Travel to South Africa
When to visit
South Africa is a year-round destination. If your main interest is safaris, then best to visit in the southern winter, which runs from May to September. By contrast, Cape Town and the Garden Route are most agreeable in the summer months of November to March. Whenever you visit, it is easy enough to tweak your itinerary to make the most of the season. Tourist attractions become crowded from mid-December into early January, the main domestic holiday season.
Visas and paperwork
Prior to the coronavirus-related lockdown, US citizens did not require a visa for tourist visits of up to 90 days, provided that they arrived at the airport or border with a valid passport. As of 28 March 2020, all US citizens visiting South Africa are required to obtain a visa in advance. This ruling will most likely be relaxed in the post-pandemic era, but do check.
Did You Know?
Did You Know?
Among the largest of Greater Kruger’s private reserves, Timbavati is known for its white lions, a rare leucitic morph associated with a recessive gene that also often results in blue eyes. Since 2004, at least a dozen leucitic cubs have been recorded, but none has survived to adulthood, not because of any adaptive inferiority, but due to the high infant mortality rate among lions.
At a Glance/Highlights
Set below majestic Table Mountain, Cape Town is South Africa’s oldest and loveliest city. A rich history, scenic seaside location and family-friendly amenities make it one of the most popular tourist attractions anywhere in Africa. It also offers easy access to the world-famous Cape Winelands, the mountainous Cape Peninsula, and some excellent marine wildlife watching.
The 7,200-square-mile Kruger National Park supports some of Africa’s largest remaining populations of lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino. The park itself is geared mainly towards self-drivers, but a string of prestigious private reserves along its western border offers a more exclusive safari experience, not to mention the world’s best leopard viewing.
Other popular upmarket Big Five safari destinations include malaria-free Madikwe Game Reserve to the northwest of Johannesburg, and the lushly subtropical Phinda Private Game Reserve, which borders South Africa’s oldest UNESCO World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
A highlight of a long varied coastline spanning the cool Atlantic and warmer Indian Ocean is the Garden Route, whose mosaic of beaches, lagoons, forests and mountains runs for 120 miles between Mossel Bay and Storms River Mouth.
South Africa is easily the most varied country in Africa, in terms of both tourist attractions and amenities. Its world-class national parks and other Big Five safari destinations are complemented by a fabulous coastline lined with dramatic cliffscapes and picture-perfect beaches. Ideally suited to self-drivers, budget-conscious travelers and families planning a first trip to Africa, the country’s wide range of exclusive safari lodges and boutique hotels means it also excels when it comes to luxury vacations.
Several European, African and other carriers fly from the USA to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International airport (JNB). There are also international flights to Cape Town International Airport (CPT) and Durban’s King Shaka International Airport (DUR).
Health and safety
Most of South Africa is malaria free, the main exception being the Kruger National Park, but even here the risk is low compared to most other African safari destinations. Still, visitors to Greater Kruger should take malaria prophylactics and cover up at night. South Africa has a justifiably bad reputation for high crime rates, but this is largely confined to the bigger cities (Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban), where you should avoid walking around after dark, wearing flashy jewelry and other obviously costly items.