A Beginners Guide to Travelling South Africa.
1: You will see/hear/experience Racism, Corruption and Poverty.
Now I hate to start on a negative but unfortunately this is a reality. Post Apartheid South Africa is an Incredible place. People are amazing and so friendly, despite this there are still some ingrained prejudices amongst some people. I’ve had people tell me if I was black they wouldn’t invite me to their house, I’ve experienced racial abuse for being British. I’ve seen people pulled over by the police hand over their licence with 20 rand and be given their licence back and waved on.
You just need to take a Drive to Jacob Zuma’s mansion to see that corruption is still prevalent.
There is a big divide in South Africa between haves and have nots. There are still townships all over the country, but even within them are mansions next to corrugated iron shacks. Soweto is a perfect example of this.
2: Learn some of the History.
The rainbow nation has some fascinating history. Most people will know about Apartheid and Nelson Mandela. Take some time and find out about Steve Biko, Donald Woods, O.R Tambo or F W de Klerk.
Go a bit further back in time and learn about the Boer Wars and the British part in the creation of Concentration Camps.
Discover the Zulu wars and the amazing stories of the battle of Isandlwana or the defence of Rorkes Drift.
Go back even further and visit the Cradle of Humankind
3: Be safe
Have your Jabs before you go, just in case. You will only need malaria tablets in certain northern parts of the country so only take these if visiting them as they can give some nasty side effects.
Like much of Africa some of the wildlife can be dangerous, while there aren’t wild lions, elephants etc wandering about you may encounter leopards In certain areas. Various spiders, snakes and scorpions can also pack a punch so make sure you wear appropriate clothing if you’re walking.
HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are as prevalent in South Africa as they are worldwide so just make sure you protect yourself.
4: Avoid driving at night.
Ive seen bricks laid out on the highway (Only really an issue in Gauteng), with the aim of blowing a tire, so you are forced to stop and inevitably robbed. If this happens to you, keep driving until you find somewhere well lit and busy to pull over.
There also isn’t a lot of public transport available at night(Cape Town is an exception to this), Taxis aren’t as readily available as in the UK and aren’t always as reputable, this means there are quite a lot of drunk drivers on the roads at night. Either be the designated driver or make sure there is one in the car.
5: Experience local hospitality.
Now the previous entries may have frightened you off South Africa a bit, don’t let it. It”s an amazing country and the people are generally friendly and so welcoming. I’ve been invited into to strangers house and been treated like long lost family. Experience a proper Braai and savour all the different types of Wors and Meats on offer.
6: Learn how to put on a convincing South African Accent
In certain places tourists are charged more than locals, especially if you are buying anything from the roadside or markets. People will tend to directly convert from Rand to Pounds and feel they are still getting a great deal, however you are being ripped off. Haggle. I tried to buy a statue at 2 different stalls once, 1 in my normal accent and 1 with my south African accent. The initial price offered with the accent was instantly 75% cheaper than the first.
7: Try and see as much of the country as you can.
Don’t limit yourself to just Joburg or Capetown. See the amazing east coast, or experience KwaZulu-Natal, with a totally different way of life and different scenery. If the chance arises, try and head into Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Lestotho, Swaziland or Zimbabwe.
8: Steers is the best fast food ever
I think this speaks for itself. Forget your KFC or Burger king, so long McDonalds and subway. Nothing comes close to a Steers burger.
9: Try some new drinks
Try some Mozambique Tipo tinto, or South African Klipdrift brandy. Substitute Baileys for some Amarula. Sample the hundreds of different wines South Africa’s vineyards have on offer. Namibia’s Windhoek and SAs Castle lagers are also really nice beers.
10: Visit a Shabeen
A Shabeen tends to be a bar within the townships. These may be made of corrugated iron or permanent structures, they look nothing like your typical western bar and often are very basic, they serve a purpose, for people to get drunk there.
I stuck out like a sore thumb when I visited these, I was the only white guy there. Initially it was quite uncomfortable, however everyone was so nice and welcoming and I was able to have a great time and meet some really interesting people.
11: The Kruger Park is huge but not the only reserve.
The Kruger is huge, the park itself is bigger than Wales. It has a great reputation which is richly deserved, however I’ve been to smaller reserves like Pilanesburg and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi which are just as amazing. Try and get on a tour in the early morning or evenings to see the nocturnal animals.
12: Have fun and make up your own mind.
I fell in love with South Africa almost instantly and would love to move there one day. The people are amazing, the lifestyle suits me perfectly. While it is far from perfect it is still a unique place. Its is still developing and in the 8 years between trips I found so many positive changes to the country. The world cup seems to have bought about a lot more unity and infrastructure. I loved it, others I have known who have visited or lived there think very differently. That’s absolutely ok. Form your own opinion.
In closing I’ve found That South Africa has a certain reputation that puts people off from visiting. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE don’t let it put you off. Go and experience all this wonderful country has to offer.
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