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Country Guides for Africa

South Africa

South Africa

Most travelers are drawn to South Africa by the games reserves like Kruger, Umfolozi and Hluhluwe for a chance to see hundreds of mammal, reptile and bird species in their native habitat. And while this may be the focus of your journey, there are lots of different things to see. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the Kalahari Desert is a favorite destination for lion watchers, and the rust-colored dunes and clear light provide the perfect photo background. For a seaside rest, the Garden Route offers luxurious beach resorts, wineries, farms and sea villages, bordered by forest-covered mountains. Founded by the Dutch in 1652, Cape Town has architecture from the Victorian era, terrific seafood, white, sandy beaches, and breathtaking views from Table Mountain. For a glimpse into South African culture, consider a visit to the Soweto Township. Note: The air in Pretoria can be fairly smoggy.

Language: 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu.

Major International Airports Include:


From City
Cape TownD F Malan AirportCPT15 miles E
Durban Durban Int'l DUR11 miles NW
JohannesburgJohannesburg Int'lJNB14.5 miles NE

Food and waterborne diseases are the number one cause of illness in travelers. Travelers' diarrhea can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites, which are found throughout Southern Africa and can contaminate food or water. Infections may cause diarrhea and vomiting (E.coli, Salmonella, cholera, and parasites), fever (Typhoid fever and toxoplasmosis), or liver damage (hepatitis). Make sure your food and drinking water are safe.

Malaria is a serious, but preventable infection that can be fatal. Your risk of malaria may be high in these countries, including cities. Prevent this deadly disease by seeing your health care provider for a prescription antimalarial drug and by protecting yourself against mosquito bites. All travelers to malaria-risk areas in Southern Africa, including infants, children, and former residents of Southern Africa, are at risk for malaria. All travelers to a malaria-risk area should take one of the following drugs (listed alphabetically): atovaquone/proguanil, doxycycline, mefloquine, or primaquine (in special circumstances).

Dengue, filariasis, leishmaniasis, onchocerciasis, and trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) are other diseases carried by insects that also occur in this region. Protecting yourself against insect bites (see below) will help to prevent these diseases.

Schistosomiasis, a parasitic infection, is found in fresh water in this region. Do not swim in fresh water (except in well-chlorinated swimming pools) in Southern African countries.

Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers, walk and drive defensively. Avoid nighttime travel if possible and always use seat belts.

The CDC recommends the following vaccines as appropriate for age (See your doctor at least 4-6 weeks before your trip to allow time for shots to take effect):

  • Hepatitis A or immune globulin (IG). Hepatitis B if you might be exposed to blood (for example, health-care workers), have sexual contact with the local population, stay longer than 6 months, or be exposed through medical treatment.
  • Rabies, if you might be exposed to wild or domestic animals through your work or recreation.
  • Typhoid, particularly if you are visiting developing countries in this region. As needed, booster doses for tetanus-diphtheria, measles, and a one-time dose of polio vaccine for adults. Hepatitis B vaccine is now recommended for all infants and for children ages 11-12 years who did not complete the series as infants.

All travelers should take the following precautions, no matter the destination:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water. Because motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of injury among travelers, walk and drive defensively. Avoid travel at night if possible and always use seat belts.
  • Always use latex condoms to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Don't eat or drink dairy products unless you know they have been pasteurized.
  • Don't share needles with anyone.
  • Eat only thoroughly cooked food or fruits and vegetables you have peeled yourself. Remember: boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it. Never eat undercooked ground beef and poultry, raw eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products. Raw shellfish is particularly dangerous to persons who have liver disease or compromised immune systems.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Those traveling to South Africa are at risk from malaria, and other diseases transmitted mosquito bites. Travelers should use topical insect repellent and wear insecticide-treated clothing.

Download Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by CountryDownload Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by Country

The water supply in South Africa, particularly in the rural regions, is contaminated with viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. Travelers should treat water before drinking to avoid potentially serious health problems.

Download Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by CountryDownload Magellan's Chart of Insect Protection and Water Purification Needs by Country

Travelers are encouraged to be vigilant and avoid any large gathering, particularly protests and demonstrations. The possibility of violence, including threats against American interests, should not be discounted, particularly in times of heightened world tension.

While visiting game parks and reserves, it is dangerous to leave one's vehicle or otherwise be on foot, even in the presence of a guide. Several incidents of wild animal attacks on tourists in the region have resulted in deaths or serious injury. There have also been shark attacks in the False Bay area of the Cape. In December 2004, a woman was attacked and killed by a shark while swimming at Fish Hoek beach. Should a shark be spotted close to the shore, local authorities will sound a warning siren to notify the public.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the State Department's Internet web site at where the current Worldwide Caution Public Announcement, Travel Warnings and Public Announcements can be found.

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S., or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas. For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State's pamphlet A Safe Trip Abroad.

CRIME: Although the vast majority of visitors complete their travels in South Africa without incident, visitors should be aware that criminal activity, sometimes violent, occurs routinely. Notwithstanding government anti-crime efforts, violent crimes such as carjackings, muggings, "smash and grab" attacks on vehicles and other incidents are regularly reported by visitors and resident Americans.

Crimes against property, such as carjacking, have often been accompanied by violent acts, including murder. South Africa also has the highest incidence of reported rape in the world. Foreigners are not specifically targeted, but several have been the victims of rape. Victims of violent crime, especially rape, are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical attention, including antiretroviral therapy against HIV/AIDS. Questions about how to receive such treatment should be directed to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Criminal activity, such as assault, armed robbery and theft, is particularly high in areas surrounding many hotels and public transportation centers, especially in major cities. Theft of passports and other valuables is most likely to occur at airports. A number of Americans have been mugged or violently attacked on commuter and metro trains, especially between Johannesburg and Pretoria. There have been several instances in which American travelers have been drugged to sleep by strangers they met and invited to their hotel rooms. The victims' beverage is surreptitiously "spiked" by the stranger. The victims awaken to find their valuables have disappeared. In at least one instance, an American traveler died after being robbed/drugged in this fashion.

In areas of Mpumalanga Province west of Kruger National Park, there have been violent attacks on foreign tourists. In the Western Cape, police resources have been strained by continuing gang conflicts and vigilante violence in the Cape Flats area of Cape Town. Some portions of the provinces of Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, such as the "Wild Coast," have significant levels of crime and inadequate medical services. Travelers may wish to contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate before embarking on trips to these particular areas.

Armed robberies of cash-in-transit vehicles and personnel occur throughout South Africa and peak during December and January due to the increase in cash flow from commercial stores to banks. Individuals should raise their level of situational awareness while in the vicinity of cash-in-transit vehicles and personnel and avoid areas where they are located to the maximum extent possible. The violence associated with these attacks makes prudence the best policy.

Credit card fraud, counterfeit U.S. currency, and various check-cashing scams are frequently reported. Do not accept "assistance" from anyone, or agree to assist others with ATM transactions. Travelers should try to avoid using ATMs after bank business hours. There have been reports of ATMs retaining the card, the cardholder leaving the scene since they cannot remove the card, and criminals later returning to retrieve the card from the machine. When giving your credit card to a store or restaurant employee for processing, do not let them take the card out of your sight. Also beware of fraudulent schemes in which a caller from South Africa (who usually is not South African) attempts to win the confidence of an unsuspecting American, who is then persuaded either to provide privileged financial information or travel to South Africa to assist in a supposedly lucrative business venture. Anyone receiving such a solicitation is urged to see the U.S. Secret Service website at before providing personal financial information or making any financial commitments.

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred. Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.

Source: U.S. Department of State

South Africa's climate varies significantly due to oceanic and topographical influences. The east coast has a marine-like climate with warm, humid, wet summers, and drier, cool to warm winters. The northeastern and eastern interior regions offer hot, wet summers and cool, dry winters. Moving westward, the climate becomes semi-arid with hot, dry summers and cool dry winters. The southwest coastal region is more Mediterranean with hot, wet summers, and cool, dry winters, and the west coast is a desert climate with warm summers and winters, and very little precipitation.

Precip. Days
Precip. Totals
Cape Town8920"

South Africa's electrical current is 220/50 (volts/hz) and uses the plug adaptors listed to the right under Related Items. Many North American appliances are designed to operate only within the 100-125 volt range. These appliances will suffer damage if plugged into 220-250 volts without the proper transformer or converter.

To determine which plug adaptors you'll need and if you'll require a transformer or converter, use our Electrical Connection Wizard.

For a detailed discussion of international electrical standards, see our related article on Electrical and Phone Adaptation.

Download Magellan's Guide to World Electrical ConnectionsDownload Magellan's Guide to World Electrical Connections

Please note: The passports of all travelers entering South Africa must contain at least two clean (unstamped) visa pages at each time entry is sought. Otherwise, there is a very strong probability that the traveler will be refused admission, even when in possession of a valid South African visa. Amendment and endorsement pages cannot be used in lieu of visa pages. As a general precaution, all travelers are advised to carry a photocopy of the photo/bio information page of their passport and keep it in a location separate from the passport.

South Africa has tightened its visa requirements. Only visitors for tourism, short business meetings or those in-transit do not require visas. All other visitors, including academics, students on educational trips, and volunteers, may need visas; otherwise they take the chance that they will be refused admission and returned to their point of origin.

It is strongly suggested that travelers check the latest requirements with the nearest embassy or consulate of South Africa before traveling. Visitors who intend to work in South Africa must apply for work permits abroad at the appropriate South African embassy or consulate.

Travelers entering South Africa from countries where yellow fever is endemic are often required to present their yellow World Health Organization (WHO) vaccination record or other proof of inoculation, or they must be inoculated at the airport in order to be permitted entry.

Visit the Embassy of South Africa, 3051 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone (202) 232-4400, web site at, or, the South African consulates in Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York for the most current visa information. Overseas, inquiries should be made at the nearest South African embassy or consulate.

Source: U.S. Department of State

The time zone for South Africa is 2 hours offset from GMT, which means that if it is 12:00 noon in New York, the time in South Africa would be 7:00 pm

The unit of currency in South Africa is the rand (ZAR).

Look up the current exchange rate using's Universal Currency Converter

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