng talk station 702 (in Jo’burg 92.7 FM and in Pretoria 106 FM; www.702.co.za) or its Cape Town sister station CapeTalk (567 AM; www.capetalk.co.za), both of which are a lot livelier than the state stations and broadcast news, weather, traffic and sports reports. Apart from these, there are scores of regional, commercial and community stations, broadcasting a range of music and other material, which makes surfing the airwaves an enjoyable experience, wherever you are in the country.
Public hospitals in South Africa are fairly well equipped, but they are facing huge pressures under which their attempts to maintain standards are unfortunately buckling. Expect long waits and frequently indifferent treatment. Private hospitals or clinics, which are well up to British or North American standards, are usually a better option for travellers. You’re likely to get more personal treatment and the costs are nowhere near as high as in the US – besides which, the expense shouldn’t pose a problem if you’re adequately insured. Private hospitals are listed in the town and city listings throughout the Guide.
Dental care in South Africa is well up to British and North American standards, and is less expensive. You’ll find dentists in all the cities and most smaller towns, listed after doctors at the beginning of each town in the telephone directory.
In addition to these, the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London recommends, depending on which parts of the country you’re visiting, a course of shots against typhoid and an injection against hepatitis A, both of which can be caught from contaminated food or water. This is a worst-case scenario, and in any case, typhoid is eminently curable and few visitors to South Africa ever catch it.
Vaccination against hepatitis B is essential only for people involved in health work; the disease is spread by the transfer of blood products, usually dirty needles.
It’s best to start organizing to have jabs six weeks before departure. If you’re going to another African country first and need the yellow fever jab, note that a yellow fever certificate only becomes valid ten days after you’ve had the shot.
If you do get a stomach bug the best cure is lots of water and rest. Papayas – the flesh as well as the pips – are a good tonic to offset the diarrhoea. Otherwise, most chemists should have name-brand anti-diarrhoea remedies, such as Lomotil.
Avoid jumping for antibiotics at the first sign of illness. Instead keep them as a last resort – they don’t work on viruses and annihilate your “gut flora” (most of which you want to keep), making you more susceptible next time round. Most tummy upsets will resolve themselves if you adopt a sensible fat-free diet for a couple of days, but if they do persist without improvement (or are accompanied by other unusual symptoms), then see a doctor as soon as possible.
Short-term effects of overexposure to the sun include burning, nausea and headaches. Make sure you wear adequate sunscreen and you don’t stay too long in the sun – especially when you first arrive.
Take particular care with children, who should ideally be kept well covered at the seaside, preferably with UV-protective sun suits. Don’t be lulled into complacency on cloudy days, when UV levels can still be high.
The chances are you’ll avoid bilharzia even if you swim in a suspect river, but it’s best to avoid swimming in dams and rivers where possible. If you go canoeing or can’t avoid the water, have a test for bilharzia when you return home.
Symptoms may be no more than a feeling of lassitude and ill health. Once the infection is established, abdominal pain and blood in the urine and stools are common. Fortunately, although no vaccine is available, bilharzia is easily and effectively treatable.
Malaria is caused by a parasite carried in the saliva of the female anopheles mosquito. It has a variable incubation period of a few days to several weeks, so you can become ill long after being bitten. The first symptoms of malaria can be mistaken for flu, starting off relatively mildly with a variable combination that includes fever, aching limbs and shivering, which come in waves, usually beginning in the early evening. Deterioration can be rapid as the parasites in the bloodstream proliferate. Malaria is not infectious, but can be fatal if not treated quickly: get medical help without delay if you go down with flu-like symptoms within a week of entering or three months of leaving a malarial area.
Doctors can advise on which kind of anti-malarial tablets to take. It’s important to keep to the prescribed dose, which covers the period before and after your trip. Consult your doctor or clinic several weeks before you travel, as you should start taking medication a week or two before entering the affected region – depending on the particular drug you’re using.
Whatever you decide to take, be aware that no antimalarial drug is totally effective – your only sure-fire protection is to avoid getting bitten. Malaria-carrying mosquitoes are active between dusk and dawn, so try to avoid being out at this time, or at least cover yourself well. Sleep under a mosquito net when possible, making sure to tuck it under the mattress, and burn mosquito coils (which you can buy everywhere) for a peaceful, if noxious, night. Electric mosquito-destroyers which you fit with a pad every night are less pungent than mosquito coils, though note that you may not have access to a power supply at some safari lodges, or if you’re camping. Mosquito “buzzers” are useless. Whenever the mosquitoes are particularly bad – and that’s not often – cover your exposed parts with insect repellent; those containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) work well. Other locally produced repellents such as Peaceful Sleep are widely available.
Tick-bite fever is occasionally contracted from walking in the bush, particularly in long wet grass. The offending ticks can be minute and you may not spot them. Symptoms appear a week later – swollen glands and severe aching of the bones, backache and fever. The disease will run its course in three or four days. Ticks you may find on yourself are not dangerous, just repulsive at first. Make sure you pull out the head as well as the body (it’s not painful). A good way of removing small ones is to smear Vaseline or grease over them, making them release their hold.
Scorpion stings and spider bites are painful but almost never fatal, contrary to popular myth. Scorpions and spiders abound, but they’re hardly ever seen unless you turn over logs and stones. If you’re collecting wood for a campfire, knock or shake it before picking it up. Another simple precaution when camping is to shake out your shoes and clothes in the morning before you get dressed.
Rabies is present throughout Southern Africa, with dogs posing the greatest risk, although the disease can be carried by other domestic or wild animals. If you are bitten you should go immediately to a clinic or hospital. Rabies can be treated effectively with a course of injections.
A BCG vaccination is recommended for children, most of whom should already have received one in infancy, but it’s not routinely given to adults since it can mask latent symptoms should you later become infected. Adults should take medical advice on the question of immunization if they feel they may be at risk.