South Africa has a population of over 15 million.
The most popular languages are Afrikaan and English although you will find various other African languages.
South Africa’s climate varies considerably from region to region but temperatures remain comfortable all year round. Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate with an average temperature range of 7-27 degrees Celsius. Generally the winter months are between April and August with summer being from September to March. Summers are warm and dry and winters cool and wet. In contrast, the inland provinces have rainfall in summer whereas the winter season is dry and remains mild with daytime temperatures still reaching the twenties. This dry season is the best time for safari as the lack of rain means less vegetation so it is more difficult for the animals to hide. Generally speaking April and May are two of the best months to visit South Africa as rain in the summer rainfall region has ended and it hasn’t really begun in the winter rainfall region. Winds are also lighter than they are during any other month. For the hotter more humid regions of KwaZuluNatal, Mpumalanga and the Northern Province, June and July are the best months to visit.
Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the European Union do not require a visa to stay in South Africa for visits of up to 90 days.
South Africa is two hours ahead of Greenwich mean time.
The currency used is the South African Rand (R). South Africa has introduced new coins and notes, but old coins are still common so your change can be confusing. Beware that the R200 note looks a lot like the R20 note.
Most banks change travellers cheques in major currencies, usually at a commission of around 1%. Although the First National Bank has a higher minimum charge, it takes a lower commission so it can work out cheaper if you're changing a few cheques. Keep a few exchange receipts as you'll need them to reconvert your Rands when you leave. 24 hour ATM machines are found in most towns.
The code for South Africa is 00 27 and the area code for Cape Town is 21. Phone numbers in various areas of South Africa are being changed as the country progressively upgrades and expands its network. If you have a problem getting through, contact the free directory enquiry service on 1023. There are public phone booths all over Cape Town taking phone cards and coins. Phone cards are available at Telkom offices, post offices, and newsagents.
Most banks are open M-F 8.30am-3.30pm and on Saturdays 8am-11am. Main branches are easy to find in the shopping areas of the city centre, the middle-class suburbs and at the Waterfront.
In Capetown, the most useful place to gather information is around the railway station, where all transport terminates and information offices converge.
Tourism Gateway, 3 Adderley Street.
This is a complex housing various agencies, and is the base for many tour buses. Its here you will find the useful Captour office tel. 418 5202 or 418 5214, which operates a comprehensive accommodation booking service and can provide free city maps. Open M–F 8am–7pm, Sat 9am–5pm.
One World Travellers Space, 309 Long St, tel. & fax 230777.
Located in the city centre this is an alternative source of information, especially good for backpackers. Although its a commercial operation, this is a place where you will get advice on all backpacking matters. Services include baggage storage, a travellers notice board, and mail-holding facilities. You can also relax in their armchairs, watch TV, have a coffee and listen to CDs from their extensive selection of African music. Open daily 10am–6pm.
Tipping is more or less mandatory because of the very low wages. The usual tip expected is 10 to 15%.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In South Africa they take place on January 1st, March 21st, Good Friday, April 16th and 27th, May 1st, June 16th, August 9th, September 24th, December 16th, 17th, 25th and 26th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.