Getting around South Africa

There are many good choices for ground transportation in South Africa. What you choose depends on (among other things):

  • your level of independence
  • your desire to travel off the beaten path
  • the level of adventure you’re after.

Travel by bus

Bus options abound in South Africa.

Intercept provides bus service between all the major cities and many towns and attractions as well. Their route map will show you where all they go exactly. A ticket calculator will tell you exactly how many legs you will need to take and the exact time and price of each leg.

Baz Bus labels itself as “hop-on hop-off backpacker bus service”. The bus picks up and drops off at hostels located all over SA. They offer several ticketing options including the Travel Pass which is a 7, 14, or 21-day ticket that allows you unlimited travel in any direction during the time period for which you purchased. They also offer adventure and tour packages. Visit their FAQ page to get a better understanding of exactly how they operate.

Travel by rental car

Renting a car is a good idea if you want to be in charge of your own itinerary. Most of the major car rental agencies are available and cars may be rented for as little as $10 a day. Here are the top ten things you need to know:

  1. As long as your drivers license is valid in your country and there is a picture ID then it will work in South Africa.
  2. Read the fine print. Make sure you understand everything you were signing up for. Your own car insurance should suffice to cover you while you are in country. However, be advised that in South Africa especially in the rural areas there can be unlicensed and untrained drivers. You may want to add the additional insurance offered by the rental company.
  3. Most rental cars are manual transmission. If you want an automatic transmission you will need to request it.
  4. Drive on the left.
  5. Be careful. Unfortunately, petty theft can be a problem anywhere. Lock your doors. Do not leave items in plain view on the seat. Lock things away in the trunk. If there is a car radio, make sure you remove it and take it with you. By all means, if the rental company provides one, then use a steering lock. Car guards, individuals who will guard your car when you are away from it, can be found in most urban settings for only the price of a small tip. Do not pick up hitchhikers.
  6. Travel with GPS or at least a good up-to-date map. Always travel with a cell phone. If you do not have an international plan for your phone, then you can rent or even buy an inexpensive one. Make sure you have the number of your rental car company, the AAA phone number if you are member, as well as the National Tourism Information and Safety number which is 083 123 2345. In South Africa the emergency number for police is 10111.
  7. Populated areas in South Africa are quite distant from each other. Make sure you have plenty of gas and know where gas stations are located. If at all possible, make sure you have the items needed to change a tire. Towing services may not always be available.
  8. Traveling to a remote area? Check in with a local business or information kiosk to make sure you understand the route and any possible security or travel issues in the area.
  9. South Africa is known for its wildlife. After all, that’s one of the reasons you’re visiting this beautiful country. Just remember: these animals are wild! If you see wild animals on the side of the road, or if you are driving through a game park or animal reserve, please stay inside your car and only stopped in the designated areas.
  10. Did you know that South Africa has robots on many street corners? It’s true!  In South Africa, a traffic light is referred to as a robot.

Travel by train

Tourists who wish to see SA by rail are advised to use one of two luxury train companies: Blue Train or Rovos Rail.  Both make the standard trip from Pretoria to Cape Town and back and are a bit pricey: about 1000 dollars for one way. However, rates generally include all meals, including alcoholic drinks, accommodations and at least one off train excursion each way.

Roos Rail also travels between Pretoria and Cape Town and visits Victoria Falls, as well. They also operate longer trips, up to two weeks, several times a year. Their promotional video shows the why this is a special and memorable way to visit SA.