Independent Travel Tips: South Africa
You don’t need expensive safaris or guided tours to have an incredible time in South Africa. It’s the perfect country to simply rent a car and head off on the open road. Here’s some independent travel tips to get you started…
Renting a car is the best way to get around South Africa. Prices start as low as R220 (£10/ $14) per day, with additional costs for extra drivers, crossing a border, or only taking the car one-way.
Check Europe Car for the best car deals in South Africa.
If you don’t fancy driving or hitchhiking, your best bet is the Baz Bus, a hop-on, hop-off bus that runs along several routes in South Africa. You can either buy a ticket for a certain destination and hop on and off as many times as you like along the way, or you can buy a 7-day or 14-day pass and go wherever you like. The bus picks up and drops off at several affiliated hostels along the garden route. For more information, click here. Or, to read a tips from a blogger who’s done the garden route on the Baz Bus, click here.
Camping is a great way to save money on accommodation; we bought a tent for just SAR250 (£11/$16) and stayed at campsites for SAR60-160 (£3-7/ $4-10). Campsites are attached to hostels and you can use all of the facilities (bar, seating area, kitchen, wifi, showers) while camping.
Hostels, called “backpackers”, exist throughout South Africa, and have dorms for as little as SAR100 (£5/ $7).
You can find just about every type of food in the cities, and a good range of restaurants outside cities, too. We often cooked for ourselves, picking up ingredients from one of the massive supermarkets and preparing a meal in the kitchen of our hostel.
While a lot of the food is meat-based, and a braii is a popular activity, vegetarians will have no problem getting fed. For veggie travel tips throughout southern Africa, click here.
It’s pretty easy to travel in South Africa on a tight budget. Food, accommodation, car rental, and petrol are all pretty cheap. Our costs were only bumped up by activities such as shark diving, or the occasional splurge on a nice meal. Read our budget here.
The safaris are where you’ll really save money by going independently. While all-inclusive tours can charge in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, simply renting a car and paying the entrance fee means that your safari will remain in the tens. You can even camp inside the parks for reasonable prices.
ATMs can be found throughout the country. Banks, as usual, have short opening times and aren’t open at weekends, so plan ahead if you need to change money.
The South African rand is accepted in the bordering countries of Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland. But the currencies of these countries will not be accepted in South Africa, so be sure to change any local cash to South African Rand before travelling into the country.
The water throughout South Africa is perfectly safe to drink. Bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up as you go.
Most of the country is malaria-free, but certain places, such as Kruger National Park, are risk areas for the disease at some parts of the year. So be sure to check whether you are at risk, and take antimalarials if so.
South Africa can get really hot, so be sure to stay in the shade during peak sunlight hours and to wear sunscreen.
South Africa has a reputation for being unsafe, and, unfortunately, in many areas, this reputation is justly deserved. Be sure to identify and avoid dangerous areas, don’t walk around with valuables on display, and take a taxi after dark. If in doubt, tell the staff at your hostel where you want to go, and ask if the route is safe to walk.
Parking attendants will keep an eye on your car for a small tip. Be sure not to leave valuables in sight, and don’t keep anything in your car overnight.
Don’t let yourself become paranoid about safety! Violent crimes such as muggings and carjackings have drastically decreased in recent years. Just keep an eye on your surroundings and belongings and you, like most visitors to South Africa, will likely have a crime-free trip.
Where To Go And What To Do:
The national parks in South Africa are out of this world, and all of them are accessible for independent travellers. Addo National Park is a great place to see elephants, and the whole park is small enough to be seen in a day. But nothing beats Kruger for sheer number of animals.
The Drakensberg mountains are an incredible part of the country. In the south, you can drive yourself or take shared taxis through the beautiful Sani Pass into Lesotho, and in the north, the stunning Blyde River Canyon is well worth a visit.
While I personally wasn’t a fan of the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein, I absolutely adored Cape Town.
The Garden Route is simply incredible. Awesome adventure activities, beautiful beaches, and wildlife encounters all on one stretch of road, which can easily be covered on an independent road trip. Read our highlights of the garden route here.
Got any more independent travel tips for South Africa? Be sure to share them in the comments!