South Africa is situated on the tip of the African Continent, south of the Limpopo River. The Atlantic Ocean is to the west and the warm Indian Ocean lies off the east coast. The country is bordered by Namibia in the north-west, Mozambique in the north-east and Botswana and Zimbabwe to the north. It also encompasses the independent mountain kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland.
South Africa has nine provinces: Western Cape, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, North West, KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Free State, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
South Africa covers an area of approximately 1 221 000 km² / 471 440 miles², about 4 % of the total land mass in Africa. This makes the country five times larger than the UK and about three times the size of Texas.
Population and Languages
There are approximately 48 million people living in South Africa. Eleven official languages are spoken - English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Shangaan, Ndebele and Pedi. Many immigrants from over the world have been attracted to the country, and you will therefore also hear other languages such as other African languages, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic, French, Japanese and Chinese.
South Africa has one of the highest average daily hours of sunshine in the world - 8, 5 compared with 3, 8 in London, 6, 4 in Rome and 6, 9 in New York. Rainfall is highest in the summer, except for the Western Cape which has a Mediterranean climate - dry summers and rain in winter. Average rainfall is from 414 mm / 16.3 inches in the North West Province to over 1 000 mm / 39.4 inches in subtropical KwaZulu-Natal.
In the southern hemisphere, the seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere. Spring is from September to October, summer from November to February, autumn or fall from March to April and winter from May to August. The climate is mild with average temperatures ranging from 16ºC / 60ºF in winter in the Cape Town area to around 33ºC / 90ºF in summer in the North West Province.
South Africa operates two hours in advance of Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year which is an hour ahead of Central European Winter Time and seven hours in advance of Eastern Standard Winter Time.
Transport and Driving
When travelling to and from airports accredited buses and taxis of ACSA (Airports Company of SA) are best to use. Most hotels and accommodation establishments will organise airport transfer on request.
Driving is on the left hand side in South Africa. Most roads are of a high tarred quality and routes are well sign-posted which makes driving a pleasure.
Car hire companies operate throughout the country and many have offices at airports. The main centres in the country are linked by air, rail and motor coach services. In the big cities air charter services are also available. The legendary Blue Train is a novel, luxury way to see the country.
Cellular phones can be hired at airports and elsewhere. Most hotels and many accommodation establishments offer internet access and fax services. The international telephone service in the country links to over 170 countries.
South Africa is as safe a destination as anywhere else in the world providing you follow the normally observed precautions for travellers. Be aware of surroundings when driving, keep to well-lit areas at night and secure yourself in your vehicle. Deposit expensive items in your hotel or guest house safe and keep an eye on luggage and valuables in your possession. SA Tourism has an info and safety line to assist tourists: 083 1232 345. Website: www.southafrica.net.
At the current Rand exchange rate, shopping is a pleasure in South Africa. Shopping hours are usually from 08:00 to 17:00 on Mondays to Fridays and from 08:00 to 13:00 on Saturdays. Many large shopping centres are also open on Sundays. Supermarkets stay open till late and convenience stores that are open 24 hours a day can be found at petrol stations.
Tipping is expected in South Africa. A guideline for visitors is the following: Porters R2-R5 per item, taxis 10%, waiters and waitresses in restaurants 10 - 15%.
Passport and Visa
Every person entering South Africa must be in possession of a valid passport for travel to South Africa and, where necessary, a visa. Visitors who intend traveling to South Africa's neighboring countries and back into South Africa are advised to apply for multiple entry visas. In terms of existing arrangements, passport holders of certain countries are exempt from visa requirements.
Tourists must satisfy immigration officers that they have the means to support themselves during their stay, and that they are in possession of return or onward air tickets. They must also have valid international health certificates. Enquiries can be directed to South African diplomatic representatives abroad or the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria.
The currency is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R, with 100 cents in the Rand unit. Foreign currency can be exchanged at local banks and Bureaux de Changes. Most international credit cards such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club and their affiliates are accepted.
Notes issued R200, R100, R50, R20, R10; coins R5, R2, R1, 50c 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, & 1c. Currency exchange rates are available at banks and published daily in the press.
Most international traveler's checks are accepted provided they are in an acceptable currency and may be cashed at most banks. Many hotels and shops also provide this service.
VAT of 14% is levied on nearly all goods and services. Foreign tourists may claim back VAT paid on items that will be taken out of the country provided the value of the items purchased exceeds R250. VAT is refunded on departure at the point of departure. Original tax invoices, foreign passport, plus all the items on which a refund is claimed, must be presented at the VAT refund administration office or an appointed RSA customs and excise official on departure, and the total VAT on these items will be refunded. Visitors will be requested to fill out a VAT Refund Control Sheet (VAT 255). Where a visitor does not export all the goods specified on a particular tax invoice, only the value of the goods and the tax paid on such goods exported must be declared on this form.
No international immunization is needed when entering South Africa. The only inoculation requirement is a yellow fever vaccination certificate from travelers over one year of age entering South Africa within six days of leaving an infected country. Visitors who travel through or disembark in these areas are advised to be inoculated against the disease before visiting South Africa.
This disease is to the larger extent under control in South Africa. Regions that are affected are the Northern Province and Mpumalanga, northern KwaZulu-Natal and Zululand. The risk of contracting the disease is negligible provided that you take the standard precautions. Malaria tablets, a good insect repellent particularly in the evening, long-sleeved shirts and mosquito coils are advisable precautions.
The South African electricity system entails 220/230 volts AC at 50 cycles per second. Three pronged plugs are universal, so take an adapter. Most hotel rooms have 110 volt outlets for electric shavers and small appliances.
Post Offices are open Mon - Fri 08h00 - 16h30 & Sat 08h00 - 12h00 for postal service. Mail may be addressed to you Post Restante. The main post offices have special counters for this purpose. Postage stamps are widely available (e.g. at some cafes and branches of Postnet).
2010 FIFA World Cup
From the 11 June - 11 July, South Africa will host the 2010 FIFA Soccer World CupTM - the world's largest, most-watched football extravaganza. Staged across eight provinces, and nine host cities, almost half-a-million visitors are expected to experience the spectacle firsthand, while a worldwide television audience of between 35 and 40 billion viewers will witness the action and drama on screen.