Since the end of apartheid, South Africa has prided itself on its diversity.
From the rugged Drakensberg mountains, to the vineyards of the Cape, to old-growth forests and beautiful beaches, South Africa’s landscape is ever-changing but always spectacular. Experience wildlife at its most varied in the Featherbed Private Nature Reserve and the world’s first free-roaming private sancturary, Monkeyland. Relax in beautiful and sophisticated Cape Town. And in Johannesburg, take the time to learn about the history of apartheid and pay respect to the brave men and women who fought for freedom and racial equality. You’ll appreciate all the more how far this remarkable country has come in the past twenty-five years.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. South Africa has a well-developed bus network and a good road system, so getting around in South Africa is fairly easy. However, the passenger trains in South Africa are relatively slow, so perhaps avoid relying on them as a transport option.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our long stay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, Environment & Weather
South Africa sits at the southern end of the continent of Africa and covers 1,220,813 square kilometres. South Africa has more than 290 conservation parks, and is home to nearly 300 mammal species, 860 bird species and 8,000 plant species. Physical features vary across the country, from the deserts in the west, to the highveld in the centre, and the coastal plain of the north east.
Much of the country is semi-arid and dry. While temperatures can drop below freezing in areas of high altitude, most of the country only experiences mild cool temperatures in the winter months. Temperatures can be quite high during the summer, so be sure to prepare accordingly.
World Heritage sites
South Africa has 10 listed UNESCO World Heritage sites. You can view the official list here: https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/za. Some notable sites include:
- Robben Island, the former maximum security prison of political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park, which is made up of around 3,280 square kilometres and home to a diverse array of South African wildlife
- Barberton Makhonjwa Mountains, which comprise 40% of the Baberton Greenstone Belt, one of the world’s oldest geological structures.
Festivals and Events
South Africa holds numerous colourful festivals and events throughout the year. The Klein Karoo National Arts Festival brings together 100,00 art lovers for a week of dancing, music, cabaret, poetry and films, and features over 200 shows across 8 days. The Cape Town Minstrels Carnival is Cape Town’s showpiece celebration for the New Year, with numerous costumed parades and competitions taking place across the city. The Joy of Jazz festival in Johannesburg is one the biggest jazz festivals in the country, and is not to be missed by any music lovers.
- Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela
- A History of South Africa, by Leonard Thompson
- Jock of the Bushveld, by Percy Fitzpatrick
- South Africa, by Derryn Campbell
Eating and Drinking
Meat is an important part of the South African diet, with notable dishes including Boerewors (thick beef sausages), biltong (dried and spiced meat), and potjiekos (a stew made out of meat and mixed vegetables). One of South Africa’s most notable social traditions is to gather round for a braai, or barbecued meat. A communal way of having food, braai simply involves cooking meat on an open grill and sharing food with friends and family. South Africa’s multicultural influences shines through in dishes such as Cape Malay curry, and Bunny chow. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, try a malva pudding or a milk tart. Beer is the ocuntry’s unofficial national drink, while many fine wines are produced in the country. For something non-alcoholic, why not try rooibos (redbush tea) or mageu.
Health and Safety
In regional rural areas travel remains a positive experience for the tourist.
As of writing, smartraveller.gov.au advises a high degree of caution when travelling to South Africa particularly in the major metros. Crime is a significant problem in Urban South Africa, so pay attention to your personal security at all times.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. The standard voltage in South Africa is 230V, while the standard frequency is 50 Hz. South Africa uses the Type M electric plug, which has 3 pins in a T-shape. Be sure to have the right adapter with you before you travel.
Fossils of Hominids
South Africa has a single time zone, South Africa Standard Time (UTC+2). South Africa does not observe Daylight Savings.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you make sure you tip an appropriate amount for services. Tipping is generally practiced in the restaurants of larger cities, and is customarily done at 10% of the total bill. Hotel staff, tour guides, and coach drivers may also accept tips, as might car park and petrol station attendants.
Wifi access is available in most hotels, hostels, cafes and restaurants in major cities. However, internet coverage may be somewhat patchy out in rural or remote areas.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in South Africa. Many providers will offer a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible travel tips for South Africa
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, the more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a business card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Museums and galleries are often closed on Mondays. Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Consider contacting your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of South African Rand in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.
- Respect the local people and the wildlife! Be considerate and ask local people if they are OK with having their photos taken, be polite and courteous.