Traveling to South Africa? Here’s What You Should Know

As many of you may know, I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa two weeks ago.  I know I say this just about every time I travel, but South Africa is my favorite place and I cannot wait to be able to go again!  I posted a few pictures on social media and I got a ton of messages about my trip.  So, I thought it would be a good idea to share a few things you need to know before traveling to South Africa

Take Time To Give Back
The main reason for my trip to Cape Town was to participate in a mission’s trip.  While there we served within the township of Masiphumele, serving at a child care center, providing assistance to the six amazing female teachers, who ran the center.  Many of the townships in South Africa are extremely poor and have limited resources.  Just $35 a month is enough to feed 50 people! Thanks to donations provided by our family and friends we were able to provide the child care center with food, toys, school supplies, electricity, cleaning supplies and much more.  I wish I could have captured the level of gratitude that came from the people we served.  The smiles on the faces of the children of Masiphumele will be something I will never forget.   There was one day that we blew bubbles for them, and even the teachers got excited! They had never seen bubbles before, something we have seen so many times.  Serving during this time was definitely an eye opener and taught each of us to be thankful for everything that we have.

Our last day with the little ones in Masiphumelele

There are many other townships that are in need of support, take the time to do your research to see how you can make a difference.

There May Be Water Restrictions
Cape Town is currently coming out of a a severe water crisis.  While there, we were notified that there were limitations on how much water we could use per day.  In an effor to conserve water, it is requested that residents and visitors take no longer than 3 minute showers, refrain from taking baths, only flush when absolutely necessary and to opt for hand sanitier instead of using water to wash hands.

A local hotel’s attempt to encourage patrons to use less water


There Are Requirements When Traveling With A Minor
If you’re traveling with a minor (under the age of 18) you must have the birth certificate of the child as well as an affidavit from the parent(s) of the child with their consent for the minor to travel.   For further information, please visit the US Embassy & Consulate in South Africa site

The Exchange Rate
Things in South Africa are pretty cheap for users of the dollar, pound and euro.  A three course meal can be had for about $40 per person.   During one meal my friends and I had burgers, non-alcoholic beverages, and some had wine.  The total bill for the five of us was about $52, including the tip.   Other times we would go out to breakfast and have avocado toast with fresh squeezed orange juice and our bill would be about $8 each.

$8 avocado toast breakfast w/ fresh squeezed OJ

Not only is the food cheap, but other goods and services are inexpensive as well.   I was able to get a gel manicure and pedicure for a total of about $30 for both.  That’s impossible in the US!

South Africa Is A Tipping Nation
Unlike other countries I’ve traveled to, South Africa is a tipping nation.  This means that when a service is provided to you, it is expected that you tip.  Due to the low cost of goods and services in South Africa the tip is not astronomical, but you will get a side eye if you don’t provide one.

South Africa Is Very Laid Back
Being from the Washington, DC area, we are always rushing.  So when you travel to a place where people are laid back, your first thought is that there is no sense of urgency.   That couldn’t be further from the truth.  In South Africa, being slow and laid back is just their way.  Eventually you’ll learn to love it, and when you return home you’ll wonder what the rush is all about.

Take A Safari
The Safaris in South Africa are absolutely amazing!  We traveled three hours from the home we were staying in to the Aquila Private Game Reserve.  For $182 we had an up close and personal tour of the reserve and where we were able to spot a hippopotamus, giraffes, lions, zebra’s, elephants and more.   Our trip to the reserve also included lunch.  Don’t worry my vegan friends, the lunch had some amazing vegan options including a cinnamon pumpkin dish that tasted better than grandma’s sweet potato pie!   The reserve also offers a sunset safari which looks to be absolutely beautiful.

Uber Is Your Friend
Some will tell you not to take an Uber in South Africa for safety reasons.  However, we heavily relied on Uber throughout our stay.  The Uber rides in South Africa are extremely inexpensive.  The price for our rides cost anywhere between $3 and $21 and the average tip for an Uber driver is less than $1.

Exercise Safety Precautions.
Do your best not to walk around alone.  In certain areas, people target tourists and will try to rob you.  We experienced this in one of the townships when we went back to pick up some goods we were having made.  If you’re going to an ATM, don’t go alone, and don’t allow any of the locals to “help” you with the ATM.   When a local asks if they can help you with the ATM, they do not mean you well and are actually trying to rob you.  This didn’t happen to any of us but it is still something to be aware of.

Keep Your Receipts
In South Africa, they charge a VAT tax for certain goods.  Many times, the items that are charged a VAT tax may be eligible for a refund.  When you get to the airport to return home, don’t immediately check your bags.  Go over to the tax refund counter to show your receipts and the goods you purchased.  The agent at the counter will determine how much of a refund you are eligible for and will give you a ticket to redeem after you check your bags and go through security.   Depending on the amount of your refund, you may be able to receive your refund the same day or you may have to wait.  I got about $52 back but I have to wait three months in order for it to be available.  The refund is loaded onto a pre-paid master card and has to be used within two years and cannot be used in South Africa.

Local Shopping is A Must
If you’re in Cape Town you must go to Kalk Bay to do a bit of shopping.  The boutiques all carry hand made goods from local designers in South Africa and other countries in Africa.  I got so many unique pieces while there including genuine leather purses, jewelry, and other souvenirs I bought back for my family and friends.  One thing you won’t find here is a souvenir shop with products that have “Made in Taiwan” on them.  Just about everything you see is either handmade or manufactured in Africa.

Super cute leather bag I found at a local shop for only $20

Take a Trip To Table Mountain
Table Mountain is one of the 7 Natural Wonders and is definitely a great trip to take if you’re in Cape Town.  The views are absolutely amazing and the cable car ride up to the top looks like something out of a movie. Be sure to wear good sturdy shoes, if you’re like me and want an epic pic, you’ll be climbing on top of rocks in order to capture the fantastic views, so leave the sandals at home.  You’ll also want to take advantage of the gift shop on the top of the mountain.  The gift shop has a ton of hand made and unique items to bring back for your loved ones, and the prices are extremely affordable.

View from table mountain

Vaccinations Are Not Required (In Most Cases)
Unless you are traveling from a country where Yellow Fever is prevalent, you won’t need vaccinations to travel to South Africa.  If you are traveling from a country where yellow fever is present, you’ll need to show proof that you have gotten the vaccine.

You also don’t need to take medication for Malaria unless you’re planning on sleeping in a lake with a hippo!

Be Prepared To Dress For All Seasons
The weather in South Africa is really unpredicatable.  Many times, we experienced all four seasons in one day.  The best advice I can give is to dress in layers.   It may be 80 degrees one moment and then 50 degrees the next… be prepared!

As I said earlier, South Africa is my favorite place so far!  I can’t wait to go back and I hope you guys have an opportunity to go as well!

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