This past weekend social media was in a frenzy when it got out that there was a huge sale to Kenya and South Africa on Kenya Airways through December 2019. Folks snapped up tickets by the hundreds to enjoy Mother Africa, and once the hype wore down, the question for many became: what do we do now? Planning a visit to Africa as a whole can fill a bit overwhelming if you don’t know your way around the continent, and even though South Africa is built for tourism, unlike many of its neighbors, a first time visitor can still be lost on where to stay and what to do. If you’re one of those needing a little help in planning your first, or next, South Africa adventure, here are a few tips that will help you get started on the journey of a lifetime.
Where to Fly: The main airports most people use are O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg, and Cape Town International Airport (CPT). Both are served by most major airlines and several budget carriers. Popular deal sites like The Flight Deal and Secret Flying post airline sales to South Africa and other destinations regularly, make sure to follow them on social so you don’t miss out.
Weather Report: The weather in South Africa runs opposite to weather in the U.S. For example, a quick summer jaunt might seem like fun, especially if you caught a deal, but summer in the states is winter in South Africa, so you can expect it to be a bit cool, especially at night. A light denim jacket or sweater will serve you well. If you’re going from the end of September on, welcome to summer in South Africa! It’s the best time to visit, but like anywhere else it can get hot, so make sure you pack light clothing, swimsuits and plenty of sunscreen.
Passports and Paperwork: If you’re traveling on a U.S. passport and will be in the country for 90 days or less, you’re good. All other travelers should check the passport requirements before heading out.
Money: The local currency is the South African Rand (ZAR). The current exchange rate on XE.com has 1 Dollar equaling 14.5189 Rand. The dollar goes pretty far in the country which will help you rack up on wine and fabric for the family back home – or yourself. Apply for a Charles Schwab debit card, which comes with no fees when used internationally or at ATMs.
Taxis: You can catch a metered taxi from the designated taxi points at the airports, or order an Uber, which is pretty cheap throughout the city.
Gautrain: The Gautrain in Johannesburg is a rapid rail and bus system that runs daily from 5:30am to 8:30pm. Trains run in 10 minute intervals during peak times and at 20 minute intervals during off-peak times. On weekends and Public Holidays trains depart at 30 minute intervals. Depending on traffic, buses run every 12 minutes during peak times and every 20 minutes during off-peak time. Depending on the destination, rides can cost as little as $1.85 USD.
Metrorail and MyCiti: In Cape Town you have the the country’s biggest passeger and commuter rail service, Metrorail, and the MyCiti bus system. Rides can cost as little as $1.00 USD depending on destination.
WHERE TO STAY
Airbnb: As usual Airbnb is king when it comes to finding accommodations that will give you that local feeling when traveling abroad. From single rooms, to entire villas along the beach, Airbnb has got you covered.
Hotels/Resorts: There are great hotel options in South Africa. The Four Seasons Westcliff and Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg combine the finest in accommodation, culinary and cultural experiences and are near all the must see sights in the city. In Cape Town, the One&Only in Cape Town and the city’s newest luxe love, The Silo, are like an oasis in the city, providing the ultimate in luxury set amongst the most spectacular views.
What to Do:
There are too many activities to name throughout both Johannesburg and Cape Town, but a few to start off your list are the Apartheid Museum, Nelson Mandela’s House, Soweto (the brave can bungee off the Orlando Towers!) and the Lion & Safari Park. In Cape Town, head to Boulders Beach, Table Mountain, Robben Island (be sure to get tickets in advance), take a stroll and cooking class in the colorful neighborhood of Bo-Kaap, go caged shark diving or drink all the wine you can stomach on a winery tour with Wine Flies.
Chill out and connect with the people at Arts on Main in Maboneng (especially on a Sunday) or grab some Ethiopian cuisine at Little Addis. In Cape Town, enjoy night life on Long Street, watch the scene at the V&A Waterfront or head to Mzoli’s on the weekend for some good braai and people watching.