So, for those that don’t know, I am from South Africa and I was raised there. For the last 10 years or so I’ve been bouncing around from country to country but for the most part, South Africa has been home to me.
During my travels, people have always brightened at the mention of South Africa but it’s always been followed by; “There are mixed reviews and I’m nervous to go there!” Or “I can’t wait to go – it’s a bit far so I’m saving up before I head there!” In short, there are a lot of misconceptions about South Africa!
They always ask me a ton of questions and some of them are absolutely ridiculous like assumptions that we keep lions as pets or that we have no tar roads. South Africa can either surprise or leave one utterly disappointed. I’ve also found that people rarely do their research about South Africa and just assume that Madiba is from here so that’s all they need to know.
My country can be enjoyed and it’s beyond beautiful… but there are a few things you need to keep in mind! I feel that South Africa keep a few things under wraps for the sake of their tourism BUT I think that a bad experience is worse for PR. People talk and word of mouth is the biggest killer for a country.
5 common misconceptions about South Africa
- It’s a safe country. South Africans are some of the most streetwise people I know, we’re taught from childhood to be constantly vigilant when walking around because of the fear of being mugged, or worse. We have the highest rate of rape per minute in the world and our murder count isn’t much better. You cannot walk alone at night and always walk around in groups rather than on your own. A very close friend of mine from the UK was almost mugged because she was invited to ‘see a special shop’ at a market in Durban. Luckily a local saved her in time. You might think her stupid for believing the seller, but go into ANY market in Thailand, Cambodia, Dubai, South Korea and MANY more and this is normal behaviour for sellers in the street. You need to be careful here.
- We have wild animals in our back garden. I have seen dozens of lodges or self-catering accommodation claim they are ‘close to’ wild animals and in actual fact, it’s a two-hour commute to the nearest game reserve. In South Africa, our Big 5 don’t roam around free but are in massive game reserves that are fenced. There are lodges within these reserves but the price will be heavily increased for that experience. Just make sure when booking that they aren’t just based on a ‘wild’ type backdrop but without any actual wild animals near their property.
- It’s cheap. OK, calm down. I know in comparison to A LOT of places, it is cheap but in comparison to say, Thailand, it isn’t. If you’re looking for a luxury safari experience you are more than likely going to be spending thousands of rands a night and most of the time game drives and extras aren’t included.
- We don’t have cities. I’m not patronizing anyone here, but I often get asked if we have tarred roads or Internet in South Africa. Our cities are built up and you get concrete jungle vibes in all the major areas of the country. If you’re looking for smaller or remote towns, they can be found but you must do your research before coming to visit.
- You don’t need a visa. Our president does a good job of pissing off many countries on a daily basis and what comes with that are new visa regulations which change on a daily basis! Literally, just because a regulation came into effect in January doesn’t mean it won’t change in say, March. People think that because we’re based in Africa that the process to obtain a visa will be painless – false! To avoid disappointment, make sure you check it out before booking your ticket.
We survive, in large part, to tourism and I would hate to see that plummet even further. The work of poachers and these new visa regulations have seen our tourism start to decline with tourists favouring some of our neighbouring countries in Southern Africa. I think educating tourists is the way forward to help them travel safely through our beautiful country.
Have you visited South Africa? Share your tips in the comment below!