The rawness of first humanity, animals that own the land, so much nature untouched.
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- Find yourself rating
- Female solo traveler rating
- Touristy or authentic rating
- Getting around / Transportation
- How to save money
- WiFi access
- SIM cards/cell phone service
- Insects, rodents and reptiles
- Passport and visa
- Health, water, etc.
- What to pack
- How to make friends
- What to do and see
- Where to stay
Where I’ve Been
Currency = South African Rand, ZAR.
Excellent. There is so much going on here that will challenge everything you know of the world, you can’t but help finding yourself among it. From townships, to apartheid, to the color of your skin, to animals in the wild, to poaching, to kindness, to danger, to safety, everything you do and see will truly challenge you to think about who you are at the core.
Uncomfortable. Especially South Africa needs a lot of caution. Though I never felt unsafe, I was more cautious than any other place I’ve been, even Colombia. The locals continuously warned me about places and to take an Uber. I was never out on my own after dark. I didn’t wear valuables or flaunt cash. Though buses and trains, themselves, seemed fairly safe modes of transportation, bus terminals, like in Johannesburg, are not comfortable. Make sure to research transportation from airports and, if possible, travel with a friend.
Authentic. Though people will want to sell to you, especially in markets where it can get uncomfortable (if you buy from one vendor, the next one will try to guilt you into feeding his/her family since you helped someone else) southern Africa felt very authentic. Especially if you get outside of major cities you will experience amazing nature and wildlife unlike anything you’ve ever seen. There isn’t enough wealth (or, there may be, but governments tend to spend the money on themselves) to create a separate experience for tourists,
Limited. At least in Southern Africa, there is not a lot of infrastructure or resources for abundant travel options. Flying will be the major one. There are some bus services and in major cities, you might find a rail system as well. However, they don’t run well – there are frequent break-downs. You can rent a car, but it’s advisable to do so with a friend, not alone.
Necessary. To be blunt, if you’re white prices will be marked up. If it’s clear you’re not from the place you’re visiting, you’ll be given tourist prices. In Greenmarket Square a lot of items should have been 50 Rand, but the going ask rate was about 200. Always bargain with vendors. The best thing you can do is check out a few vendors, since most of the merchandise is the same, and see what the asking rates are, then go back another day and negotiate with confidence.
Affordable. Cape Town is fairly expensive, though taxis are pretty affordable. You can save money by eating in cafeterias instead of restaurants. Youth hostels are a good option, or traveling off-season when budget hotels are much cheaper. If you stay in the center of town, near Greenmarket and Long Street, take the warnings seriously about not going out alone after dark. It’s worth spending a few dollars on that Uber instead of walking.
Openly expected. If you do any tours at all it’s highly expected to give your tour guide a tip, even if it’s only 10 or 20 Rand. If you eat out, you should also leave a 10% tip. If you do a safari, you should plan to tip each staff member at the end of the trip – roughly $3 per day, per person.
Varies. Apart from larger cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg, don’t expect lots of high speed WiFi. You will find it here and there, but, depending on the type of accomodation you’re in, and whether your lodge or site has WiFi, it may exist, and it may or may not be reliable. If there are multiple people using it at any one time, you won’t be able to do much.
MTN or Vodacom, Cell C. Complicated. I used MTN. I strongly recommend you let the store set up your card because I’m not sure you can do it on your own. You have to choose a starting package, pay, and then wait about 10 minutes while they send a bunch of messages and set up the number. If you need to add money to your card, there is an MTN app, but you need “air time”. I found it difficult to understand how much airtime I needed to purchase the data package I wanted. It was also hit or miss as to whether my credit card transaction would go through on the app, so recharing in-store was how I did it.
Varies. Hotels and hostels will be fine in larger cities, as well as lodges in other places. Gas stations are usually ok but here and there you can find less friendly ones. Most important, the level of cleanliness will not be the same as you’re used to in the northern hemisphere, so you’ll have to get used to it. You will often have to pay a few rand for toilet paper.
Insects, Rodents and Reptiles
Varies. If you stay at any game lodges, you might see animals outside your room, but also inside. I had a few large spiders that scared me in my room. If you’re at a game lodge, the animals are wild, that’s the point, so you may be blessed to hear them outside your tent. It is a blessing to be among them!
Passport, Visa and Entry/Exit Rules
Easy. It’s always a good idea to check the US government website (or your country’s local government if not the US) for in-depth information as well as the embassy of South Africa website or the US Government travel website. You’re allowed 90 days in the country at one time. You can leave the country for a few days, and should be able to get back in after that. I had booked a round-trip ticket to South Africa, but nobody questioned me or asked to see proof of exit at passport control.
Health, Water, etc.
Fair. Cape Town water was ok, though they recently suffered a drought. Generally speaking, in South Africa, and across Africa, I did not drink tap water.
Varies. Seasons are reversed from the northern hemisphere. I was in South Africa in the Spring which started out fairly chilly. Cape Town can get surprisingly windy. Johannesburg was noticeably more hot and humid than Cape Town. Kruger Park was freezing cold at night and much warmer by day.
Essentials to Pack
Sunglasses a hat and sunblock. The sun all over Africa is hot and bright. You’ll want a good pair of shoes for walking especially if you plan to hike Table Mountain.
How to Make Friends
I found the best way was to meet locals in the Greenmarket Square area. Everyone was super friendly and the more I frequented a place, the more I got to know the owners,
What to Do and See
Take the City Sightseeing bus your first day to get an overview of Cape Town – it’s much bigger than you expect. This is also a great way to see Johannesburg. If time permits, do a township tour in depth, rather than just a drive-through. Skip the game lodge near Cape Town and, instead, go to Kruger Park to see wildlife. It’s amazing. Do the garden route and consider the Rooibos tea farms in Cederburg.
Where to Stay
Onomo On The Square – in Cape Town center. Right over the greenmarket square market so a little noisy, but wonderful staff, and, off-season, offers great rates. Boutique hotel feel.
The President – beautiful views of Table Mountain and the beach. Comfortable rooms, surprisingly affordable off-season. Larger hotel, not as personal a feel as the Onomo.
The Backpack Hostel – a hostel but also offers excellent events, like their own version of Ted Talks with local children. A little outside of downtown, but easy to get to and friendly staff.
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