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Climate of South Africa

The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline. The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer, except in the Western Cape where the rains come in the winter. Rainfall in the Eastern Cape is distributed evenly throughout the year. Winter temperatures hover around zero, summers can be very hot, in excess of 35°Celsius (95°F) in some places.

South Africa's climatic conditions generally range from Mediterranean in the south-western corner of South Africa to temperate in the interior plateau, and subtropical in the northeast. A small area in the northwest has a desert climate. Most of the country has warm, sunny days and cool nights. Rainfall generally occurs during summer (November through March), although in the southwest, around Cape Town, rainfall occurs in winter (June to August). Temperatures are influenced by variations in elevation, terrain, and ocean currents more than latitude.

Temperature and rainfall patterns vary in response to the movement of a high pressure belt that circles the globe between 25º and 30º south latitude during the winter and low-pressure systems that occur during summer. There is very little difference in average temperatures from south to north, however, in part because the inland plateau rises slightly in the northeast. For example, the average annual temperature in Cape Town is 17ºC, and in Pretoria, 17.5ºC, although these cities are separated by almost ten degrees of latitude. Maximum temperatures often exceed 32ºC in the summer, and reach 38ºC in some areas of the far north. The country's highest recorded temperatures, close to 48ºC, have occurred in both the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga.

Frost occurs in high altitudes during the winter months. The coldest temperatures have been recorded about 250 kilometres northeast of Cape Town, where the average annual minimum temperature is -6.1º C. Record snowfalls (almost fifty centimetres) occurred in July 1994 in mountainous areas bordering Lesotho.
Climatic conditions vary noticeably between east and west, largely in response to the warm Agulhas ocean current, which sweeps southward along the Indian Ocean coastline in the east for several months of the year, and the cold Benguela current, which sweeps northward along the Atlantic Ocean coastline in the west. Air temperatures in Durban, on the Indian Ocean, average nearly 6º C warmer than temperatures at the same latitude on the Atlantic Ocean coast. The effects of these two currents can be seen even at the narrow peninsula of the Cape of Good Hope, where water temperatures average 4º C higher on the east side than on the west.

Rainfall varies considerably from west to east. In the northwest, annual rainfall often remains below 200 millimetres. Much of the eastern Highveld, in contrast, receives 500 millimetres to 900 millimetres of rainfall per year; occasionally, rainfall there exceeds 2,000 millimetres. A large area of the centre of the country receives about 400 millimetres of rain, on average, and there are wide variations closer to the coast. The 400-millimeter "rainfall line" has been significant because land east of the rainfall line is generally suitable for growing crops, and land west of the rainfall line, only for livestock grazing or crop cultivation on irrigated land.

 

Currency

The currency of South Africa is the Rand (ZAR), divided into 100 cents (c). Notes are in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10. Higher value notes are slightly larger in physical size than small value notes. All notes have a metallic security strip and a watermark. Note that there are two types of R5 coins in circulation. One is a silver-coloured coin while the other is silver-coloured with a copper insert. Both are legal currency.

Coins are in denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. Production of 2c and 1c coins was suspended in April 2002, but those still in circulation remain legal tender. All transactions are rounded down to the nearest lower 5c, so as not to require the use of 2c and 1c coins.
Rough conversion rates (October 2010) are: 6.9:1 (USD), 9.6:1 (EUR) and 10.9:1 (GBP).
1 South African rand = 6.1693 Indian rupees as on 18 October 2012

 

 

Clothing

The majority of the safari areas in South Africa enjoy a lot of sunshine during both summer and winter.
In the Kruger National Park summer temperatures (November - February) often reach 35°C (95F) during the heat of the day and in winter (May - August) daytime temperatures go up to 26°C (78.8F).

Night time summer temperatures rarely dip below 16°C (60.8F) but in winter cold snaps can reach below 0°C (32F).
Rainfall is normally during the summer and is often in the form of thundershowers which are fast and furious affairs, drenching the ground with a torrent of water but dissapearing soon after to leave sunshine weather in its place again.

What to wear in South Africa
South Africans are generally laid back when it comes to clothing so no need to haul out your best silks and diamonds when heading for our shores unless you're attending a very prestigious event.
Here are some suggestions on what to wear in South Africa:

  • For the summers, bring clothes that are cool, light and comfortable because summer temperatures can get well into the 30 degree range in some areas.
  • Also bring an umbrella or raincoat during summer as this is when most of the country gets its rain. In areas like Gauteng and the North West Province, thundershowers are common. A light jacket or wrap is a good precaution. Don't forget a swimming costume (bathing suit).
  • The winters are generally mild, comparing favourably with European summers.  But we do get some days when temperatures dive, especially in high-lying areas such as the Drakensberg, so be prepared with jerseys and jackets. Cape Town gets its rain during the winter season so its advisable to bring rain gear along.
  • Always bring a hat, sunglasses and sunblock as the sun can be strong even in the winter months.
  • Walking shoes are a good idea all year-round, with warm socks in the winter.
  • If you are doing business in the country, business attire  (suit and tie) is generally called for in the corporate sector, but media for example generally dress more casually.
  • For game viewing, a couple of neutral-toned items will be useful, but there's no need to go overboard. A good pair of walking shoes is also advisable.
  • For the evening, if you are dining at an upmarket restaurant or seeing a show, smart-casual attire is recommended.

Leave some room in your suitcase for South African clothing.

 

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is South Africa located?
South Africa is located on the southern tip of Africa and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Indian Ocean on the south and east. Its neighbouring countries are Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. The Kingdom of Lesotho is situated in the eastern central plain of the country.

How big is the area of South Africa?
South Africa's total land area is 1 219 912 sq km (471,011 sq mi). The country is five times larger than Great Britain and three times the size of Texas.

  • Cape Town - 2,499 square kilometres
  • Johannesburg - 1,644 square kilometres
  • Durban - 2,292 square kilometres
  • Kruger National Park - 18,989 square kilometres

What are the different areas of South Africa?
South Africa is divided into 9 provinces: Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, North West and Mpumalanga. Major cities include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Bloemfontein.

What is the Capital City of South Africa?
South Africa boasts 3 capital cities. These are:
Bloemfontein: The location of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the highest court in non-constitutional matters. The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg is the highest court in constitutional matters.
Cape Town: The legislative capital of South Africa and home to the seat of Parliament.
Pretoria: The administrative capital of South Africa.

How big is the Population?
South Africa is a diverse country filled with a myriad of traditional origins, languages and beliefs, and is home to over 47 million people from all walks of life. The population of South Africa is divided into four ethnic groups, black Africans, whites, coloureds and Asians.
The Black Africans make up the majority of the population, which accounts for 76% of the entire countries population. Whites account for 13%, coloureds (mixed White and Black descent) make up for 9% and Asian account for 3%.

What type of Government does South Africa have?
Officially the Republic of South Africa, this country is a constitutional democracy with a government and independent judiciary, all operating under a parliamentary system. The national, provincial and local levels of government all have legislative and executive authority in their own regions. Advisory bodies operate at both national and provincial levels and are drawn from traditional leaders of South Africa.

The South African government is undertaken by three inter-connected arms of government, namely Legislative, executive and judiciary. The Legislature consists of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, the Executive consists of the President, who is Head of State and Head of Government, and the Judiciary, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court of Appeal and the High Court.

What time zone is South Africa?
South Africa is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GTM), one hour ahead of Central European WinterTime, 8 hours behind Australian Eastern Standard Time and 7 hours ahead of Eastern Standard WinterTime. There is no daylight saving and no time-zone changes between South Africa and its neighbouring countries, or between the 9 provinces of South Africa.

When is the best time to visit for my holiday to South Africa?
South Africa is a year round holiday destination, but it all depends on what kind of experience you are looking for. Different activities are better suited to different seasons.
For the best game watching, visit during a South African spring (August – October), Whale watching from mid June to the end of October and for diving and surfing, April to September. The beaches of Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban are great and best visited in the peak of summer (November – February), but are often overcrowded.

What currency do I need for my South Africa holiday?
The unit of currency is the South African Rand, denoted by the symbol R. One hundred cents makes up one Rand (R1). Coins are available in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5, and notes in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200.
The Rand is weaker than the Pound and Dollar, making a visit to South Africa highly affordable by international standards. Accommodation, eating out and shopping in South Africa offers great value for money to the international traveller.
Your foreign currency can be exchanged at most local banks and Bureaux de Change. There are many banks and ATM’s all around South Africa, including airports, petrol stations and malls.

Please Note: In South Africa you cannot purchase fuel (petrol) with a credit card. Many locals possess a special ‘petrol card’ that can only be used at filling stations. You can, however, pay toll with MasterCard or Visa.

What are the Bank Opening Hours?
Operating hours for banks are 09:00am – 15:30pm on Mondays to Fridays, and 08:30am – 11:00am on Saturdays. Banks are closed on Sundays and public holidays. Credit cards are widely accepted, including American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa.

How much should I Tip?
In South Africa it is customary to tip for good service. Porters usually receive R5 per item; taxis receive 10% of the bill, and waiters and waitresses in restaurants 10-15%.
In South African restaurants the service charge is not included in the total bill. At petrol stations, petrol attendants will fill your car and offer to clean your windscreen and check your oil and water, therefore a tip of about R2 will be appreciated.
In parking areas, official and unofficial parking attendants may offer to help you park your car and watch it while you are away. Again, whatever small change you may have will be appreciated.

What kind of clothes do I need to pack?
South Africa is generally a very casual country, with warm, windy days and chilly nights. Denims, t-shits and skirts are fine for during the day. In summer, the day’s range from pleasant, to very hot and evenings are balmy. In some areas of South Africa, winter is wet and windy during the day, while in other areas it is dry, hot and humid.
Winter nights are, however, always cold. Formal to semi-formal attire is worn to work, upper-class restaurants and clubs. Casual wear is accepted at most restaurants, pubs and bars. The majority of clubs do not accept guests in running shoes. Bathing suits – full or two pieces - are for the beach.
School uniform is worn at all schools in South Africa. In general, South Africa is very fashion conscious, especially in the big cities – Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. Jeans, shirts, sneakers, sandals, blouses, pants and skirts are all regarded as appropriate everyday wear.

What are the Visa and Passport Requirements?
Entry is relatively straightforward to the majority of foreigners travelling to South Africa. Travellers from certain parts of the world, including Scandinavia, the USA and most European countries do not need to apply for a visa.
Upon arrival in South Africa, travellers from either of these countries are given a free entry permit sticker with details of how long they may stay in the country. This permit is usually valid for a maximum of 90 days.
Foreign nationals from other countries offer this service, but for a maximum of 30 days. If you wish to stay longer than 90 days, they will then need to apply for a visa.

What is the Country Dialing Code of South Africa?
The South Africa country dialing code is +27. Long distance calls can be made in South Africa using the correct country code. Many hotels, lodges and guest houses offer direct dialing facilities. If you are not able to connect, a staff member will surely be available to help.
Blue public telephones are coin operated and require a minimum of 80c a local call, more for international calls. It is also worth purchasing a phone card for international calls, available from post offices and news agencies and units range from R20, R50, R100 and R200.

Can I use my Cell/Mobile Phone in South Africa?
South Africa has 4 world class mobile phone operators, namely Vodacom- the biggest and most popular – MTN, Cell C and Virgin Mobile. Sim cards can be purchased almost anywhere and can be as little as R3. Pay-as-you-go airtime is recommended for tourists.

What plugs and power voltage is used in South Africa?
Electricity in South Africa runs on 220/230V, 50Hz AC and the sockets are adapted to take round or flat pinned plugs. Most hotel rooms have sockets for 110V electric razors. Plugs have 3 round pins, with some plugs having 2 smaller pins. Adaptors can be purchased but may be in short supply. Please keep in mind that for the sake of authenticity, some bush camps may not even have electricity.

What are the weights and measures in South Africa?
Distances throughout South Africa are given in kilometres. One mile is equivalent to 1.62 kilometres. Temperatures are given in degrees Celsius (Centigrade). One degree Celsius is equivalent to 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Weight is measured in kilograms (kg). One kilogram is equivalent to 2.2 pounds.

What are the public holidays in South Africa?

  • New Year's Day: 01 January
  • Human Rights Day: 21 March
  • Good Friday: The Friday before Easter (between late March and late April)
  • Family Day: The Monday after Easter Sunday
  • Freedom Day: 27 April
  • Workers Day: 01 May
  • Youth Day: 16 June
  • National Women's Day: 09 August
  • Heritage Day: 24 September
  • Day of Reconciliation: 16 December
  • Christmas Day: 25 December
  • Day of Goodwill: 26 December

Is South Africa a country, a republic, or a province?
The Republic of South Africa is more than a country; it is a republic with an elected president. Since the 1994 elections, it is redivided into nine provinces, roughly along tribal lines: Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Northwest Province, Gauteng, Northern Province, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

Will I need a visa?
Canadian and US passport holders do not require a visa for entry to South Africa for a stay of up to 90 days. What is required is a valid passport with a minimum of 2 blank pages and a validity of 6 months past your intended return date from South Africa.

When is the best time to go?
Game Viewing: June to October when the vegetation isn't as thick and game viewing is easier but good all year round at private reserves.
Whale Watching: Mid-June to October (Southern Right Whales) and August to December (Humpback Whales).
Diving (Scuba & Shark Cage diving): April to September
Flowers: August to September
Birding: The palaeoarctic migrants arrive in November and the intra-Africa migrants usually by mid-October

How strong is the sun?
The sun throughout South Africa is very strong all year round. Travelers are advised to wear sun screen with an SPF of at least 15 and more if you sunburn easily.

What kind of photo equipment should I bring?
When visiting other countries, it may be fine to bring along any kind of camera, but in the South African bush, travelers need a good camera to accurately record their experiences. Disposable cameras just don't do the landscape justice, and you won't be able to effectively capture the action of the animals without a telephoto lens. Most rangers recommend a 200 mm SLR camera with a zoom lens. They also prefer slower Fuji film (either 50 or 100 ASA), which gives almost perfect quality photos in normal light.

What are the medical facilities like?
The private hospitals in South Africa are some of the best in the world. In fact, doctors at the Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town performed the world's first heart transplant in 1967. Private hospitals are more advanced than public hospitals and tend to be less crowded. Tourists are advised to visit private hospitals in the event of an emergency and are expected to pay cash for medical services rendered.

Should I get travel insurance?
Yes. Most medical facilities require cash for services rendered, and many health plans in the U.S. will not reimburse expenses incurred out of the country. Check with your health plan well before traveling.

Are the animals dangerous?
During game drives in the bush, predatory animals like lions, leopards, and hyena often come so close to your vehicle that danger would seem imminent. Amazingly, the animals who live in and around the private game reserves are accustomed to the sight and sound of a Land Rover filled with people, and will often appear not even to notice you. However, anything could happen in the wild, so guests are instructed not to stand up in the vehicle or make any sudden movements, and all rangers are trained to handle an attack situation and are armed with loaded shotguns.

What are the hotels like?
South Africa is home to some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. In fact, the Cape Grace in Cape Town was voted "Best Hotel in the World" by the readers of Conde Nast Traveler in 2000. Other five-star properties that have received international acclaim include the magnificent Saxon in Johannesburg, the historic Royal Hotel in Durban, and the elegant Steenberg Country Hotel in the Winelands. An entirely different kind of luxury is found in the bush, where guests can spend an afternoon immersed in their private plunge pool to the sound of elephants in the distance and enjoy dinner by candlelit lanterns in an authentic African boma. There are many bush lodges of note, include Sabi Sabi's romantic Selati Lodge and the more architecturally fascinating Earth Lodge, as well as Richard Branson's celebrity magnet, Ulusaba Safari Lodge.

What is the night life like?
The night life in South Africa varies from region to region and city to city. In the bush, the only real night life involves an exciting evening game drive followed by a traditional African dinner around a smoldering fire in an open-air boma. In Cape Town, long, lingering dinners with plenty of local wine is enough night life for some people, but others can take advantage of the many bars and pubs located in the waterfront. Clubs with live music are also popular in Cape Town, as are a number of jazz clubs that double as restaurants. Visitors to Johannesburg can get a taste of traditional and township South African jazz at Kippies in the Market Theatre complex in Newton. Jo-Burg's Rosebank suburb is also rich in night life, offering visitors the chance to experience "kwaito," South Africa's version of "house" music at the Palladium. In Durban, some of the best jazz can be heard at Rivets in the Wilton Hotel, and Zoom is a club featuring celebrity DJs. There are also a number of bars and pubs scattered throughout the city.

What is a township?
During apartheid, black South Africans were forced to live in areas set apart from whites. These areas, which came to be known as townships, remain today even though apartheid has disappeared, and many are struggling to overcome poverty, poor housing, and overcrowding. Soweto, which is an acronym for the South Western Township, is home to an estimated two to four million people and is by far the largest township in South Africa. It is also the most developed, boasting 48 high schools, the largest hospital in the world, and a thriving middle class. Other townships throughout South Africa may not be as large as Soweto, but they still have the same warmth, spirit and vibrancy that make a visit unforgettable.

Is South Africa a good place to take kids?
South Africa is the most child-friendly country in Africa, but care should be taken when entering the bush. In fact, most private game reserves will not accept children under 12, which is understandable given that three-hour game drives can be tedious for restless kids. Outside of the bush, however, most hotels offer special amenities for children, and most restaurants have an abundant child's menu.

How are the roads?
All major roads and highways in South Africa are excellent and typical of any first-world country. Some of South Africa's back roads aren't as well maintained, so care should be taken while driving on them. Driving in South Africa occurs on the left-hand side of the road, and the speed limit is 75 miles per hour. Be on the look out for animals in the bush and in rural areas.

Can I direct dial my phone calls and use my own long distance service?
Long distance calls can be direct dialed by using the appropriate country code (91 for the U.S.). AT&T, MCI, and Sprint all make calling long distance relatively easy, but you may find the local access number blocked in many hotel rooms. A way around this problem is to ask the hotel operator to connect you to the access number instead of placing the call through the hotel operator.

What can I expect at the airport when I leave?
Upon departure, you may want to claim your VAT refund. You can do this at the airport as long as you have the receipts and the merchandise you purchased with you. You will also have to go through customs again.

I hear the seasons are opposite ours, what's the weather like?
The seasons of the southern hemisphere are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere so the summers run from November to February, when most of the country is characterised by hot weather with afternoon thunderstorms. Winters are generally mild and dry. South Africa enjoys one of the world's highest average daily hours of sunshine - 8.5 compared with 3.8 in London, 6.4 in Rome and 6.9 in New York. South Africa has an average annual rainfall of 464 mm, compared to a world average of 857 mm. In the Western Cape, the average rainfall is highest in the winter months, while in other provinces, the average rainfall is highest during summer. Overall South Africa enjoys a temperate and pleasant climate, with lovely warm sunny days most of the year

 

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