I wrote a bit about our itinerary and the choices we made in my first blog – Destination South Africa but here are a few more tips.
Check the seasons and the weather. Note that the east coast is very different from the west coast. June, July and August is winter in South Africa. On the east coast they have a dry winter – warm during the afternoon (70s, 80s), cool at night and early morning. In the mountains you can get snow. The weather was perfect for us, it never got too cold or too hot (except for that night in Belfast, one of the coldest spots in South Africa!).
But the Western Cape can be cold and rainy in the winter, also they are currently suffering from a drought and water is rationed.
Choosing Where to Go Decide how much you want to drive. South Africa is a large country and driving will give you a real feel for the country. However, driving there can be exhausting because of the risks and distances between destinations. I read that trains in South Africa are not recommended because of the high level of crime and poor condition of the trains. I don’t know anything about buses.
A popular itinerary if you can afford it, is to fly to the Johannesburg airport and then take another flight to an airport closer to Kruger, such as the KMIA, Hoedspruit or Phalaborwa airports. Then you can rent a car and drive the shorter distance to Kruger or get picked up by a tour bus if you’ve signed up for a tour. After visiting Kruger, many tourists then fly to Cape Town, tour the city, rent a car and drive the popular Garden Route, which lies along the southern coast of the country.
Speaking of flying – we flew on miles earned from our credit card. We only have that one credit card and use it to buy almost everything. It is amazing how the miles rack up!
It took me a month to plan this trip. It’s not a well traveled destination for Americans so I had to dig for information. I started with travel books. My favorite was the DK Eyewitness Travel South Africa. I also relied quite a bit on Trip Advisor, although be aware that lately there has been negative press about Trip Advisor deleting posts that talk about true-crime experiences. But their forums were great for devising itineraries and getting general advice. The SANS Park website (South African National Parks) was great, although it has many layers and could be organized much better. I often used google to find what I wanted on their website! I made my Kruger reservations through SANS Parks and explored other places of interest. I also bought my Wild Card from their site (more on that later).
Preparing for your Trip
Read the US State Department website page on South Africa. Note any travel advisories and all entry/exit requirements. The Traveling with Minors link to the Dept. of Homeland Security only leads to a “Page not found,” so that part is useless. Take it from me (see blog), you need to bring a copy of your child’s birth certificate, an official or notarized one is best. I could not find an easy to read Official South African Site laying out traveler requirements so all I can suggest is to google it yourself.
Make reservations at least 6 months in advance, preferably 8 – 12 months for Kruger. The SANS Park website was reliable.
See your travel doctor at least one month before leaving to get the necessary vaccinations and anti-malaria pills. BTW they have a new anti-malaria pill – Malarone – that is highly recommended. We had ZERO side effects.
Buy a Wild Card– you must pay a daily conservation fee for any national park that you visit. You will save a lot of money and trouble by buying an International Wild Card on-line before you go. Allow 2 months for delivery.
Currency Exchange – the cheapest way is to exchange currency at the airport. You can also use Plus system/INTL credit cards but you will be charged a currency exchange fee plus a cash withdrawal fee. You can also use ATMs; you’ll need a pin #, just know you’ll be charged two fees – one from your bank and one from their bank.
Leave a House Key with a neighbor or friend – always a good idea.
I’ll write down a suggested clothing/packing list in another blog. Stay tuned.