Tips for a Road Trip in South Africa

Landscape with mountains and water; Motlatse Canyon (Blyde River) in the Drakensburg Mountains, road trip in South Africa
Motlatse Canyon (Blyde River) in the Drakensburg Mountains

South Africa is a top vacation destination for travelers all over the world thanks to attractions like Cape Town and The Garden Route. As of 2017, about 3.5 million people head to South Africa each year. It’s a picture-perfect representation of culture, wildlife and incredible scenery. It’s no wonder so many people flock to this lowermost point of the continent each year. A road trip in South Africa is really the ultimate way to see this beautiful country. It will allow you to gaze at the gorgeous landscapes that include both breathtaking mountains and serene coastlines. You can even check out the world’s sixth-largest waterfall.

Whatever you decide to do on your road trip in South Africa, planning ahead is key. You want to be able to see and experience as much as possible while you’re there. With some helpful tips in mind, you can see and do more, save money and stay safe.

How to experience everything

While what you see and do on a road trip in South Africa depends on your own interests, being able to experience as much as possible while you’re there is the most important part. After all, for many people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! No matter where you start your road trip, if you keep some smart planning tips in mind, you can experience things like:

There is so much more to do and see — the list is endless! Your adventure is up to you and where you decide to go. But if you truly want to experience everything, you have to think ahead.

Make the most of your time

So, keep these tips in mind to make the most of your trip:

  • Don’t sleep in. This might seem obvious, but people on vacation tend to take it easy and sleep in. When you’re on a road trip, you want to get in your car as early in the morning as possible. That gives you time to get to your destination for the day and enjoy whatever activity you have planned. If you sleep in and start later in the day, you might spend most of your day in the car. Then you may not have time to actually do anything.
  • Plan, but don’t over-plan. While it’s important to have some sort of itinerary in mind, you’re going to want to be flexible. Not everything will be perfect. The sooner you accept that and go with it, the better your trip will be. You might end up actually experiencing more and having more fun on those days where everything doesn’t go as planned.
  • Follow recommendations from locals. Many people traveling through tend to fall into stereotypical tourist traps. While there’s nothing wrong with seeing the major sights, if you really want to see some of the hidden treasures of South Africa, listen to the people who live there. That’s another reason why it’s so important to be flexible.

By keeping just these three simple tips in mind, you can make the most of every day you’re road tripping through the country. Of course, it’s important to remain safe while you’re traveling. With that in mind, let’s go over some key safety tips.

An ocean front beach view in Cape Town; road trip in South Africa
Platboom Beach, Cape Town: Image by Max Libertine on Unsplash

Seeing the sights safely

Before you go to South Africa, it’s important to understand what you’ll need to safely get in and out. You should bring your passport and an airline return ticket. If you have any health conditions, be sure to bring paperwork regarding those, too. If you need to bring medications or supplements with you, be sure to check the laws concerning those substances; drug classification and allowances in the U.S. and other countries can differ greatly from South Africa.

Getting through customs can be a bit time-consuming. You’ll start at immigration, get your bags and head to customs. Then, if you don’t have any goods to declare, you can be on your way. Having everything ready will help keep this process as painless as possible.

Once you’re actually in the country and ready to hit the road, keep these safety tips at the forefront of everything you do. In general, South Africa is fairly safe. You shouldn’t be worried as you’re traveling through it, but you should be smart and aware of your surroundings.

Road trip safety tips

  • Rent a small car for your travels, and keep your doors and windows locked.
  • Avoid driving at night.
  • Don’t leave belongings visible in your car.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash with you.
  • Acknowledge strangers, even the “shady” ones. If you see people looking at your car or your stuff, give them a small smile and nod. This lets them know you see them, and it might deter them from trying anything.

You don’t have to be scared as you’re driving through the area, but treat potential thieves as you might treat a lion, lurking for its prey. Be diligent and aware, and you and your belongings will be fine.

Speaking of driving (and staying safe), remember that, depending on where you’re from, you might be driving on the opposite side of the road in Africa. Make sure whoever is behind the wheel is comfortable with this transition and is aware of any differing driving laws. It’s the driver’s responsibility to keep all of the passengers safe! What’s more, it’s always a good idea to carry emergency equipment with you. Have a flashlight, flares and first aid kit, no matter where you are.

Hostel room

Traveling on a budget

If you’ve been planning the ultimate trip to South Africa, chances are you already know you’re going to be spending some serious cash just to get there. But that doesn’t mean your trip needs to be extravagantly expensive. You can still experience all South Africa has to offer, even if you’re on a budget.

When you’re looking for a place to rest your head, seek out hostels or guesthouses. They might not be as luxurious as some of the hotels. But they’re often in beautiful locations, and you can stay there for a fraction of the cost.
While renting a small car is usually the most budget-friendly option, you might feel more comfortable taking public transportation in busy areas like Cape Town.

If you’re staying in a hostel, you don’t have to spend a lot on your meals, either. Many of these places have common kitchens where you can prepare your own food. Buying groceries and cooking them yourself is going to end up being much cheaper than finding restaurants every day. If you do want to try some traditional restaurants, do your research ahead of time and decide where you want to splurge.

While Cape Town is undoubtedly the most well-known area in the country, it’s also probably the most expensive. Should you make a stop there? Absolutely. But don’t make it the sole focus of your trip. You’ll spend far less money in other lesser-known (but equally-beautiful) areas.

Journeying on a road trip in South Africa will be an unforgettable experience. Make sure you utilize some of these tips and suggestions throughout your trip. You’ll save money, see more and stay safe while you’re doing it!

About Jori Hamilton


Jori Hamilton is a writer from the pacific northwest who covers travel, social issues, and technology. You can follow her on twitter @hamiltonjori

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