Safe transport in South Africa
Before we talk about safe transport options in South Africa for international tourists, let’s go over valuable tips to keep safe while travelling around the country.
Do not drive long distances after dark
Avoid travelling long distances at night. Short distances to a restaurant or shopping centre along well-lit main roads and highways are fine but travelling outside of the main towns and cities can be dangerous. Here’s why:
- rural roads are often badly pot-holed; municipalities in impoverished areas do not have money to re-tar bad roads and fill in potholes formed by rain and heavy-duty trucks; bad roads damage car tyres which could result in a blow-out when you pick up speed on the highway.
- you might hit an animal on the road – livestock in the rural areas wonder onto the roads and if you hit one you’ll badly damage your car and might end up stranded on a dark road in the middle of the night, or you may be costed by the furious owner who will demand an unreasonable amount of money for his loss
- rural roads are not well lit or not lit at all; if you break down, you will be stranded in the pitch dark far from help. You also won’t see livestock crossing the road or people, usually drunk pedestrians. Many vehicles driven by people in the rural areas are unroadworthy and don’t have lights; if you can’t see far ahead, you risk plowing into the back of a parked car with no lights or going into the back of car with no lights that suddenly stops.
Fill up your tank before setting off
There are excellent filling stations in every suburb in the big cities, but they are spaced far apart the further out of town you go. If you are heading out for a day in the country or on your way to a game reserve in the north, make sure you have enough petrol in your tank.
You don’t want to be stranded on the side of the road with an empty petrol tank. Use apps such as Wazes to plan your trip before setting out. Know what distance you will travel between towns and plan where you will stop to refuel.
Obey traffic laws and speed limits
For every decent traffic cop in South Africa, there are a handful of corrupt individuals out to make a quick buck from unsuspecting tourists. The best way to avoid falling foul of corrupt traffic cops in South Africa is to follow the road rules and keep to the speed limit.
Know your rights. If a traffic officer tries to bribe you or harasses you; let them know what your rights are and don’t give in to them.
Don’t stop to help someone
It might be genuine, or it might be a set up? If you see someone stranded on the side of the road – don’t stop to help them. Thieves pretend to be stranded and in need of help, and as soon as you stop to help you get jumped on by a gang hiding in the bush.
Drive on and if possible, call our South African crime helpline (10111) and let someone know that someone needs help. Don’t be too trusting or naïve.
Don’t pick up hitchhikers
You never know if the person is genuine or loony, so don’t take the chance. The same applies if someone approaches you outside your hotel or a restaurant and asks for a lift somewhere. Apologise kindly and refuse. South Africa has thousands of commuter taxis on the road and they have these as an option.
Keep your car doors locked at all times
Thieves commonly accost drivers while they are stationary at traffic lights (we call them robots). They distract you on your driver’s side and someone grabs your handbag or valuables on the passenger side. Or they distract you while filling up your petrol tank and someone opens your passenger door and steals your stuff. It’s petty crime but very inconvenient if you lose your valuables.
Don’t put your bag, phone or camera on the front passenger seat in open view. You’ll be a victim of a “smash and grab” if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Hire a car with air conditioning
Petty theft comes in the form of “smash and grabs” and “distract and grab”. Keep your car doors locked and your windows shut at all times. Make safety a priority and hire a rental car with air-conditioning. It might cost more but it’s important for your safety.
Check your car is locked properly
Remote jamming, or car jamming as they call it, is a problem in South Africa. These scammers target a parking lot and then disappear when security patrols are beefed up. Get into the habit of checking your car doors are properly locked before walking away.
If you get out of your car and there are people sitting in a car next to you or loitering close to your car, there’s a chance they could be ready and waiting to jam your remote. Be vigilant and don’t let anyone distract you.
Avoid parking on the street
Choose safe places to park your rented car. Go to the larger shopping malls that have secure undercover parking with security monitors.
Most guest houses offer secure parking but check this out before booking your accommodation. Call them before booking to check how secure their parking is. Choose another option if they only have street parking.
Don’t leave your valuables in your car overnight even if parked in underground or secure parking. And don’t leave valuables in clear sight if you are parked on a street or in an open parking lot at a shopping mall.
AIR TRAVEL IN SOUTH AFRICA
The best way to travel around South Africa is by aeroplane. On the current exchange rate, domestic flights for the popular main routes are highly affordable for an overseas visitor, and it’s quicker and safer. South Africa has a very competitive airline market and you can take advantages of low-cost flights if you book well in advance.
South Africa has some of the best pilots in the world and the major airlines are strictly controlled by a world-class aviation authority. You’re guaranteed that all major South African airlines follow stringent quality control procedures to keep their planes, pilots and passengers safe in the air.
OR Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International have undergone major re-construction and are state-of-the art. You’ll find a range of top class food chains and shopping brands at the airport in what looks like a massive shopping mall. This is a safe place to shop and do your banking before you catch a flight home. Make a point of getting to the airport an hour or two early to do last minute shopping.
On the current exchange rate, domestic flights between the major destinations are highly affordable. You can get cheap flights between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban if you book in advance. However, less popular routes cost more as one dominant airline has a monopoly and has hiked up the cost of flights to destinations off the beaten tourist track. This includes interconnecting flights between Cape Town/Durban and the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport – the airport you arrive at to reach the popular game reserves in the north of South Africa.
The main state carrier is South African Airways (SAA) and offers flights to almost every major city in South Africa. SAA is popular for foreign tourists and business people but the cost of domestic and international SAA flights are generally higher than the competitive budget airlines.
Popular budget airlines operating in competition to SAA include:
Mango Airlines flies to Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, George and Bloemfontein
Kulula Airlines flies between Johannesburg, Cape Town, George and East London
FlySafair flies between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and George
British Airlines/Comair flies between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and George
A domestic flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town takes just over 2 hours, as opposed to almost 12 hours by road. A flight from Johannesburg to Durban or Nelspruit takes under an hour, as opposed to over 5 hours by road.
Sites like TravelStart are an excellent resource as it searches for flights available on all the major domestic airlines and offers options according to budget, times and airport arrivals/departures.
OR Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International Airport are geared from tourists and local businessman. There are many reputable operators providing reliable and safe shuttle services from the airport to central locations in the city. They operate according to the busy time schedules of the main domestic flights but check ahead of time that an airport shuttle will be available if you arrive early evening or late at night.
My Citi Bus is an affordable and reliable bus service operating in Cape Town. It is an excellent shuttle service which caters for people with large suitcases, prams and bicycles, as well as the disabled, elderly, and passengers travelling alone at night. The service is geared for tourism in Cape Town and offers a number of different routes to top attractions in the city, including a tour of the City Bowl and tourist hotspots such as Greenmarket Square, the Grand Parade, Bo-Kaap, Castle of Good Hope, the V&A Waterfront and excursions to the Cape Peninsula and northern suburbs of Cape Town.
For more information, visit their website: www.myciti.org.za
Most leading tour operators and hotel groups offer a shuttle service which can be pre-arranged. Tour operators will pick you up from the airport and take you directly to the Kruger National Park and other famous South African destinations.
There are many quality tour operators in South Africa. Do you research on TripAdvisor to find the best one for your needs and budget. Make safety a priority and pay more to use a tour operator and shuttle company that is rated highly on these sites.
Most overseas tourists hire a car from a reputable rental agency based at the international airports. It’s relatively inexpensive on the current exchange rate, and you can take advantage of special offers if you book well in advance. Bookings can be made online, which makes the entire process hassle-free.
Be warned. Rental agencies require you to have enough money on your credit card to cover the deposit. Find out what this is before arriving to pick up your car.
You can use your driving license from your home country provided it is in English or you have a certified translation. It must be valid and have a clear photo of the driver in it. If you are worried, rather organise an international driving license before you arrive in South Africa.
South Africa has an incredible infrastructure of top-class filling stations with decent fast-food restaurants and well-stocked convenience stores attached to them. Plan your trip carefully if you are travelling long distance and make sure you have enough petrol or diesel to get your destination.
In South Africa, we drive on the left-hand side of the road. Don’t make a mistake if you are used to driving on the right-hand side of the road because you could cause a fatal head-on collision.
The legal age you can start driving in South Africa is 18 years. Car rentals usually levy a surcharge for driver aged 18-21 years.
Most car rental companies stipulate a daily mileage limit, with an extra charge for any mileage over this limit. Choose a rental option that suits your itinerary as the extra charges can add up.
South Africa has a vast network of car rental companies and you can find one in all the major cities and towns, and the airports. It is cheaper to hire a car from either OR Tambo International Airport or Cape Town International Airport as rental companies levy an additional charge to return a hire car to its operating base at airports.
The top 5 car rental companies in South Africa are:
Avis covers South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland
Budget covers South Africa and Lesotho
Europcar covers South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland
Hertz covers South Africa
Tempest covers South Africa
Uber only operates its services in the three major hubs in South Africa: Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The service is efficient and an excellent choice if you don’t want to hire a car.
Download the app on your Smartphone, register with Uber and you can start using the service straight away. The best thing about using Uber in Cape Town is the service uses a credit card app facility so you don’t need to carry cash on you. This is a safe option to travel around Cape Town.
Please note: In the last year, there have been a number of reports of bad experiences reported ranging from sexual harassment, theft and assault. Uber has responded by launching a new feature to improve safety for passengers. The Real-Time ID check allows a user to check the identity of the Uber driver, and that it matches the driver sent to collect them.
This high-speed commuter train is truly impressive. It connects OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg and Pretoria. It takes you less than 15 minutes to get from OR Tambo to the central station in the heart of Sandton – South Africa’s premier business district.
Check online for prices and how to purchase a Gautrain commuter card. This will save you time when you arrive at OR Tambo International Airport.
For more information on the Gautrain, visit: www.gautrain.co.za
Do not use public trains in South Africa. The national transport operation is plagued with problems and the state-sponsored railway system in South Africa has declined quite dramatically. Public trains are not a safe or reliable option for tourists and are mainly used by the local workforce who have no other option than to use the packed, dirty and often dangerous trains.
Fortunately, tourists have other options if they’re keen to travel the long distance between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban on a train. Travelling on one of our luxury long-haul trains is a great way to see the country if you have time on your hands but do your research first online and decide if taking the train is for you and your family.
The luxury train options aren’t cheap, and they aren’t fast but it’s a fun experience for the whole family. You have the option of putting your car on the train, which locals do and then drive back to Johannesburg over the Christmas holidays.
For more information, visit:
Shosholozameyl Train: http://www.shosholozameyl.co.za
Blue Train: www.bluetrain.co.za
Premier Classe: www.premier-classe.co.za
Rovos Rail: www.rovos.com
A number of reputable operators provide a reliable and safe taxi service in South Africa. However, you cannot whistle for one on the side of the street like a yellow taxi in New York. They have to pre-book and pre-pay for them.
Do not use a taxi service that is not one of the accredited and recognised taxi services operation from the major airports, shopping centres and hotel resorts. Dodgy operators will try to persuade you to use their taxi but avoid using them.
Touchdown Taxis is a metered service operating in Cape Town. It has been accredited by CTIA.
Minibuses – or “black taxis” as the locals call them – are an iconic feature of South Africa. The roads are full of them and they have a reputation for being fast, furious and a bit of a pain. They get a bad rap for stopping when they want to stop, cutting into lanes without indicating and overtaking on the wrong side. There are more deaths on the road caused by reckless taxi drivers than from anything else.
Minibus taxis are not recommended for overseas tourists. They are used by the local workforce and generally operate between the major townships and the business districts. They don’t leave until the bus is full and they don’t follow an official route or timetable.
The large commuter state-sponsored metro buses are another “no-no” for overseas tourists. These are used by locals commuting to work and are not a safe or pleasant option for tourists. Rather opt for a bus operator that is geared for tourists or a shuttle bus service run by reputable operators.
The most popular choice in Cape Town is City Sightseeing. This is a “hop-on/hop-off” service that takes tourists from central meeting points to the major attractions. You’ll see their bright red open-top buses all over Cape Town.
There are a number of reputable bus companies that offer long-distance transport between the major cities and towns. They are extremely comfortable, clean and reliable. It’s an option if you’d like to see more of the country by road but they aren’t a cheaper option to flying. It’s great travelling on one of the luxury long-haul buses if you’re travelling in a large group.
Reputable long-distant bus operators in South Africa are:
The leading tour operators in South Africa provide a reliable and knowledgeable guide to pick you up from OR Tambo or Cape Town International Airport and deliver you to your hotel or guest lodge. Then they are at your service to take you on a tailor-made tour of the major attractions based on what is popular and what your group would like to see.
Do your research before choosing a tour operator by checking online sites like Tripadvisor.
Moafrika Tours is a leading tour operator in South Africa, specialising in day tours to iconic destinations in Cape Town and major tourist attractions such as Soweto, Johannesburg and Pretoria, and the Kruger National Park and Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
For more information on tour packages offered by Moafrika Tours: Read more
SHARED TOURIST MINIBUSES
Enterprising operators at popular tourist destinations like Cape Town and the Garden Route are capitalizing on the influx of tourism to South Africa. They offer scenic tours in a minibus that work on a “share” basis. Hop on as a group or as a couple. It’s a great way to see the attractions and meet new people. They’re a great option if you’re travelling on your own or if your partner wants to head to the shops and you want to do more sightseeing.
The two we recommend using in Cape Town are:
Rikki Taxis is a private taxi service that you can share with anyone heading in your direction. It saves money, time and the environment. They offer a door-to-door service and take groups of up to 22 people to multiple destinations in Cape Town.
Kiff Kombis is a fun and funky operation. It was started by two Australians and has already been named in the Top 10 Tours in Cape Town. Their funky Kombi (which is local slang for a minibus) is called Victoria and you’ll travel in her to historical neighbourhoods, craft breweries, wine estates and any world-famous destination in South Africa that you fancy. It’s great if you’re travelling solo or just as a couple, as you join up with like-minded travellers for a day and end up making new friends.
For more information, visit their websites.
Motorhomes are a great way for a family to travel around South Africa. They are usually fully kitted out so you arrive, jump in and head off. The only problem is that travelling with a motorhome – or campervans as some call them – has not taken off in South Africa like it has in Europe.
Overseas, towns are geared for motorhome tourism and you find excellent camping facilities for motorhomes in the tourist towns. This is not true for South Africa. If you are travelling around South Africa in a motorhome, you’ll stay in the local caravan and camping sites located on the outskirts of town. These get really busy over the peak holiday periods which can be off-putting if you’re hoping for peace and quiet, and you may not get into them if you haven’t booked in advance.
The most popular motorhome rental company in South Africa is Maui: www.maui.co.za
HITCHING A LIFT
Hitch-hiking it is NOT recommended. Make another plan!
South Africa has a high crime rate and you’re asking for trouble if you put your thumb out and hitch a lift with a stranger. Make safety a priority and choose a transport option that is safe and reliable.
WANT TO SEE MORE OF SOUTH AFRICA?
Moafrika Tours is a leading tour operator in South Africa, specialising in day tours to iconic destinations in South Africa, including day trips to Soweto, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Moafrika Tours also offers a wide range of tours to the Kruger National Park, Pilanesberg Game Reserve and other popular southern African destinations.