Below we offer some general information we think may be useful for prospective visitors planning to travel to Southern Africa.
We at African Express Tours & Safaris pride ourselves in the fact that not one of our guests has ever come to harm while in our care. Our professional guides will always ensure your safety and will be sure to inform you if a potentially unsafe or dangerous situation may arise. Their vigilance might not be obvious always, but rest assured – you will be well taken care of by us.
For the sake of reference, currencies in the various countries mentioned in this paragraph are abbreviated as follows:
- ZAR – South African Rand
- BWP – Botswana Pula
- ND – Namibian Dollar
- ZK – Zambian Kwacha
Visa and MasterCard credit cards are widely accepted in South Africa and Namibia and in most major centers in Botswana. Most safari lodges in South Africa, and many in Botswana and Namibia, have credit card facilities. In Zimbabwe and Zambia about 50% of establishments in tourist areas will accept your credit card. In Zimbabwe, Zambia and Botswana, many merchants will add a surcharge of 3 – 5% of the value of the transaction to cover bank charges. About 80% of establishments in South Africa only will also accept American Express. Aside from the above, any other cards will not be accepted. This includes debit cards, bank cards and any other private bank cards not affiliated with Visa or MasterCard. Traveler’s checks will be accepted in South Africa at selected institutions only, but we recommend avoiding them if possible.
In addition to your credit card, it is recommended that you bring along some cash for spending money, tips (see our separate tipping guideline) and so forth. US Dollars, Pounds and Euros can easily be converted to local currency at the airport in either Johannesburg or Cape Town. Upon entering the arrivals hall, look out for one of the exchange bureaus where this can be done. You’ll be required to present your passport to convert your cash to local currency. Exchange your cash in South Africa or in the country you’re traveling to rather than before leaving home, as local exchange rates are more favorable.
ATMs are readily available in South Africa only. Most Visa and MasterCard credit cards will work at these ATMs. Debit or bank cards or any other private bank cards probably won’t work at a local ATM, so they should not be relied upon. Ensure that you have a PIN number for your credit card before leaving home. We recommend testing your PIN to ensure that it is working before you arrive. Making cash withdrawals at an ATM is the most cost-effective way of obtaining local currency. If you choose this option, ensure that you understand what debit interest rate fees you are paying (if any) on your credit card, since withdrawals (cash advances) are considered charges on your card and will also attract debit interest fees.
Once you’ve left Southern Africa and if you’ve arrived home with ZAR, and to a lesser extent ND and BWP, you should be able to find an exchange bureau willing to convert it to your local currency. If you arrive home or, in fact, if you leave the country with Zambian currency, consider it a souvenir as no exchange bureau will accept it. The Zimbabwean Dollar is worthless and should be avoided except as a souvenir.
In South Africa, Botswana and Namibia you will not be able to use foreign currency. In Namibia, both ND and ZAR are accepted and both have the same value. The same arrangement (dual currency system) applies in Swaziland and Lesotho. The Namibian, Swaziland and Lesotho currencies are, however, not accepted in South Africa, so be mindful of leaving those countries with their currency.
In Zimbabwe (Victoria Falls), you’ll be able to use USD, ZAR, Pounds and, to a lesser extent, Euros, at the informal (curio) markets. Zambia (Livingstone) has now limited the use of foreign currency, although some informal markets might still accept it. Most Zimbabwe lodges will accept the above currencies for payment, and tips will also be happily received in this way. Change in foreign currency will always be a problem, so bring enough small denomination notes (20’s, 10’s, 5’s and 1’s). Where possible, don’t accept change in local currency when paying in foreign currency.
Establishments in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland will make use of a three-pronged (image 3) wall socket with an on/off switch very similar to that in use in India (i.e. the old British standard). The wall socket is compatible with plugs which have three rounded (not square) pins in a triangle formation (image 1).
European type adapter plugs are readily available and come in both formats (two or three pins). US/Canada adapter plugs are also available and most luggage stores at major airports will sell them, as will stores in large malls and shopping centers (image 2). Kindly note that the US/Canada adapter plug is not a converter and will not step down the electricity supply from 220V to 110V. Australian and New Zealand adapter plugs are also available.
In Zambia, the wall sockets will be exactly as currently in use in the UK with a 220V supply, and adapter plugs to fit that configuration may be used.
A word of caution: if you plan to purchase an adapter plug while in South Africa, do not do so on the flight over but rather after you’ve arrived. Our guides will be happy to assist as far as possible. Some airlines sell adapters which are not locally compatible.
Food & Water
The quality of ingredients used in the preparation of food in South Africa is of a world-class standard. Every lodge or hotel will source only the freshest ingredients, all locally produced, in the preparation of both typical local as well as international dishes. Our exclusive lodgings employ internationally trained chefs of the same caliber you might expect to find in Europe or the US. Bottled water meeting international quality standards is available everywhere in the country.
It has been said that South Africa has some of the best quality meats in the world. Most of our beef and lamb are free range and not grain fed. Our seafood is sourced from various localities along our extensive coastline and surrounding deep ocean. You might be surprised to find that local fish such as kingklip is very tasty indeed, and rightfully deserves its popular reputation in almost every restaurant where it’s available. Visitors to South Africa – excluding vegetarians, of course – should try our local favorite snacks, ‘biltong’ (beef jerky) or ‘droë wors’ (dried sausage), at least once. Every butcher prepares these local delicacies to his or her own special recipe.
Internet & Mobile Phone Coverage
All major centers in South Africa will have access to the internet. Cell phone coverage in South Africa is better than average, but obviously isn’t available in every corner of the country, and may be particularly sketchy at safari lodges. Every hotel we use will offer internet facilities, whether in your room or at a communal PC. Many will offer WiFi, but it’s likely you’ll be expected to pay a surcharge for the service. International airports are the exception and both Johannesburg and Cape Town will have WiFi hotspots. A few safari lodges also offer internet services, but this is the exception rather than the norm. You are in the bush to relax and enjoy nature, after all.
If you plan to be in South Africa for an extended period of time, it might be a good idea to purchase a local SIM card. To do that, you’ll be required to provide proof that you’re a bona fide tourist, in the form of your reservation document and a copy of your passport. These measures are in place as a form of security to prevent unsavory characters from obtaining untraceable numbers.