Volunteering with Via

Why choose Via Volunteers?


If you're considering volunteering abroad, here are a few of the many good reasons to choose Via Volunteers.

  • Via Volunteers support ethical volunteer projects in South Africa. That means sustainable long term projects that are developed through genuine community and conservation needs to ensure that your contribution is meaningful and long lasting.
  • Our team is based in South Africa and provides every volunteer with unparalleled support and personal attention during their stay. Having an experienced and caring support base close at hand is a valuable benefit that has provided reassurance to all our volunteers (and their parents!).
  • We are strong advocates for ethical volunteering and responsible tourism practices and evaluate every project thoroughly to ensure they are not linked to the mistreatment of children or wildlife in any way.
  • By creating awareness for real conservation efforts, we also help volunteers to avoid unethical activities like riding elephants, 'lion-cub petting' and 'walking with lions', the latter two of which are essential ingredients for the abhorrent canned lion hunting industry.
  • Each and every project has been personally vetted by the Via Volunteers team, and we work hard to ensure that the information we provide for you is both comprehensive and up to date, so that you can make an informed decision about joining one or more of our projects.
  • Our dedicated team has 12 years of hands-on experience working directly with projects and organizing placements for thousands of volunteers from nearly 60 countries.
  • We are certified South African specialists and are on hand to ensure that your volunteering adventure is the best it can be with expert advice on every aspect of your stay.

How do Via Volunteers keep their fees so low?


Affordable volunteering is one of the cornerstones of the Via Volunteers approach.

We don't carry unnecessary overheads, and we have invested a great deal of time to ensure that everything we do is cost effective without compromising on safety or quality.

Being based in South Africa means that we don't have expensive offices to maintain overseas, so your volunteer fee will go where it's supposed to. Whilst our team works very hard to ensure you have the best experience possible, we only include modest administration fees to cover banking, marketing and salaries.

Value for money is an important concept for us. We would rather you become an ambassador for us when you return home, than have you tell no one and feel that you have been taken advantage of. Ex-volunteers are incredibly effective at spreading the word about our amazing volunteer opportunities, but that's not the only reason why we believe it is important to look after your best interests.

The fee we quote to you includes everything you need for getting to and from your project, so you won't have any hidden extras to organise yourself. Once you have landed in Cape Town or Johannesburg, everything else is taken care of. Your airport transfers, pre-project accommodation and transport will have been booked and confirmed in advance of your arrival, so you can relax and enjoy your journey to South Africa.

We're so confident that you won't find a better combination of value and service elsewhere, that we offer a Price Guarantee with every booking. If you can find a similar experience for less, we will match it. If you do find something cheaper, look more closely to see what's included, and more importantly what isn't.

What's included in my volunteer fee?


With any Via Volunteers placement, your volunteer fee covers some or all of the following:

  • Pre-departure support
    Our experienced Cape Town based team are on hand with expert advice and assistance to ensure you are fully prepared for your trip to South Africa. We know the country very well and have been arranging placements for international volunteers since 2003. If you need help at any time you can email, call, sms, Skype or fill in our online contact form. You can look forward to a comprehensive reply within 24 hours.
  • Placement guarantee
    We personally evaluate every project and maintain regular contact to ensure that each one has a genuine need for international volunteers and a plan for long term, sustainable development. When you book a placement, it is guaranteed. In the unlikely event of a placement being cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, such as your project location being washed away by a major flood, we will either find you a similar placement or provide you with a full refund.
  • Full support during your stay in South Africa
    Being based in South Africa means that we can give you real support during your stay. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, you will be able to access the Via Volunteers team directly or seek assistance via our network of volunteer and project coordinators.
  • Airport transfers
    Whether you land in Cape Town or Johannesburg, we provide safe, escorted airport transfers to your project accommodation or pre-project accommodation.
  • Accommodation
    Every project includes accommodation, with some including pre-project accommodation where appropriate.
  • Meals
    Many projects include meals, especially when they are located in remote areas like a game reserve. You can find full details of included meals on each project page.
  • Transport
    We include all in-country transfers required to get you to and from your project location whether by coach or minibus. We also include transfers and any rail or bus passes required for local travel between your accommodation and your project.
  • Placement fees
    This is included in your volunteer fee and paid directly by Via Volunteers to the project before you join them. Depending on which project you are joining, your placement fee will cover some or all of the following project related expenses:
    - a donation to your project
    - accommodation
    - food
    - equipment
    - transport
    - activities & tours
    - project orientation, supervision & training
  • Spreading the word
    The majority of our projects are non-profit organisations with limited resources for fundraising and marketing. Via Volunteers provides an important link between these projects and the outside world, ensuring that you get to hear about the wonderful volunteering opportunities that are available, so that they can focus on what they do best. We also take a huge administrative weight off their shoulders by looking after all volunteer correspondence, and by arranging all the logistics involved in getting you to and from the project.

More details
We provide a full breakdown of your volunteer fee in individual Volunteer Project Guides so that you can see exactly how much of your money goes towards your project, accommodation, administration, transport and so on.

Where are the volunteer projects located in South Africa?


Check out this handy map to see where our projects and courses are located:

Map of Volunteer Projects and Courses in South Africa

All our projects include transfers to and from the nearest international airport so you won't have any problems trying to find your own way around the country.

You can combine as many projects as you like during your stay, and we can help you with booking the best priced domestic flights if you need to travel between Cape Town and Johannesburg.

How can I be an ethical volunteer?


Being an ethical volunteer is a mindset; it's about having a realistic understanding of what you can achieve during your placement, and it's about honestly appraising your own motivations for volunteering in the first place. We encourage every volunteer to consider the following points. Not only will it help you to manage your own expectations, but it will also help you to make the most of your experience, and enable you to make an impact where it matters.

Why do you want to volunteer?

You might want to experience working with a community or conservation project before you commit to studies or a career in that field. Perhaps you are taking a well-deserved Gap Year to broaden your horizons and develop new skills, or a career break to try something completely different from your normal routine.

You might have a passion for children, education, conservation or wildlife, or simply enjoy the rewards that volunteering brings, and the satisfaction of helping where help is needed. These are all great reasons to volunteer, and with the right motivation you are already on your way to having a wonderful volunteering experience. Combined with all the other activities and adventures you can enjoy in your free time, volunteering in this way will be a life changing experience that you will remember forever.

What if you're volunteering because you want to get a really cool new cover photo for your Facebook page, or want to regale friends back home with tales of how you saved Africa after spending a few weeks holding a baby in an orphanage? What if you're more interested in partying as much as possible, but this was the only way Mum & Dad would agree to let you loose on the world? Seriously though, the vast majority of volunteers come for the right reasons, but if you are one of the small percentage that fall into this paragraph, you might want to consider an alternative experience for your holidays.

Will you be taking jobs away from local people?

There can be few things more disheartening than spending time at a project only to discover that they could have employed a local person to do the same job. It can be difficult to spot disingenuous projects that have been created to attract volunteers, so it's worth doing some research first.

We work from the project's perspective and respond to their needs and priorities first. If the project is genuine, only then will we look to see if it is suitable for international volunteers. Our evaluation process is exhaustive, but essential if we are to ensure that everybody involved is to have a beneficial experience. That includes the project, the children or wildlife in their care, and you.

Will you have a negative impact on vulnerable children?

A constant stream of short term volunteers that try and fill a parental role for orphaned, abandoned or abused children will very often do more harm than good. Even with the best intentions and all the enthusiasm in the world, a project that involves you hugging babies at an orphanage all day is not going to benefit the children, and will leave you feeling all the worse when you realise that the children will likely be confused and traumatised when you are replaced with another short term mum a few weeks later.

We only work with community projects where you provide a support role to permanent care workers, rather than becoming a central parental figure. We also ensure that you will have a meaningful role to play with structured activities that really help.

For example, at Fikelela Children's Home, you will assist qualified teachers with structured lessons twice a week. The children come from backgounds where education has not been a priority, so these lessons are designed to help the children improve their Maths and English fluency, improve their fine motor & gross motor skills, build confidence, and improve self-esteem. You will also be involved in helping the children when they get home from school, assisting the staff to serve food, folding laundry, preparing the babies and older children for bath time and getting them ready for bed with a relaxing activity or story. Throughout your stay, you are encouraged to interact with the children in a beneficial way which promotes learning through play.

If you find a project which involves sitting with a baby on your lap all day, be aware of the negative impacts before you consider committing to something like this.

Is the project linked to the mistreatment of wildlife in any way?

There are many projects that offer appealing experiences like close contact with lion cubs and tame elephants, but there is no conservation value in these activities. They provide a lucrative income stream for the owners, and often involve physical and emotional abuse of the animals. If you are tempted by something like this, do your research first and make sure you don't become an unwitting contributor to the canned lion hunting industry, or a supporter of an organisation that uses cruel training techniques to tame elephants so that they can be used as a tourist attraction.

Is the project right for you?

Are the project's aims close to your heart, something you are passionate about, and something that you are equipped for physically and emotionally? Are you happy to get your hands dirty, use your initiative in a responsible manner, and willing to relate to people from all nationalities and walks of life?

Matching your expectations with reality is an important part of your experience, so it's important to read the project information we provide carefully. It's good to know about any areas that might be challenging for you before you get here, which is why we tell you that at one project, penguin guano smells, and at another that you will be using an open air cold water shower in the African bush.

It's also good to be honest about your ability to commit and see things through. If your luggage gets diverted to Cairo, would you be overcome with panic and want to return home straight away, or would you happily carry on and get by with the change of clothes you packed in your hand luggage for a couple of days? You get nipped by a penguin the first time you feed one. Do you stop right there and leave the project, or stay and practise until you get it just right?

What are you expecting to achieve during your placement?

Be realistic. If you're expecting to join a project and save the world in under two weeks, you are going to be disappointed. This applies to many projects where it takes time to settle in, learn the ropes, get used to routines, appreciate cultural differences, and get to know the people on the ground. Generally, the longer you stay at a project the better, particularly where the project invests a lot of time in your training and supervision. This is why we have longer minimum durations at some projects.

For example, you will need to commit to a minimum of 6 weeks if you want to help rehabilitate African penguins. Your first week or two is a steep learning curve, but by week three of four, you will be able to make a really useful contribution. Compare this with a shorter stay, and imagine how disappointed you would be if you were leaving just as you had got the hang of things.

By adopting the role of learner, you will find rich rewards as you look for opportunities to gain new insights, see life from someone else's perspective, and become immersed in another culture.

What do you know about South Africa?

A little preparation goes a long way, and is always time well spent. Learn a little about South Africa's history, culture, climate and geography before you arrive. Read some of our book recommendations if you have the time, check out maps of Cape Town and read a little about all the things you would like to experience during your stay. Locals will be impressed if you have taken the time to learn about their culture and can say a few words of Xhosa or Afrikaans, and you will feel more confident as you're settling in.

Why don't you offer projects where I can interact with lions and lion cubs?


The opportunity to cuddle lion cubs and feed them has an understandable appeal, and the promise of this experience attracts thousands of volunteers to South Africa every year.

They might be incredibly cute, and the organisations offering lion cub petting and volunteering might have a seemingly plausible reason as to why they have the cubs, but the reality is that by petting a lion cub, you will be contributing to the illegal canned lion hunting industry.

Please read this article about the Campaign Against Canned Hunting to make sure you're informed before you are tempted by one of these operators.

For the same reasons, we strongly advise that you avoid the growing number of operators that offer once in a lifetime opportunities to 'walk with lions' or 'ride on an elephant'. There is no conservation value in these activities, which provide a lucrative income stream for the owners, and often involve physical and emotional abuse of the animals.

If you want to experience African wildlife, it is far more rewarding and ethical to spend time in the African bush where you can see them in their natural habitat.

Does Via Volunteers have any Social Media links?


We are very social and would love for you to join us for regular updates, unique photos and useful information about volunteering in South Africa.

Please don't stop there. Share us with your family and friends and help us to support a wide range of community and wildlife based projects in South Africa.

How do I book a volunteer project, course or tour?


Booking with Via Volunteers is quick and simple, here's how:

  1. Check out the full range of wildlife, conservation, children and community projects on our web site
  2. Make your choice, choose an arrival date, and decide how many weeks you want to spend on your project
  3. Book using our easy to complete online booking form or email us directly

We don't like to keep you waiting so you can expect to receive a confirmation email from our Cape Town based team within 24 hours.

You do not pay anything when you book. We will provide you with a detailed itinerary and quote for you to check.

When you are happy with the details, you will be able to confirm your placement with a deposit (equivalent to £90, €120 or US$150 for each project, tour or course that you book).

Your quote will include a link to PayPal where you can pay your deposit using a credit card or your PayPal account.

The experienced Via Volunteers team will be on hand to assist you with expert advice and recommendations when preparing for your trip, and your remaining balance can be paid 4 weeks or more before you arrive in South Africa.

Is Via Volunteers accredited with any reputable organisations?


Yes. Via Volunteers are full members of Cape Town Tourism and the South African Youth Travel Confederation. You can view our membership certificates here:

Cape Town Tourism membership

SAYTC membership

Preparing for your trip

Do I need travel insurance?


Yes. Whether you are joining us for one week or one year, you must have adequate cover before your journey begins.

Insurance is an essential part of your preparation, and will allow help you enjoy your volunteering adventure safe in the knowledge that you have the cover you need. You can choose from hundreds of options available online, or you can save time and get a quick quote for Travel Insurance from World Nomads

We have partnered with World Nomads to provide you with affordable and reliable global travel insurance that's perfectly suited to volunteer travel. Their insurance focuses on what's important: emergency medical and evacuation assistance and 24/7 support when you need it most.

They also provide cover for a range of adventure sports and activities, your baggage, cancellation costs, dental and liability, depending on your country of permanent residence.

World Nomads gives you the flexibility to buy, extend and claim online, even while travelling.

How do I get started if I want to do some fundraising for my trip?


Visit Volunteer ForeverEvery year, thousands of volunteers raise funds to help pay for their volunteering trip overseas. The cost of your international flights, project fee and personal expenses often seem daunting at first, but with a little time and effort, it's surprising what you can achieve in a short space of time.

To help with your fundraising efforts we have partnered with Volunteer Forever, who are committed to helping you overcome the financial obstacles to volunteering abroad.

Volunteer Forever offers a crowdfunding platform where you can create a customized page highlighting your project and fundraising needs and receive online donations towards your trip. The Volunteer Forever crowdfunding tool allows you to tap into the power of social media and your extended networks to reach out to as many people as possible. The donation process is simple and even allows for donors to share your campaign with their own networks.

Check out their step-by-step Fundraising Guide or visit Volunteer Forever to start fundraising.

How can I get a good deal on flights?


If you're willing to put in a little effort, you could save big on your flight costs and earn yourself some extra time in South Africa too.

Although we have recommended arrival and departure dates for our projects, there's nothing stopping you from arriving earlier, or departing later. We can arrange extra accommodation for you too, and this will often cost less than the amount you save on your flights.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Buy Early
    Especially during peak travel periods. Making reservations late in the game can cost you a lot of money. Airline ticket prices typically go up closer to the flight date, so try to book three to six months in advance if you can. However, sometimes you can get lucky if you wait, which brings us to:
  2. Buy Late
    Often you can buy tickets at the very last minute for a great price, if the airlines have failed to fill their planes.
  3. Shop Around
    No matter how good it sounds, you should never book the first fare you see. Start your search by checking a few of the major flight search providers like Momondo, Skyscanner, Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity, Cheaptickets or TripAdvisor Flights. Checking these sites will give you an idea of which airlines fly your particular itinerary, what the going rate is and what restrictions might apply. Armed with this information, you can head directly to the airline Web site to see if the same flights are any cheaper (some airlines guarantee to offer the lowest possible fares on their own Web sites).
  4. Be Flexible
    If you live close to more than one airport, check out the fares from all of the airports near you. Many online fare searching engines will ask you if you are willing to depart from or arrive in more than one city. Also, experiment with different travel dates; shifting your itinerary by a few days can make a significant difference in fares. You'll usually find the lowest fares for travel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Do I need a Visa to enter South Africa?


Citizens from most countries can enter South Africa and stay for a period of up to 90 days without the need to apply for a Visa. When you land in South Africa your passport will be stamped with a 'Visitors Permit'.

If you are not sure, you can check the latest list of exempt countries on the Home Affairs web site here. If you are a citizen of one of these countries you will not need to apply for a Visa for a stay of 90 days or less:

Countries exempt from South African Visas

If you are planning to stay in South Africa for longer than 90 days, it is often worthwhile applying for a Visa through your nearest South African embassy or consulate a few months before you travel to South Africa.

If you are a citizen of a country that is not exempt, then you will need to apply for a Visa in any case.

If you have confirmed a volunteer placement with us and need to apply for a Visa, we can supply you with a letter of support and simple guidelines for completing your application form.

Can I bring donations for any of the children's homes?


You are welcome to bring donations if you have room in your suitcase, but if you have been fundraising it is more cost effective to bring these funds with you.

In this way you can either make a direct donation to the children's home while you are here, or you can find out exactly what is needed at the time and purchase the goods they need in South Africa at better prices than you will get at home. In either case you will then have receipts if you need to show sponsors what you have spent the funds on.

Aside from the regular challenges of providing enough food for all the children, major needs at the children's homes always include nappies and toiletries. School shoes and uniforms, educational toys, stationary, books and similar items also feature on the needs list.

Whatever contribution you make, you can be sure that it will be gratefully received and put to good use.

How much should I budget for food and drinks?


You should find that South Africa provides great value for money when shopping for food, drinks and general groceries.

To help you budget for your own shopping, we've put together a handy guide showing South African prices converted for the UK, Europe, USA, Canada and Australia. You'll even find prices for toiletries, a McDonalds meal and a take away pizza on the list:

Download Price Conversions for Food and Drinks in South Africa

It's worth noting that many volunteer projects and internships already include some or all of your meals:

These prices are based on what you can expect to find in these popular supermarkets in South Africa:

You might also like to look at Woolworths who are more expensive, but well known for their food quality. They are identical to Marks & Spencers in the UK.

Are there any health risks I need to be aware of?


Here is some useful information about Malaria, HIV & drinking water.

Malaria

There is no risk of malaria in Cape Town, the rest of the Western Cape or for most of South Africa. Since we started arranging placements for international volunteers in 2003, we have not had a single incident of a volunteer contracting malaria.

Malaria, which is only carried by mosquitoes, is prevalent throughout the year in many of the game-viewing areas of Mpumalanga, Limpopo and northern KwaZulu-Natal provinces. The old adage ‘prevention is the best cure’ holds true. Long pants, long-sleeved shirts, shoes and socks should be worn in the evenings when mosquitoes are at their busiest, and relevant bug spray should be used. If you wish to take preventative medication for malaria, you should consult a healthcare professional at least a month before leaving home.

What are the symptoms of malaria? If you develop a bad headache, have aching joints and recurring fevers and chills, you should go to a doctor immediately and explain that you have been in a malarial area. Malaria symptoms can be confused with flu symptoms, so be alert.

HIV and Aids

HIV/Aids: There is no danger of you contracting this syndrome unless you have unprotected sex, use an old syringe, or exchange bodily fluids in some other way. If you are volunteering with children that may have HIV/Aids, you will be briefed on safety precautions for dealing with open cuts or wounds, and provided with disposable medical gloves as required.

Drinking water

South Africa has some of the cleanest tap water in the world, and it is treated and safe to drink, except perhaps in very rural areas. It’s quite safe to have ice in drinks and to eat salads. Unless you are in one of the few areas where drinking water is not of good quality, buying bottled water is an unnecessary expense.

Are there any terms and conditions I need to be aware of?


Nobody likes to read the small print, but we encourage you to read ours. These conditions are here to guide and protect you, and act as the basis for our relationship with you.

For ease of reading we have written this document in simple plain English wherever possible. If there is anything you do not understand please ask us and we will do our best to assist you.

Download our full Terms and Conditions

Do I need to learn another language?


South Africa has 11 official languages, but if you can speak and understand English then you will be perfectly at home here. You will certainly encounter locals who speak Xhosa, Afrikaans, Zulu and many others, but for the most part you will find that nearly everyone you meet speaks English too.

If you are joining Fikelela Children's Home or Baphumelele Children's Home, you might find it useful to learn a few words of Xhosa, the first language of most of the children, and also Nelson Mandela. The children will be surprised and delighted when you greet them with 'Molweni' (Hello!), and it's always nice to be able to ask someone how they are (Unjani?).

UNISA provide a Free Online Xhosa Course where you can learn some basic words and phrases. Have some fun with this and you will be 'clicking' like a local in no time.

South Africa Info

What's South Africa like?


Roughly the size of Spain and France combined, or Texas, South Africa is situated at the very southern tip of Africa. The Atlantic and the Indian Oceans wash its shores and meet at Cape Agulhas - one of the only places in the world where a person can watch two oceans meet.

People who have never been to Africa often think of Africa as a homogenous whole, like the United States, for example. In reality, the continent of Africa is made up of 54 very different and separate African states.

South Africa may be at the bottom of Africa, but it’s widely regarded as being top in terms of its superb infrastructure, its legendary sunny climate, and its incredible geographic diversity - expect superb beaches, dramatic mountain ranges, sophisticated cities, quaint villages, historic battlefields, oceans, valleys, bushveld teeming with game, hundreds of species of birds, great and small semi-deserts, wide open spaces... and much more.

That’s why South Africa offers something for every potential visitor. South Africa is a dream destination in so many ways because of its incredible geographical diversity, its superb infrastructure, its legendary sunny weather, its super-friendly people and its affordability.

South Africa has nine provinces. Probably the best known to international visitors are the Western Cape, home of Cape Town and the Cape Winelands; Mpumalanga, famous for its spectacular scenery and the Kruger National Park; and KwaZulu-Natal, with its capital city, Durban, historic battlefields and wonderful beaches.

South Africa, since its first democratic election in 1994 after which Nelson Mandela became president, is a fully integrated society of more than 50-million people with a rich, fascinating mix of cultures ranging from Zulu and Xhosa (pronounced koh-sa), to Afrikaans and English and many, many more. There are 11 official languages - but don’t worry, nearly everybody in the ‘Rainbow Nation’ understands and speaks English.

Why is South Africa such a popular destination for international volunteers?


South Africa is the perfect volunteering destination offering a vibrant mix of culture, wildlife, warm & friendly people, sunshine, spectacular scenery, beaches and an endless variety of unique experiences and adventures to suit every taste and pocket.

With a young and thriving democracy, South Africa is an exciting place to be, and as a volunteer you can play an important role in our ongoing transformation towards a better life for our children, the conservation of some of the world's most important habitats, and the care and rehabilitation of remarkable African wildlife.

South Africa offers you excellent value for money and whether it be relaxing in the wilderness, filling your days with adventurous activities, or enjoying great South African food and hospitality, you will never be short of things to do. For example, Table Mountain in Cape Town is one of the world's iconic landmarks - you can enjoy a stunning 2 hour hike to the top for free!

During your stay you can...

  1. See 'really wild' wildlife in their natural environment
  2. Enjoy a wide variety of exciting and authentic experiences in a unique setting
  3. Relax on spectacular beaches
  4. Interact with locals and hear their stories
  5. Explore stunning landscapes unique to South Africa
  6. Discover a mix of cultures old and new
  7. Try shark cage diving, skydiving and the world's highest bungy jump
  8. Enjoy Cape Town's vibrant nightlife socialising with new friends
  9. Drink water straight from the tap - we have the world's 3rd best rated drinking water
  10. Feed your soul in an enriching social environment
  11. See the night sky and millions of stars like never before
  12. Reawaken your senses in wide open spaces with warm weather and blue skies.

These are just some of the experiences and memories that you can take home from your trip to South Africa, not to mention new friends made, photographs and stories to share with family and friends back home, and a new found sense of self that will stay with you long after your journey ends.

Can you give me a brief history of South Africa?


Between 200 000 and 100 000 years ago, modern humans began to evolve throughout Africa - including South Africa. They became the San, who later met up with south-bound Khoi pastoralists from the north and became known collectively as the KhoiSan.

The San were South Africa's first people

The KhoiSan drifted down into the Western Cape at about the same time (300AD) that early Iron Age groups crossed the Limpopo - whose descendants, about 1 000 years later, formed the African kingdom of Mapungubwe and began to trade with India, Arabia and China.

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck and his 90-strong party arrived from The Netherlands and set up a ship-refuelling station at Cape Town - an important stop both geographically and politically, as it was on the only early trade route from Europe and the Americas to India, the 'Spice Islands' of the East Indies, and the East. Over the next 200 years, various waves of other European and Indian settlers also arrived.

Subsequently, the Dutch, British and to an extent, the French, fought for control of the Cape, with the British finally triumphant in 1806. Dutch Boers prepared to trek into the hinterland to escape British rule.

This was also the start of the Mfecane ('the scattering, the crushing') of Africans that began in Zululand, crossed the Drakensberg and swept through the present Free State province. Spurred on by the Zulu warrior king Shaka's growing militarism, it became a confusing maelstrom of movement and massacre. Adding the land-hungry Voortrekkers and the newly arrived 1820 British Settlers into this mix brought further conflict.

The late 1800s saw the discovery of South Africa's immense gold and diamond wealth, and later, the great platinum finds.

The 20th century saw the end of the South African War (also known as the Second Anglo-Boer War), which was fought from 1899 to 1902; the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910; the involvement in World War I and World War II on the side of the Allies; a narrow victory for the mostly Afrikaner National Party in 1948; and, in the years to come, the formulation of apartheid.

Apartheid was a nearly 50-year period of institutionalised racism and the suppression of non-whites, during which the African National Congress was banned and its leaders, including Nelson Mandela, banished to prison on Robben Island.

The unbanning of the ANC, the release of Mandela and his fellow prisoners, and the 1994 democratic elections heralded the birth of the new South Africa.

Can I use my mobile phone in South Africa?


South Africa has excellent mobile phone (cellphone) service providers. If you want to use your phone, you should contact your own service provider to set up international roaming before you travel to South Africa. Alternatively, you can unlock your Sim card before you travel and use a South African Sim card for cheaper local calls here.

If you're arriving in Cape Town or Johannesburg we can provide you with a South African Sim Card at no extra cost. Airtime can be purchased at shops and malls almost anywhere in South Africa. Network coverage is fairly widespread, except deep in the bush or in very rural areas.

There are internet cafes in most towns and cities, and Wi-Fi is widely available throughout the country.

What do I need to know about using money and credit cards in South Africa?


South Africa has one of the most advanced banking systems in the world. Its banks and financial systems use world-class technology and facilities, and instant cash is available with major credit cards from hundreds of ATMs throughout the country. There are also forex booths at airports and shopping malls.

South Africa’s currency is the Rand which is great value against major international currencies.
     
There are a range of coins (10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R5), and notes in denominations of R10, R50, R100 and R200 (all with Nelson Mandela’s face on them).
     
Banking hours are 09:00 to 15:30 on weekdays, and Saturdays 09:00 to 11:00, although it’s much quicker and simpler to use the readily available countrywide ATMs, which are open 24/7. ATMs are the best to use due to their speed and accessibility.

Major credit cards are accepted throughout the country, but it is advisable to have cash (including some smaller denominations) when doing roadside shopping, or when in a small village or rural area.

It's always a good idea to inform your bank if you're planning to use your credit card overseas. Many of them will routinely block international transactions as a fraud prevention measure if you don't let them know.

Tipping is at a customer’s discretion, although 10% to 15% of the bill is customary.

What are South Africa's medical facilities like?


South Africa has been at the forefront of medical care and services ever since Professor Christiaan Barnard made world medical history in 1967 with the first-ever human heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. (If you are interested, there's a fascinating little 'Heart of Cape Town' museum at the hospital that relives that moment.)

There are public hospitals throughout South Africa, but as in many other countries, generally speaking you will get quicker and better care at a private hospital or clinic than a government one. Well-qualified doctors are to be found in every town and city. If you develop a toothache, don’t worry, there are also plenty of well-qualified dentists.

If you need medical care during your stay you will be in good hands, and we will be on hand to assist you if you need to see a doctor or visit a hospital.

What's the weather like?


Great! Average day temperatures in summer range from a minimum of 15°C (59F) to a maximum of 28°C (82F). In winter, average day temperatures are 19°C to 23°C (66F to 73F). Cape Town winters tend to see more rain, but there are still plenty of sunny days with clear blue skies. Winter in Mpumalanga and Limpopo is dry and cold at night but sunny and warm in the day, perfect for spotting game because the vegetation is low and game is forced to drink at waterholes.

South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, so it’s summer here when it’s winter up north.

  • Spring: September, October, November
  • Summer: December, January, February, March
  • Autumn: April, May
  • Winter: June, July, August

What about crime?


Crime is normally a major concern for international visitors, but in reality it is very unlikely to be a feature of your trip. We advise you to take sensible precautions when travelling around as you would anywhere in the world. Try to avoid walking alone at night, avoid wearing obviously flashy jewellery and expensive cameras around your neck, don't leave valuables unattended and so on.

UK business travellers voted Cape Town as the safest long haul travel destination. Cape Town is also known for being the most open-minded and relaxed city in South Africa and perhaps the safest city in Africa for international visitors.

It is worth noting that South Africa has successfully hosted more international sporting events than any other nation in the past 19 years, and is the only country in the world to have hosted the Football, Rugby & Cricket World Cups.

Unless you were on an another planet (or have an aversion to football/soccer), you will hopefully have seen plenty of footage of Cape Town and the rest of South Africa during the 2010 FIFA Football World Cup. Despite the normal shock horror predictions made by many representatives of the international media, the event was hailed as the most successful and safest World Cup ever. This will have come as no surprise to the many millions of tourists that visit South Africa safely every year.

What are the top reasons for visiting South Africa?


As a visitor to South Africa you can expect a wealth of unique sights and experiences. Here are the top 10 reasons for visiting South Africa as compiled by South African Tourism:

  1. Affordability: Although there are plenty of globally award-winning five-star establishments and luxury lodges, there are also superb value-for-money budget accommodation, tours and experiences all over the country.
  2. Wildlife: South Africa is one of the world’s top game-viewing destinations. Choose the world-famous Kruger National Park or any of the scores of other safari destinations - one of life’s great experiences.
  3. Beaches: South Africa has some of the world’s finest beaches, from the popular Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban ones, to many that are unspoiled and remote.
  4. Scenic beauty: South Africa really is many worlds in one. Expect stunning coastlines, dramatic mountainscapes, huge areas of untamed bushveld, starkly beautiful semi-deserts, lakes, waterfalls, spectacular canyons, forests and wide plains, plus Cape Town, undeniably one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
  5. Friendliness: Over and over again, visitors comment on the friendliness they encounter everywhere in South Africa. The people of our 'Rainbow Nation' are made up of many diverse cultures and will give visitors a warm welcome wherever you go.
  6. Weather: South Africa has some of the best weather in the world - rarely too hot, rarely too cold, and the sun shines most of the time.
  7. Adventure activities: It's hard to beat South Africa when it comes to the Great Outdoors and adventure activities. Whether you are an adrenalin junkie or just want to get active, choose from bungee jumping and shark cage diving, to hiking, horse riding, whale watching, snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking and many more adventures.
  8. History: Travel back in time to some of the oldest mountains on Earth; some of our early ancestors at the Cradle of Humankind; the ruins of an ancient African royal kingdom; South Africa’s oldest castle; historic battlefields where Boers, Zulus and Brits clashed and died; gold-rush towns; and iconic sites of the Freedom Struggle.
  9. Excellent infrastructure: South Africa has excellent major transport networks, good tourist facilities, safe drinking water nearly everywhere, a superb banking system with numerous ATMs countrywide, good accommodation for all pockets, and mouth-watering eating options.
  10. Responsible tourism: South Africa is recognised globally for its major conservation efforts and its protected areas. It is also committed to community and conservation projects, and aims to be as 'green' as possible.

What are South Africa's top experiences?


Choosing a top 10 list is almost impossible, but this run down of favourites might help!

  1. Scenic splendour
    South Africa has some of the most diverse and spectacular scenery in the world. Expect miles of golden beaches and unspoiled coastline; dramatic mountains and mountain passes; 19 national parks; game reserves teeming with big game and hundreds of birds; ancient forests; semi-deserts; oceans and rivers; rolling grasslands; and natural flower fields - all readily accessible and waiting to be explored.
  2. Winelands
    South Africa’s vineyards have been making some of the best wine in the world for over 300 years. Wine regions stretch from the Western Cape to the Northern Cape, where you can sample wine at world-famous estates or little-known gems.
  3. Safaris
    South Africa has some of the best and most accessible safari destinations in the world. You can splurge on an all-inclusive safari at one of the world-class, award-winning private lodges, or get much better value for money with up close wildlife encounters on one of our amazing volunteer projects.
  4. Kruger National Park
    You just can’t beat it. The size of Israel or Wales, with loads of different accommodation options for all budgets, it’s one of the world's oldest and most famous game reserves and is teeming with game. Self-drive is a wonderful option - there’s nothing quite like puttering gently along a road and coming face-to-face with a herd of elephants, a 'journey' of giraffes, a pride of lions, a 'dazzle' of zebras, a solitary leopard or a huge rhino.
  5. Struggle sites, rock art and historic battlefields
    You can visit our top Struggle sites and museums and follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest freedom icons in modern history, such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Mahatma Gandhi, among many others. South African rock art is among the best in the world and easily accessible, and historic battlefields where Boer battled Zulus, Zulus battled Brits, and Brits battled Boers abound.
  6. Marine magnificence
    Where else can a person sail beside a whale, or watch whale mothers and babies bask and roll; go eye-to-eye with different kinds of sharks; cage dive with great whites; be charmed by friendly penguins or leaping dolphins; experience some of the best scuba diving in the world; or snorkel with seals?
  7. Getting to know the locals
    You can spend time in Soweto or a city township; stay overnight or spend a day at a Zulu cultural village; admire the intricate beadwork, metal neck rings and unique geometric mural art of the Ndebele people; enjoy the hospitality of a South African farm; or just chat to the locals wherever they are - you will be amazed at South Africans' openness and friendliness to visitors.
  8. Outdoor rush
    Gorgeous, sunny weather most of the time, spectacular locations, loads of mega-thrill adventures (including the highest commercial bridge bungee jump in the world), river rafting, abseiling, hiking, horse riding, hiking, paragliding and 4x4 routes - South Africa is known as the adventure centre of the world.
  9. Indulge the senses
    Relax and rejuvenate the South African way. You will find health and wellness retreats throughout the country. Many use indigenous oils and ingredients to help clients de-stress and wind down.
  10. Urban rhythm
    Experience the unique rhythm of our cities when feeling the beat of live kwaito, hip-hop or jazz at a local nightclub, bar or township shebeen (tavern); be entertained in our theatres; play at our ritzy casinos; visit our unique museums and art galleries; shop in glitzy shopping malls or African craft markets; or dine in our fabulous restaurants.

Can you recommend any books about South Africa?


If you're an avid bookworm, you'll find plenty of reading material covering everything from South African history, culture, wildlife, politics and people.

Here's a selection of fiction and non-fiction to get you started. The Via Volunteers team can personally vouch for each one of these great reads.

- Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
- The Mind of South Africa by Alistair Sparks
- In a Different Time by Peter Harris
- Birds of Prey
by Wilbur Smith - visit his web site for information about all his South African based novels
- The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
- A History of South Africa by Frank Welsh
- A Lion in the Bedroom
by Pat Cavendish O'Neill

Cape Town Info

What are the best things to do in Cape Town?


There are so many things to do in Cape Town throughout the year that you will struggle to fit everything in during one visit. As with many volunteers before, you may find yourself returning to Cape Town again and again.

The Via Volunteers team are here to help make your time in Cape Town the best it can be, with advice about where to go, what to do and how to get there.

To get you started we've prepared an album with photos of Fun things to do in Cape Town.

You can also check out our quick guide to the Best Things to do in Cape Town.

What is the weather like in Cape Town?


Cape Town is never out of season, so you will always have plenty to do whenever you arrive during the year.

As Cape Town is in the southern hemisphere, our seasons are in reverse when compared to the northern hemisphere. Cape Town’s unique location and Mediterranean climate also give rise to an unusual pattern of seasons that make it ideal for visitors year round. Download our quick weather guide below:

Cape Town Weather Guide

Where can I find more information about Cape Town?


Cape Town is the quintessential melting pot: it is a city alive with creativity, colour, sounds and tastes.

While walking through the city’s streets and meeting its people, you will fall in love with its natural beauty, creative freedom and incredible spirit. Cape Town is a city where the unexpected is always just around the corner and the beautiful province of the Western Cape lies ready to be explored across the city border.

Check out the official Cape Town Tourism web site for a comprehensive overview of attractions, experiences and events, follow the Via Volunteers Facebook Page for regular updates and news, and have a look at photos of Cape Town and Table Mountain on our web site for inspiration and ideas.

Cape Town is a city that you will want to spend more time in, and a city that volunteers return to again and again.