Overview

South Africa is a wonderful country and offers an amazing, diverse and fascinating range of experiences that make it one of the best holiday destinations anywhere in the world. It is an oft-repeated cliché that a country has “something for everyone” but South Africa is one of those countries that fits the description. Its big secret is to appeal to such a broad range of tastes: you have fantastic and vibrant cities with great shopping, bars, cafés and restaurants; there are legendary wildlife experiences to be had whilst on safari; there is incredible history from the evocative battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift through to the more recent upheaval of apartheid and its demise; for families there are all manner of attractions, from cute penguins, to intimate animal encounters, harbour cruises and vast beaches to use as a playground whilst for the wine lover there are hundreds of great estates to taste or visit. And running through it all is the landscape, sometimes green and lush, sometimes golden and foreboding, covering everything from gentle sand dunes through iconic mountains to dramatic river canyons and tumbling waterfalls.

Food & Drink

South African food is incredibly good, cheap and plentiful: the challenge on any South African holiday is not to put on too much weight! For casual lunches and dinners, you can pick almost any restaurant you see and you know you’ll get a decent meal for less than £10 a head. And if you want to push the boat out there are some world-class restaurants to choose from, where a tasting menu paired with wines costs £40-£50 per head – and this is for food of a Michelin-star standard!

With thousands of kilometres of coastline it’s no surprise that fresh seafood is a delight in South Africa; similarly with the vast areas of the country given over to livestock and game farming, you can see why meat is a staple of any South African diet. Produce is always fresh and the main influence on cuisine is classical European cooking. There are Indian and Cape Malay influences as well, in dishes like the lightly-spiced bobotie.

South African wines are superb, and as well as “typical” South African grapes like pinotage and chenin blanc, they make excellent Bordeaux-style blends as well as increasingly sophisticated wines of all major grapes. Some estates have become rightly famous, and with it their price tags have risen: the trick is to find a similar but less well-known estate where a very similar wine will be that little bit cheaper, and give you bragging rights!

When to Travel

The south of the country (around Cape Town and The Garden Route) is best in our winter, from October through April, when temperatures will be in the early to mid-twenties Celsius and rainfall is at its lowest. If you travel out of season, you’ll still not experience terrible weather – it would be like late spring or early autumn for us, and the prices are a bit lower too!

The north of the country, from the Kruger across to the Madikwe is warm (early to mid-twenties Celsius) and dry in our summer, and hot (early thirties Celsius) and wet in our winter – but you can visit year-round, as the rain tends to be focussed in short, heavy bursts in the late afternoon, rather than endless drizzle!

KwaZulu-Natal has an almost tropical climate. In our winter, it’s not a great time to travel as it gets hot and very wet – over twice as much monthly rainfall as a typical month in the UK. However in our summer (when the south of South Africa isn’t at its best) it’s lovely with temperatures in the late teens / early twenties Celsius and rainfall is minimal. It’s also the only stretch of South African coastline with pleasant temperatures in the mid-twenties Celsius rather than the positively chilly late teens seen along the rest of the coast.

Practicalities

Flights

The main choice facing the traveller to South Africa is whether to fly direct or indirect. The direct flights are more expensive, but the indirect flights (usually via Europe, Istanbul or the Gulf) are longer – much longer in the case of flights via the Gulf. When you consider that the direct flight time is 11-12 hours, you don’t want to add too much to this otherwise it becomes an incredibly long journey!

Visas

UK passport holders don’t require a visa to enter South Africa. If you are travelling with children you will be required to present an unabridged birth certificate for each child, and possibly sworn affidavits permitting them to travel from parents not travelling. Please ask us for more details.

Safety

South Africa has a reputation as a dangerous country with high crime rates. Whilst crime rates are high, they are almost always perpetrated well away from areas that tourists might venture. We honestly believe that if you behave sensibly, exactly as you would when travelling to any major city or developing country, then you are no more likely to be a victim of crime than you would be almost anywhere else in the world. In over a decade of travelling to South Africa and sending clients to South Africa, there have been but a handful of incidents of minor crime, and once you get there you will be pleasantly surprised by how safe you feel.

Driving

Self-driving is by far and away the best way to experience South Africa, as driving is on the left, the road network is good and traffic laws are adhered to much more than is generally the case in Africa! Self-driving also gives you the most flexibility to adapt your plans as you wish. Generally we will book your hotels and car hire for you, and make suggestions as to excursions and outings to do in each place: having a car means you can pick and mix between our suggestions and any other ideas that take your fancy, to your own schedule.

Health

As we’re not medical experts we feel it is essential you contact your G.P. regarding vaccinations and the like for travel to South Africa. What follows is some suggestions, but they must be verified by a medical professional. In addition to such vaccinations as you’d routinely have for living in the UK, further boosters are recommended for Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Diptheria. Malaria exists in the lowland areas of Mpumlanaga Province (including the Kruger), Northern Province and north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal in an area including the wildlife reserves and the Elephant Coast. Please consult your G.P. for advice on what malarial precautions to take.

We also like these guys but again you must talk to your GP first:  The Travel Doctor, an interactive website providing specialist health information for travellers plus customised lists of travel medicines, vaccines and malaria tablets for holiday makers, global adventure travellers and expeditions.

Money & tipping

The local currency is the rand (R) and at the time of writing (January 2018) £1 was worth R16.70. Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are widespread, the exception being in some of the more rural areas. Tipping is common in South Africa. 10% is normal in restaurants, around R10 for porterage, and then a couple of rand for the unofficial car park attendants you will doubtless encounter. For guided services (including on safari) we would advise around R150 per person per day, with about R100 a day for your tracker on safari. Lodge staff can also be tipped at R50 per person per day. Drivers for your transfers can be tipped about R25 per standard airport transfer. It is important to remember that tipping is a very personal thing, and if you feel someone deserves more or less, or even no tip, then that is entirely your prerogative and you should not feel bound by these suggestions. Fuel prices are regulated, changing at the beginning of each month. Currently prices are hovering around £0.70 per litre. Food costs are relatively low, it being possible to dine out for less than £10 per person; even if you really push the boat out you’ll seldom top £50 per person.

Swimming

It is possible to swim off the beaches of South Africa, however most of them have strong currents and significant surf, so we only advise swimming if there is a lifeguard on the beach. There are secluded lagoons and coves which are more sheltered and swimming is easier. Generally the further east and north towards Mozambique you get, the more pleasant the water temperature is. Around Cape Town it is the Atlantic Ocean and you’ll probably need a wetsuit all year round.

Travellers Code of Conduct

- We provide all of our clients with a “Travel Facts” document upon confirmation of your booking. This details useful facts and travel advice for your chosen destination, including restaurant recommendations, reading tips, basic language, cultural traditions, climate information and brief historical overviews. We feel that this offers a useful insight into the country you are visiting, and can help you interact with local residents in a more sensitive, well informed manner. Please try to take the time to read this information before your visit, if at all possible.

– A number of the countries in which we operate holidays are religious societies with a widely observed set of customs. Always respect these norms, particularly when visiting religious buildings.

– To the best of our knowledge, all of the hotels, lodges and camps within our portfolio operate stringent measures to minimise water usage. Many of our destinations have issues with water supplies to a certain extent so feel free to raise any possible wastage should you encounter it during your stays, either with the accommodation or with us upon your return.

– Please ask before taking photographs of people, and respect their wishes should an individual not be happy to be photographed. We find that friendly requests and a smile are usually met with assent.

– Strive where possible to make your own contribution to environmental practices within the destination you are travelling. This might include minimising your electricity usage, avoiding smoking in protected areas, sticking to marked roads at all times while self-driving, avoiding coral while snorkeling and safely disposing of all litter (recycling where possible).

– Where possible, try to purchase from local suppliers. This includes shopping for souvenirs, eating out in restaurants and booking further excursions during your free time. In areas where haggling is an accepted part of daily life, don’t become angry or offended if you are unable to obtain what you perceive as a fair price for an item. We emphasise to local suppliers that our clients should never be taken on unsolicited shopping trips, but if this does happen, try to retain your sense of humour, provide a firm refusal to participate and tell us about this on your return. We pass on all feedback from every trip undertaken with Holiday Architects to the relevant local suppliers, who share our commitment to travelling with sensitivity.

– Please don’t remove any indigenous items from their natural habitat and attempt to bring them back as a souvenir. This particularly applies to coral, shells, plants and food in the natural world, and to cultural artifacts and antiques.

– If you are unsure about anything relating to the above, please feel free to ask our local suppliers or your Holiday Architects specialist. All of these people either live or have travelled extensively in the country you are visiting and will be more than happy to offer their considered advice.