Beginner guide: 8 things to know before coming to Pretoria for the first time
During the last years we have received many people from abroad, some of them first time travellers to the capital.
With hindsight, we’ll share 8 things some of them wish they had known before packing their bags.
1 - It is a bipolar country
Let me give you some context.
The country still carries the scar of apartheid policies, and despite 20 years of unified government rule, society is very much divided, the modern demarcation being around wealth rather than skin color.
Most of the bad you read about South Africa happens in the townships and the rural areas, where unenployment is rife and education very low.
Most of the good that they do not write about happens in the more upmarket areas where the quality of life is extremely high.
Is there anything in the middle? Unfortunately, not much really.
That kept in mind, Pretoria can provide a wonderful experience - or the opposite. Pay particular attention to our advice about location.
2 - Location Location Location
As said before, in Pretoria you are either in a good neighborhood or in a bad one. Make sure you ask for advice before travelling to new areas on your own.
The East and South of Pretoria host the best suburbs: Waterkloof, Monument Park, Faerie Glen, Constantia Park, Lynnwood.
City center? Rather avoid! Sunnyside and Arcadia can be very challenging for international travelers, even if the price of accommodation is tempting.
For some suggestions, have a look at our page: We beat any price!
3 - Getting Around
While Pretoria boasts impressive infrastructure, public transport still needs some working on.
You might think that because you’re from Kenya and usa a matatu to zip around Nairobi that our minibus taxis would be a piece of cake. Not so, it can get complicated and you could easily get lost, so it’s better to err on the side of caution and makes use of the Uber or Taxify apps that offer straightforward point A to point B shuttle services.
And if you’re feeling adventurous why not use the Gautrain, which has 10 stops between Pretoria and Johannesburg, to explore some of Gauteng’s more iconic areas such as Sandton, Rosebank or Midrand which by the way houses The Mall of Africa, Africa’s largest mall.
Whether it’s shopping or sightseeing, you can’t go wrong with options.
4 - Speaking to the locals
Hello! Sawubona! Molo! Dumela! Hoe gaan dit!
Some of the more common ways you are likely to be greeted by a South African.
When you hear people say, “South Africa is a diverse country” they aren’t joking, we really are a diverse country with 11 different languages in which to say hello! Luckily English is one of the 11 official languages, so most people you encounter will speak it but we do appreciate when people try to speak one of our local languages.
5 - Beef or Chicken? Or Beef and Chicken?
South African cuisine is vast with influences from Mozambique and Cape Malay but most households sit down to dinner with maize meal, which we call pap, a stew and some vegetables.
Some typical South African foods include biltong - salty dried meat, koeksisters - sweet twisted pastries, chakalaka - a spicy vegetable relish, and poitjiekos - an Afrikaans stew of meat and vegetables cooked over coal in a cast iron pot.
We LOVE our meat! So much so that Heritage day, a holiday that encourages South Africans to embrace and show off their heritage, is usually nationwide by inviting friends and family over for a barbeque...we prefer to refer to it as a braai. Very few of our dishes, if any, are void of meat.
6 - Is Pretoria safe?
The short answer: YES it is!
Did you know that cities like Baltimore and Detroit in the US have a higher murder rate than Pretoria?
Crime is concentrated in the townships and in the city center, while the upmarket areas are generally very safe and very little crime is registered.
Most of the international patients that we receive walk freely on the street without any safety issue.
Still, keep in mind that it is not Switzerland so be guided by common sense and follow basic personal safety rules.
7 - Currency
The South African Rand is badly devalued as a currency, so basically anything will seem too cheap to international travelers.
The Rand is also widely used in the Southern African region: Swaziland and Lesotho exchange it at 1:1, and it will also get you by easily in Mozambique and Namibia. You might also be able to occasionally use it in Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia.
8 - Are credit cards welcome?
Absolutely, and largely used and accepted.
We would not advise anyone to carry cash in South Africa. Visa and Mastercard are accepted at almost any shop, you won’t find any cash only shop at the main malls like Menlyn Park, Brooklyn Mall or Mall of Africa.
TIP: if you are carrying forex, exchange rate at the airport is terrible. Rather bring the notes to the bank which will give you more value for your dollars.