Capital: Pretoria, Cape Town and Bloemfontein
Area: 1.219.090 km2
Inhabitants: 58.775.000 inhabitants (2019)
Population density: 48,21 inhabitants per km2.
Languages: South Africa is one of the countries with most official languages in the world. We find up to a total of 11 that recognize the diversity of this country. These are: Afrikaans, English, Isindebele, Swazi, Tsonga, Xhosa, Zulu, Tshivenda, Tswana, Sesotho and Sepedi. Zulu and Afrikaans are the most widely spoken languages, while English is the main language used for business and work.
Currency: The country’s official currency is the South-african Rand (ZAR). In exchange, 1 euro is 17 ZAR. You can look at the current exchange in the next link.
Clima: In South Africa we can find different climates as it is a country with a large area of land. In the area of Cape Town and the coast, we find a more Mediterranean climate with rainier winters (which are between May and August), and summers with temperatures around 25-30º. In the area bordering Namibia and the Kalahari (in the north), the climate is drier, with higher temperatures and very little rainfall that usually falls between December and April. In the Limpopo and Johannesburg (Kruger) area, there is usually a rainy season between November and April, with high humidity and hot temperatures. In contrast, in winter (which would be European summer) temperatures tend to drop and usually cool more at night.
Road driving: South Africa is a country with a very good road network, like the ones we might find in Europe. The main cities are connected by highways (some toll roads), and paved and well-maintained national roads. Even within the Kruger NP, some of the roads are paved and in good condition. It is a country that can be easily traveled with a vehicle that does not have a 4×4. However, keep in mind that in South Africa we also find heavily populated cities such as Johannesburg, so driving inside the city can be more complicated due to the traffic and traffic jams you may encounter. On the other hand, in many areas you will find roads without towns or people as the country is giant. It is also important to note that South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in terms of road thefts, so it is always good to be alert to avoid any kind of scare.
Internet / SIM card: South Africa is one of the most western countries we have been to in Africa. This fact is noticeable with the infrastructures, where most of the roads that connect the different cities are motorways in very good condition; the restaurant and leisure offer with shopping centers and fast-food restaurants and also with the Internet connection. There, you can easily find Wifi, and also good signal coverage with some of the country’s local SIM cards. You will find different data purchase programs: some are for having data only at night, others all day… We got a Telkom card that Cristina from the accommodation in Johannesburg gave us, and loaded it from data with a package of 5 GB (day) + 5 GB (night) for a cost of 299 Rands, about 17 euros in exchange. You will be able to see how much data you are spending through a free text message, and you will be able to charge balance from different supermarkets that you will find during your trip to South Africa.
Visa: For Spanish passports, it is not necessary to have a visa to enter the country as a tourist. They allow you a maximum stay of 90 days. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that these 90 days are the maximum time you can be in the country during the calendar year. That is, if you arrive in January and are in the country for two months, then you will only have one month of Visa left to return to the country that you can use until December 31 of that year. It is important to have this information clear for those of you who travel for a long season in the south of the continent and want to enter South Africa several times.
Budget: In total, we spent 55 days in South Africa during 3 different times of our trip. The first was in November 2021, when we visited a large part of the country also entering Eswatini for four days. The second was in April 2022, when we entered from Mozambique in order to discover the iSimingaliso part and the Drakensberg mountains before entering Lesotho; and the last was in May 2022 when we left Lesotho and spent the last few days in the country visiting the Kalahari and finally leaving the car in Cape Town before flying to the West African coast. In all these days, we spent a total of 4,816.18€ for two people. Since we were there for quite a few days, for the national parks we bought the Wild Card which allows you to enter all the parks for a year. The cost of this card is 5,100 Rands for two people (about 293.80 euros in total) and it was more cost-effective for us than not buying specific tickets for each national park. Here’s a breakdown of all the expenses in South Africa:
WHAT TO SEE IN SOUTH AFRICA?
Johannesburg is the most populated city in the country and one of the 40 largest metropolises on the planet. With an international airport that receives most of the international flights that want to reach the country, there were some of the most serious episodes of Apartheid that officially ended in 1993. During your visit you can walk the streets where the student Hector Pieterson was shot dead during the Soweto student revolts for being required to answer exams only in Afrikaans; you can visit the Soweto neighborhood, a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city where the Afrikaans government forced the entire black population to be displaced; visit Constitutional Hill, a former fort that was once a prison where some illustrious figures such as Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela were detained; discover the city center, also known as Maboneng; or visit the Apartheid Museum, one of the most impressive in the country. Today, Johannesburg is a multicultural city trying to find its own way in light of this darkest part of its history. A very interesting visit to know the identity of the country.
The Kruger NP is one of the most famous and well-known national parks in Africa. It is notable for its accessibility and ease of organizing a free safari, as most roads are paved and can be used in a non-4×4 vehicle. In addition, it is a large park with a large concentration of animals, so during your visit you will have a very high chance of seeing many animals up close. We were lucky enough to see a lot of animal life that we wrote as living experiences in our article. A must visit during your trip to South Africa.
The Panorama Route is a route through one of the most spectacular landscapes in South Africa. It is located in the east of the country, between the Kruger NP and Johannesburg and with Graskop and Sabie as the main towns along this route. There, you can enjoy waterfalls, visits to viewpoints with endless views, excursions between valleys, recreations of mining villages, discover one of the oldest caves in the world and see the Blyde River Canyon, considered the third largest canyon on the planet. A beautiful way to enjoy the beauty of the scenery and nature of this part of South Africa.
If you want to see elephants, this park will be your favorite place. The Addo NP, located a few kilometers from Port Elizabeth in the south-central part of the country, is a park with more than 700 elephants and you can see them in all their splendor: swimming in waterholes, rubbing against the mud, fighting to mark other elephants, taking care of their young… In addition, you can find other animals such as antelopes and also the famous flightless dung beetles: an endangered animal that you will find working in elephant excrements. The park has a terrestrial part, as well as a marine part where you can observe, when is the season, some marine animals such as dolphins and southern right whales. A park with a beautiful history of conservation behind it, and where you can spend many hours enjoying the elephants, the iconic animal of this national park.
The Garden Route is one of the most beautiful routes in the country that runs for about 700 kilometers between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. There, you will see one of the most impressive coasts on the continent, the South African coast, where you can enjoy beautiful and varied landscapes. For example, different national parks like the Tsitsikamma NP where you can swim on the beaches, kayak along the mouths of the rivers, feel the force of the ocean and watch the forests reach the sea; natural reserves like De Hoop, a place where you will find a unique landscape with sand dunes crashing against the waves of the Indian Ocean and you will be able to see animals in the wild like mountain zebras; lagoons surrounded by beautiful cities like Knysna and with beautiful green surroundings for hiking; coastal populations that are considered the best place to see southern right whales between June and November such as Hermanus; 5-day coastal trekkings such as the famous Otter Trail; and Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point in Africa, which separates the Indian Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean. A route with many activities to do and that you will have to plan in advance, as you could be there for two weeks or more. One of the must-see places during your stay in South Africa.
Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities you can find in Africa. It is the second most populates city in South Africa, and stands out for being a cosmopolitan city that mixes the best of each culture. There, you can enjoy the city in all its aspects. You can walk along its waterfront while listening to street music; you can climb Table Mountain, considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world; you can visit one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world such as Kirstenbosch Gardens; you can learn about the recent history of Apartheid by visiting Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, or the District 6 Museum; you will be able to visit one of the most charming neighborhoods in the city such as Bo-Kaap, a Malay neighborhood with an interesting history behind it and which is characterized by its colorful houses; you can enjoy the city’s nightlife and also you can visit one of the continent’s most important museums of African contemporary art. A modern city that will not leave you indifferent when you visit it.
This peninsula, located south of Cape Town, is well worth a visit to get to know one of the most mythical capes on Earth, such as Cape of Good Hope. During your day trip from Cape Town, you can enjoy ideal surfing beaches such as Muizenberg Beach; quieter beaches to enjoy a swim; you can also visit one of the few African penguin colonies on the continent such as Boulder’s Beach; take one of the most beautiful scenic roads in this region, such as Chapman’s Peak, which runs through the various rugged mountains of the coast; walking through different coastal villages in a very festive atmosphere like Camps Bay; and visit Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, one of the most photographed spots in South Africa and where, today, there is still the lighthouse that illuminates the course of many boats crossing to Asia.
South Africa is known internationally for the quality of its wines, which are mainly made in the region between Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl; located on a short distance from Cape Town. A land of European settlers and Huguenot Protestants who fled France during the 17th century, they began to cultivate vineyards in the middle of mountains, rivers and valleys, and in a climate very reminiscent of the Mediterranean. Currently, you will find hundreds of wineries where you can make different very interesting tours to discover the local grape varieties they have, such as Pinotage or Chenin Blanc; taste the different types of wines accompanied by cheeses, jams and chocolates; and enjoy a beautiful surroundings and landscapes where you can unwind for a few days. A very good experience related to the world of the vineyard and that, of course, you can enjoy while drinking a good glass of South African wine.
Tankwa Karoo NP is a national park located in the center-west of the country and is notable for its arid landscapes between the Roggeveld, Cederberg and Kouebokkeveld mountains. It is far from the main touristic routes, but we visited it after a recommendation from two women travelers; and there we managed to stop the time. It is a completely uninhabited park, where you will find very few animals, but it is characterized by having a special biome where different succulent plants grow and where more than 188 different species of birds live. During the nights, you can see one of the most beautiful starry skies in the country; and during the day drive along some of its unpaved roads and up to some of the mountain harbors around the park. A dry and different landscape that we had not yet seen in South Africa.
10. ISIMANGALISO WETLAND PARK
These parks are spectacular wetlands located around the town of Santa Lucia, right on the border with Mozambique and south of Eswatini, and stand out for their great biodiversity. Declared a World Heritage Site, it is a unique area with the largest dune forest in the world and the largest population of hippos in Africa. You will find different points of interest such as Kosi Bay or Mabibi Forest, only accessible by 4×4, and where you can enjoy pristine white sand beaches and spectacular scenery; as well as lakes and lagoons where you can see different waterfowl as well as other animals such as giraffes, elephants, lions and cheetahs; among others. You can also enjoy various marine activities such as scuba diving and visit the Imfolozi NP, a small inland reserve but with lots of animal wildlife. A totally unspoilt and natural place to discover in South Africa.
11. KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK
The Kalahari Desert covers an area between Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. It is one of the largest deserts on the planet. In the northwest of the country, you can visit part of this desert by visiting Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a park that stretches across Botswana (75%) and South Africa (25%) and is divided into two parks: Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, South Africa; and Gemsbok National Park in Botswana. Thanks to the collaboration between the two countries in the conservation of this area, you can visit the entire park (without the need for a visa or official border crossing) and observe a very active animal life, with the well-known lions of the Kalahari, as well as other animals such as leopards and antelopes; among others. If you travel by 4×4, this visit is a must to discover one of the most remote places on the planet; living with wild animals; and live a real adventure.
Eswatini is a country in eastern South Africa. We include it as a must-see in South Africa because many travelers combine these two countries during their holidays. In Eswatini, you can discover a unique landscape with one of the most spectacular valleys in South Africa, such as the Ezulwini Valley, where you can visit traditional villages of Swazi culture; visit the Mlilwane sanctuary and walk alongside zebras and antelopes, as well as discover the seat of one of the few remaining absolute monarchies in the world. In addition, it has different national parks such as the Hlane Royal NP where you can walk in search of rhinos. Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland, is one of the smallest countries on the African continent, but with a great cultural richness and its own identity that is rooted in the magnificent mountains and valleys of the country.
Lesotho, also known as the Kingdom in the Sky for being the only country in the world that is completely over 1.000 meters above sea level, is another small country that is surrounded by South Africa, just between Bloemfontein and Durban. That’s why we also include it in the essentials of South Africa because many travelers combine a visit to South Africa with a visit to Lesotho. This mountainous country that you can visit in a few days stands out for its basotho culture, where many of its inhabitants still ride horses and greet you next to mountains with precipices, caves, waterfalls and a land that had previously been inhabited by dinosaurs. In addition, you will find one of the few ski resorts in Africa; and one of the most beautiful mountains passes to do, the Sani Pass, which connects Underberg (South Africa) with Mokhotlong (Lesotho). A gem to discover on top of the mountains.