South African Survival Guide for travelers

January 1, 1970

by Kirsten-Lee

South Africa is known for beautiful sunsets, captivating wildlife and our diverse populations. If you have made it past booking your flights and accommodation, here is how to survive Visiting South Africa. If you have not booked your holiday yet, read this anyway, there are animal droppings, squeegees and a Lion King reference ahead.

The technical aspects:

Firstly, please, please pack sunscreen… a lot if it. There is nothing more powerful than the South African sun (other than the power of love of course). It is quite worrying and amusing to see bright red foreigners trudging around and I am sure it is painful too.

Next, HYDRATE… the sun will attempt to dry you out.

What to eat:

Since sustenance is the focus I would like to mention that you do not need to overload your bags with food. In most places you will find all the restaurants you are used to such as McDonalds, Krispy Kreme and even Starbucks (surprised? Starbucks happened recently but it still counts). However, if you want to experience true South African food, you need to try pap, meat that has been on a braai (I have been told that is the equivalent of an American barbeque grill but its definitely not the same), Koeksisters and maybe a Durban curry if you want a taste of India. I would say those are on the ‘must try’ menu but they are definitely not the only ones. I will probably have to do a whole other post with explanations of what each treat is. You should probably pack snacks because you will not find Reese’s or Sour Patch Kids easily around South Africa and they will probably cost more than real food would.

For drivers:

If you need to be on behind the wheel on your trip, just act confident, I am sure you will make it through. BUT…my only warning is to beware the window washers. Some of them are delightfully helpful but many of them end up splattering dirty water on your car. A window washer is a person who waits at traffic lights with a bottle of soapy water and a squeegee (or some variation of one) so that he or she can clean your windshield as you stop. I have noticed that they are quite prevelant in Johannesburg and they do this to earn money so keep your change handy or slow down well before you reach the traffic light in hopes to avoid them altogether.

The more exciting aspects:

This brings us to the South African people themselves. You will hear a lot of different accents and languages and you will see a lot of different skin colors. Embrace it, that’s why they call us the rainbow nation. We have 11 official languages and an unofficial language that consists of terms like ‘sarmies’ and ‘lekker’ because words like sandwich and awesome are far too long. Aside from the strange terms, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to engaging with the locals. New places can seem strange and if you are worried about standing out: fret not, your kind are near! There are usually many tourists scattered around at all times of the year (yes, our weather is that good). So you definitely will not be the only one looking confused or wielding a GoPro. You will probably meet many people who live in the same country as you just in case you need a taste of home.

Outdoor adventures:

Next, I’m going to assume you plan on going on a safari of sorts or camping at the very least because why not.

Please do not try to approach wild animals. I thought this one was general knowledge but the news recently has been shocking. The animals are wild, even though they do not look like it. They can hurt you if give them the opportunity to. With that being said, there is also a chance you will not see all of the ‘Big 5’ in a day or two so if you are visiting South Africa for that reason, make sure you plan the length of your trip accordingly.

I thought I should mention how tourists tend to think South Africa is extremely dangerous compared to the rest of the world. I believe that it is probably not as unsafe as you think it is but it is still not very safe. You can try to avoid places because they look ‘shady’ but some of the best places seem that way. Just use your personal discretion.

On a happier note, this next one I just had to throw in. If you go to Cape Town and you feel the African sun caressing your skin you will probably want to go towards the large body of water that is glistening in the light. HAHA. The beaches in Cape Town can get super cold. The beautiful white sand is amazing so at least you can lounge on it if the water is too cold. On the bright side, you will probably be roasting in the sun so the cold water could be just what you need.


On your way out I am sure you are going to want to pick up some souvenirs for your family or your home so I thought I would add this last part. In most places you will find animal carvings and wire animals, just in case you are worried about not find our biggest tourist attractions in miniature or beaded form. If you are feeling like you want to go all out, pick up a box of chocolate animal droppings, everyone loves those. They vary from dark to milk to pea-nutted (I kid you not). If you’re buying from an informal vendor try to sound as South African as possible, I guarantee you will get the best prices as a result.

If you were bored after the first few sentences and you decided to skim through, here is a quick summary in point form for maximum retention:

  1. Do not forget to drink lots of sunscreen and pack lots of water.
  2. We have McDonalds here.
  3. Try the Braai.
  4. Beware the window washers.
  5. Embrace the rainbow.
  6. Do not pet the Lion.
  7. Beaches in Cape Town are cold but South Africa is hot.
  8. Animal droppings are key.

In closing, Naaaaah So When Yaaaa Gonna Visit SouthAfrica?

Here is a picture of a warm-watered beach in Durban to help you decide….



By Kirsten-Lee

A game design student in South Africa.


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