Overview of South Africa
South Africa has been billed as ‘a world in one country’, and offers visitors a myriad of delights, from its spectacular landscapes and wildlife, to the cosmopolitan vibe of its cities and the fascinating history of its people.
Throughout the second half of the 20th century South Africa was regarded by much of the world as a pariah state where the ruling white minority passed a range of draconian laws to subdue the black majority. All this changed in 1994 with the release from prison of world-renowned freedom fighter and icon of the oppressed, Nelson Mandela. A new age of democracy was ushered in, and South Africa was revealed to the world in her true colours: a rainbow nation with a kaleidoscope of cultures and a host of attractions to enthral and entrance visitors.
More than a two decades later tourists are flocking to sunny South Africa in droves, particularly to the Western Cape with its magnificent scenery, beautiful beaches, majestic mountains and verdant winelands. Johannesburg remains the commercial capital of the nation, and is also the gateway to the Kruger National Park and other major game reserves.
Comprising the southern tip of Africa and surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, South Africa offers a taste of the African experience while at the same time offering all the pleasures of a first-world holiday experience, with luxury hotels, wonderful food and pristine beaches. Have breakfast in a New York-style deli, lunch in an African shebeen, cocktails on a sunset cruise, and dinner in a world-class restaurant.
It is not just the dramatic landsacpes and natural beauty that make South Africa magical. Historically, too, there is plenty to discover, from the old African kingdoms, to the pioneering spirit of the Dutch voortrekkers and the settlement of the Eastern Cape frontier by the British colonialists, and of course the more recent history of the apartheid state and the liberation struggle.
With its winter sun, an easy overnight flight and little time difference, South Africa is particularly popular with European visitors, but it welcomes all travellers with open arms and truly has a whole world to offer them.
- South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu, and Sotho. English is widely spoken.
Passports should be valid for at least 30 days beyond the period of intended stay. An onward or return ticket is required and evidence of sufficient funds. Note that visitors to South Africa must have at least one blank (unstamped) visa page in their passport, each time entry is sought; this page is in addition to the endorsement/amendment pages at the back of the passport. However, nationals of countries that require a visa before travelling to South Africa, must have two blank pages in their passport – one for issuing a visa prior to departure and one for stamping at the port of entry when entering South Africa.
Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources. The South African Immigration Authorities do not accept loose leaf temporary travel documents. Note that South Africa’s immigration laws have changed dramatically over the last two years, and there may be some confusion as to the correct procedure.
South Africa’s currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change, and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available and major international credit cards are widely accepted. Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. All commercial banks will exchange foreign currency.
- Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round, three-pin plugs and round, two-pin plugs are standard.