My family of four (parents, and kids 12 & 10) just visited South Africa for 3 weeks this past July/August. This was our first trip into Africa.
We felt safe during our 3 weeks in South Africa. I don't feel that South Africa is a dangerous country for its typical travelers. I can only speak for Cape Town, Garden Route, and Kruger areas.
Safety was a key area of concern during my trip planning stage. I carefully researched all our traveling routes, and worked with a local travel agent to book the hotels. I always made sure that we booked hotels in very safe areas. In Cape Town, we stayed at Camps Bay. In Knysna, we stayed on the Thesen Island. The winelands and Kruger areas in general all felt safe.
The four of us picked up a car on day one and drove ourselves all over. This was our first time driving on the “wrong” side of the road, but it was pretty easy and not stressful.
The road conditions were excellent, with excellent road signs. Traffic was generally light on the road. Even Cape Town was easy to navigate. There were ample parking everywhere. The drivers on the road were very polite. They always yield for faster cars to pass them on the highways.
Warning: We had to get used to lots of people walking along side the highways, and they often ran across the highway too. Watch out for these people!
Warning 2: Lots of speed cameras on the road. Pay attention to the speed limit when driving. These menacing cameras were everywhere. We were just notified of one ticket a few days ago since we got back.
I was dreadfully worried about getting sick in Africa. I brought along all kinds of medications, especially anti-diarrhea pills. I got over-the-counter pills for adults and for children, and I even got prescription anti-diarrhea pills in case of severe diarrhea.
Apparently South Africa was very clean. None of us got sick during our 3 week long trip. We ate everything too... salads, raw sashimi, raw oysters.
All the restrooms at rest stops and gas stations were clean too. And had toilet paper.
--KRUGER-SELF DRIVE vs PRIVATE GAME LODGE--
Many regulars on this forum have recommended doing both. So, we did both, and are very glad. The self drive and a stay at a private game lodge provided two different safari experiences, and they were both great fun. If you have the time and funds, definitely plan to do both while you are in Kruger. If we should return to Kruger someday, I will definitely do a combination of self drive and private lodge again.
We did not see a single mosquito in the Kruger area during our visit. I thought there would be all kinds of bugs and critters in the Kruger area, but there weren't.
Unlike in the US, tipping did seem optional in South Africa (Except restaurants. You are to tip at least 10%). We were mostly on our own, but on a few day tours we went on, we noticed that most of the people did not tip. They simply thanked the guides.
Tipping is the norm in American, so when tipping is optional, we take the option to tip. Make sure you always have small change in rands with you for tipping everybody.
We always tipped 5 to 10 rand to the people that volunteered to watch our car in the parking lots. 5 to 10 rands to the people at gas stations that pumped our gas and washed our car windows.
At the hotels, we always left 20 rands per room every morning for the cleaning people. 40 to 50 rands per day if we stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment.
On our Township tour, we tipping our guide 120 rand for the four of us. On our half day Featherbed Nature Reserve tour, we tipped our guide 100 rand . We also tipped 50 rand each to our two guides on our canopy tree zipline tour.
TIPPING-PRIVATE GAME LODGE
I felt this area of tipping required its own section. I read through many threads about how to tip in game lodges on this forum. They were not helpful, mostly due to huge discrepancies between the recommended tipping amounts.
I am afraid that I will add to this confusion. But I will at least give you my exact amount, and how and when we give our tip.
We stayed at the Londolozi for 3 nights. The four of us had two inter-connected rooms.
The night before our departure, I asked and made sure that we will see our same ranger and tracker again. I got 3 envelops from the camp. I wrote them each a thank you note, and put the tip inside the envelops addressed to our ranger, tracker, and the camp manager, for the rest of the camp staff.
The next morning, after our final game drive. I personally hand delivered each envelop to our ranger, tracker, and the camp manager.
We gave our ranger 1400 rands. Our tracker 1000 rands. The rest of the camp staff 1000 rands.
Note: I knew there were no ATMs at the camp, so I prepared the cash in rands before we entered the private lodge. Originally, I prepared 1200 rand for the ranger, 600 to the tracker, and 600 to the rest of the staff. I think these numbers were more easy to understand for 4 people, 3 nights. But when we were leaving, we added extra rands to each envelop. That how we arrived at the final numbers above.
Okay, this is turning into an essay. I will stop here.
We find South Africa very easy to travel on our own. Go to South Africa. You will have a great time.