Africa is such a vast continent that General Aviation is one of the best ways to explore it.
If you hold an FAA Pilot license (and likely any major foreign license), you can have your Private privileges, VFR only, validated quite quickly.
Plan a couple of months ahead; the South African CAA was efficient in our case, but I heard stories of licenses needing more than six months to be issued.
Most validations require to pass a South African Airlaw test and a check ride to the Private Pilot Standards, but before that, there is some paperwork to do.
The guys at Bushpilot Adventures (http://www.bushpilot.co.za) helped us throughout the whole validation process, aircraft rental, and trip planning. If you are planning to explore South Africa by plane, they are a great starting point.
The first step is to apply for a license number, which is just paperwork. Submit the usual set documents such as your medical certificate, license, logbook, passport. You need to get them notarized and mail the originals to South Africa. Start this process as early as you can.
The initial paperwork will give you a license number and a physical license validation that is valid for 60 months and can be renewed.
This license has to be "activated" within its validity period, and this entails passing an Airlaw knowledge test and a check-ride to the Private Pilot standards.
The Airlaw test needs some preparation; there are several differences between the FAA and SACAA regulations that you will be quizzed on.
Did you know that you cannot act as PIC of an aircraft within 72 hours after a blood donation? Or that you cannot fly as PIC more than 1000 hours per year?
Scheduling the Airlaw test is quite easy. It's a computerized system very similar to the one used by the FAA. Make sure you are ready and do it as the first thing when you get to South Africa. You need 75% pass rate, and you cannot try again before seven days.
A flight instructor administers the check-ride for the license validation. It's a way to assess that you are safe operating the aircraft and at the same time to generate a learning experience to make you safer in South Africa.
If you, like me, use a G1000 Flight Plan to fo from Palo Alto to Oakland, you might want to refresh pilotage and dead reckoning. No GPS allowed on the check-ride; just a map, a compass, and a timer.
You will have to plan and fly a Cross Country flight the way that you probably did on your Private Pilot check-ride. Make sure you have your wind correction headings figured out and always keep an eye on the gas consumption.
Few maneuvers are taught differently or not taught at all in the US; one good example is the Precautionary Landing. You are simulating progressive weather deterioration that forces you to land, maybe off-airport, in low ceiling conditions. Differently from the forced landing, in this exercise, your engine is running smoothly. Locate the area of intended landing, follow an inspection check-list making low altitude patterns, and timing the upwind leg to make sure of the available landing distance.
All in all, it's probably a good idea to fly a couple of hours with a local instructor to get familiar with the landmarks, navigation, specific procedures, and radio communications.
Upon successful completion of the check-ride, if the paperwork made it on time, you are handed off a validation that lets you fly South African registered planes.
Get ready to start your adventure!