Preparing for Safari: Local Currency, Cash and Gratuities

South African Rand

(please note some of this information pertains only to my safaris and safaris in South Africa) Learn about our safaris on the Africa Wild Safaris Website

Local Currency

You will need some South African Rand to use for tipping, shopping, and some snacks and meals.

The best place to get Rand is at the airport in JFK or ATL.  You will have time while waiting for your flight and their rates are good

You can also exchange in Johannesburg Airport  (2nd level above arrivals).  There are several exchanges there to choose from. Be warned that you credit card may trigger an alert with a transaction for a large – ish amount coming from a foreign country.  I believe they will also accept cash, but I have never tried this.

You can also get Rand from your local bank, but you will have to order it a few weeks in advance. The rates are not as good as an airport exchange bureau.

Best to have currency in your pocket before getting on the plane so you can get right to the enjoyment. 

It is best to get small denomination bills to use for tipping and buying without requiring a large amount of change.

Stores, guides, restaurants, etc will not take US dollars and most will not have the capacity to do an exchange at the point of transaction.  (even in Mexico this is not the way to go)

Not many places are equipped or safe for credit card use. The nice shops at Joburg airport and Kruger are best for credit cards. Some of the lodges will take credit cards for the bar tab, internet, or things from their shop.  Most everywhere else will need cash – mostly because processing systems are old fashioned by our standards and internet service is not reliable. 

Currency Exchange Rate Tool


Gratuity/Tipping is the custom in South Africa. It is not mandatory, but the vast majority of people you will meet will put their heart and effort into making it a fantastic experience for you and will be deserving of a thanks.

Cash Necessity and Gratuity  Reference

Please do not feel these amounts are mandatory!  Tipping is entirely up to the guest and based on their individual experience – this is just a guide to help you plan for your cash needs.

For the first 5  days we will be staying with us at our tree house lodge and visiting different people each day.  You might see the same driver and tracker more than once, but we advise to give them your thanks on the day you see them.  When you get to the Sabi Sands Reserve, you will have a Ranger assigned to the group and you can wait until check out to offer any gratuities

Amounts are a guideline of what to  give PER GUEST for each event

Game Drive R60  (this is shared between the driver and tracker)
Kruger Guide/Driver R60
Zipline Guides R40  (this is shared between the guides)
Boat Captain R40  (shared if there is another helper)
Conservation/Animal Close encounters Experiences R30 – R40 (shared)

If you wish to Donate that should be separate from tips

Housekeeping Staff R80 – R100  per day
Rangers at Sabi Reserves R60 per game drive base plus extra if they made your stay or game drives special (shared between Ranger and Tracker)

Please do not tip in any currency other than South African Rand – it is inconvenient for staff to change the money and they often get ripped off or accused by the bank of stealing it.

A typical Itinerary would have the following events where a gratuity is possible or food is purchased

5 Nights at the Tree House Lodge, 2 nights in Sabi Sands Reserve, 1 night in Baluli Reserve

While at these lodges we do these activities:

1 day in Kruger

2 half day game drives

6 game drives in Sabi reserve, plus optional walks

Canyon Boat Ride


3 Conservation/animal close encounters

2 or possibly 3 lunches at a café and Kruger

Cash bar for bottled water, sodas, drinks at Sabi lodges (3 nights)

A visit to a store for BYO beverages (6 nights at tree house lodge)

You will need cash for food and other things on your airport days

I get  rough guide of R3,000  cash per guest  with the current exchange rate of around 14.0 to the US dollar that is $210.00 – $260.00

Other Important Information:

  • Water: Our lodge (first 5  nights) provides filtered and chilled water  where guests can fill a reusable water bottle (we have some to borrow) – our water is also ok to drink from the tap. The other lodges provide a reasonable amount of water for free with extra available at a charge.
  • Credit Cards are safe to use in Johannesburg and the gift shop in Kruger. The lodges at Sabi can also settle with a card.  Other places it is best to have cash to back up in case the system is down or slow (this happens less these days but we still get power outages)

Exchange Bureaus:

There are exchanges at the Johannesburg airport that give a reasonable rate. You can use cash or credit cards at these facilities.  The major airports also have exchanges and give a decent rate.

Do not go into a bank in South Africa to exchange money – they are extremely inefficient and charge major fees and bad rates.

Please get sufficient cash before leaving Johannesburg! :  have an exchange in our town, but it is a 35 minute drive and their hours are spotty. They also want documentation and passports when making the trade. It will be inconvenient to make a special trip to town for guests to exchange.

Approximate  Other Costs

Lunch R90 Burger, fries, Drink  –  R230  Café Meal
Bottle of wine R56 +
Can of Soda/bottle water R15 – R25
Beer at a Lodge Bar R30
Gin and tonic at Lodge Bar R35