South Africa

south africa essential Information

South Africa complete budget travel guide

Visas

Generally hassle free

South Africa is a pretty easy-going country. Visa entries are free for most of the world and are granted for 3 months at any border control – land, sea or air. You’ll need to prove sufficient funds for staying (although I wasn’t asked. Then again, I came by boat) and a proof of leaving (airline ticket. Again, I wasn’t asked) and yellow fever certificate of vaccination (I wasn’t asked but in Zambia I was).

No visa90 days

Citizens of the following countries do not requite a visa to enter for up to 90 days:

Andorra, Argentina. Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States. Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia, Zimbabwe

No visa 30 days

Citizens of the following countries do not requite a visa to enter for up to 30 days:

Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Gabon, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Jordan, Lesotho, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Peru, Poland, Seychelles, Slovakia, South Korea, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey

South Africa
Visa-free access to South Africa for 90 days
Visa-free access to South Africa for 30 days
Visa-free access to South Africa for diplomatic, official and service passports
Visa required to enter South Africa and for land/air transit

All other countries

Citizens of all other countries have to apply for and obtain a visa in advance before entering the country. A list of South African embassies can be found here and the application form here.

Advantages of hitchhiking in South Africa

A lot of folk are willing to go out of their way to help you get to your next best spot for hitching, will give you tips on what to look out for or even, if it’s getting late, host you with the promise to take you to a hitching spot in the morning.

I happened to stop the owner of Hillcrest wineries in the middle of nowhere. As it was late in the afternoon he offered me to spend the night at his olive farm where we hiked a mountain, barbecued, drank wine and the next day he took me two hours further north on my way to Namibia.

Borders are painless, I didn’t experience any difficulty and they’re quite friendly and happy to assist. The country itself is breathtaking. If you’re into nature and landscapes, South Africa, especially the Western Cape peninsula is stunning.

As for prices currently, $1 AUD = 10 Rand. Again, I can only compare based on beer (an Aussie’s gotta drink) so pints in Oz are about $8-10 AUD where as in SA they average 18-22 Rand – about two bucks. I think it’s pretty cheap in SA.

Finally, I never came across a bad road in SA. It feels very European in its road standards.South Africa hitchhiking essentials: South Africa - The Nomadic Diaries (4)

Disadvantages of hitchhiking in South Africa

Sometimes you might be dropped in areas where local folk will be waving money to persuade drivers to stop for them. If you’re on a budget and someone stops for you, you must clear the air and explain that you can’t afford to pay for a ride.

If you do get a ride, you might be crammed in a car that is overloaded with baggage and people. And it’s not uncommon to sit in the back of a pick-up truck (just have something warm cause the wind is cold) and have a kid plonked on your lap.

Then again, it’s part of the adventure.

I have yet to encounter police corruption but then, I have yet to have dealings with police in Africa. Some say they are corrupt. I guess it just depends on the vibe you get from the officer.

Hitch-hiking spots tend to be easily reachable. I was pretty lucky to hitch straight from False Bay (a suburb) as I was walking my way to a service station. Had a sign for the N7 and someone stopped. In general, I think it’s relatively easy with a friendly ride or grabbing public transport to a service station.

Food & Drink

What food to expect

As with any travels, always carry water. You’ll never know where you’ll end up. Most tap water in southern Africa is safe to drink but always ask the locals. Food-wise, I’d carry biltong (smoked meat, like jerky) or fruit – mainly carrots because they don’t squash like bananas.

I’ve found most drivers, if you spend enough time with them, will stop for a break and buy you something to snack on.

SA is pretty westernised in the bigger cities and touristy towns so the cuisine is inter-continental. With local food, there’s pap (which is maize) and bobuti (a rice, mincemeat dish with raisins and nuts. so good), boerewors (one of the best sausages I’ve ever had) and of course, the braai – BBQ.

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When and where to eat?

Eating times are as standard for Europeans: breakfast 07:00-10:00, lunch between 12:00-14:00 and dinner 18:00-20:00. The locals will just it pap three times a day. The Afrikaans will eat like westerners. I really struggled to find street food in every port I was in. Maybe further into the bush it can be found. Cape Town is pretty diverse and multi cultural. On Long st you can find Cuban cafés, Italian pizzerias, an awesome Ethiopian restaurant, junk food, and the usual burgers and steaks.

Short on cash?

I found that the burgers were pretty cheap. Usually averaging about R55 ($5.50 AUD) – some including a draught of beer. Pizzas ranged R48-80 and can be bought in bars or pubs. Most pub food averaged R40-120 depending on whether you ordered seafood or steak. The more pricier eateries tended to be from R50 for a starter to almost R220 for a main (again, depending on what you order).

What to drink?

Water. A lot are into their health drinks – smoothies and natural juices. Again, depends where you are. Brandy and coke is a popular alcoholic drink as well as Stroh Rum – 80%. One shot and I remember nothing the next day. (I was told I was tipsy within 10 minutes of consuming it. It tastes horrible with a kick that comes about 10 seconds after you’ve swallowed it. Must be tried but only once). The Western Cape region is world-famed for its wineries. Hillcrest wines have very good shiraz and Stellenbosch has a few wineries around the town. The local beer is Black Label (my preferred) or Castle (better from the tap).

Accommodation

Where to sleep?

If you’ve got something lined up like Couch Surfing or manage to barter for a bed somewhere (play music for a bed and a few drinks like I did in Bitterfontein, Northern Cape) then you’re sorted. Most of the time, if you’re friendly and outgoing and can hold a friendly conversation with your driver, they’ll more than likely invite you to crash at theirs. Even if they don’t, don’t be shy to ask (if you have a tent, ask if you can pitch in their yard. Most of the time they’ll invite you in). Just make it worth their while. Offer to cook for them or clean or whatever skills you have that you can use to your advantage.

There’s heaps of choices when it comes to budget accommodation across SA. Tourism is a big industry there. There’s even a bus service called The Baz Bus which takes you to the door of the affiliated backpackers from Cape Town all the way to Pretoria. Price-wise, I’m not to sure as I bartered and couchsurfed. Camping is common. Just make sure you have permission if where you pitch a tent appears to be under ownership of someone. I don’t know about other places in SA but there’s a large community of couchsurfers in Cape Town.

Wild camping is, I assume, safe to do as I’ve heardof people just camping in fields and on the beach. I’ve heard of farms where you can work for food and bed. You can always work for a backpacker’s hostel if you hit them up at the right time of the year (just before the high season Dec-Apr).

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Where to stay in specific towns

Cape Town: Ashanti Lodge in The Gardens. Just off the top of Long St where all the bars and restaurants are. There are plenty of couchsurfers as well.

Mossel Bay: I can’t recommend the Mossel Bay Backpackers enough. A very lekker place to stay with open mic nights and just a 5 minute walk from the surf spots.

Wilderness (an hour east of Mossel Bay on the Garden Route): Faires Backpackers.

Just outside of Plettenberg Bay is a backpacker’s hostel called, Wild Spirit. It’s set deep in the mountains surrounded by trees, horses, streams with hikes to waterfalls, treehouses for sunset views, a thousand year old tree you must hug. It’s magic.

Weather

Varied climate that is colder than one expects

Obviously, it depends on the time of year you travel. April to September is cold. And I mean COLD. At night it feels like you’re in Siberia. I was lucky it didn’t rain during the 4 days it took me to get from Cape Town to Aus in Namibia. But it was winter and there was snow on the mountain tops. The days had a slight chill to them that did force me to have to wear a hoodie.

South Africa experiences lower average temperatures that other countries on the same latitude due to the mountainous nature of the country. The coldest months are June – August where temperatures can drop below freezing. The warmest areas during the winter months are the coastal regions especially in the east. The Highveld plateau area (which includes Johannesburg) is usually fairly mild with average temperatures of 26 °C in January, dropping to 16 °C in June. The Western Cape province experiences something similar to a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers an mild rainy winters.

Language

What languages will you need?

There are eleven official languages of South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. As a first language Zulu is the most common and spoken by 22% of the population followed by Xhosa (16%), Afrikaans (13.5%) and then English (9.6%).

English is, however, understood in most urban areas and is the dominant language in government and the media. Afrikaans, a language derived from Dutch, is the most spoken language in the west of the country. In the east of the country, languages have evolved from the Sotho–Tswana & Nguni branches of the larger Bantu language group. Those languages within the same group are somewhat mutually intelligible to each other.

Money & Costs

What are the costs?

The currency of South Africa is the South African Rand (ZAR) and notes comes in denominations of 10,20,50,100,200. I found it pretty cheap. A taxi-bus from Cape Town to Table Camp Bay (bottom of Table Mountain) cost 9 ZAR and the public train was about 8 ZAR in third class to False Bay (about an hour’s trip from the main station). Interestingly, neighbouring Namibia also accepts the Rand so prices between the two countries are comparable. I hear Botswana is expensive and Zimbabwe uses the US dollar (USD) which also makes it pricey. Compared to the Western world South Africa is very cheap.

backpacking and hitch-hiking in South Africa: money & costs table South Africa

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Current exchange rate
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Health & Safety

Travelling in Africa

People look at me like I’m insane when I casually tell them that I’m hitch-hiking my way to the Middle East.

“But it’s so dangerous! How brave of you!”

I hate being called ‘brave’. There’s nothing brave about using your common sense and wits and life experience to know when a situation is dangerous or not. I’m a big believer in Karma and the whole the energy you project is the energy you attract. I’ve been hitching now for 15 months from south-east Asia to and now across Africa. I’ve never been in a situation that has left feeling, ‘Ooh, that was a bit close.’

Use that thing called a brain, follow the news so you know where not to go and you’ll be fine.

If you’re about to embark on a hitch-hiking journey around Africa, do your research. Look up blogs and contact the authors for questions (I did and it’s helped).

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Crime issues

Having said that, South Africa isn’t the safest country around, especially in big cities and especially at night. SA is regarded as a high in crime country. Especially in Johannesburg. I’m told don’t go into townships alone – especially at night and in general, avoid being alone on the streets after dark in most places. Be wary in Cape Town (and I assume other major cities) as there are beggars about. Most of them will seize the opportunity to rob you without you knowing it so avoid any interaction with them (sad as it is to say it).

Most cars in South Africa automatically lock after a few feet of driving. This is a safety precaution as there are a lot of highway attacks (stoplights are for show in most areas) and not a kidnapping attempt.

I hope.

Know how to read people and state of cars.

If you’re in the major cities (and even some of the smaller towns) avoid being on your own after dark, especially on the trains.

Health issues

And although there aren’t any wild animals roaming the streets, as most people might imagine, baboons tend to be around. Baboons are not cute. They are vicious beasts with some alpha males the size of leopards. DO NOT FEED THEM OR APPROACH THEM!!

We weren’t asked about our health cards upon arrival in Richard’s Bay but it all depends on the situation in Africa (like now with the Ebola pandemic). Usually, Yellow Fever would be a priority and tetanus.

Types of roads

The roads in SA are pretty good. South Africa, having been colonised by Europeans is pretty European for an African nation. The main highways are smooth riding but the drivers here do like to push the pedal to the metal.

There are 362,099 km of roads in South Africa of which 73,506 km is paved. There are 4 road classifications: national routes (connecting major cities), provincial routes (connecting smaller cities and towns to the national route network), regional routes (connecting smaller towns to the route network) and metropolitan routes (important inner city roads).

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South Africa hitchhiking essentials: National route road sign South AfricaNational Routes (N) form the fastest and most efficient way to get around the country. There are 18 N roads in total and the speed limit is 120 km/h (75 mph). Hitchhiking on them is illegal.

South Africa hitchhiking essentials: Provincial route road sign South AfricaProvincial routes (R) are numbered 21-99 and fill in the gaps that the National Routes don’t cover. Road quality varies from motorway quality to gravel roads and the speed limit is usually 100 km/h (60 mph). Hitchhiking on them is a grey area.

South Africa hitchhiking essentials: Regional route road sign South AfricaRegional routes (R) are lesser provincial roads with a speed limit of either 60 km/h (35 mph) or 100 km/h (60 mph) depending on how urban the road is. Hitchhiking on them is legal.

South Africa hitchhiking essentials: Metropolitan route road sign South AfricaMetropolitan route (M) are major inner-city roads with a speed limit of 60 km/h (35 mph) unless otherwise states. Hitchhiking on them is legal.

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Road map of South Africa

South Africa hitchhiking essentials: road map of South Africa

source: ezilon.com

Handy Hitch-hikers Phrases

‘Lekker’ – Awesome. Like no worries, you can answer it to anything really.
‘Bukky’ – a pick-up truck \ ute
‘Mora-mora’ – Good morning
‘Lekker shlop’ – Good night
‘Baai’ is like ‘very’. So you if something was really good, you can say, ‘Baai lekker’.
‘Danki’ – Thank you
‘Aweh’ (pronounced: ‘Ah-wee’) – is slang for ‘hello’ (Usually between the younger generations)
‘Braai’ – Barbecue (and they love to barbecue)
‘Yessis’ – it’s used like ‘Oh my god’ or ‘Holy spaghetti, Batman’. i.e: Yessis, the surf was lekker.

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South Africa Border Crossings

South Africa neighbours 6 different countries Namibia (to the north-west), Botswana & Zimbabwe (north), Mozambique (north-east), Swaziland (east) and Lesotho (which is completely surrounded by the RSA).

South Africa – Namibia

There are six border crossings between Namibia & South Africa

  • The principle border crossings are located at Vioolsdrift (South Africa) – Noordoewer (Namibia) which links the South African city of Cape Town to Namibia and Nakop (South Africa) – Ariamsvlei (Namibia) which connects eastern South Africa to Namibia.
    I came through Vioolsdrift on the N7 on the SA side. In Namibia it becomes the B1 the main highway of that country, but it seems that that is where all the trucks come through.

South Africa – Botswana

There are thirteen border crossings between South Africa & Botswana

  • The most important border crossing is located at Pioneer Gate (South Africa) – Skilpadshek (Botswana) which connects Johannesburg to the main A2 highway in Botswana. It is the most popular route for truck drivers travelling between the two countries.
  • The other major crossings is located at Ramatlabama which is situated 30 km south if the Pioneer Gate / Skilpadshek crossing and lies on the 18 / A1 highway crossing.

South Africa – Zimbabwe

There is one border crossings between South Africa & Zimbabwe

  • The only border crossing between the two countries is the Alfred Beit Road Bridge. On the South African side the bridge marks the end of the N1 Highway which passes through the major centres of  Pretoria  and Johannesburg. In Zimbabwe,  the road divides, with the A6 running to Bulawayo and the R1 to Masvingo.

South Africa – Mozambique

There are four border crossings between South Africa & Mozambique

  • The main border crossing can be found at Lebombo (South Africa) – Ressano Garcia (Mozambique) which marks the end of the N4 Highway in South Africa and the start of the EN4 in Mozambique. The crossing connects the major towns of Nelspruit (South Africa) and Maputo (Mozambique).

South Africa – Swaziland

There are ten border crossings between South Africa & Swaziland

  • The busiest border crossing is at Oshoek (South Africa) – Ngwenya (Swaziland) which straddles the N17 HighwayMR3 main road. It is especially busy during the holidays so expect long queues to pass through.

South Africa – Lesotho

There are ten border crossings between South Africa & Lesotho

  • The easiest place to cross is at the Ficksburg Bridge (South Africa) – Maputsoe (Lesotho) border crossing. Failing that, try the Maseru Bridge checkpoint. Both crossings are 24h (the only ones that are).

map of South Africa border crossings

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Absolute Musts

The essential sights of South Africa

I’m told the Transkei is a must although I never got there. I mainly travelled along the coast from Cape Town as far as Plettenberg Bay. The Garden Route, starting from Mossel Bay going to Jeffery’s Bay along the coast is a beautiful scenic drive as is Clarence Drive just on the southern outskirts of Cape Town.

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In Cape Town, if you have access to a car, go up Gordon’s Bay to see the sunrise from the reservoir.

A definite must is a train ride in Cape Town. Ask for the third class ticket and hopefully you’ll either get an a cappella group, dancers or my favourite – evangelical preachers (but be warned, they can scream loud).

Table Mountain like Lion’s Head, is a must although do be careful as attacks have happened on tourists. Mt Hedleberg is awesome to climb and Stellenbosch is a picturesque university town that’s about 300 years old. If you do your research, the Cape Town area has much to offer in terms of hiking mountain trails.

If you surf, you must go to Koleg Bay (pronounced ‘kalk’. Southern tip of Cape Town. Beware of the baboons) and Muzienberg (north side of Cape Town. Great spot for beginners). If you’re experienced, then you can’t miss out on Mossel Bay’s waves. Most folk go down to Jeffery’s (one of the longest rights in the world) but Mossel Bay pumps year round and can barrel (mostly rights) although it is very rocky (and keep in mind, South Africa has the largest population of Great White Sharks anywhere in the world).

For the adrenaline junkies, about an hour and half from Mossel Bay is the world’s highest commercial bungee jump from a bridge – 216 meters (you can book on your own or, if you stay in Mossel Bay, you can book through the Mossel Bay Adventure Centre).

And one of the most beautiful spots I’ve visited is Scarborough, a seaside town with white sandy beaches just outside of northern Cape Town. Take a surfboard and you won’t regret it.

I’m told the Waterfront in Cape Town is a Tourist Trap which is why I never went there.

My Overall Experience

South Africans are very outgoing and very outdoors. They love a good braai and can party harder than you think. They are big on the trance scene and there are some lekker parties to go to. They host one of the biggest rock festivals in the world, the Okkipipi and Africa Burn – the African Burning Man.

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backpacking and hitch-hiking in South Africa: The Animal - Simon's travel companion

written by: Simon (The Nomadic Diaries)

Tired of society’s rinse ‘n’ repeat lifestyle, Simon has decided to dedicate the rest of his life to hitch-hiking the globe without flying or using money. Instead, he barters for food and board and adventures. Life is one shot. Go live it.

Check out his blog at: thenomadicdiaries.wordpress.com

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