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20 Things Locals Want You to Know Before Visiting South Africa

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South Africa

I asked some locals what they wanted tourist to know before visiting their country!


Lottie says:

-Learn about the country before you arrive-

1. South Africa has a controversial history with many changes only being made in the last few decades. Visitors should have an understanding of this and be prepared for differences between South Africa’s culture and your cultures because they will occur. The best way to do this is to read, Google, watch, any and everything you can to find out about the country and it’s political and cultural history before you go.

-Escape the tourist hot spots-

2. Of course, Table Mountain is a must see. However, visitors will get much more of a sense of traditional South African cultures away from the tourist hot spots and the cosmopolitan cities. South Africa has so much to offer its visitors and most of this can be found away from the sights listed in tourist guide books / travel forums. Away from the cities you will see the beautiful landscapes; vast, arid planes, beaches, sand dunes and rugged coastlines that make South Africa so special. 

-Escape fellow tourists too!-

3. Instead of surrounding yourself with tourist, get out there and meet local people! That is the best way to learn about South Africa’s history and heritage as well as how the country is perceived today.

-Don’t compare prices to your home country-

4. Yes, you’re in luck if you are spending GBP or USD (or pretty much any currency other than ZAR). However, people who live in South Africa (whether South African or expats who choose to live there) will likely get paid in ZAR. If you spend your whole time telling people how cheap everything is, you will not only upset but also offend, locals because the R800 meal that seems like such a bargain to you could be a whole week of wages to someone else.

5. Understand that South Africa does not consist only of people who don’t speak English and only wear traditional African dress.

6. South Africa has 11 official languages and the ‘Rainbow nation’ is home to a huge cultural mix of people and their heritage. South Africa is home to people from all over the world going about their daily lives; they have jobs, go to school, buy groceries, go drinking, socialize with friends, play sports and go on Facebook. Just like you do.

You can find Lottie on her website and social medias: Princess in a Caravan Twitter Facebook Instagram

Clair says:

Valley of desolation

Valley of Desolation

7. South Africa has something for everyone, so I can only recommend a few highlights in this article: the Western Cape and Garden Route for stunning scenery; the Karoo, a vast empty space for those who love vast empty spaces and the flora and fauna of a semi-desert region. Dotted across the arid landscape are tiny rural towns, many with only one tarred road. Drive slowly, or walk, so that you can take in the interesting cultures, so different to what you will find in the urban areas and cities. 

Cape Town from above the cloud

Cape Town from above the clouds

8. Johannesburg is a melting pot of cultures, making it vibrant and eclectic. Did you know that two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived on the same street in Soweto. If you do go and take a look where they lived, stop at a Shebeen (local drinking tavern) afterward for a glass (or 5) of home-brewed beer. Enjoy the hospitality of the Shebeen Queen and the friendly patrons.

9. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t have lions roaming the streets, so rest assured that you won’t be eaten by a wild animal while sightseeing.

10. Similarly, we do have fridges (refrigerators) and electricity. So you will always be able to enjoy your beer ice-cold.

11. Please don’t comment on point 3 and 4 above to the locals, we’re tired of smiling politely while biting our tongues.

12. A 10% tip is standard for service. If service is really good, feel free to be more generous.

13. There are some reliable public transport options in different cities. In Johannesburg, take the Gautrain wherever possible. In Cape Town, MyCiti buses get the thumbs up. Wherever you travel, avoid taking minibus taxis. However, Uber is your best bet wherever you are. The service is good, the drivers are friendly and they can usually provide you with good insider tips for where to go and what to do.

14. If you hire a car and drive yourself, I recommend you travel with a GPS. Locals will willingly and confidently give you directions. Just ask two people: they will more than likely direct you in opposite directions. And if you can’t find direction signs to help you, the signs may have been repurposed as building materials. (see photo) 

African Shack

15. You may have seen Charlie’s Bakery on their own TV program in your country. They have become an iconic landmark in Cape Town. Make a point of visiting the bakery to meet the charismatic owner and her three daughters, as well as to sample their delicacies. Order a celebration cake or a personalised treat. Then take a selfie to show everyone back home …. 

Charly Bakery

16. Safety is always on our minds. Just observe the same sensible guidelines you follow at home or in any other country; don’t go out alone, have good directions before you go anywhere, look after your belongings etc.

17. To avoid misunderstandings when you chat to locals – which we encourage you to do because South Africans are generally very friendly – let me explain the meaning of a few words.  If someone says they will do something “just now”, it can mean anytime from immediately to sometime… But they will do it! “Shame” is a widely used word which can be used in almost any conversation to mean ‘cute’, ‘poor you’, ‘oh no!’, and a variety of other, positive sentiments.

18. South Africans are passionate about sport, so know which team to support before you get here. Our national cricket team is the Proteas; Soccer – Bafana Bafana (translated The Boys, The Boys); Rugby – the Springboks and Rugby 7’s – Blitzbokke. All our national teams wear green and gold, so you shouldn’t have any trouble identifying our national teams.

19. If you want to experience the local passion for sport, visit a Shebeen (see point 2) when Bafana Bafana are playing a match. Be prepared for noise, dancing, singing, the blowing of vuvuzelas and lots of liquid refreshment. Regardless of the outcome of the match, celebrations will continue long after the match has ended.

20. In my opinion, the most spine-tingling experience you can have while in South Africa is to go to one of our big sporting stadiums when the Springboks are playing a test match. The game itself may not be of interest to you, but it is worth going just to hear the crowd sing the National Anthem. This iconic experience will make you want to come back to our beautiful country again and again….. And we will welcome you back every time!

Camps Bay beneath the 12 Apostles

Camps Bay beneath the 12 Apostles

 You can find Clair on her website: Clair Pyle- Life Coach

Drinking tip:  Drinking age is 18.

South Africa Map

Map of South Africa

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this article! Please feel free to give me more suggestions down in the comments or email, and I can add you to the list! 

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Chasa is a travel blogger who has been writing since 2016. She has traveled domestically and internationally since 2013 and resides in the state of Alabama, where she pursues her passion for helping people see the beauty in other states and countries through her own accounts.

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20 thoughts on “20 Things Locals Want You to Know Before Visiting South Africa

  1. Believe it or not, I have heard about people thinking South Africa didn’t have any technology. Yes, it was a teenager, but still! She was surprised when the 2010 World Cup happened and she got a glimpse of how “normal” and “similar” South Africa was.

    I hope to make it to South Africa one day and visit their penguin beach in Cape Town!

  2. One of the countries I would love to visit. Thank you for all the useful information. I’m from Kenya and I hate it when people compare prices to their own country, as you rightly said what may seem cheap to a tourist is someone’s daily wage or weekly wage. And I do so hate it when they ask if we live in trees!

  3. Would love to go very soon!!

    I think knowing a country’s history is severely important before you go so that you don’t run into faux pas that make them think you are insensitive. Not a whole report but at least a high level review!

    • I would love to go!

      I agree! It’s important to know some history and rules before visiting a country. You do not want to upset the locals and also do not want to get yourself into trouble.

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