South Africa travel advice

Tips from our friends in South Africa

Get more from your safari

Will Fox is the founder of our supplier On Track Safaris, and a conservationist specialising in leopard behaviour. Here's his South Africa travel advice: "So many people come back from Africa and say, "that was nice, but I wish I'd been more involved." They don't want to just be shown animals, it's not Disney World. Safaris shouldn't just be about seeing animals and staying in a nice lodge with a spa. That's wonderful, but it should also be about understanding the real issues in Africa and learning more about whatever it is you're keen on. We teach our guests a few native words. If you thank the lodge staff in their own language, you'll get such a beaming smile. They're just so impressed that someone has learned a few words of their language."

Kruger National Park travel advice

Rupert's South Africa tips Rupert Calcott, from our supplier Exodus, shares his South Africa Travel advice: "Kruger National Park is one of the most diverse natural areas left in the whole of southern Africa. Because it's such a long, thin reserve, it covers an extremely wide variety of habitats and the diversity of animals you find there is much greater than in Botswana, Zambia or Zimbabwe. It's got a little bit of everything. Most people don't go to the northern part of Kruger though. I think it's a very underrated part, and well worth looking into."
"Safari shouldn't just be about seeing animals, it should also be about understanding the real issues in Africa and learning more about whatever you're keen on."

- Will Fox, On Track Safaris
"Four weeks is the recommended time for volunteers. It allows you to get more out of it, but you also contribute more - which is really the whole point."

- Anne Smellie, Oyster Worldwide

Volunteering travel advice

Anne Smellie, from our supplier Oyster Worldwide, which specialises in gap year and volunteer trips, shares her South Africa travel advice for volunteers: "South Africa is ideal for first time volunteers. They want to do something different, they're tired of traditional vacations and they're looking for something more real where they can make a difference and know that what they're doing is good. It's not a "sit-on-the-beach-and-get-a-suntan" trip, it's giving something and learning something as well. So South Africa is perfect for that. It's got great infrastructure, English is spoken and it's a very approachable country.

A month is the recommended time for volunteering, depending on the type of placement. The first week is usually taken up with training and just generally fitting in - it's so different to people's daily lives. By the second week you're starting to get into the flow of it. So four weeks allows you to get more out of it, but you also contribute more - which is really the point of volunteering."

Table mountain tips

Sally Petersen, from our supplier AWOL Tours, shares her top tips for Cape Town: "In my opinion, the Table Mountain cable car is overrated. You're with hordes of people, and then most visitors just stay on the western table in a very small area, where the crowded restaurants are, and you're queuing for coffees. That's not the way to experience it - I definitely recommend hiking. Even if you are not able to hike up the mountain, you should still take a gentle walk around the table itself to get away from the crowds. You'll see the birdlife, and the fynbos, which is unique floral diversity."

Cultural travel advice

Rupert Calcott, from our supplier Exodus, offers cultural South Africa travel advice: "Some cultural experiences are quite fake and touristy, while others can be quite intrusive. If you took a busload of people to a village in England and went into somebody's house, they wouldn't be impressed at all! So one thing we like to do is utilise smaller accommodation that's locally owned. So you get to meet the people that own the homestead and that live in the surrounding village, and get to chat to them and understand them in that way. Right now it's still at grassroots level, but it's something that's growing."

Health & safety in South Africa

Travel safely in South Africa


Crime levels are notoriously high in South Africa, particularly in cities, townships and public transport. However, violent crime generally takes place away from popular tourist areas, and most visits are incident-free. Larger towns and cities have tourist police.

Be careful at ATMs. Avoid using them in secluded places and after dark and don’t withdraw large amounts of cash. Check to see if the machine has been tampered with; scams include damaging the machine so that your card gets stuck, so that money can be withdrawn from your account once you’ve gone into the bank to report the jammed card.

Keep all valuables out of sight in cars – even when you are driving – as robberies can occur at traffic lights or in jams. It’s also best to keep all your valuables in your carry-on luggage – thefts have been reported at Johannesburg airport.

Be alert when driving. Speed limits are often broken, and overtaking can occur from any lane, including the hard shoulder. Avoid driving at night if possible, especially on the approach roads to Kruger National Park and around KwaZulu-Natal.

Do not pick up hitchhikers or stop to assist seemingly distressed travelers – these techniques are often used by hijackers.

If you want to do a township tour, be sure you go with a registered guide.

Take note of the nationwide emergency number – 10111.


Visit your GP at least 6-8 weeks before you travel to ensure you are up-to-date with vaccinations.
The southern and western regions of the country are malaria-free, so it is possible to come here and even go on safari without the need for antimalarial medication. However, malaria is present in the northeast – including Kruger National Park.
Cities have good health facilities, but do be sure to take out good travel insurance that covers all the activities you may be doing, along with emergency repatriation.
Be careful of temperature extremes, which can include cold winter nights and uncomfortably humid heat during day, particularly in the northeast. Keep kids well hydrated and covered in the sun, even in cooler temperatures.
Tap water is safe to drink in most of South Africa, though check with your lodge or campsite if staying in remote areas.
Check the latest health advice on South Africa.

South Africa advice from travelers

Travel advice from those who have been there

At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travelers are often... other travelers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful South Africa travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your vacation - and the space inside your suitcase.
If going during the winter season, plenty of layers are required for evening/morning wear - before the sun gets up. Otherwise, simply enjoy - it is a sensational trip! - Guy Wills

Have a good camera with a 300mm lens or longer and good binoculars - the birds are really interesting. - John Ryder

South Africa is suited for the first-time safari goers - it has the perfect travel infrastructure and seemed more predictable than Tanzania, Zambia or Botswana. Luxury lodges are agreeable to stay at, though they will deprive you of many fascinating things the wild nature offers. - Yuriy Danchenko

Bring a torch with spare batteries - it gets very dark at night. Don't expect a lie-in; to get the most out of this vacation you need to be up early for the morning game drives and go to bed late after the night game drives. - Kathryn Horne

If you have an interest in flora and fauna this vacation will suit you perfectly. We were as captivated by the birds, insect life and plants as we were by the excitement of the traditional big five. - Martin Thomson

Remember that the distances are a lot bigger than in the UK, and petrol stations may not be open 24 hours a day - which almost led to us being stranded...! - David Campbell

Be prepared for the impact of coming back from a volunteering trip! You'll have an amazing time, really connect with the community and things in your head will shift... but when you get home, nothing's changed and it's a bit of a shock! - Emma Finlay
Photo credits: [On safari: On Track Safaris] [Trekking at Table Mountain: AWOL Tours] [Elephants: Brian Ralphs]
Written by Vicki Brown
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