NAIROBI, Kenya, May 14, 2010 -- With less than a month until 2010 World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world with hundreds of thousands of fans attending and billions watching, all eyes will be on South Africa, the host country.
U.S. soccer fans have made up the bulk of ticket holders but, understandably, have some concerns about going to a country so far away with a less-than-stellar reputation.
With all the media reports on whether the African nation is ready for such a large event, ABC News wants to give fans a little cheat sheet of "do's and don'ts" to help make their World Cup experience truly other-worldly. The month-long event starts June 11.
Take advantage of public transportation. Each of the nine host cities has a public transportation plan to get spectators to and from matches. In the larger cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, for instance, there's a commuter train that picks up at various locations across the cities and goes directly to the stadiums. There are various park-and-ride and public bus plans as well. Check out the transportation breakdown for all of the host cities HERE.
Bring some warm clothes. Despite the tournament's taking place in June and July and on a continent people typically think of as being oppressively hot, South Africa gets pretty chilly during this time of year. It's actually the country's wintertime. This is especially true for Cape Town, which literally sits at the very southern tip of the entire continent. Temperatures during the World Cup could be as low as 45 degrees, so make sure you bring a jacket or at least a sweater.
Look for last-minute deals. If you haven't already booked your accommodations, don't despair; deals can still be had. Several travel companies throughout the world have offered World Cup packages that haven't been as popular as they hoped, and now they may be ready to bargain. Contact a local travel company and see if it has any accommodations as part of packages that haven't sold. You might be surprised at the deals you'll find.
See more than just soccer. South Africa is an incredible country with an even more incredible history. In every host city, there are cultural and natural sites that anyone traveling there would be remiss not to see. In Johannesburg, a trip to the apartheid museum, which is running a special exhibition on Nelson Mandela, is an absolute must-do. Exploring the historically- and culturally-rich township of Soweto, these days more like a hip suburb, is also worth doing.
In Cape Town, try to book a tour of the infamous Robben Island prison, which housed Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists for nearly 30 years. (You may need to book your spot now before you go.) Cape Town has often been called one of the most beautiful cities in the world and for those who don't mind the trek, or the cold, a hike up to Cape Point will reward with breathtaking views, and you can always reward yourself with some amazing wine. The area sports world-class vineyards.
And don't forget about the wildlife. Just a few hours outside of Johannesburg lies Kruger National Park, famous for its large abundance of the "Big 5" for safaris: Lions, elephants, cape buffalo, rhinos and leopards.
Remember that South Africa is fairly well-developed. Are you going to find the exact same infrastructure as London or Los Angeles? No, but can you drink tap water, drive on well-paved roads and highways, have indoor plumbing and use credit cards and ATM machines at most places? Yes.
Infrastructure will be quite familiar, particularly in the host cities. Businesses have taken great pains to make sure they are tourist-friendly, and that means accepting credit and debit cards. For those services that won't accept a card, such as some gas stations, cash is quite easy to come by. There are many banks that offer ATM machines in South Africa that usually take international bank cards from both Visa and Mastercard (a rarity in the rest of Africa). So, in terms of packing and planning, your needs won't be too much different than if you were travelling to Europe
World Cup Tips
Forget that South Africa does have a crime problem. This is particularly true for Johannesburg. That said, the precautions needed are not much more than what you'd do in a crime-ridden area in the United States. Here are some mini-tips to help avoid being a victim:
Don't leave valuables, purses, phones, etc., on the seats of your car or in your lap. While the risk of being all-out car jacked will likely be much lower because of the sheer number of people and police officers around, traffic will be an issue. An exposed valuable is an excellent target for a "smash and grab" where someone either reaches into your car window, or in some cases smashes it to steal the article.
Always keep your car doors locked.
Visit ATMs inside malls, hotels, restaurants or shopping centers when possible.
Don't walk around wearing a lot of expensive jewelry; beware of pickpockets.
Try not to walk alone at night, and if you do make sure it's within a crowd. There will be safety in numbers.
Don't be afraid to ask a police officer or security personnel for help.
Don't buy tickets from scalpers. FIFA has set up a very strict system for allowing ticket holders into matches. The name of the primary ticket holder is on tickets, and you will have to show a passport or South African identification card matching that name to be admitted. Anyone who tells a tourist otherwise is running a con.
Don't wait until the last minute. Yes, there are deals to be had now and likely even as the tournament is happening, but your trip will be more enjoyable if you plan as much as you can beforehand. For example, it may be nearly impossible to visit Robben Island if you try to book a trip during the World Cup. Flights between the host cities will continue to book quickly as well.
And if you want to make sure you see the entire match, make sure to give yourself several hours to get to the stadium, get through security and take your seat.
Also, whether you are driving, taking a taxi or public transportation, remember that tens of thousands of people are going to the exact same place, at the exact same time. Which leads to....
Don't be impatient. FIFA organizers have already asked for spectators not to all try to leave matches in a rush at the same time. The idea is to try to help control both people and transportation traffic. Understand there will be lines, likely long, for everything. Allow for that when planning activities.
Don't be so fearful that you forget to enjoy the experience. While South Africa does have crime (see above) and some infrastructure problems, the emphasis on these issues in much of the coverage leading up to the World Cup has created slanted picture of the country. There will not be a carjacker, rapist or burglar lurking and waiting for every tourist around every corner.
There will be heavy police presence, and there's also the American Embassy with consular offices throughout the country that you can, and should, register with before traveling. Here's the link to register online.
Remember that South Africans are excited and proud of hosting the World Cup. They want to show the world what an amazing place South Africa is; so let them, and be amazed for yourself.