South Africa is an amazing destination for all types of travelers. You might have also realized that South Africa isn’t just a vast land of nomadic tribes and big 5 safari animals—there are big cities, incredible natural landscapes, millions of people, and, of course, lots of wildlife experiences.
1. Safety in South Africa: The number one question I get asked about South Africa is if it’s a safe destination. The simple answer is yes, as long as you use common sense and you’re aware of your surroundings. Always ask a local if an area is safe before heading out.
2. Learn some Local Slang: Here are some of the most common South African slang words to learn before your trip:
- Aikona: The direct translation means not on your life. No
- Babbelas: This is slang for a hangover.
- Eina: This is used to express a sharp pain.
- Eish: This is a Khoi San term and is used to express shock or surprise.
- Haiybo: This is a Zulu word that means definitely not.
- Howzit: A common greeting that’s used instead of hi, how are you.
- Just Now: While it may seem like it means right now, it actually means an undetermined amount of time.
- Lekker: This is an Afrikaans word and means awesome, great, or good. It tastes lekker.
- Sosatie: soh-sah-ti: Kebab, usually fried on a braai/BBQ
- Wors: Sausage, also fried on a BBQ or in a pan.
- Now Now: This either means right now or as soon as possible.
- Robot: South Africans call traffic/stoplights robots.
- Shame: It’s not slang, but you’ll hear this word used when South Africans think something is really cute or if they are being sympathetic.
- Zebra Crossing: A zebra crossing is a local term for pedestrian crossing.
- Yebo: yeah-boh : Zulu word for Yes
- Sies (sis): An expression of disgust, can be used to refer to something yucky or gross. E.g., Sis, check that squashed frog on the road
- Café: Pronounced the French way, but completely different: “Corner” shop or superette where you can buy absolutely anything, except alcohol.
- Dorp (or dorpie): Small town, usually in the back of beyond.
- Oom: Uncle, often used to refer to any older men.
- Tannie: tunnee: Aunt, often used to refer to an older woman, and not only family.
- Takkies: tack-keys: Sneakers, sports shoes.
Tipping 10-15% at restaurants in South Africa is common practice. If you’re at a bar, people usually leave any small change from the bill for the bartender.
If you’re hiring a car in South Africa, you’ll come into contact with the country’s car guards. These are people who will watch your car for you while you run your errands in exchange for a couple of Rands. Always tip Uber drivers, petrol attendants, etc. Even if it’s R10, it can go a long way and help service industry workers afford a basic meal.
4. You can drink water from the tap: South Africa has some of the cleanest tap water in the world. It’s perfectly safe to drink right from the tap, so you don’t have to worry about buying bottles of water during your trip. Your choice, my wife still insists on bottled water regardless.
5. Buy Travel Insurance: If you’re planning on getting your adrenaline fix during your trip, make sure your travel insurance covers you for extreme sports activities!
You’ll also need general comprehensive travel insurance. With South Africa being such a far country to travel to for most people, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re covered for any flight cancellations and unplanned trips to the hospital.
6. Visit more countries: If you’re flying from the USA, the cheapest international flights to Southern Africa usually land in either Johannesburg or Cape Town. However, once you’re in the country, there are dozens of super affordable return flights to Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique.
7. Buy a local SIM card: You can get data bundles that will help you stay connected as well as airtime.
8. Always keep cash on you: Withdrawing cash from the ATM when you arrive. You’ll get a better exchange rate from the machines than by using a currency exchange service at the airport. You will also need cash throughout your trip, even though credit cards are accepted by most vendors and shops.
9. Use Uber: The best way to get around Cape Town and Johannesburg is with an Uber. The service is reliable, convenient, and much cheaper than a metered taxi.
Uber South Africa does background checks on their drivers and makes sure their driver’s licenses are legit.
10. Car Hire: Car rental prices are much lower compared to South Africa’s neighboring countries. Plus, if you have a set of wheels, you can also drive to Kruger National Park and go on a self-drive safari!
Enjoy your trip!