Here is your chance to see South Africa for cheap as Swiss Airlines and you can get cheap flights from Chicago to Johannesburg, South Africa for only $693 RT on United. Valid for departures from Nov 6-December 11th for days listed below. Availability is limited. Must purchase at least 21 days in advance of departure. We also found $750 RT flights all through October.
Visiting Africa conjures up images of jungles, safaris and elephants, deserts and adventure (at least,it does for me!) While Africa indeed contains all these elements, visiting South Africa is an easy choice for most Westerners because they speak the same language (English) and have a variety of cosmopolitan and modern culture that balances the unsullied wilds. In fact, South Africa has an immense range of opportunities for travelers, whether you’re looking for a rugged adventure, a food and wine tour or a spiritual experience. South Africa has all of the features that travelers long for in a vacation destination: fine weather, gorgeous scenery, great beaches, modern accommodations and superb cuisine. The southern tip of Africa also offers an exotic array of once-in-a-lifetime adventures, from off-roading on a safari to diving with great white sharks. It’s hard to name another holiday destination that offers as much variety. An overview of the best places to visit in South Africa. Situated at the southern tip of Africa, South Africa is 1 233 404km² in size and is edged on three sides by nearly 3 000km of coastline, with the Indian Ocean to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The country is bordered in the north by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and also encloses two independent countries, the kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland. South Africa has three capitals: Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (administrative) and Bloemfontein (judicial). Johannesburg, or Jo’burg, is the economic heart of Africa and the most common entry point into Southern Africa. With more than 3 million people it is also the second largest city on the continent. Historically it is where money is made and fortunes found. It has been stereotyped as a cruel, concrete jungle, plagued by crime, but residents defend it fiercely as a city of opportunity and raw energy. A visits to the infamous Soweto township is getting increasingly popular.
CHEAPEST FLIGHTS AT $695 RT
We found departure dates for 7+ day itineraries to be:
Nov 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29
Dec 2, 3, 4, 10
Slightly more (+$35) but still good departure dates are:
Nov 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 15, 16, 17, 23, 24, 30
Dec 1, 5, 6, 9, 11
South Africa is awesome: African wildlife safaris are really amazing, I mean mind boggling fun, and they appeal to just about everyone – even people who didn’t think they would love safaris. Young, old, active, lazy, urban, rural, couples, singles, families, it doesn’t matter: a safari is the winner takes all of vacations. The main reason most people go to on vacation to Africa is for safari. But only South Africa offers far more to see and do than “just” safaris. In fact it would make perfect sense for many people to do an entire South African vacation without the safari at all – something I can’t say about any other place in southern or central Africa. In South Africa, you really can have it all – and with the favorable exchange rate and cost of living, it is a bargain, especially for food, drink and shopping. We’ve been on safari to Kenya and Tanzania and had an awesome time because the wildlife is great, in many ways just as good as in South Africa (in some ways better, in other ways worse). You could make the argument that it’s even better in Botswana or other places. But you simply cannot make the argument that there is better vacation destination with safaris than South Africa. It is the only one of these places you would be likely to enjoy a stellar trip without ever going into the bush at all. Let me be frank: Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam are not places most Americans want to visit on vacation, they are places to pass through or fly into on your way to your vacation. Most people couldn’t even name a single city in Namibia or Botswana. But Cape Town is a jewel that would be well worth visiting anyway, wildlife or no wildlife, and Johannesburg has far more to see and do than the vast majority of African cities.
Here’s everything you need to know before you travel to South Africa:
How long can I stay without a visa?
Many countries do not require a visa for South Africa so long as you’re visiting for less than 90 days. If you’re not sure if you need a visa, check here. Please note that your passport expiration date MUST be at least 30 days after the date of your intended return if you are a US Citizen. Always check the latest regulations before you travel just to be sure. Ensure your passport is up to date. You’ll need at least one blank page in your passport for the entry stamp which they will add at customs, and they recommend that you have two blank pages, just in case you get a squirrelly customs official.
What’s the local currency? Do they take credit cards?
You’ll use the South African Rand when you’re there, which is the local currency. The Rand to the USD fluctuates regularly, sometimes extremely; depending on when you travel, you should check the rates both when you price and when you book. Over the past 4 years, it’s been as high as 15 Rand and as low as 9 and it can change quite quickly. Once you’re there, you will get money out of an ATM in Rand, and you will often be charged a foreign transaction fee of about 3 percent by your bank, whether you get cash out or use a credit card. This can be expensive, so make sure you budget for it. Note that some credit cards have no foreign transaction fees. Also, banks close early in South Africa; usually 3:30PM and are only open until noon or 1PM on Saturdays (and are closed Sundays), so plan accordingly.
Are you going into the bush or on a safari? ATMs may be unavailable in rural areas; this is one time you might want to consider bringing extra cash and really planning ahead, but note that a money belt (especially an invisible one that you wear inside your clothes, is extremely important in that case. If you want your debit/credit cards to work in South Africa, or any foreign country, call your bank before you leave! Many times, we have had tour guests calling back to their home country because their transactions were declined. It’s a fraud concern for the banks, so they are all pretty careful.
Many places will take all the usual credit cards, but again, some may not — plan according to your trip — if you’re in a big city like Joburg (what the locals call Johannesburg) it’s not a problem; if you’re staying in a rural area, plan for extra cash and extra vigilance to go along with it! Also, note that they have problems in a lot of countries with ATM fraud; this may include cloning your card for later use. Some travel insurance providers offer an identity theft protection that continues for 6 months after you return from your trip, so you may want to consider this option. As with many European countries, make sure you always see your credit card during the transaction; they will have a mobile swipe device; never let your card out of your sight, as that’s when fraud might occur. The legit places know and expect this, so the service they provide during credit card processing will be in front of you
How do I get around
Probably you’ll be traveling in-country with either a group tour in a comfy air-conditioned coach with guide/tour leader. You can also rent a car. South Africa has a good road network. For the most part the roads are tarred and well sign posted, one can also hire GPS units with your vehicle and your tour operator will supply driving directions to complement your GPS. Plan your trip in advance if you’re driving; you may need a 4×4 for places where the road becomes gravel or dirt.
You can also opt for a fully packaged holiday itinerary, where you are picked up and dropped off from your arrival point (airport, port etc.) in each destination that you visit, and then simply catch a taxi around the cities and make use of day tours in each area. Taxis are readily available within the cities.
In Johannesburg, the relatively new Gauteng Rail System — the Gautrain — is a good option — make sure your hotel has a train station near enough and you may be able to take the train from the airport.
Public transport in South Africa, particularly the bus system, is not ideal and neither is the public train system in South Africa unless it is the luxury passenger trains that have an itinerary all of their own. Public trains and busses are not recommended in most areas, so always make sure you make use of a taxi service recommended by your tour operator or the hotel in which you are staying (don’t catch a random taxi, as you may be taken for a ride in more ways than one!)
What languages do they speak?.
South Africa has 11 official languages and the country is often termed the ‘rainbow nation’ because of its cultural diversity. Although English is spoken throughout the country and is most used in a business environment, it is actually only the 5th most common home language spoken. The most widely spoken home language is isiZulu, then isiXhosa (Nelson Mandela’s ‘home’ language) and then Afrikaans. Most South Africans are multilingual, which means they will be able to converse with you!
What customs are appropriate for me to follow?
Tipping is different in South Africa than in the States, for example — tip 10 percent at a restaurant and tip $1 to a porter for a bag. If you got good service somewhere, be sure to tip. Review your restaurant bills, as certain restaurants automatically add the 10 percent tip onto the bill before they give it to you to pay — don’t pay double unless the service was fantastic!
If you are self-driving, you will come across many ‘car guards’ in most public areas. Car guards ‘man’ a certain section of parking space and ‘guard’ these cars whilst you are in the mall or on the beach; on your return it is not compulsory to tip the car guards, but it is pretty much the norm to tip up to R10 (approx USD $1). You can tip as much as you would like, but between R5 and R10 is considered a ‘good’ tip. These car guards can be quite insistent and at times you may feel a little harassed; keep smiling!
Note that one custom in South Africa is restrictive carry-on and luggage requirements, including specific dimensions for bags, so check with your airline before you travel. This is particularly relevant if you are on a fly-in safari into a game lodge on a light aircraft, which strictly control luggage, as weight directly impacts safety in-flight. The standard for light aircraft travel is 20kgs (just over 40 lbs) including carry-on hand luggage per person. For light aircrafts, you also need to pack in soft bags — no suitcases or bags with frames/trolleys will be accepted, as these are difficult to fit into the cargo hold and take up unnecessary space. On light aircrafts there is also a personal weight limit for flyers, so do check with your tour operator if you are more than a couple sizes overweight.
Do they drink/do drugs/party?
While you can drink in South Africa almost anywhere, and there are clubs in the big cities like Joburg and Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth as well as a plethora of bars and restaurants throughout South Africa, The drinking age in South Africa is just 18. Many of the more popular night clubs do charge an entrance fee. Although drugs are available in the bigger night clubs, this is not in plain sight. Marijuana is illegal in South Africa, but if you go looking…
Like most of the US, you can’t smoke in restaurants or any public areas in South Africa. Some restaurants offer a smoking room, which is usually glassed-in and sealed-off. Certain restaurants do not allow you to smoke if you are dining alfresco (outdoors) which is similar to most US laws. Always ask before lighting up.
What vaccines do I need prior to visiting South Africa?
You don’t need any, unless you have been traveling through other countries in the “Yellow Fever Belt” in which case you will be required to show proof of a yellow fever shot. Note that this includes Zambia, partial home to the amazing Victoria Falls. While the CDC recommends many immunizations for all travelers (such as measles, mumps, polio, etc.) they also suggest rabies, hepatitis A, tetanus, and typhoid, as there is a risk of exposure to all of these. However, they make the same recommendations for visitors to the UK, and I’ve been in England almost every year of my life without contracting any of these diseases, so make your own decision with your doctor.
Is it safe? Should I buy travel insurance?
South Africa is relatively safe as far as homicide rates, with US cities like New Orleans and Detroit ranking far higher than any South African city, though Cape Town has a high rate of crime common to tourists, such as muggings. While that absolutely shouldn’t affect your choices to go (I just created a tour for a lovely church group going to do missionary work in Johannesburg followed by a terrific safari) it does mean you should travel in groups and in larger cities like Cape Town or Joburg take extra precautions. Some suggestions: don’t leave your hotel grounds alone at night, keep your tour guide and other party members informed as to your whereabouts, and be smart about your safety (like keeping your cell phone in your pocket and not wearing earbuds while you are walking around outside).
Make sure to keep your belongings hidden in public, don’t leave them in your car (on a tour bus is fine so long as the driver is staying on the bus) and make sure to use your hotel’s safe for your passport and any valuables. Consider leaving expensive jewelry at home.
Of course consider travel insurance — have you seen the volcanos/tsunamis/earthquakes we’ve been having lately? A cancelled flight can ruin a vacation. If you are headed out into the bush, where medical treatment may not be readily available or a local hospital may be below first-world standards, the medical part of your travel insurance policy will likely offer coverage called “medical evacuation.” This means you can get airlifted out of the area to a major airport, where a trained nurse from the insurance company can assess whether you will be sent home or operated on. Unless you are traveling deep into the jungles or desert, you don’t need the million dollar coverage; $100K-$250K will be plenty.
Note that the travel insurance you buy for a few dollars with your plane ticket will likely not cover you fully for your trip, especially if you’re not on a tour. So read the fine print — you have a short cancellation period once you purchase the insurance.
What kind of power converter do I need?
South Africa uses a currency of 220/230 volts, 15 amps for a 3-prong, round pin plug and 5 amps for a 2-prong round pin plug. If you are coming from almost anywhere, you will need a power converter.