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.

I give a  rough guide of  $550 USD  cash per guest  with the current exchange rate of around 14.0 to the US dollar that is around R8000

Another industry standard rate is 10 – 15% of your total trip cost to distribute as gratuity.

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! :  We have an exchange in our town, but it is a 35 minute drive and their hours are spotty and they are often out of currency. 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