Transport in South Africa is not difficult at all, even if you are a first time traveller. The trains are excellent, car hire is easy and air travel is possible for longer domestic journeys. Never underestimate the importance of planning your transport while in South Africa though, as it is a vast country and therefore travelling can take a lot of time – it is best to make sure you do everything you want in one area, so you don’t have a lengthy return journey to complete your itinerary! Below you’ll find information on train, car, bus and plane transport in South Africa…
Travelling by Car
Travelling by car in South Africa is perhaps the most liberating way to travel: the freedom to choose when and where you stop, the ability to easily get to more remote locations, and the chance to change your mind mid-journey and head somewhere completely different. Renting a car in South Africa isn’t too expensive either, although costs will vary depending on your location and the time of year.
When driving in South Africa, all drivers must drive on the left. Should you want to rent a car, you will need to supply a valid driving licence from your country, which bears both your photo and signature. Some car rental companies will want to see an international driving licence, which can be obtained before you head off on your South Africa gap year. The majority of major car rental companies operate in South Africa, including Hertz, Avis and Europcar. If you are going to be dropping the car off in a different place to where it was originally hired, expect to pay more – sometimes significantly more.
For shorter journeys, taxis are often a good option. You should always ensure that you use a reputable company though, as unlicensed taxis are quite common in South Africa. In order to make sure you are using a good taxi firm, it is a good idea to get your hotel or hostel to book one for you. You could also consider using a minibus taxi, which are more like informal bus services, as they transport numerous passengers at once. They are chaotic and you never know when they’ll turn up, but they are certainly an experience though! Exercise caution though, as some minibus taxis really are not roadworthy.
Travelling by Plane
South Africa is a massive country, therefore getting from one coast to the other often requires the use of a plane. There are six major airlines offering domestic flights within the country and tickets can be bought from anywhere in the world, thanks to the wonders of the internet. Before booking, make sure you compare the prices online though, as this can make a massive difference to the price – money that you can use for much more exciting adventures!
You must take into account though that South Africa is a hugely beautiful country, and you won’t see much of it from the plane. When you add the price of a ticket to the mix, some people decide that a longer – but more spectacular – bus or train journey. It all really depends on how much of a hurry you happen to be in though…
Travelling by Bus
Baz Bus is without doubt the biggest bus company for travellers, offering a number of safe and cheap ways to travel around the country. Baz Bus covers most of the southern part of South Africa and, although inexpensive, still offers reasonably comfortable seats with mod-cons such as TVs. They offer a hop-on, hop-off service, as well as passes for set periods of time. Use them for trips between places such as Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as various other cities. The other companies to consider are Intercape and Greyhound, although they are much less popular.
Standard buses around the country are often incredibly busy, although they are also very cheap. It is best to resist the urge to travel on them though, as they can be dangerous and pass through some less appealing areas. Take a taxi instead, as a little bit more money will make sure you have a much safer trip in the Rainbow Nation.
Travelling by Train
Trains in South Africa are usually extremely good and are a great choice for those on a gap year, as they are cheaper than renting a car and allow you to watch the world go by from the window. What’s more, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa run a budget service called the Shosholoza Meyl between some of the most popular locations, making travelling even cheaper. The routes covered by this service are Durban to Johannesburg, Cape Town to Johannesburg, Durban to Johannesburg, and Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth. Other routes are available, however might be slightly more expensive.
Generally speaking, long distance trains are safe in South Africa, however using the Metro Rail local services in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Soweto are unfortunately not. We must advise visitors to the country to avoid these at all times, due to the high risk of violent crime. Metro Rail in Cape Town is safer, however exercise caution and never travel after dark or with any valuables.
On the subject of your safety, it should be mentioned that Johannesburg is not the safest place when travelling alone, or after dark. Therefore, if travelling by train to this city, you should make sure you book a taxi in advance to pick you up from the station.