If you’ve been dreaming of road tripping in one of Africa’s largest game reserves, along the misty coastal routes of Cape Town or in the vineyard-dotted terrain of Cape Winelands here are our top tips for driving in South Africa!
Our South African road trip was epic, but with Africa being such a big country, we had to split it into 2 parts. We rented the first car in Cape Town where we stayed for 6 days and a second car in Johannesburg. From Joburg we headed to the Kruger National Park. After four days of driving in the game reserve, we spent a couple of days along the incredible Panorama Route. Nearly 2000 km in 6 days! Having driven on every kind of South African road – highways to off-roads – we wanted to share what we learned about driving in this country to help you plan your trip.
Driving in South Africa: the roads
Driving is on the left hand side in South Africa. Roads are mostly excellent, driving on the national roads is fast (100 – 120 km/h) but good. We came across roads in quite bad conditions (huge potholes) in the rural areas, especially on the Panorama Route. There’s only a couple of local peculiarities:
- Use the emergency lane to allow others to overtake. Once you pass another driver a flash of the hazard lights suffices as a thank you.
- Watch out for the stop signs! Being used to driving in Europe, the four-way stop signs took us by surprise. On a four-way stop sign everybody stops, the first person to arrive has the right of way.
- Do not honk the horn. Only exceptions are the emergency situations.
Choosing the rental company in South Africa
No matter how off season you are planning to travel to South Africa, always remember to book your car in advance. Rentals are pretty busy all year round! We chose Budget Rentals, with pick up and drop off at the airport offices. We couldn’t be more happy with our rental experience.
If you are planning to travel for more than a few days, consider renting a big car. Don’t underestimate the vastness of the country, you are going to spend many, many hours in the car. Spend some extra money and value the comfort.
Driving safely in South Africa: the rules
If you are wondering if it’s safe to hire a car and drive around South Africa the answer is, absolutely yes. But there are few things you have to keep in mind.
The car can get jacked, robbed, etc so make sure you buy a full protection with your rental company. Keep valuables out of sight (even leaving a charging cable visible was enough to increase the risk of a break in) and keep your doors locked in the cities. Just take normal precautions and you will have a great road trip.
Few more things:
- Don’t stop if someone waves by the side of the road and don’t pick hitchhikers up.
- Avoid driving after dark in South Africa especially in rural areas: roads are often unmarked and dark. Animals – including hippos – can cross the road at any time and it’s hard to spot them at night time. You can also find people walking along the roads with no reflective gear.
- Outside of Cape Town there are lots of people walking on the hard shoulder and crossing roads, especially around the townships. It is almost impossible to see them crossing, even in daylight. They can jump on the road unexpectedly and cross a highway with no care about cars.
- Parking. Most of the car parks in the cities have parking attendants who mind your car while you visit the most popular spots. Remember that most of the parking attendants are not legit. A small tip of 20 Rand is enough to keep your car safe but if you stop for only 5 minutes don’t feel obliged to pay.
- Mind the speed. Police and mobile speed cameras are everywhere. Cape Town also has many fixed speed cameras.
- Don’t drink and drive. In South Africa the matter is serious, no penalties and points on the driving license. Here you end up in jail.
Other road trip tips:
• Currency: get some South African Rand at the airport on arrival.
• Fuel: petrol stations are available frequently. For more safety, we recommend to pick up fuel regularly in the major towns as leaving the main cities the distances between stations can increase. Credit cards are accepted in the larger stations. You don’t need to fill your own car. There are petrol attendants at all the fuel stops who will fill you up and wash your windows as you wait. If you like you can tip a small amount such as 10 Rand for the service.
• Supplies: snacks and drinks are available at most of the fuel stops and the bigger towns have well-stocked Spars.
• Tolls. On the way from Johannesburg to the Kruger National Park you will find some road tolls. Some rental cars have a prepaid toll reader on the window of the car. However you can also pay by cash and credit card at every stop. Do not trust people who tell you to pay tolls by the petrol stations, they are scammers. You can calculate the toll road fees at this link.
• Maps/GPS: we downloaded maps onto our phone which were accessible offline and they worked really well.
• SIM cards: it’s easy to pick up a pay as you go SIM in the airports as well as local mobile network stores. We chose Vodafone and with € 20 or so we bought 2 GB of data and 100 minutes phone calls.