South Africa has a mostly temperate and pleasant climate, with lovely warm sunny days most of the year.
Summer is from November to February and, over most of the country, is characterized by hot weather with afternoon thunderstorms, which clear quickly, leaving a warm, earthy, uniquely African, smell in the air. The Western Cape, with its Mediterranean climate, is the opposite and gets its rain in winter.
Autumn (or fall) runs from February to April and offers probably the best weather. Very little rain falls over the whole country, and it is warm, but not too hot. In Cape Town, autumn is fantastic, with hot sunny days and warm, balmy nights, which most people spend at outdoor cafés.
Winter in the higher-lying areas is characterized by dry, bright, sunny, crisp days and cold nights. So it's a good idea to bring warm clothes. The Western Cape gets most of its rain in winter and there may be a few days of grey, cloudy, rainy weather, but these are always interspersed with wonderful days to rival the best of a British summer.
Spring like everywhere else in the world, is a time of renewal and rejoicing - when bright green buds appear on the trees and young grasses pop up from the bush veld, but nowhere is it more spectacular than in the Cape. Here the grey winter is forgotten as the bright green foliage of the south and east, and the sear browns of the north and west, give way to a riot of colour as thousands of small, otherwise insignificant plants cover the plains in an iridescent carpet of flowers. The journey to see the flowers of the Namaqualand in the Western and Northern Cape is an annual pilgrimage for many South Africans.
As South Africa is a developing country, crime does exist, so we would advise you to take a few basic precautions. All valuables, passports, cameras, should be locked in the safe of your hotel. Valuables should be carried discreetly when walking in cities.
Gold and other expensive items offered for sale by street vendors are likely to be fakes or stolen property. Do not participate in pavement games as they are operated by well organised gangs and money can be stolen while you are distracted.
Cape Town Safety:
The Cape Town central city area is generally safe to walk around, as is the Waterfront precinct as they have a very high security presence. The countryside is also not a problem. As a tourist, please take the same precautions you would take travelling in the cities in your own country. Stay away from obviously dubious areas and ask our advice.
The Western and Eastern Cape Provinces are NOT in a Malaria zone. If you travel to other parts of the country check with your health authority and ensure that you take Malaria prophylaxsis when necessary.Tap Water in all cities is of a high standard and is drinkable. However mineral water (still or sparkling ) is freely available. Medical facilities are of a high standard in private hospitals. It is advisable to purchase medical cover before you travel.
Before leaving home make sure you have travel insurance and make sure you know exactly what it covers. If you are planning to indulge in some of our wonderful adventure activities, check that you will be covered in the unlikely event of an accident. Whatever you do, read the fine print carefully - once you have experienced the problem, it's too late to start re-negotiating the contract.
Tourist information continued ...
There are 11 official languages in South Africa - English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swati, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda and Zulu. Of these, English, Afrikaans and Xhosa are the three spoken in Cape Town. Language is no problem for a tourist, as English are spoken by all and sundry.
What time zone is South Africa in?
South Africa operates on Central African Standard Time (CAST), which is two hours ahead of Universal Time (UT), which used to be called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and is the time in London. So, for example, when it is 06h00 in London, it is 08h00 in South Africa. This time difference is so slight that visitors from England or Europe do not experience jet lag.
South African standard Time is two hours in advance of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT + 2), and seven hours in advance of United States eastern standard time throughout the year. There are no time zone differences within the country.
Value Added Tax (VAT) is levied on most goods and services but, as a foreign national, you may reclaim VAT on anything you bought to take out of the country unused. You need to do this before you embark on your flight home. See www.taxrefunds.co.za for details. All South African airports charge an airport tax, which is automatically included in the purchase price of your ticket. Total purchases must be more than R250 to qualify. At the moment VAT is 14%
Shopping and Business Hours:
Most shops in the city are open from 09h00 to 17h00 or 17h30 weekdays and 09h00 to 12h00 Saturdays. The Waterfront and other shopping malls have extended hours, some to 10pm.
The currency is South African Rand. Foreign exchange facilities are available throughout the city, the Waterfront, most shopping malls and at banks in country towns. ATM's will accept many international bank and credit cards. Major credit cards are accepted throughout South Africa at most outlets, the exception being markets and some private traders.
Currency and Foreign Exchange:
The currency is Rands (ZAR). One Rand ( R ) is equal to 100 cents ( c ).Notes are issued in the following denominations: R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10. Coins: R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c and 1c. Foreign currency may be exchanged at any commercial bank, American Express, Thomas Cook, Rennies Foreign Exchange or Dinners Club International office or Bureaux de Change can be found in the larger centres. Credit cards: South Africa has a modern banking & commercial system and most shops & hotels will accept credit cards. For up-to-date exchange rates, see www.oanda.com/converter/classic
Most banks are open between 09:00 and 15:00 daily, and Saturdays between 08:30 and 11:00, although some are open from 08:30 to 16:30. Small town branches often close between 13:00 and 14:00.
Credit cards & ATMs
Most shops and hotels in Cape Town accept credit cards, including international cards such as Visa and MasterCard (and to a lesser extent American Express and Diners Club). In far-flung t
owns the use of cards might be restricted. ‘Skimming’ of cards has recently become a problem, so ask always keep your card in your sight or walk over to the machine at a restaurant. Note that petrol (gas) stations in South Africa do not accept credit cards; you will have to pay with cash. Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread (and also often conveniently located in petrol stations) and accept most international cards. Most ATMs also offer the option to top up mobile phone credit.
Lost or stolen cards
American Express 0800 991 021 (note: for both credit cards and traveller’s cheques).
Diners Club 011 358 8406.
MasterCard 0800 990 418.
Visa 0800 990 475.
The hours of business are generally from 08:30 to 16:30 on weekends from 08:00 to 12:00 on Saturdays. Many smaller Post Offices close between 13:00 and 14:00. Mail may be addressed " Poste Restante" to any Post Office. Phonograms may be phoned in on 1028 or sent from any post office. Telephones are fully automatic with direct dialing to most countries.
South Africa operates a 220-240 Volt a/c system. If you use 110 Volt DC you will need a converter. Our plugs are 3 pin round and adaptors are available in most hotels, electrical stores, and airport stores.
Cape Town is a very cosmopolitan city and visitors are spoilt for choice. It's not a matter of deciding what to eat (we have it all) but which restaurant to go to. Do try some of our African cuisine as well as Cape Malay dishes, unique to this area.
Tipping is customary in South Africa. A guideline for visitors is the following: Porters R5 per item, taxis 10%, waiters and waitresses in restaurants 10 - 15% . Capetonians normally lunch from 12h30 - 14h00 and dine from about 19h30 - 22h00.
The South African sun is strong with a high ultraviolet rating, so screening products with sun protection factors of 15 and over are recommended.
Throughout the year, Standard Time in South Africa is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean time, one hour ahead of Central European Winter Time, and seven hours in advance of Eastern Standard Winter Time.
Rules of the Road:
An excellent road network links the largest metropolitan areas with the smallest villages. South Africa drives on the left. The speed limit in urban areas is usually 60 km per hour, and on freeways 120 km per hour unless otherwise indicated. Wearing seat belts is compulsory; driving under the influence of alcohol is a serious offence and traffic laws are strictly enforced. A valid driver's licence, provided the photograph is an integral part of the document, and provided it is printed in English, is accepted. If your licence does not comply with these requirements, you should obtain an International Driving Permit before your departure for South Africa.
Most denominations are represented. Churches, Mosques, Temples and Synagogues are located in most major cities.
Every person seeking to enter South Africa must be in possession of a valid passport for travel to South Africa and, where necessary, a visa. The visa must be valid for 6 months. It is advisable to bring proof that you will be able to support yourselves for the 6 months. You must also be in possession of a valid return air ticket.
Passport holders from more than 80 countries, including the USA, Canada, Japan and the European Union countries can visit South Africa without visas. For further information contact your local office of the diplomatic or consular representative of the South African Government.
Embassies & consulates
Check the local phone book or Yellow Pages for a complete list of foreign consulates and embassies in Cape Town, or call directory enquiries on 1023.
Australian High Commission
14th Floor, BP Centre, Thibault Square, 8001, Cape Town. Telephone: +27 (0)21 419-5425/9
British Consulate General
Southern Life Centre, 8 Riebeek Street, City Centre (021 405 2400).
Canadian Consulate General
19th Floor, Reserve Bank Building, 60 St George’s Mall, City Centre (021 423 5240).
French Consulate 78 Queen Victoria Street, Gardens (021 423 1575).
German Consulate General & Embassy
19th Floor, Safmarine House, 22 Riebeek Street, City Centre (021 405 3000).
Netherlands Consulate General
100 Strand Street, corner Buitengracht, City Centre (021 421 5660).
2 Reddam Avenue, Westlake, Tokai (021 702 7300).
The Cape Town Tourism Visitor Centre is on the corner of Castle and Burg streets in the city centre (021 426 4260). If you’re having trouble deciding what to include on your itinerary, they’ll help you make up your mind with a selection of maps, brochures, tour outings and other essential information on what’s happening in the Mother City. Bookings and reservations can be made at the help desks. The V&A Waterfront also has a visitor centre, the Cape Town Tourism Office (021 405 4500/ www.tourismcapetown.co.za), located in the Clock Tower Waterfront.