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southern africa travel factsheet

Known as the Rainbow Nation, you’ll find the heart of the African community beating strong with cultural tradition in South Africa. You’ll be touched and inspired by the legendary wonders that make South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia such a joy to explore. When out and about you’ll find that smart casual wear is appropriate in the majority of places.

CURRENCY IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa's unit of currency is the Rand, which is divided into 100 cents. Bank notes are in denominations of ZAR10, 20, 50, 100 and 200; coins are in the value of 5c, 10c, 50c and ZAR1, 2 and 5. Currency can be bought in advance from your bank or from bureaux de change.

Most major international credit cards, such as MasterCard, Visa and American Express, are widely accepted (but not for fuel or tolls) and you can withdraw cash from cash machines in South Africa, as long as you have your PIN number - check with your bank regarding charges.

ESWATINI

The unit currency in Eswatini in the Lilangeni - (plural Emalangeni (E) - which is fixed to the rand (1 Rand = 1 Lilangeni). South African Rands are accepted everywhere and there's no need to change them. In fact, some outside tourist areas will only accept the South African notes.

NAMIBIA

The Namibian Dollar (NAD1.00 or N$1.00, made up of 100 cents) is linked to the South African Rand (ZAR) on a 1:1 basis. The ZAR is legal tender in Namibia, but the NAD cannot be used in South Africa. You may pay in ZAR or NAD for diesel in Namibia – as the currency is locked at parity you will not be short changed in any way. Change is often given in both currencies and this is normal. In major cities including Swakopmund there are large banks such as Standard Bank and Nedbank, where you can buy currency. 

BOTSWANA

Botswana’s unit of currency is the Botswanan Pula (BWP1.00, made up of 100 Thebe). Members on past Southern Africa Discovery tours found that they didn’t need any Pula as major credit cards, including Visa and Mastercard, are accepted widely. There are also exchange bureaux at major border posts and ATMs are located throughout the country at most shopping malls and major hotels should you need cash.

ZIMBABWE

While it is inadvisable to carry large amounts of cash, credit and debit cards are not widely accepted. Although it is possible to withdraw cash from some ATMs it is not advisable to rely on this service being available. It is illegal to exchange foreign currency anywhere other than at officially licensed dealers (e.g. banks), who may not have sufficient currency to accommodate your request. Avoid street or border money-changers. The country is currently using a multi-currency system which makes use of mainly the US Dollar and the South African Rand. The normally accepted currency in most establishments is US Dollars.

Restrictions on the amount of cash you can take in or out of most countries may apply, but these are normally comfortably high enough for most people’s purposes. Please ask for details from your exchange agent before buying your currency. No limits usually exist for travel between Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, as these countries are members of the same common monetary area.

The rule “don’t flash your cash” applies at ATMs as much as anywhere else. In worldwide travel, it is always advisable to carry small denomination notes, as change is rarely available (for Zimbabwe in particular). This is especially important as at some borders there have been scams against tourists trying to pay in high denomination, high value currency. Beware of fraud involving credit card skimming, particularly in Namibia and even at lodges. Keep your card in full view throughout the paying process and always check your statements carefully.

Banks are generally open from 9am-3.30pm Monday to Friday, and from 8.30am-11am on Saturdays. ATMs (cash machines) are situated outside most banks, in shopping malls and at most filling stations.

Foreign tourists can have their VAT (value-added tax, at 14%) refunded at the point of departure, provided they present their original tax invoices.

TIME ZONES IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

South Africa - GMT + 2
Botswana - GMT + 2
Zimbabwe - GMT + 2
Namibia - GMT + 1 in winter time (from the 1st Sunday in April to the 1st Sunday in September) and GMT + 2 in summer time (from the 1st Sunday in September to the 1st Sunday in April)

WEATHER IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

South Africa is surrounded by sea on three sides of the country, which keeps temperatures warm throughout the year. It is also a relatively dry country, with an average annual rainfall of approximately 464mm. While Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia don’t have as much coastal exposure, you’ll find the climate is similar across all four countries.

The Cape Coast in South Africa enjoys a Mediterranean type climate with winter rainfall (June-August). The KwaZulu-Natal coast, Mpumalanga and Limpopo Province are subtropical.

Across the rest of the country temperatures are moderate, especially on the high interior plateau, with summer rainfall that often takes place in the late afternoon, accompanied by thunderstorms. These areas also generally experience rains between November and March with a peak summer rainfall in December and January. Winter is May to August and is a good time for game viewing, owing to the lower density of grasses and less ground water.

WHAT TO PACK

Most of the time you'll be most comfortable in light, summer-weight clothes but do pack a warm jacket, socks, good shoes and a rain jacket. Pack sunscreen – lots of it – and a hat and sunglasses. Make sure you have at least one cool shirt with a collar for sun protection. Stock up on insect repellent and, if you'll be in a malaria area, ensure you have a cool, long-sleeved shirt and cool long trousers for the evenings. Bring good walking shoes.

Note: If departing Johannesburg airport, it is required that all checked bags must have at least one flat surface in order to be accepted. Round, irregular shaped bags or bags with long straps will not be accepted.

THE SUN

We recommend you wear sunscreen and a hat whenever you are out of doors during the day, regardless of whether there is cloud cover or not. Sunglasses are also recommended wear, as the glare of the African sun can be strong.

WILDLIFE

If you are hiking or camping, be considerate and cautious of local wildlife. Take all rubbish with you, and treat any food items with great care to avoid attracting animals to your site. Animals with nearby young or nests will be particularly aggressive when protecting their territory. Research the region and learn how best to deal with the local wildlife you might encounter. Take particular care if you’re touring an area where wild animals have been sighted. Keep a safe and legal distance from any wildlife including marine animals and birds and closely follow park regulations.

In game reserves and game parks, do not be tempted down dirt side roads in the quest for the best view of the wildlife. There are usually more animals along the main roads than on the lesser tracks and trails. If you do go along the lesser roads, communication can be more difficult, which could be problematic, in the event of a breakdown.

Be patient – a good ploy is to go to a watering hole and wait in the comfort of your motorhome. Remember that in the middle of the day many animals go to ground in the heat, or take shade under the trees.

Do not go walking, or even get out of your vehicle, in game parks without an accompanying ranger. Viewing big game is one of the main reasons for visiting Southern Africa. However, visitors should remember that these are large, powerful animals, including many carnivores, leading life in the wild and according to the laws of nature. So, please remember to respect all wild animals. Beware in particular lone male elephants, black rhino (the more aggressive of the rhino species) and buffalo. Snakes will flee from humans, so long as they hear them coming. If you surprise one (and yourself in the process), back off and allow it to escape. Scorpions are rare, but you should never leave boots or shoes outside your motorhome. If you do, then make sure you shake them upside down vigorously, outside your motorhome, before putting them back on. Most campsites in game parks are fenced. If the campsites are open then generally no dangerous game species are present in the area. The camps are often visited by Impala or other buck species during the night.

DRIVING IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

There are some rules of the road that are helpful for you to know when planning your touring holiday in Southern Africa, below are a few pointers regarding driving licence requirements, insurance, speed limits and some of the travelling costs that you can expect to incur.

ROAD TRAVEL

The roads in South Africa are generally very pleasant to drive on compared to the UK. As in the UK, people drive on the left. Seat belts must be worn at all times by drivers and passengers. Public roads are well developed and well sign-posted. Signs follow standard international symbols.

You’ll find some of the roads if travelling between South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia more rustic. 4-wheel drive vehicles are available to hire for off road exploring.

TOLL ROADS

Many of the national roads between the major centres are toll roads. Check the toll fees before your journey, and make sure that you have adequate means of payment with you. Debit cards and credit cards not issued in South Africa are not accepted for toll payment, so make sure you have enough cash with you for tolls. Toll roads are recognisable by a black T on a yellow background. These roads are particularly prevalent between Johannesburg and the Kruger National Park, and from Johannesburg to Durban.

ANIMALS

Roads in many rural areas are not fenced, so you could find dogs, chickens, sheep and even horses or cows roaming on to the road, so it may be dangerous to drive at night. Large antelope crossing the road can also be a hazard in certain areas – watch out for the road signs depicting a leaping antelope, and take it slowly, especially towards evening.

SPEED LIMITS

The general speed limits, unless otherwise indicated, are:

  • 120kph (75mph) on national highways, urban freeways and other major routes
  • 100kph (60mph) on secondary (rural) roads
  • 60kph (35mph) in built-up areas

Speed limits are given in kilometres per hour. Obey speed limits and take extra care when travelling on rural roads. Watch out for wild animals.

South Africa has an excellent highway system. Rules of the road are similar to Europe. Traffic lights in South Africa are known as robots. There are lots of speed traps, particularly when the speed limit drops. When driving along a main road, with a vehicle behind wanting to overtake, you are expected to pull over to the side, crossing the yellow line at the side of the road, to allow the following vehicle to overtake. Be careful not to go too far as the debris at the side of the road can cause punctures. There are lots of two-, three- and four-way stop signs and it is not always obvious who has priority. All vehicles must come to a complete stop at the sign, the first vehicle to arrive at the stop sign having priority. Expect to be hooted at if you do not take your turn. Allow logging trucks a wide berth and be aware that they cannot slow down easily when moving fast – and that you may approach them much faster than you expect when they are moving slowly.

Botswana has good tarmac roads over most of the country, but the standard of driving is lower than in the UK and many drivers ignore road safety rules. Botswanan speed limits are strictly enforced and on-the-spot fines are issued. As in most other southern African countries, driving is on the left side of the road. The national speed limit on tarred roads is 120kph, while through towns and villages the speed limit is 60kph, even in the absence of a sign.

Namibia's maximum speed on gravel roads is 80kph. The tour includes sealed, gravel and dirt roads and it is advisable to keep your speed down and be especially careful if travelling in wet weather as puddles in the road may be hiding big potholes. If going through a section of road that is of softer sand, your vehicle should sink into it a little but not bog down, so go into low gear and just keep moving – do not stop in the middle. Distances in Namibia are vast, but there is still plenty of time for each leg, so take frequent stops to break up the journey. Traffic drives on the left side of the road and although only about 12% of roads are tarred, they are generally well maintained. As the majority of the roads are gravel or sand, be prepared for dusty drives and corrugated tracks, where the unpleasant ripples (mostly 5 to 10 centimetres deep) can get vehicles and passengers extremely shaken up.

DRIVING LICENCE

You will need an International driving permit under the 1968 convention (IDP1968) to rent a vehicle in South Africa. You will need a different type of IDP to drive in Botswana and Namibia (IDP1949). These can both be obtained over the counter from a participating Post Office at a cost of £5.50 for each type. You will require a passport sized photograph and your passport if presenting an older paper version driving license. For more information please visit the Post Office website here

FUEL

Diesel costs much less than in the UK, with prices inland slightly more expensive than on the coast. Prices are reviewed by the government on the first Wednesday of each month.

You will usually be expected to return your motorhome hire vehicle with a full tank of petrol unless otherwise stated by your rental company. There are a variety of filling stations on both main and country roads. However, distances between towns (and therefore between filling stations) are considerable in some parts of the country, so it is advisable to fill up your tank before it starts giving warning signals. Most stations are open 24 hours a day, although some keep shorter hours, and most generally offer full service, rather than self-service.

In the case of full service, an attendant will fill the tank, check the oil and coolant levels and the tyre pressure and, if necessary, clean the windscreen, for which he or she will expect a tip of two or three rand. Most petrol stations now accept payment by credit card for fuel, or at least have an ATM from where you can get cash. However it is always wise to carry sufficient cash to pay for your fuel just in case.

ALCOHOL WHILST DRIVING

The legal blood alcohol limit in South Africa is 50mg per 100ml, which is 30mg lower than in the UK. The legal breath alcohol limit is 24mg per 1000ml. It is illegal to refuse to give a breath or blood sample.

HEALTH & SAFETY IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

HEALTH

A large network of hospitals offer excellent service in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, but make sure you have adequate health insurance, including cover for medical evacuation, as health care in Botswana and Namibia can be good in the major towns but medical facilities and communications are limited in rural areas. There are good medical facilities in Windhoek (Namibia) but evacuation from remote areas can take time. For serious medical treatment, medical evacuation to the UK or South Africa may be necessary.

It is generally advised that you should not swim in rivers in the eastern and northern regions, as the bilharzia parasite is found in these areas. Malaria is endemic in the Lowveld areas of South Africa (parts of Limpopo Province, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal). Prevention is the key and the most crucial elements of this are covering up and using insect repellent. Pack light clothes with long sleeves and long legs and once on the tour use any window and door screens with which your motorhome is equipped (but these may not be standard equipment, and doorways in particular will not have screens), or sleep under a mosquito net. A piece of net curtain weighs little in your luggage and can then be used to cover your motorhome’s doorway, if you wish to leave it open. When using insect repellent, be careful to re-apply it as directed by the medical notes accompanying the treatment you choose.

Do not leave your motorhome’s outside light on for long periods, as this will attract insects. Burning citronella candles can help to keep them away. Mosquitoes appear mainly in the evening.

You may also wish to take prophylactic drugs as a precaution against malaria. If so, consult your doctor well in advance, as you may need to begin any such medication some time before departure. Be sure to ask your doctor about any possible side effects. Seek medical advice before travelling and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up to date.

For further advice on vaccination requirements and general health information for Southern Africa, we recommend you consult with your doctor and visit the NHS website.

WATER

South Africa's tap water is potable, safe and clean. In some areas, the water is mineral-rich, and you may experience a little gastric distress for a day or two until you get used to it. Bottled mineral water, both sparkling and still, is readily available in most places. In Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe we highly recommend that you drink only bottled water - and before you use it, check that the cap seal has not already been broken. Water quality and piping, and the reliability of supplies, can all be problematic. You should familiarise yourself with the basic precautions to take in order to avoid cholera, in particular drinking and preparing food in only boiled or bottled water, avoiding ice in drinks and being careful not to swallow shower or washing water. Rigorous food and hygiene measures should be observed and you should take particular care with any foods bought at the roadside or in markets. If you suffer from diarrhoea or vomiting during or immediately following a visit to Botswana, Zimbabwe or Namibia you should seek immediate medical attention.

Worldwide Motorhoming Holidays offer fully comprehensive medical and personal holiday insurance for peace of mind while you’re away. Enquire to find out more. 

SAFETY

Most parts of Southern Africa can be visited safely providing you take basic precautions, such as not walking alone in deserted areas at night, not exhibiting photographic equipment or jewellery or large amounts of cash and, in traffic, maintaining a safe following distance. In large towns, lock your car doors when driving and ensure that your windows are up as some petty crime does take place at traffic lights.

Do not leave personal items and baggage on the seats. Do plan your route in advance, use maps and park in well-lit areas. Picking up of hitchhikers is not recommended. As in the rest of the world, Southern Africa has its share of criminals, so take the basic common-sense precautions.

If you are in doubt as to the safety of a particular area or attraction in South Africa, contact the National Tourism Information and Safety Line on 083 123 2345.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office may make specific travel related recommendations for visitors to the Southern Africa. For the most up to date information visit the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and select the relevant links for South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Botswana: Botswana remains a relatively safe place to visit or live. Take the normal precautions you would take anywhere else: always lock car doors; don’t leave valuables in vehicles; do take care with your bags in shopping centres and other crowded places, and after coming out of banks or ATM kiosks; avoid walking alone at night.

Zimbabwe: Zimbabweans are known for their hospitality and friendliness towards each other and visitors alike. Although nearly all Zimbabweans are very helpful it is always advisable to be cautious when dealing with strangers. If you need help you should also be on the lookout for people wearing a ZIMHOST badge, as they are usually the best people to ask. Police officers can also be very helpful. As is the case anywhere else in the world, valuables should be safeguarded, and kept in a safe box if available. While the FCO does give warnings about some problem areas in Zimbabwe, these are far away from the popular tourist area of Victoria Falls. Here, the most common problem tourists might encounter is petty theft, which unfortunately can be expected in tourist destinations the world over. Street sellers are particularly prevalent in the main town, the markets and on the Victoria Falls bridge, and may be very persistent. If you do not want to buy anything, then you may need to be persistent, but polite, in return. The best place from which to view the falls is the Victoria Falls National Park, where access is carefully controlled so as to exclude any hawkers or others who might detract from the experience. It is an offence to be in any way insulting towards the President or the President's office; and an open hand is the symbol of the MDC political party, so a friendly wave could be misinterpreted. It is also an offence for civilians to wear any form of clothing with a camouflage design. Always ask permission before taking photographs of people. Do not photograph public or military buildings or personnel in Zimbabwe; or military buildings or personnel anywhere on the tour.

Namibia: Please note that the Namibian authorities are clearing unexploded ordnance from areas that are barred to public access. You simply need to ensure that, on the Trans-Caprivi Highway between Rundu and Katima Mulilo, or in other remote areas of northern Namibia, you travel during daylight hours and stick to the well-travelled routes. Theft from vehicles, particularly at service stations, is not uncommon, so keep your vehicle locked and keep valuable possessions out of sight.

PASSPORTS & VISAS IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

To travel to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe or Namibia from the UK you will need a full UK passport.

South Africa - Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into South Africa and have at least 2 blank pages when you present it at immigration to enter or leave South Africa. British citizens do not need visas for South Africa for intended stays of 90 days or less. Find out more.

Travelling with children
For parents travelling with children into or out of South Africa a child’s unabridged (full) birth certificate may be asked to be presented, and where only one parent is accompanying, a parental or legal consent for the child to travel will also be required (e.g. an affidavit from the other parent, a court order or,if applicable, a death certificate). The FCO advise that you should travel with these documents in case you’re asked to provide them. There are further requirements for children travelling unaccompanied or with adults who are not their parents. For more information, contact the South African High Commission or the South African Department of Home Affairs.

Botswana - Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Botswana. British citizens do not need visas for Botswana for intended stays of 90 days or less. Find out more.

Zimbabwe - Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months and have 3 blank pages left in it to enable you to enter Zimbabwe and exit via one of the neighbouring countries. You will need a visa to visit Zimbabwe. You can get a visa from the Zimbabwean Embassy in London or on arrival in Zimbabwe. Most tourists use the visa on arrival service.  Please ensure you have sufficient US Dollars to pay for your visa on arrival - currently USD$55. Find out more.

Namibia - Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Namibia and have at least 1 completely blank page for Namibian immigration to use. British citizens do not need visas for Namibia for intended stays of 90 days or less. Find out more.

If you are travelling around Southern Africa, you will need to make sure that you have the correct number of blank pages in your passport to meet the requirements of each country.

Holders of any non-British passport should check with their relevant embassy to find out about requirements before departing.

SHOPPING IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

Throughout South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia you’ll find a mix of modern shopping malls, arts and crafts routes and markets, flea markets, roadside stalls and informal vendors providing a wide variety of shopping opportunities. South Africa’s gold and diamond jewellery, fashions and art are much sought-after, as are the traditional handcrafted items such as Zulu beadwork, carved chess boards, painted ostrich eggs, colourful woven baskets, handbags and soft furnishings, mohair or sisal rugs, traditional wooden masks and carvings, pottery and leatherwork. You’ll also find plenty of the world-renowned Cape wines, exotic fruit liqueurs, brandy, rooibos (redbush) tea, dried fruit, biltong (dried meat snacks) and chutney on offer.

Most major shopping centres are open Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm and on Saturdays until 1pm. Many shopping malls operate extended shopping hours including Sundays and public holidays.

TAXES & CUSTOMS IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

LOCAL TAXES

South Africa: Value-added tax (VAT) at a rate of 14% is levied on the purchase of most goods in South Africa. As a foreign visitor you may apply for a refund of the VAT you pay while in the country – provided you apply before you depart. To apply, make sure you get tax invoices for your purchases. Then present these to the VAT Refund Administrator at your point of departure. 

Botswana: To claim 12% VAT refund for total value of goods purchased, the amount spent should be more than P5 000. In such cases, the following is required: a tax invoice stating VAT paid, your passport number and your bank account details. It is always advisable to keep a copy of the VAT form as a record for any follow up on the transaction. VAT claims usually can be made at all major border posts and airports.

Namibia: General Sales Tax (GST) in Namibia is 15% on goods and services. Bona fide tourists to Namibia are exempt from paying sales duty or excise duty on luxury items. Visitors may reclaim VAT at Hosea Kutako International Airport, Eros Airport and Walvis Bay Airport.

SOUTHERN AFRICA - PROHIBITED ITEMS

Certain animal products, fresh fruit, plant materials or animal pests may not be allowed into the country. Do not attempt to bring meat, animal or any dairy products in to South Africa without declaring them to the customs authorities. Banned food products will be confiscated and you could be fined. 

Meat and dairy products are not allowed to be taken across the Botswana-Namibia border and in general it is probably best to avoid taking such products across any borders, but to buy them locally whenever possible. Detailed advice on the importation of goods from Botswana can be found on the Botswana Tourism website.

BRINGING GOOD INTO THE UK

For limits on what you can bring back into the UK from abroad, please see the up to date information at www.hmrc.gov.uk/customs.

TIPPING IN SOUTHERN AFRICA

Tipping is not compulsory in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe or Namibia, but is appreciated as recognition of good service. In restaurants it is usual to tip waiting staff 10-15% of the bill.

It is also commonplace to tip your ranger and tracker on game drives (about ZAR50-ZAR75 per day is average).

At service stations, pump attendants will fill your tank for you and will offer to wash your windscreen – a tip of whatever small change you have available is appreciated (typically two or three rand).

In many areas parking attendants will offer to assist you in parking your vehicle and watching over it while you are away – again, a tip of two rand or so is appreciated.

It is a very good idea to take some currency in small bills with you to cover tips on arrival.