General Travel Information | South Africa
Frequently Asked Questions
AIRPORT & ARRIVAL INFORMATION
The principle international airport is the Johannesburg International Airport, located 19 miles from downtown Johannesburg (and about the same distance to Pretoria). Cape Town's airport is also an international airport and is located 14 miles from the city. The airport in Durban accepts certain international flights.
Regulations do not permit passengers to be met inside secured passenger areas (such as the Customs area) when arriving into South Africa on an international flight. If a Ker & Downey representative is scheduled to meet you on arrival (at Johannesburg International Airport, for example), you will be met immediately after you have passed through the secured passenger areas. Look for a driver carrying a sign with your name or the name of your party on it.
NOTE: passengers connecting to a domestic flight within South Africa immediately after an international arrival in Johannesburg will need to claim their checked baggage at Johannesburg in order to clear it through customs in Johannesburg. It will not be transferred automatically onto domestic flights.
Airport taxes are included in ticket prices (for information; R65 per person on international flights and R18 per person on domestic flights). There is a separate landing tax at Skukuza of ZAR 55 (+/- U$D 10).
South Africa's climate is varied both geographically and by season. You must plan accordingly. Also, certain elements of your tour might require a specific type of clothing, or dictate a dress code. We recommend packing lighter weight clothing that can be worn in layers. Do not overpack. Laundry is done daily while you are in private tented camps and almost all hotels have a laundry service available.
Mostly, you will want lightweight clothes. Cotton and cotton/synthetic mixtures are most comfortable. Dress mainly for outdoor comfort. A cotton bush jacket or golf jacket with pockets is a good idea. You might want to take two sets of lightweight outer clothing for travel and game viewing, so that you can wear one while the other is being laundered. In the summer months, lightweight clothing made of natural fabrics is recommended with one warm sweater or jacket for cooler evening temperatures. In winter, warmer clothing is suggested, especially for evenings. During the months of June, July, and August, gloves, a scarf, and a hooded warm-up jacket may be necessary at higher elevations.
In major South African cities, hotels and restaurants require "smart casual" dress. This is generally defined as jacket and tie for men and better (though not formal) dress for ladies. (NOTE: Those traveling on Rovos Rail and the Blue Train need to observe this code.) Denim is not acceptable in better establishments in the evening.
Safari can be dusty, and while game viewing, tan, khaki and other neutral colors are most practical. You will want an informal change of clothes for dinner at the end of the day. In the austral winter, you will need a wool sweater or jacket when game viewing in the early morning hours and when out of doors in the evening. This is a must. Bring a hat for sun protection, especially to wear in the vehicles while driving in the parks, as the tops are left open for game viewing and photography. Generally, you will not need heavy footwear unless you plan to do much walking. A pair of comfortable walking shoes, tennis shoes or desert boots will do. A change of shoes at the end of the day is pleasant; therefore, an extra pair of lightweight shoes (low heeled for ladies) is recommended for evenings at the lodges. Carry lightweight sleepwear, as blankets are readily available. Heavy articles of clothing needed for the air trip to South Africa and return when weather is cold elsewhere possibly may be left in hotels or airport storage facilities so you do not suffer the inconvenience of carrying them. You can collect them on your return before leaving Africa. This indeed depends on the itinerary you are following.
A pair of dark glasses is almost a necessity, as is a hat providing protection from the sun. Many people need to use protective sunburn cream or sunscreen. If you wear prescription glasses, take an extra pair and a copy of the prescription. Carry binoculars for added pleasure in game viewing. A lightweight six-times zoom power pair would probably be adequate and easy to hold. Take a small lightweight flashlight. Electric razors and hair dryers are a problem because of voltage, which will differ in different locations. We suggest you invest in a transformer kit, complete with a set of plugs. If possible, use battery; run appliances and take extra batteries.
It is advisable to have insect repellent such as Cutters. Wash'n'Dry towelettes are always useful to freshen up while in the bush, as are Kleenex packets. Chapstick or moisturizing creams are a must for the dry climate.
Extra items to consider: playing cards, backgammon set, swimsuit, paperback books and traveling alarm clock.
CONSULAR INFORMATION SHEETSThe U.S. Department of State issues Consular Information Sheets for every country of the world. They give important information about each country, including the location of U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad. You can listen to Consular Information Sheets by phoning (202) 647-5225. Alternatively, the information can be faxed to you by dialing (202) 647-3000 from your fax machine and following the prompts. This information is also available on their website at International Travel | US Dept of State
CONTACT INFORMATION | KEENE LUXURY TRAVEL'S PREFERRED TOUR OPERATOR
Ker & Downey in Houston has a 24-hour emergency answering service at (713) 539-7108. This number has been put into service to assist all clients who might find themselves stranded in an emergency situation after their travel arrangements have begun. This number is for emergencies only. To assist you in the event you must be reached while traveling, contact information will be provided with your final tour materials. While traveling in South Africa with Ker & Downey, you may also be reached through the USA office.
Ker & Downey
Phone: (713) 917-0048
Address: 2825 Wilcrest Drive, Suite 600, Houston, TX 77042 USA
Fax: (713) 917-0123
The suppliers Ker & Downey use in South Africa act as liaisons while our clients are on tour. When vouchers are issued, contact details will be given that clients may leave behind for emergencies.
The unit of currency is the Rand (ZAR) which is divided into 100 cents. Coins are available in R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, and 1c. Bank notes are available in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20, and R10. All commercial banks, hotels, shops, etc. accept credit cards and travelers checks.
Travelers may import personal effects, used cameras, radios, firearms, one liter of liquor, one and one-half liters of wine, 400 cigarettes, but all other articles are dutiable if they exceed a value of ZAR 500. For firearms, a permit is necessary and is issued by Custom Officials at the point of entry.The firearm must have a number stamped in the metal.
There is no limit to the amount of foreign exchange that a visitor can bring into South Africa. On arrival, visitors must complete customs forms listing all their holdings of currency. On departure, visitors are allowed to take out as much as is shown on the form. The amount of South African Reserve bank notes you may carry in or out is R500.
Foreigners may have the 14% VAT (Value Added Tax) refunded when they leave, but only: For goods they have with them. If they have receipts and tax invoices available, (ask the vendor for a VAT 263 form). If the total VAT charged is more than R250. There are duty free shops at Johannesburg International, Cape Town and Durban Airports. Visit the VAT Refund Administrator website for complete VAT Refund Procedures.
Any valid driver's license is accepted in South Africa provided it bears the photograph and signature of the holder and is printed in English. Driving is on the left. Road signs and speed limits are posted in kilometers. It is compulsory to wear your seat belt. Gasoline (petrol) is expensive and cannot be purchased with a credit card! Be prepared and carry adequate Rand to accommodate your journey.
There are some excellent lamb, beef and seafood dishes that are offered in South Africa as well as many Chinese, Italian, French, Portuguese and Indian restaurants, including those serving South African cuisine.
In the local restaurants, try sosaties, crayfish (similar to lobster) and bobotie (curried meat dish). The private Game Reserves offer wild game meat in their restaurants. Some rank South African wines and beers with the best. As a bonus they are cheaper than imports.
South Africa, a rich cultural kaleidoscope cultural diversity is one of the country's most dynamic components. In the shadow of soaring glass and concrete superstructures, Victorian bungalows rub shoulders with gracious Cape Dutch buildings, mosques, temples and modern townhouses. Theaters, museums, festivals and art galleries flourish, and in remote rural villages, tribal people tend their cattle and invoke their ancestors in times of trouble.
Restaurants offer delectable local cuisine and international culinary creations, while South African wines compete with the finest in the world. The entertainment repertoire ranges from classical music, ballet and theater to ethnic fringe, cross-cultural jazz, African rhythms and graceful Indian dances.
There are eleven (11) official languages, but English and Afrikaans are the main spoken languages.
PASSPORT AND VISA INFORMATION
Valid passport is required and onward or return ticket, but no Visa for U.S. and Canadian Citizens for a tourist stay up to 90-days. If you are not an USA citizen, check with your Travel Agent or local Consulate for specific information.All visitors to South Africa are required to have a minimum of two blank pages in their passport, for each entry into South Africa. The blank pages enable the entry visa to be issued upon arrival. If there is insufficient space in the passport, entry will be denied. In addition the passports must be valid for at least six months after you return home. If a Father or Mother is traveling with his or her underage children (without the other parent), a letter of consent needs to be signed by the other parent and certified by the police. If the traveler does not obtain the letter, they travel at their own risk. For grandparents traveling with grandchildren, you need also to carry a letter giving the parents consent.
For photographing birds and game, a telephoto lens is essential. Minimum size recommended is 200mm. With larger lenses you get better results, but with, say 500mm lens, you may have problems not only of holding but also from the shimmering heat haze. As a general rule, lenses of up to 300mm can be satisfactorily hand held, but larger lenses need some form of support. Remember that tripods are generally impractical, because game photography must be done from inside the vehicle.
For Digital Photography, be sure to bring plenty of memory cards and a battery charger. You will be able to charge in Cape Town and in most camps. Most chargers are 110-220 volts.
Remember that the one constant is the sudden speed at which the action will break. Be prepared for the unexpected and keep your camera handy.
Photographing government buildings, military stations, soldier and certain tribes is often considered offensive and is even illegal in some cases. In all such instances, use your discretion; if in doubt, ask your guide or ranger.
Photo Equipment Suggestions: We recommend that you bring good camera and/or video equipment which you have tested beforehand and are comfortable using. The African bush is no place to learn what all of those buttons really mean. If you are taking still photographs, it is essential to take at least two cameras with you to Africa; a third for a back-up wouldn't hurt. If your only camera fails, you will regret not having a "Plan B." For videos, bring plenty of pre-charged batteries and an adaptor for recharging. Remember that replacement parts and repairs are basically non-existent in Africa, so it's better to have than have not.
Type of Camera: Of course, everyone has their own preference, Nikon, Canon, etc. If you use a point and shoot, it is preferable to have at least a 10x-12x zoom. Some of the point and shoot cameras take great photos.
What do I take to Africa?: I am often asked what equipment I use in Africa. I carry the Canon EOS 7D. I also us another body, the Canon Digital Rebel as a back-up. My lenses are the 15x85mm wide angle and 100x400mm zoom lens that I use on my 7D.
Carry-on for small safari aircraft: In most cases, space is very limited on small aircraft, but I usually hold my camera equipment on my lap. There have been many times that I have put my case in the back with the luggage. I do have a very padded camera case.
Voltage: Throughout Africa, usual voltage is 220-240 AC. A power converter will be necessary for appliances that run only on 110-120 AC or you will burn up your appliances. A few hotels may have 110 volt outlets but most game parks will only have the 220-240 volt outlets. The game parks will provide a plug adaptor but usually not a power converter.
The United States and most of the Western hemisphere use electrical systems operating at 110-120 volts. Almost every other country uses 220-240 volts as a standard. South Africa uses 220-240 AC.
An adaptor is simply a connector that changes the plug shape to match the outlet. It does not change the voltage or electrical output in any way. If you know that the plug shape is the only difference between your equipment and the electrical system that you are planning to use, and that your appliance is DUAL VOLTAGE, than an adaptor is all you need.
A converter changes the voltage from 220 to 110 voltage. If your equipment requires a specific voltage, then you need a converter. Converters use an electric switch to approximate 110v by rapidly cutting on and off the current received from a 220v source. This is okay for some electrical items like hairdryers but not good for anything electronic (something with a computer chip in it). Also, converters should not be used for anything that is going to be plugged in longer than a few minutes.
Confusing an adaptor and a converter: The converter changes the voltage from 220 to 100 volts to allow you to use 110 volt appliances. Do not confuse this with an adaptor which just changes the plug configuration, NOT THE VOLTAGE!!
Often the rooms have adaptors, but you may need more than one. It never hurts to have a spare. With camera batteries charging, computers running, curling irons and all of the electrical appliances you may have - on adaptor may not be enough.
SUGGESTED PHOTO EQUIPMENT
Digital Camera - body and lenses
- Wide angle lens, 16-85mm range
- Zoom lens, 100-300mm range
Digital Camera - point and shoot
- Zoom, at least 10x-12x digital zoom
- Image stabilization is a plus if it comes with the camera
- A small beanbag (sometimes furnished in your safari vehicle) will stabilize your camera on the side of the vehicle
- Ample spare batteries for camera's flash
Pack your equipment in a good soft-sided case and carry it on the plane with you. Africa can be dusty and you should protect your equipment well. Plastic bags or cloth pillowcases are an ideal means of covering and storing your photographic equipment during your safari.
Africa Can Be Dusty
We suggest bringing the appropriate size zip lock bags to protect your equipment from the dust. If you have an SLR camera with multiple lenses and you have an extra camera body, it is a good idea to bring it with you. When you have to change lenses in a dusty atmosphere, you risk dust and debris contaminating the sensor of the camera. This also helps as the action is unfolding, because you have multiple lenses to choose from instantly.
SOUTH AFRICAN PROVINCES
There are no longer any independent or autonomous HOMELANDS within South Africa. They have all been re-absorbed following the elections in 1994. There are now nine (9) provinces in South Africa, they are: Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Northern Province, Northwest Province, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Free State, and KwaZulu-Nata.
Street crime is in all major cities. Do not leave valuables in your hotel room (use the hotel safe). Avoid political demonstrations, funerals and gatherings. Do not drive into black townships anywhere until you have sought advice about the local situation.
Value Added Tax (VAT) of 14% is levied on everything you buy, including hotel accommodations, food and car rentals. Be sure to find out if it is included in prepaid services. Link to more VAT information. If you buy gifts for export, VAT is charged, but is refundable on production of receipts when departing South Africa. Precious and semiprecious stones are very reasonable, as are African beadwork, woodcarvings, gold and diamond products, snakeskin items, leather goods, shields, masks, copperware and local art. If time permits, buy Safari clothes, they are cheaper and easier to find than in North America. Visit the VAT Refund Administrator website for complete VAT Refund Procedures.
The Covenant. James A. Michener. Random (1980). An all-encompassing account of South Africa's history told from the perspective of three families: African, Afrikaans, and English
Cry of the Kalahari. Mark and Delia Owens. Houghton Mifflin (1984). Captivating account of the authors'; seven-year research project in the central Kalahari Desert.
Land Mammals of Southern Africa. Reay H. N. Smithers. Macmillan (1986).
Newman's Birds of Southern Africa. Kenneth B. Newman. Macmillan (1983). Update Southern Books, 1992.
The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals. Richard D. Estes. Chelsea Green Publishing Company (1993).
Squandering Eden: Africa on the Edge. Mort Rosenblum and Doug Williamson. Bodley Head (1986). A compelling account of conservation issues Throughout the African continent.
South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland: A Travel Survival Kit - Richard Everist (Lonely Planet).
Guide to South Africa - Philip Briggs (Hunter Publishing).
Travel Guide to South Africa - Les De Villiers (Business Books International, New Canaan, CT). (Does not include coverage of the South African "homelands").
GUIDEBOOKS TO LOOK FOR IN SOUTH AFRICA
Illustrated Guide to South Africa - (Automobile Association).
Illustrated Guide to South African Coast - (Automobile Association).
Reader's Digest Illustrated | Guide to the Game Parks and Nature Reserves of Southern Africa
Please be advised that some hotels impose a surcharge that can more than double the cost of international calls. Be sure to check the hotel policy before placing an international call from a hotel.
- EST plus seven hours [Plus six hours during daylight savings]
- CST plus six hours [Plus five hours during daylight savings]
- MST plus five hours [Plus four hours during daylight savings]
- PST plus four hours [Plus three hours during daylight savings]
- Passport with appropriate Visas and Health Certificates as recommended by your physician for your specific destination(s)
- Airline tickets (always reconfirm reservations 72 hours in advance)
- Traveler's checks
- Customs registration (cameras, videos, binoculars and expensive watches)
Throughout Africa usual voltage is 220-240 AC. An adapter will be necessary for appliances that run on 110-120 AC. You will need to have an adapter with you or you will not be able to use your electrical appliances.
Walkabout Travel Gear - The plug converter can be ordered here for $4.00 others may find web sites with them cheaper. You also need to be sure that your hairdryer or curling iron is DUAL voltage and automatically changes when plugged in. Many hairdryers and curling irons are dual voltage now almost all travel items are dual voltage. In the top properties in South Africa that we recommend, you will be able to use hairdryers and appliances. In some of the smaller tented camps, this may not be the case.
Most visitors to South Africa do enjoy the wildlife and its magnificent unspoiled wilderness areas. The country's terrestrial mammals are among the best on earth, numbering over 300 species that range in size from the tiny pigmy shrew to the imposing elephant. The "Big Five" (elephant, rhino, leopard, buffalo and lion) and birdlife of more than 900 species can be seen. This broad topic can not be addressed properly in this document. Check the Reading List at the located within this information if you would like more detail on the wildlife.