Health tips for travellers
While there are risks anywhere, South Africa has a relatively salubrious climate and our levels of water treatment, hygiene and such make it a pretty safe destination.
- For more information, service, alerts and advice, check out SAA Netcare Travel Clinics
If you’re an adult, you won’t need any inoculations unless you’re travelling from a yellow-fever endemic area (the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America), in which case you will need certification to prove your inoculation status when you arrive in South Africa. It is recommended that you have the required inoculations four to six weeks before you travel to South Africa (a yellow fever inoculation certificate only becomes valid 10 days after inoculation – after which it remains valid for 10 years).
Hepatitis B inoculations are recommended for children up to the age of 12 who have not completed the series of injections as infants. Booster doses for tetanus and measles can also be administered.
Medical facilities in cities and larger towns are world-class, but you will find that in rural areas the clinics and hospitals deal with primary health needs, and therefore do not offer the range of medical care that the large metropolitan hospitals do. Trained medical caregivers are deployed round the country, so help is never far away. Of course, accidents can happen anywhere – including in the middle of the bush – in which case you would need specialised casevac or medical evacuation. Fortunately we have excellent casevac facilities, which have reciprocity agreements with most international emergency medical services. So your existing insurance should cover it. But do check before leaving home. It is a good idea to carry medical insurance to deal with such eventualities.
We have a warm sunny climate and you should wear sunscreen and a hat whenever you are out of doors during the day, particularly between 10am and 4pm, regardless of whether there is cloud cover or not. Even if you have a dark complexion, you can still get sunburned if you are from a cooler climate and have not had much exposure to the sun. Sunglasses are also recommended wear, as the glare of the African sun can be strong.
Can I drink the water?
High-quality tap (faucet) water is available almost everywhere in South Africa, treated so as to be free of harmful micro-organisms, and in any area other than informal or shack settlements, is both palatable and safe to drink straight from the tap. In some areas, the water is mineral-rich, and you may experience a bit of gastric distress for a day or two until you get used to it. Bottled mineral water, both sparkling and still, is readily available in most places.
Drinking water straight from rivers and streams could put you at risk of waterborne diseases – especially downstream of human settlements. The water in mountain streams, however, is usually pure and wonderful. In the Cape, particularly, the water contains humic acid, which stains it the colour of diluted Coca-Cola – this is absolutely harmless, and the water is wonderful. You may also find this colouring in tap water in some areas. It’s fine – it just looks a bit weird in the bath.
Do I need to take malaria tablets?
Many of the main tourist areas are malaria-free, so you need not worry at all. However, the Kruger National Park, the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal do pose a malaria risk in the summer months. Many local people and some travellers do not take malaria prophylaxis, but most health professionals recommend you do. Consult your doctor or a specialist travel clinic for the latest advice concerning malaria prophylaxis, as it changes regularly.
Whether you take oral prophylaxis or not, always use mosquito repellent, wear long pants, closed shoes and light long-sleeved shirts at night, and sleep under a mosquito net in endemic areas (the anopheles mosquito, which carries malaria, operates almost exclusively after dark). It is advisable to avoid malarial areas if you are pregnant.
- More information: SAA Netcare Travel Clinics
As in other countries and at home, always take precautions when having sex. South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world, but if you are careful shouldn’t cause any concerns for visitors. Our government has embarked on a national programme of health and reproductive education – particularly aimed at teenagers.
Other health issues
Bilharzia can be a problem in some of the east-flowing rivers, but it is easily detected and treated if it is caught early. Perhaps it would be a good idea to have a routine test a month or two after you get home – just to reassure yourself. Ticks generally come out in the early spring and may carry tickbite fever, which is easily treated. You should also be aware of hepatitis, for which you can be inoculated.
- More information: SAA Netcare Travel Clinics
Crime, like anywhere else in the world, can be a problem, but you really need not do much more than take all the usual sensible precautions. Know where you’re going before you set off, particularly at night, watch your possessions, don’t walk alone in questionable (dodgy) areas and lock your doors at night. Much like anywhere else. And, like anywhere else in the world, there are some areas of major cities, which are dodgier than others. It is easy to avoid these and still have a good time.
When walking through areas that are considered risky, avoid wearing visible jewellery or carrying cameras and bags over your shoulder. Keep cell phones (mobile phones) and wallets tucked away where no one can see them. Check beforehand that the areas you plan to visit are safe by asking hotel staff or police. It is not advisable to use local commuter and metro trains as attacks on foreigners have occurred.
Other sensible advice is not to hitchhike or accept or carry items for strangers. Our airport security is quite strict so, to avoid delays in checking in, remove all sharp objects (even nail files and hairclips) from your hand luggage.
Those who choose to drive private cars, either borrowed or hired, should be aware that car hijackings do occur, although precautions can be taken to avoid this. Drivers should always be on the alert when they come to a halt at traffic lights or stop streets, as well as when they are arriving at or leaving premises. Doors should be locked at all times, and while the temptation is to keep windows open in sunny weather, they should be kept closed. Plan your travel route beforehand. Make sure that you do not leave valuables in clear view of people on the side of the road. Articles such as cellular phones and handbags left on seats are favoured targets of smash’n’grab thieves.
When parking at night choose well-lit or security-patrolled parking areas. Street security guards will usually ask whether they can watch over your car and in return should be paid a small fee – anything from two rand upwards.
ATM’s and con artists
Watch out for con artists. A favoured target is the automated teller machine (ATM). Under no circumstances allow a stranger to assist you in your transactions. Should your card become stuck in the ATM, enter your PIN three times whereupon the machine will retain your card. You can then approach the bank to release it, or call the helpline number that can usually be found at ATM’s for assistance. Beware, too, of confidence tricksters who try and persuade you to invest in their schemes, requiring you to disclose confidential banking details.
Stay out of jail!
And, while on the subject of crime, do bear in mind that committing a criminal offence in any foreign country is always more of a problem than doing so at home. You’re probably not planning to, but there are a few actions which could land you in one of our not-too-luxurious jails. These include smuggling, bilking, and trading in, or using, recreational drugs – with the exception of tobacco and alcohol. Poaching is probably far from your mind but, just in case you’re tempted to “harvest” a rhino horn as a souvenir, remember our game scouts are armed.
Should you lose your passport, report the loss as soon as possible to your country’s embassy or consulate, and to the local police.
Our mountainous areas are absolutely beautiful and you are bound to enjoy a hike, or even a short day walk. But please be sensible and follow some simple rules that are standard procedure in most of the world. Always let someone know where you’re going, travel in a group of preferably at least three, take plenty water and warm clothing. Table Mountain particularly, is quite dangerously misleading. Many people reckon that as it’s in the middle of a city, it’s the equivalent of a city park. Please be careful.
South Africa is a politically stable country with a constitution that guarantees human rights and freedom of expression so the chances of your having any contact with any kind of political action is extremely slim. If, however, you do find yourself in or near some kind of demonstration or strike – be sensible and resist the temptation to spectate.
Driving and Road Safety
Our transport infrastructure is excellent and our roads are in good condition. However, remember we drive on the left-hand side and safety belts are mandatory. You may find the distances between towns greater than you might be used to, so it’s a good idea to plan your trip to ensure you don’t drive long distances, as fatigue is a major cause of road accidents. Always try to travel in daylight, as it is inherently safer. In some of the more remote and rural areas the roads are often not fenced, so you might find stray animals on the road – which could be very dangerous at night (seeing that cows don’t have headlights).
We have very strict drinking and driving laws – with a maximum allowable alcohol blood content of 0.5%. This translated into about one glass of wine for the average women and perhaps 1.5 or two for the average man.
Please adhere to our speed limits – for your own safety and ours. It is 120kph on the open road, 100kph on smaller roads and between 60 and 80kmh in town and residential areas. Our Department of Transport has initiated a road safety programme called “Arrive Alive”, details can be found on their website www.transport.gov.za.
Car rental companies operate in all major centres, at all airports and at the Kruger National Park. The Automobile Association of South Africa (Link to http://www.aasa.co.za/) produces excellent maps and can help with most queries. Fuel must be bought with cash as petrol stations do not accept credit cards or traveller’s cheques.