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Country Info > South Africa >Visa Info > Travel Basics > Safari Tours > Beaches > National Parks >Arts & Culture > Shopping & Watersport > Govt & Economy

SHOPPING IN SOUTH AFRICA

Shopping in South Africa has never been cheaper or offered better value for money to visitors. After the dramatic devaluation of the South African Rand against most of the world's major currencies at the end of last year, a Dollar, Pound, Euro, Yen or Ringitt now goes even further.

South Africans themselves are great shoppers, so there are large, world-class, air-conditioned shopping malls in all the country's major cities - and even in some of its smaller towns. Their design and architecture are as modern as anywhere in the world, and they offer not only a first-class shopping experience, but also excellent places to eat and be entertained.

There is hardly a leading international brand in clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, CDs, videos or DVD's that can't be found in South Africa and quality bookshops stock all the latest local and international titles at very reasonable prices. South Africa's own department and chain stores have excellent house brands offering quality and value for money on a whole range of items.

But most visitors want to buy something genuinely 'African' to take home. What is African? Well, anything made in Africa and there is no shortage of choice! One great buy is jewellery made from the gold and precious stones that are mined deep below the ground. Skilled jewellers create uniquely African designs incorporating wildlife, masks and traditional beadwork combined with precious and semi-precious stones. These are very special mementoes of an exciting visit to the land of gold and diamonds, and become talking points back home.

Almost every visitor will want to buy some smart but practical, genuine 'bush gear' and sturdy bush jackets - with so many handy pockets to put things in - are great for hunting, shooting and fishing - or just travelling. Photography enthusiasts find them invaluable to store their numerous gadgets. Tough khaki tailored shirts and shorts, as well as the sturdy leather velskoene (leather bush shoes) of the African bush, will last long after the holiday and are always fashionable for that authentic 'Out of Africa' look.

Strict conservation measures are taken throughout the country to protect and conserve its wildlife, but in today's practical world natural resources are used to fund further research and help with the upkeep of both national and private parks where wild creatures can roam free. South Africa produces top quality leather goods. Handbags, wallets and belts, shoes and coats are crafted from the finest leathers. Butter-soft ostrich and impala skins are highly popular, as are the more macho elephant and buffalo hide items. The silky pelt of the young desert karakul sheep is also made into superb, warm and hardwearing coats and jackets.

Beautiful rugs and wall hangings are woven from the many different wools produced locally, dyed with natural colours into traditional designs. South African produces some 80% of the world's mohair and it's hard to resist the brilliant jewelled colours of soft, cosy mohair made into blankets, sweaters or fun hats and gloves to keep ears and fingers warm in colder climates.

Around the country, art galleries have paintings by local artists for sale, depicting all aspects of life, their landscape capturing the brilliant light and colours of the continent. Stunning sculptures, carved from the many colourful rocks and minerals of Southern Africa, are to be found in abundance, the best of these, created by internationally renowned artists, fast proving worthwhile investments and the heirlooms of tomorrow.
For exciting and affordable gifts and souvenirs for friends and family, it's fun to shop at the many local craft centres and fleamarkets.

African beadwork is justly famous and, now featured on some of the world's most renowned fashion catwalks, include not only traditional necklaces and bracelets, but also more contemporary designs that can be worn to accessorise the most sophisticated fashion. Look for cheerful little dolls, bead-covered mugs and bottles, spoons with beaded handles, and the fascinating Zulu 'love letters' - small brooches with meaningful beaded patterns. A newfound demand for original, brilliantly coloured Christmas decorations is providing sustainable jobs for hundreds of rural women throughout the country.

In the craft markets there is the chance to personally meet crafters making products as varied as fine soaps and candles perfumed with the plants of Africa, and paper made from elephant dung (the sought-after paper is has a wonderful rough, 'knubbly' texture). Watch, too - and wonder - as skilled fingers take long strands of ordinary metal wire and create insects, birds and animals, as well as decorative items for the home and table.

Marvel at the speed with which practised hands can weave simple, but oh-so-elegant, baskets from handfuls of grass, or create elaborate patterns from tiny glass beads.
African woodcarvings feature many of the continent's animals and birds. Favourites include large, shiny brown hippos - ideal for doorstops with a difference - carved from a single piece of kiaat (African teak) and highly hand-polished; and masks - all very inexpensive.

Check out the tall, very tall, wooden giraffes, sold by the side of the road in many parts of the country. An international outbound flight without at least one or two of these animals gracing its aisles is most definitely a rarity!

It's easy to pay for and ship purchases throughout the South African retail sector. Stores accept all major internationally-based credit, charge and debit cards, and every shopping centre has facilities to change travellers' cheques or cash. Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) accept overseas credit cards for cash withdrawals, but only if prior arrangements have been made. Purchases from the informal sector are usually paid for in cash, unless the item is more expensive, and many sellers are eager to bargain.

Receipts should be kept for all items bought, as VAT - the South African Sales tax levied at 14% on most things - can be reclaimed at the airport when passengers exit the country. Items must be available for possible inspection so it is wise to allow extra time at check-in.

Wonderful Watersports

The best known surfing spots are around Cape Town, Durban, Jeffreys Bay and East London, but there are loads of great, virtually unsurfed waves. The many backpackers hostels around the country are geared up for board rental, escorted surfaris and surfing lessons, and there are dedicated surf schools in Durban and Cape Town.

We have awesome windsurfing and kitesurfing spots. Langebaan, near Cape Town, is internationally recognised to be one of the top boardsailing venues in the world - and there are others. A more accessible way to experience the sea is in a specially designed sea kayak. There are escorted trips around Cape Town, Hermanus, Knysna, Plett and Durban. For a bit more of a challenge, try surfskiing - it's becoming a rather trendy pastime and can be very competitive. Surfskis are really fun boats to paddle - fast, responsive and with the approximate stability of a razor blade balanced on its edge. There is a whole series of races throughout the year all along the coast.

The South African coastline is one of the most challenging in the world to sail, with few harbours, stormy conditions and, often, very rough seas. So it's not a good bareboat option. However, it's a great place to learn to sail - there are sailing schools in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban - and we feature on all the major round-the-world races. There are loads of local races, too, and the Cape to Rio is one of the most accessible ocean crossing races in the world, attracting a large cruising contingent.

If you need any convincing about the seriousness of our coast, you need look no further than the many historical and recent shipwrecks. Of course, these were all tragedies but still good news for local divers. We have more to offer than these poignant sites, though. Our underwater environment is absolutely beautiful and varied and we have lots of wonderful diving sites.

We have an enormously long coastline ranging from about 35°S to 27°S, which isn't quite within the usual range of tropical diving. However, the Mozambique Current which flows down our East Coast brings warm, tropical water with it, and at Sodwana Bay we have the most southerly coral reefs in the world. Of course, they have the full complement of pretty colourful fish and some great nudibranchs, including the outrageous Spanish dancer (Hexabranchus sanguineas).

Whale sharks, turtles, dolphins and ragged tooth sharks (Carcharias taurus) are often seen in specific places. And then, as you head down the coast, the underwater faunal and floral assemblage changes gradually until, once you've reached Cape Town, you're diving in chilly but beautiful kelp forests. These, too, are unique. There are three major types, or genera, of kelp and it is only off a short portion of the Western Cape coast that they all grow together.

If you've always shunned cold water diving, consider it. Sure, you do have to dress up in a great thick wetsuit with constraining hoodie and gloves but it's worth it. Diving in kelp is like walking in a forest. You float beneath the canopy and admire the surprisingly colourful reef life. Off Cape Town, divers regularly see anemones in colours ranging from electric blue or deep red to pale pink, nudibranchs of almost every colour you can imagine and a whole range of small creatures in and around the bright orange and sulphur yellow sponges.

There are dive schools in almost every centre, with a surprising number in the landlocked Johannesburg area. Perhaps it's not so surprising. Most people do their training up there and then head down to Sodwana Bay for their qualifying dives. There is even an inland dive resort near Johannesburg where students can do their first dive or two in a disused quarry. Badgat is another, much deeper disused quarry in Mpumalanga where rebreather, mixed gas and deep diving courses are run.

When you come here to dive our wonderful reefs, do take careful note of your no-fly limits. A flight from sea level to Johannesburg can take only an hour, and you gain 2 000m (7 000ft) in altitude - that's without even considering the flight. This really does represent a major risk, so adjust your itinerary to include a day of sightseeing, shopping or beach lounging between diving and flying or even driving to Johannesburg.

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