7 Things That Will Surprise You On Your First Visit To South Africa

One of the joys of travel is discovering new things, and if you visit South Africa you won’t be disappointed! You may feel a little nervous before your first South Africa tour – after all, this is Africa, and some things are a little different. As you get ready to discover this wonderful country, take a look at these surprising things you'll see on your first visit to South Africa.

1. There's amazing wildlife – and lots of ways to experience it.

This is Big Five territory - you can head out on a safari and see African wildlife up close. If you’ve always dreamed of watching elephants cross a river or listening to a lion roar, then head to Kruger or one of South Africa’s other iconic national parks. Game drive safaris are just one way to see incredible wildlife – for a closer encounter, join a professional guide to track black rhinos on foot at Phinda Game Lodge or take advantage of the opportunities to give back and contribute. Shamwari Game Reserve is one of many that offer hands-on conservation activities – rewarding in more ways than one.

2. South Africa offers great value for money.

Thanks to the exchange rate, South Africa offers unbeatable value for money. Eating out, activities, and drinks will all be much cheaper than you’d expect. In fact, this is a country where you really should try the top-end restaurants and drink the best local wines – you’ll certainly be able to afford to. Even safaris, which are often regarded as expensive, offer lots of bang for your buck. It’s hard to think of anywhere else that you can live this well, for spending as little money – so enjoy!

3. People eat and drink some interesting things.

South Africa’s wines and seafood are spectacular, and the Cape region boasts some world-class restaurants. You may also be offered some rather more unusual things during your South Africa tour. How about mopane worms, which are fried giant caterpillars? If those don’t whet your appetite, you could try biltong (a bit like beef jerky) or a glass of Amarula, a delicious cream liqueur made from a fruit elephants love. If you see bunny chow on the menu in Durban, this isn’t rabbit, but rather a tasty local specialty made from a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry.

4. You’ll hear the English language – but not as you know it.

South Africa has an incredible 11 official languages, although in tourist areas you’ll always find someone who can speak English. That said, South African English contains some unique words and phrases. A lot of these are to do with time. “Just now” means in a little while whereas “now-now” means immediately. If you’re given directions to turn left at the robots, don’t be on the lookout for sci-fi characters – this is the local term for traffic lights. You’ll quickly get the hang of it and you’ll find that South Africans are incredibly welcoming and helpful – they’ll soon be referring to you as ‘bru’ (brother) or ‘china’ (friend).

5. It’s not a gangster’s paradise.

Souta Africa has acquired something of a reputation for crime, but this is vastly overstated. Of course, use common sense. Like in any country, there are some city districts where you shouldn’t venture alone or after dark. Be discreet about your cash and valuables and you’ll find the reputation for crime is very much exaggerated. Instead, you’ll receive nothing but smiles and waves, wherever you go.

6. The seasons are upside down.

Being in the southern hemisphere, South Africa has opposite seasons to the USA. In other words, it’s their winter when we have summer, and vice versa. That's why South Africa makes a great escape during North America's frosty winter months. The South African winter – from May to September – is one of the very best times to visit, with low rainfall, blue skies, and warm days. Do be sure to bring some warmer clothes because mornings and evenings can be fresh. If you’re heading out on an early morning safari, wrap up warm – hats and gloves are a great idea! 

7. Penguins.

One last surprise that South Africa has in store – if you visit Boulders Beach, in pretty Simon’s Town, just outside Cape Town, you can enjoy meeting the penguins that live there. They are the world’s most northerly penguins, and there isn’t an iceberg in sight!