STAY SAFE ON SOUTH AFRICA’S ROADS
Remember, you are travelling around a third-world country in Africa. Don’t be fooled by the bright lights and glossy veneer of the upmarket suburbs, shopping centres and airports you pass through.
Crime, corruption, bad drivers, drunk drivers and the like should be on your radar when considering the different transport options in South Africa.
IMPORTANT: We drive on the left side of the road in South Africa
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.
Bear in mind the following:
- Roads in the rural areas are not well-maintained and you might hit a pothole and burst a tyre.
- 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 or, worse, get badly injured
- rural roads are not well lit or not lit at all; if you break down, you could be stranded in the pitch dark far from help. You also won’t see livestock crossing the road or people, usually drunk pedestrians.
- There are vehicles on our roads that aren’t roadworthy or don’t have lights
Obey traffic laws and speed limits
Keep to the speed limit and do the right thing on the road and you won’t get into trouble. You don’t want to be harassed by a corrupt traffic cop out there waiting to make a quick buck out of a foreign visitor who doesn’t know better.
Keep your car doors locked at all times
Thieves commonly accost drivers while they are stationary at traffic lights (we call them robots). Someone distracts you 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.
Park in safe places
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 and hire security guards to keep a beady eye out for criminals. Check this before making a booking. Choose another option if a guest house or B&B 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.
Don’t stop to help someone
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.
Call the 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.
Hitchhiking is not an option when you are visiting South Africa. Don’t even think about it because it’s highly likely you’ll become a victim of crime.
SAFE TRANSPORT OPTIONS 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.
South Africa has a very competitive airline market and you can pick up 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. 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 outlets. 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.
South Africa is geared for tourism and many reputable operations offer safe and reliable transport on luxury SUVs or mini buses. Most of the shuttle bus services operate from OR Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International Airport.
Do you research and pick a shuttle service operator that has been around for awhile and has built up a good reputation.
Most leading tour operators and hotel groups offer a shuttle service between the airports and hotels which can be pre-arranged. Most 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 is a wide selection of reputable car rental agency operating out of the international airports. It’s relatively inexpensive on the current exchange rate to hire a car in South Africa, and you can take advantage of special offers if you book well in advance.
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.
The legal age you can start driving in South Africa is 18 years. Car rentals usually levy a surcharge for drivers 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.
In the last year, there have been a number of reports of bad experiences reported ranging from sexual harassment, theft and assault. This is not a South African problem, it’s happening around the world.
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.
Not recommended for foreign tourists
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.
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.
SAFETY TIPS FOR USING UBER IN SOUTH AFRICA
Uber’s reputation as a safe and reliable form of transport in South Africa has taken a knock in the last year. Actually, Uber has taken a knock around the world due to bad behaviour by a few rogue drivers. This ranges from sexual harassment, theft and assault. This is not unique to South Africa as Uber is experiencing the same problems worldwide.
Uber released a feature called Real-Time ID to improve the safety of passengers. It allows a user to check the identity of the driver and make sure the driver collecting them is a match.
Uber issued the following tips to keep safe using their service:
The feature on the app allows you to see your driver’s details including their name, vehicle type and license plate number and it also displays their photo. It will ensure you get in the right vehicle with the right driver-partner, yet many passengers fail to check this. Last year, a woman was kidnapped and raped after getting into what she thought was her Uber cab. Of course, sometimes the right driver can be a perpetrator too.
- Check your driver’s rating
Uber drivers are rated out of 5 stars by riders on the app’s rating system. If a low rating concerns you, cancel the Uber and request a different one.
- Rate properly and give feedback
If you happen to have had a terrible experience, don’t leave a three-star rating out of guilt or fear that the driver might lose their job. An honest rating will ensure the safety of future riders and telling Uber what happened may prevent another rider having a bad experience. Any negative feedback will be queried and followed up on with appropriate action by Uber’s support team.
Share your ETA (estimated time of arrival) with a friend or family member. All you need to do is tap on “share status” in the app to share a link where they can see your driver’s name, photo, license plate and where the vehicle is on the map. This can be tracked even if they don’t have the app installed on their phone.
- Use Uber’s 24/7 support channels
Uber has customer support staff that is ready to assist with any queries. They also have rapid response, specially-trained teams that are available full-time to handle any urgent concerns that may arise.
- Cancel the ride if you feel uncomfortable
This might sound like a bit of a cliché, but always trust your gut. If the driver seems dodgy in any way feel free to end the ride. Always sit in the back seat and keep your belongings close by in case you need to end the ride abruptly.
- Keep a protective device or pepper spray on you
- Use Uber’s latest safety-selfie feature
This feature was introduced in March 2017 and uses facial recognition technology to enhance safety for both Uber drivers and riders.
- Be aware of your surroundings
Although you should keep your eyes on the app to check that the driver abides by the route on the map, it is also crucial that you be mindful of your surroundings. Always ensure that your phone’s battery is fully charged and that you have sufficient airtime or data in case of an emergency.