5 tips for traveling in South Africa

If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, whether just as a tourist, or as a prospective volunteer who wants to do some serious sightseeing, you probably have a lot of questions. Is a developing country like South Africa safe to travel around? 

It’s bigger than most European countries – will you be able to find your way around? Is it expensive? How will you know where you should and shouldn’t go?

It can be a little scary trying to figure out how you can travel around in South Africa. The news is often negative with regard to tourist safety, and the travel information you find online is usually aimed at wealthy travelers who want to get from luxury game lodges to luxury beach resorts!

Fortunately, Khaya Volunteers is staffed by people who know the country well, and some have travelled extensively around other African countries by air and road. So here are a few tips we put together for our volunteers, on getting around South Africa affordably and safely!

1. Taking The Bus

baz bus travel south africa

There are several large coach companies running in South Africa, including Greyhound and Intercape. These two are very professionally and safely run, so it’s better if you stick to them and ignore the smaller companies that aren’t as well known.

The buses are large, air-conditioned and comfortable, with friendly staff to help you with information or other needs. Make sure you bring snacks and drinks, as the buses often don’t offer any refreshments on board – and they run on a strict schedule, so most rest stops give you just enough time to visit the toilet!

There’s also some much-loved, smaller South African bus companies, like Baz Bus and Mzansi Tours, which cater specifically to backpackers and budget travelers. They are used a lot by both local and overseas travelers, and have a great reputation for safety and value for money. You buy your ticket and get on or off wherever you want along the route, with no time limit on your ticket.

It’s fantastic for volunteers who want to meet other travelers and take in as much of the country as they can. For example, you can start your trip in Port Elizabeth to work at one of Khaya’s awesome local volunteer projects right in Port Elizabeth, and then travel along the beautiful Garden Route to Cape Town.

Another great thing about travelling this way is that you can get nice discounts with these companies if you book through Khaya Volunteers! Get ready for amazing activities like bungee jumping, shark diving, kite surfing, and a whole host of other adventures. Check out some of their routes and activities on offer here.

2. Flying Around

air travel south africa

Local flights in South Africa are pretty reasonably priced, especially for people converting Euro or pounds! Booking well in advance can earn you some fantastic discounts. Most South Africans use budget airlines like Mango and Kulula if they’re flying locally. These airlines serve the 6 biggest airports in the country and run several flights per day. Make sure you book through the airline’s websites and not travel agents, if you want to save money.

Bear in mind that meals and baggage (excluding hand luggage) will probably cost extra on budget airlines. You should definitely make sure your checked baggage is tightly secured to avoid opening and theft – plastic wrapping services are available in the major airports for a fee.

3. Hitting The Road

road travelling south africa

South Africa has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to road travel. If you’re searching online, you’ll probably read some scary stories. But as with most media – don’t believe the hype. Local South Africans are crazy about road trips and they know how to avoid the pitfalls. If you take their advice about routes and car safety, you won’t have much of a problem at all.

Of course, as in many other countries there are problems like carjackings, smash-and-grabs and break ins from time to time - but if you keep your wits about you, be aware of where you park, and ensure your car is always locked and valuables hidden; you’ll most likely be perfectly fine.

Renting a car is the most convenient way to get around for experienced drivers, since you can get to many out-of-the-way destinations. A 4 x 4 vehicle is even better!

4. The Slow Train

travel train south africa

Unlike countries in Europe and the UK, or the bigger metropolitan areas in the US, South Africa doesn’t have an extensive well-maintained passenger railway system. Rail is used mainly for cargo transport.

The bigger cities do have rail travel options, but they’re way more limited than say London or Paris. Most local people travel by road, with some working people using the main train routes in their cities to get to their jobs.

That’s not to say, of course, that you can’t travel from city to city by train if you want to. Many people like the relaxed atmosphere and safety of rail travel over lengthy car trips or more expensive flights. Shosholoza Meyl offers great rail travel options, from economy right up to 5-star luxury if you’re feeling rich!

5. Safety First

safe travel south africa

Whether you head out on your volunteering trip or sightseeing adventure in South Africa by bus, plane, road or rail – you’re perfectly entitled to be concerned about your safety. Travelling in South Africa is going to be one of the best experiences of your life – if you do your homework first!

South Africa is a developing country and has a relatively high crime rate, largely because of socioeconomic imbalances. Whatever the reasons, tourists should follow certain guidelines.

Park as close as you can to your destination, don’t be flashy, don’t leave your valuables on display in the car, and don’t forget to keep your doors locked at all times. These are sensible precautions in most of the world, not just Africa.

Your best precaution is chatting to locals about their safety measures. Don’t hesitate to contact Khaya’s friendly staff to find out about travel options and safety. We all live locally, and we’re very experienced in helping volunteers and travelers from all over the world hav


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