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Posted on: Tuesday, 5 November 2013

First Impressions of South Africa

Posted to: Travelling Tips
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Insider Tips

Insider Tips

30 things you need to know when first you arrive in South Africa: South Africa is a land of contradictions. That it is beautiful is indisputable. That it is also a mix of cultures, ideas, customs and traditions that are unique to the country is something most visitors need to experience first-hand.

But here are a few insider tips for first-time visitors …

1. When you arrive you must have a return ticket

2. and at least two blank pages in your passport

3. It is difficult to find legal work in South Africa, as a foreigner, as we don’t have a Working Holiday scheme

4. But in SA there’s no such thing as a hard and fast rule – there is always a way around procedures (and I don’t mean bribes, although those do help, apparently); it’s just less rigid than Europe or USA

Gugulethu, Cape Flats

Township Walks

5. South Africa is a first world country in the midst of a third world – just down the road from the glitzy malls, BMWs and upmarket mansions are dilapidated tin shacks and RDP houses

6. A gas station or petrol station is called a ‘garage’ and is fully serviced (you can sit in your car whilst your tank is filled and windscreen washed); just remember to leave a tip

7. You can also tip your car guard (some are officially appointed, others are self-appointed – either way, they’ll expect a tip for keeping your car safe)

8. South Africans are really friendly – anyone and everyone will greet you, and many will shake your hand

Chapmans Peak Drive

Chapmans Peak Drive

9. A glass of wine is really reasonably priced – and our wine is excellent

10. South Africans love Coca-Cola, McDonalds and KFC – but they taste nothing like they do in America

11. Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the world

12. There is a high level of crime, but this doesn’t stop people from enjoying themselves

13. South African drivers are not brilliant

14. Minibus taxis have their own set of road rules that do not resemble yours

15. South Africa has a number of spots along the shoreline where you can spot whales – drive between Cape Town and Hermanus and you’ll see many, between August and November

National Braai Day

National Braai Day

16. Township tours can be exploitative but they’re also a good way to experience first-hand the ‘other’ side of South Africa

17. South Africans love to braai

18. In South Africa you can buy all you will need; no need to arrive with toiletries or foodstuffs you fear you won’t be able to get

19. South Africa’s culture can be chauvinistic

20. It’s hot – very hot; don’t forget hats, shades and sunscreen

21. Access to the internet is more expensive and slower than most first world countries

22. We call traffic lights ‘robots’

A Sports Mad Nation

A Sports Mad Nation

23. We call sneakers ‘tackies’

24. We have certain driving rules that have nothing to do with the road, and everything to do with safety – bags go in the boot, phones should not be where anyone can see them, windows stay up, and at night in areas that are not safe it is common practice to drive through a red light

25. In Johannesburg life seems to centre around malls and cars

26. The Kruger, whilst the largest and probably most spectacular game reserve in the country, is not the only reserve worth visiting – South Africa has many off the beaten track nature reserves

27. South Africans are rugby, cricket and soccer mad (cricket in Cape Town, rugby everywhere else, and soccer in the townships)

Kruger Park

Kruger Park

28. South Africa’s game lodges are like arriving on another planet – they revolve solely around meals and game drives

29. South Africa is a place of exceptional natural beauty – Table Mountain, sunrise and sunset in the Kalahari, the valleys and hills of KwaZulu-Natal, the Drakensberg, the Waterberg, the Magaliesberg, Blyde River Canyon, Lake St Lucia, the Kruger…

30. You will need to understand that when someone says to you ‘now, now’ or ‘just now’ they mean sometime in the immediate future that suits them

Start planning your trip to South Africa here:
Book South African Hotels
Find Holiday Accommodation
Explore Popular Attractions
Find plenty of Things to Do


Our Wines are Excellent

Let us know Your First Impressions of South Africa in the comments below …


Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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