Preparing for your trip

Package: Best of South Africa, 2020

Print this page and refer to it as you prepare for your trip!

Printed 12/14/2019. Please visit https://www.friendlyplanet.com/before-you-go/?tourId=1555 for the latest updates.

Checklist

Item Due
Ensure you have a current passport valid for at least six months after your return date. ASAP
Complete your registration. You'll receive a link to the registration form after you complete your booking. Within 24 hours of booking
Request any additions or changes you may still want to make to your trip. (Fees and/or additional charges may apply.) 75 days prior to travel
Make your final payment, if any balance is due.
75 days prior to travel
Book connecting flights to your departure city, if necessary. (Please confirm your international flight schedule first!) 75 days prior to travel
Make advance seat reservations for your international flight, if you have a preference. After receiving your e‑tickets
Obtain any necessary travel visas and review any requirements for entry. See below
Print your itinerary and other final documents, which we will send you via email by 14 days prior to travel. Prior to travel
Print your policy documents, if you purchased travel insurance, and carry them with you. Prior to travel
Enroll in The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), if you're a U.S. citizen or national, so the State Dept. can locate and assist you in case of an emergency. Prior to travel
Confirm your flight times and any special meal requests with the airline, and print and carry a copy of your e-ticket. 72 hours prior to travel
Check in for your flights online and download/print your boarding passes (if available). 24 hours prior to travel
Arrive at the airport, ready for the trip of a lifetime! 3½ hours prior to departure

Documents

You should have 2 consecutive blank passport pages for any necessary stamps when traveling into South Africa. See below for more information.

Passport, Visa & Entry Requirements for South Africa

Your passport must be valid at least 6 months after your return date from South Africa.

U.S. citizens do not need a visa to enter South Africa. However, all visitors are required to have two consecutive blank passport pages for each entry into South Africa. Note that some of our packages include multiple entries into South Africa. You may be denied entry if your passport does not have enough blank pages.

If you do not hold a U.S. passport, please see the entry requirements.

For travelers arriving from a yellow fever endemic country, South Africa requires proof of yellow fever vaccination upon entry. (This does not apply to most of our travelers, including anybody arriving from the U.S. or Canada.) Learn more.

General Requirements & Guidelines

  • We provide visa & entry requirement information for the convenience of our travelers, and we try to keep it up-to-date. Ultimately, however, it is your responsibility to determine the passport and visa requirements that apply to you and to comply with them, including securing proper travel documents by the required deadlines and carrying them with you. Requirements are subject to change, sometimes without notice, and we suggest you verify them with the relevant embassy or consulate, the U.S. State Dept (if you're a U.S. passport holder), and/or with an expedited visa service such as VisaHQ. Airlines and cruise ships may deny boarding, your trip may be disrupted, and travel insurance may not cover your losses if your passport and visa are not in order.
  • To travel abroad, U.S. citizens must have a passport. In general, it should be valid for at least six months after your return date, and passports expiring before then should be renewed as soon as possible. We recommend that passports contain at least 2 blank pages for each country visited. If your passport does not have this many pages, you should obtain a new passport as soon as possible.
  • Any changes in names or passport information should be reported to us immediately. Airlines and cruise ships may deny boarding if the name on your passport does not match your tickets.
  • Minors (age 17 or younger) departing and/or returning to the U.S. without parents or with only one parent may be required by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) to present a notarized parental consent letter and/or unabridged birth certificate (more information). Many other countries have similar entry requirements, especially for minors traveling with a parent/guardian with a different surname; check with the consulates of all countries you'll be visiting to learn more.

Final Documents

Your final travel documents will be sent to you via email by 14 days prior to departure. These will include your daily itinerary, hotel and emergency contact information, and other relevant information. Please print your documents and take them with you. If you're departing in less than a week and haven't received your documents, let us know immediately!

Travel Insurance Documents

If you purchased travel insurance, please print your policy documents. If you purchased our protection plan, you can find a link to the full policy on our travel protection page. Carry this document with you when you travel, as it includes contact information for emergency travel assistance and instructions on how to make a claim.

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

We encourage all U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This free service allows you to receive important updates about safety and security issues in your destination, and makes it easier for the U.S. Embassy, as well as family & friends, to contact you in case of an emergency. To enroll or get more information, please visit the STEP website or any U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Flights, Transfers & Arrival

Questions about your flights before you depart? Read the information below first. If you still have questions, contact our air specialists at 800-555-5765 ext. 2 or air@friendlyplanet.com.

Flights & tickets: For this package, we generally book your flights and issue tickets after we receive your final payment.

Once we have issued your tickets, we'll send you an "e-ticket receipt" which contains all of your flight information, including times, carriers, an airline booking reference number, and an e-ticket number. If you have not received this, or have questions about the flights we booked for you, please contact our air department. You will not receive paper tickets. We recommend you print and carry a copy of your flight details, including the airline booking reference number and e-ticket number, as some airports require this to enter the terminal. You do not need to reconfirm your flights with the airline prior to your departure, as we will handle this for you.

South African Airway's (SA) toll-free number is 800-722-9675.

Please make sure to arrive at the South African Airways check-in counter at least 3½ hours before departure. Please check-in and advise the check-in agent you would like to check your luggage through to Johannesburg. After you clear customs in Johannesburg , our South African partner, Thompsons Africa, will be waiting for you at the arrival hall holding a Friendly Planet Travel group sign.

Want to reserve specific seats?

That depends on the airline. You can usually request a window or aisle seat, and sometimes specific seat numbers (but not exit row and bulkhead seats) ahead of time. Many airlines now charge a fee for this, and such fees are not included in your package price. If you have a seat preference, let us know when you book, or email us at air@friendlyplanet.com after you book. Then:

If your airline does not charge a fee to pre-assign seats: We'll happily pass along your seat request to the airline and confirm they received it (though we cannot guarantee it will be honored).

If your airline does charge a fee to pre-assign seats: We'll let you know. You'll need to contact the airline directly to request your seats after we have issued your flight tickets, and fees are payable directly to the airline.

If you do not request specific seats: The airline typically assigns them within 24 hours of departure. If you do not like your assigned seats, you may be able to change them, subject to availability, when you check in online or at the counter. Learn more about Advance Seat Reservations.

Want to request a special meal?

You can enter special meal requests when you book with an agent or complete your online registration, shortly after booking. We will relay your requests to the airlines and our representatives abroad, but we cannot guarantee they will be honored. Please double check meal requests with your airline 72 hours before departure, and with our representatives upon arrival.

Looking to earn frequent flyer miles?

You may be able to earn frequent flyer points for your flights on this package. Contact the airline directly once you receive your tickets to enter your frequent flyer number in your flight record, or enter it when you check in. As you travel, check your tickets or ask the check-in or gate agent prior to boarding each flight to ensure the number has been entered properly. And just to be safe, keep your boarding passes and passenger receipt as proof that you have actually flown the miles you want credited to your account.

Interested in upgrading to business class or premium economy?

Cabin upgrades may be available on this package. Look for "More Flight Options" when you book online, or ask us about price and availability when you book by phone. Please note that our special contracted airfare rates generally do not permit upgrading with frequent flyer points, and that upgrade requests may incur change fees if tickets have already been issued.

Flight Schedule

You will receive your your flight schedule and details by email once we issue your tickets.

Airlines may change schedules at any time, even after flights have been confirmed, and we are not responsible for such changes. Please confirm your flight schedule prior to booking any connecting flights and again 72 hours prior to departure.

Connecting Flights

If you plan to purchase connecting flights to your departure city, we strongly suggest waiting until 75 days prior to departure (and after you make your final payment) to ensure materialization and to reduce the chances that your international flight times might change—since airlines sometimes change schedules even after flights have been booked. Before purchasing connecting flights, always confirm the times for your international flights first. Leave at least 3½ hours connecting time between flights, and if you're traveling within a few weeks of Daylight Savings Time changes (in March and November, when flight schedules may change even more dramatically), allow 5–5½ hours between flights. Nobody likes waiting around the airport, but missing your flight is far worse!

Airport Transfers

Scheduled group airport transfers at the destination are included with this package. When you exit customs, please look for our representative holding a Friendly Planet sign, who will cheerfully escort you to your transfer vehicle and assist with your luggage. In most cases, private transfers are also available for an additional fee—contact us for price and availability. Or you may instead arrange your own ground transportation to the package start and end points. (Note that there is no discount for any unused included transfers).

Arrival Complications

We make every effort to ensure our tours run smoothly and trouble-free. We don't expect any problems, and nor should you. But when things don't go as planned, here's what to do:

  • You miss your flights, or your flights are cancelled: Please call us immediately. If it's outside our normal business hours, leave a message in our emergency mailbox, with a phone number at which to reach you, and we'll get right back to you.
  • Your flights are delayed and you're worried about missing your included transfers: Please contact us to let us know about the delay, and we will notify our partners in destination. They will be tracking your arrival and will plan accordingly.
  • Your package includes transfers, but you can't find our representative at your destination: Don't panic—they may have been unexpectedly delayed. Wait up to 30 minutes. Then contact our local partners in destination, listed on the emergency contact page of your final documents. If you can't reach them, call us. If it's outside our normal business hours, leave a message in our emergency mailbox. If all else fails, make your own way to the starting hotel (or cruise port), and we'll refund you the cost of your transfer.

Packing & Luggage

Baggage allowance: In general, each passenger may bring one checked bag (not to exceed 44 pounds), one personal item (such as a purse or camera bag), and one carry-on bag that can fit under your seat or in the overhead compartment. If your trip includes domestic flights within your destination and/or travel by motor coach, your carry-on should also fit should also fit under your seat or in the overhead bins on those flights or coaches. Porterage during your tour is covered for only one checked bag per person.

Learn more about Baggage Allowances on your international flights. Note that our baggage allowances may be less than those for your international flights. If you exceed the baggage limits, you may be subject to excess baggage charges levied by the airlines and/or by Friendly Planet.

Regardless of the limits—we recommend a smaller size and weight for both your checked and carry-on bags. It's so much easier and faster for you to get around when you have fewer, lighter bags! For your carry-on, consider a soft-sided bag such as a duffel rather than a hard clamshell-type case, which may not fit as easily into overhead compartments or under your seat, especially on buses. For your protection, we suggest your checked luggage have a TSA-approved lock.

Luggage tags: We will mail you Friendly Planet luggage tags with your invoice. Fill in the luggage tags with your name and contact information and attach to each bag, including carry-ons and camera cases, so that your luggage can be identified should it get misplaced during your trip. However, we are not responsible for lost or damaged luggage.

What to pack: Check out our blog post on our Top 10 Must-Haves for International Travel. Pack smart: put your travel documents, medications, one change of clothing, and other essentials in your carry-on, in case your checked baggage is misplaced. And pack light, for your own comfort and convenience. For clothing, we suggest packing a variety of separates with climate and comfort in mind.

What not to pack: U.S. law forbids you to carry hazardous materials aboard aircraft in your checked or carry-on baggage or on your person, including explosives, compressed gases, flammable liquids & solids, loaded firearms, poisons, corrosives and radioactive materials. Common examples include paints, lighter fluid, fireworks, mace/tear gas and oxygen bottles. Restricted materials may vary by airline and destination. Some items, in quantities of no more than 70 ounces total, may be carried within baggage, including medicinal or toilet articles such as hairspray, perfume and certain medicines that are necessary during your journey. Please check with the airline and/or visit the FAA website prior to travel if you have any questions.

While on Tour

What to Expect

This moderately-paced, escorted South Africa tour includes a reasonable amount of walking or hiking and requires an average level of physical fitness. This tour also includes long scenic drives between destinations and may have limited rest stops.

Your Schedule: On several days during your trip, a very early departure time is required to accommodate flight schedules and safari game drives.

Road Conditions: South Africa is a big, wild place! Please note that your itinerary includes some long drives, and road conditions in some places, particularly rural areas, may be poor. Our drivers do their best to get you there quickly and comfortably!

Game Reserves: Your itinerary includes various safaris through Game Reserves. Please keep in mind that spotting animals in the wild is a matter of luck, and there are no assurances that you’ll see all the animals you would like to.

Remember that you're a guest in someone else's homeland, and that you're traveling to experience their country and culture. Be sensitive to local customs and manners, as many things may be done differently than what you're used to. And while we have made every effort to secure modern and comfortable accommodations and transportation, please note that the standards in other countries may be different from those you are accustomed to at home. Overall, you will find a polite, positive, patient, and open-minded approach generally yields the best travel experience!

Please keep in mind that you'll be traveling with a group. Sharing your explorations with like-minded folks can often be a source of joy, and some of our travelers become lifelong friends. But traveling with strangers can also sometimes be challenging, especially in a foreign country. We ask that you be patient and respectful with your fellow travelers, including their needs and preferences. Also remember that you have responsibilities to the group—please be prompt for group activities so you don't keep everyone else waiting. Lastly, please defer to your tour leader, guide or manager. They are there for your safety and wellbeing, and to ensure the journey goes smoothly for everyone. If you have a problem with one of our tour guides or managers, please let us know, either while you're on tour or after you return, and we'll make sure your concerns are addressed.

Accommodations

Our hotels are all Western-style, and your room includes a private bathroom. Please be aware that the water in the hotel tap system is not potable. Hotels will normally provide bottled water at a small fee. On occasion, a first bottle will be in your room upon check in. If not, you will have plenty of opportunities to purchase bottled water in and around the hotel. However, any water that you consume from the hotel mini-bar will be charged to your room, and you will be responsible for payment.

Eating & Drinking

The meals included with your package are listed in the itinerary. For all other meals, you're at liberty to dine where you like. Your hotels will have several dining choices, from coffee shops to specialty restaurants.

Please see above for special meal requests.

Independent Activities

You can leave the group and explore on your own at any time. However, should the group have planned activities for that day, please make sure to inform your guide in advance. There is NO refund for unused group arrangements. We suggest taking the name of the hotel and phone number with you so that you can communicate with taxi drivers. The hotel staff will gladly assist you.

Special Needs & Requests

Please see above for special meal requests and seat requests. If you have any other special requests, including wheelchair or electric cart assistance, please mention your request when you book. We will do our best to accommodate them!

Country FAQs

Fast Facts about South Africa

Overview

Capital: Pretoria (executive), Cape Town (legislative), Bloemfontein (judicial)
Population:  49 million 
Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
Languages:  Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, Swati, Tshivenda, Tsonga, North Sotho
Drives on the: Left
Time zone: GMT + 2

Health Precautions & Vaccinations

Malaria is present in South Africa. Take precautions against getting mosquito bites, and talk to your doctor about taking a prescription medicine to prevent malaria (before, during and after your trip). Also ask your doctor about vaccinations for typhoid and hepatitis A and be sure you are up-to-date with other routine vaccinations like such as measles.

For travelers arriving from a yellow fever endemic country, South Africa requires proof of yellow fever vaccination upon entry. (This does not apply to most of our travelers, including anybody arriving from the U.S. or Canada.) Learn more or locate a vaccination clinic in the U.S.

Find more information about health precautions when traveling to South Africa on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) site.

Weather

South Africa is located in the southern hemisphere and therefore has the reverse season to those of the U.S. The weather is temperate, and even during the winter time you’ll enjoy comfortable temperatures. Average daytime temperatures are in the 60’s and 70’s from April-Sept and in the 70’s and 80’s from Oct to March. Overnight temperatures are about 10-20 degrees cooler.

What to wear

We suggest bringing clothes made of cotton, preferably in neutral colors (especially for game drives). A hat, scarf, sunscreen and insect repellent are also valuable accessories for your trip. If you have two pairs of comfortable (broken in, not brand new) walking shoes, by all means, take both pairs. Since weather can be unpredictable anywhere in the world, and to be sure you are comfortable during your trip and prepared for all types of weather possibilities, we recommend that you carry a small folding umbrella (or poncho) and take with you a light jacket or sweater. Packing to dress in layers is another way to prepare for a variety of weather conditions. Finally, remember that the countries visited on this tour are casual, and comfort should dictate your wardrobe for the tour. Binoculars are also suggested.

Tipping

A small gratuity to your guides and drivers will be greatly appreciated by them. The recommended amount is $6-$8 per person per day for the Johannesburg, Cape Town and safari guides and $4-6 per person per day for your driver and safari game tracker. It is also common to leave a $1-$2 in the room for the maid service. While airport porterage of 1 suitcase per person is included, hotel porterage is not. We recommend a $1 tip to the hotel staff that brings your suitcase to the room. As always, gratuities are an individual expression of thanks and should be based on the level of service provided.

Money & Credit Cards

South Africa’s local currency is the South African Rand. Hotels and some stores in South Africa accept major credit cards; however, for "street shopping" you will need local currency. You will be able to exchange your cash to local currency at foreign exchange bureaus in South Africa, located in malls, airports, and on the streets. Most charge a commission. Hotel front desks will almost always exchange money for you, but the exchange rate is usually not as favorable. We highly recommend you bring crisp, new bills in small denominations; old, torn, crumpled bills may not be accepted. Travelers’ checks are no longer widely accepted.

Always notify your bank prior to departure to avoid any problems using your credit or debit card abroad.

Shopping

Your guides will suggest some favorite shopping places, where the vendors are known, provide good quality merchandise and probably pay some sort of commission from sales to the guide. This should not surprise or offend you, as this is how business is done throughout the world; however, please be aware of this when you shop, especially if you are buying jewelry or other valuable items. If you plan to buy jewelry or other expensive items, be sure to inspect the items before you leave the store. Most stores will not allow you to return or exchange purchased items.

Electricity & Power Adapters

220/230 volts. Plug M. You will need a voltage converter and plug adapter in order to use U.S. appliances. We recommend getting a universal adapter and converter kit before your South African vacation.

Learn more about electrical standards around the world.

Cell Phones & Internet

Want to take your cell phone, tablet or laptop, but not sure how to get cell service or wifi? See our blog posts on using your cell phone abroad and the top 5 ways to get Internet abroad.

Photography

Cameras and video recorders are permitted, and photography is generally permitted everywhere except at airports and military installations. Memory cards for digital cameras will be available in major cities.

Did you know?
  • South Africa has three distinct capitals: Pretoria (administrative and executive), Cape Town (legislative), and Bloemfontein (judicial). Johannesburg is regarded as the country’s unofficial economic capital! 
  • South Africa’s flag is in the only one in the world with no emblems or insignia and six different colors! And their national anthem is the only one with five languages!
  • Mohandas K. Gandhi (later Mahatma Gandhi) once practiced law in Durban, South Africa. In 1893 he was evicted from a “whites only” train carriage, an incident that propelled his career in politics.
  • South Africans often affectionately abbreviate city names! Locally, Johannesburg is Jozi, Durban becomes Durbs, and Cape Town is warmly referred to as the Mother City.
  • On the same language lines, South African slang is particularly colorful! For example, traffic lights are called Robots and elevators are referred to as lifts. Read more about South Africa slang over on the blog!  

Fine Print

Terms & Conditions: Please check out the terms & conditions for this package.

Cancellations: If something comes up and you need to cancel your trip, please let us know as soon as possible. All cancellations must be made in writing. Cancellation fees vary by package; please see the cancellation fees for this package.

Materialization: This package may require a minimum number of passengers to operate. In the unlikely event that your departure must be cancelled due to lack of participation, we will notify you prior to the final payment due date, and offer alternate dates of travel or a full refund. Please do not purchase any domestic connecting flights, or other services which are dependent upon the operation of your package, until this time.