Airports & Airlines
South African Airways is South Africa’s national airline, with an excellent route network and safety record. In addition to its long-haul flights, it operates regional and domestic routes together with its partners Airlink and SA Express.
OR Tambo International Airport, east of Jo’burg, is the major hub for Southern Africa. The other principal international airports are Cape Town International Airport and King Shaka International Airport in Durban.
Departure tax is included in the price of a ticket.
International fares to South Africa are usually highest during December and January, and between July and September. They are lowest in April and May (except during the Easter holiday period) and November. The rest of the year falls into the shoulder-season category.
It’s normally cheaper to fly via Jo’burg than directly to Cape Town. If an airline serves both, an ‘open jaw’ ticket may be available, allowing you to fly into one city and out of another; more commonly, you may be able to fly to Jo'burg and return from Cape Town via Jo'burg (or vice versa).
London is a hub for airlines offering discounted fares.
Intercontinental (Round-The-World) Tickets
Some standard around-the-world (RTW) itineraries include South Africa.
It’s possible to include both Jo’burg and Cape Town, allowing you to fly into one city and out of the other, and make your own way between the two.
The easiest and cheapest option may be to fly in and out of Jo’burg on a RTW ticket and make separate arrangements from there for Southern African travel.
There are good connections between Jo’burg and most major African cities.
South African Airways, Airlink, SA Express, other countries’ national carriers and British Airways (www.britishairways.com) are good starting points.
Most transcontinental flights have set pricing, with little of the competition-driven discounting that you’ll find in other parts of the world. To reach a far-flung part of Africa from Jo'burg, flying via Europe or the Middle East is often cheaper than travelling direct.
Jo’burg is well connected, including to secondary Southern African airports. For example, Air Botswana (www.airbotswana.co.bw) offers direct flights from Jo'burg to Francistown and Maun as well as the Botswanan capital, Gaborone.
In addition to national carriers, budget South African airlines serve other destinations in the region:
Kulula Offers online discounts on British Airways flights from Jo’burg to Harare (Zimbabwe), Livingstone (Zambia), Windhoek (Namibia) and Mauritius, and on Kenya Airways flights from Jo'burg to Nairobi (Kenya).
Mango Jo’burg to Zanzibar (Tanzania).
Fastjet Jo'burg to Harare and Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), with connections from the former to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Lusaka (Zambia).
Most of the major hubs have direct connections to Jo'burg.
South African Airways From Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Cathay Pacific (www.cathaypacific.com) From Hong Kong, with connections to Cape Town.
Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) From Singapore, with connections to Cape Town.
Air Mauritius (www.airmauritius.com) Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai via Mauritius to Jo'burg, Cape Town and Durban.
From Australia & New Zealand
It often works out cheaper to travel via Asia, the Middle East or London.
Air Mauritius Perth via Mauritius to Jo’burg, Cape Town and Durban, with connections to and from other major Australian cities.
Singapore Airlines Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin, Auckland and Christchurch via Singapore to Jo’burg, with connections to Cape Town.
South African Airways Perth to Jo’burg.
Emirates (www.emirates.com) Most major cities in Australia and New Zealand via Dubai to Jo’burg, Cape Town and Durban.
Qantas (www.qantas.com.au) Sydney to Jo'burg.
From Canada & the USA
The cheapest route is often via London, continental Europe or even the Middle East. A discounted transatlantic ticket and separate onward ticket to Jo’burg or Cape Town may work out the same or cheaper than a through-fare.
Some airlines fly via West African airports such as Accra (Ghana) and Dakar (Senegal). South African Airways flies to Jo’burg from New York and Washington, DC, with a fuel stop in Dakar.
From the US west coast, you can occasionally get good deals via Asia.
From Continental Europe
You can fly to South Africa from most European capitals. Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Munich and Zurich are hubs; all are within about nine hours of Jo’burg.
Several airlines fly direct to both Jo’burg and Cape Town, including KLM (www.klm.com) from Amsterdam. South African Airways flies direct from Frankfurt, Munich and Zurich to Jo’burg.
It can work out cheaper to fly via the Middle East. Turkish Airlines (www.turkishairlines.com) often offers competitive fares to Jo’burg, Cape Town and Durban via Istanbul.
From South America
Travelling via London or continental Europe opens up more choice. South African Airways flies from São Paulo to Jo’burg.
From the Middle East
Emirates Dubai to Jo’burg, Cape Town and Durban.
South African Airways Cairo to Jo’burg; Dubai to Jo’burg, Cape Town and Durban.
Turkish Airlines Istanbul to Jo’burg, Cape Town and Durban.
Egypt Air (www.egyptair.com) Cairo to Jo'burg, with connections to Cape Town and Durban.
Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com) Doha to Jo’burg and Cape Town.
From the UK & Ireland
British Airways flies direct from Heathrow to Jo’burg and Cape Town, with onward connections; Virgin Atlantic (www.virginatlantic.com) and South African Airways also serve Jo'burg. You can find budget flights from Gatwick.
Cheap fares are also available via the Middle East, with airlines such as Turkish Airlines, Emirates and Qatar Airways, and continental Europe. Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopianairlines.com) offers competitive fares via Addis Ababa.
From Ireland, you’ll need to fly via London or continental Europe.
As well as travel agents, preferably those registered with the Association of British Travel Agents (www.abta.com), check ads in the travel sections of weekend newspapers; and in such publications as the South African (www.thesouthafrican.com), TNT (www.tntmagazine.com), Time Out (www.timeout.com) and the Evening Standard (www.standard.co.uk).
There are no restrictions on bringing your own bicycle into South Africa. Some sources of information:
Cycling South Africa (www.cyclingsa.com)
International Bicycle Fund (www.ibike.org)
There are 15 official South Africa–Botswana border posts, open between at least 8am and 3pm.
Some of the more remote crossings are impassable to 2WD vehicles and may be closed during periods of high water. Otherwise the crossings are hassle-free.
Citizens of most Western nations do not require a visa to enter Botswana. People who do require a visa should apply in advance through a Botswanan mission (or a British mission in countries without Botswanan representation).
Grobler’s Bridge/Martin’s Drift (8am to 6pm) Northwest of Polokwane (Pietersburg).
Kopfontein Gate/Tlokweng Gate (6am to midnight) Next to Madikwe Game Reserve; a main border post.
Pont Drift (8am to 4pm) Convenient for Mapungubwe National Park (Limpopo) and Tuli Block (Botswana).
Ramatlabama (6am to 10pm) North of Mahikeng; a main border post.
Skilpadshek/Pioneer Gate (6am to midnight) Northwest of Zeerust; a main border post.
Swartkopfontein Gate/Ramotswa (6am to 10pm) Northwest of Zeerust.
Twee Rivieren (7.30am to 4pm) At the South African entrance to Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
All of Lesotho’s borders are with South Africa and are straightforward to cross.
The main crossing is at Maseru Bridge, east of Bloemfontein. Queues here are sometimes very long upon exiting and, on some weekend evenings, entering Lesotho; use other posts if possible.
You need a 4WD to cross at Sani Pass, Ramatseliso’s Gate and Ongeluksnek.
Caledonspoort (6am to 10pm) For crossing between Fouriesburg and Butha-Buthe.
Makhaleng Bridge (8am to 6pm) Near Mohale’s Hoek/Zastron.
Maputsoe Bridge (24 hours) For crossing between Maputsoe and Ficksburg.
Maseru Bridge (24 hours) The busiest crossing; direct access to Maseru.
Nkonkoana Gate (8am to 4pm) Remote 4WD-only crossing near Sehlabathebe National Park.
Ongeluksnek (7am to 7pm) Remote southern post connecting Mphaki and Matatiele.
Peka Bridge (6am to 4pm) Quieter alternative to Maseru Bridge, just north of Maseru.
Qacha’s Nek (8am to 10pm) Connecting Qacha’s Nek and Matatiele.
Ramatseliso’s Gate (8am to 6pm) Remote 4WD crossing between Tsoelike and Matatiele.
Sani Pass (8am to 4pm) Iconic border post near Himeville; 4WD required.
Sephapo’s Gate (8am to 4pm) Quiet crossing near Mafeteng/Boesmanskop.
Tele Bridge (8am to 10pm) Near Quthing/Sterkspruit.
Van Rooyen's Gate (8am to 10pm) Near Mafeteng/Wepener.
Citizens of Western countries should apply in advance for tourist visas at a Mozambican mission. Border visas may be issued to people coming from countries where there is no Mozambican consular representation, but travellers in this situation should check with the Mozambican High Commission in Pretoria (or Mbabane, Swaziland).
Giriyondo Between Kruger National Park’s Phalaborwa Gate and Massingir (Mozambique).
Kosi Bay/Ponta d’Ouro (8am to 4pm) On the coast, well north of Durban.
Lebombo/Ressano Garcia The main crossing, east of Nelspruit; also known as Komatipoort.
Pafuri In Kruger National Park’s northeastern corner.
Citizens of most Western nations do not require a visa to enter Namibia for up to three months. People who do require a visa should apply in advance through a Namibian mission. Border posts include the following:
Alexander Bay/Oranjemund (6am to 10pm) On the Atlantic coast; access is reliant on the ferry.
Nakop/Ariamsvlei (24 hours) West of Upington.
Rietfontein/Aroab (8am to 4.30pm) Just south of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Vioolsdrif/Noordoewer (24 hours) North of Springbok, on the N7 to/from Cape Town.
There are 11 South Africa–Swaziland border posts, all of which are hassle-free, including the following. Note that small posts close at 4pm.
Golela/Lavumisa (7am to 10pm) En route between Durban and Swaziland’s Ezulwini Valley.
Josefdal/Bulembu (8am to 4pm) Between Piggs Peak and Barberton (Mpumalanga); the road is sealed on the South African side, but thereafter a 4WD or car with high clearance is recommended.
Mahamba (8am to 8pm) The best crossing to use from Piet Retief in Mpumalanga. Casinos nearby attract traffic, especially on weekends.
Mananga (8am to 6pm) Southwest of Komatipoort (Mpumalanga).
Matsamo/Jeppe’s Reef (8am to 8pm) Southwest of Malelane (Mpumalanga) and a possible route to Kruger National Park. Casinos nearby attract traffic, especially on weekends.
Onverwacht/Salitje (8am to 6pm) North of Pongola in KwaZulu-Natal.
Oshoek/Ngwenya (7am to 10pm) The busiest crossing, about 360km southeast of Pretoria.
Citizens of most Western nations need a visa to enter Zimbabwe, and these should be purchased at the border.
Beitbridge (24 hours), on the Limpopo River, is the only border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa. The closest South African town to the border is Musina (15km south), where you can change money.
There’s lots of smuggling, so searches are thorough and queues often long. Ignore touts on the Zimbabwe side trying to ‘help’ you through Zimbabwe immigration and customs; there’s no charge for the government forms needed for immigration.
Numerous bus lines cross between South Africa and its neighbours. It’s the most efficient way to travel overland, unless you have your own vehicle.
Sometimes-lengthy queues are usually the only major hassle. At the border you’ll have to disembark to take care of visa formalities, then reboard and carry on.
Visa prices are not included in ticket prices.
Intercape runs daily between Gaborone (Botswana) and Jo’burg (R220 to R330, 7½ hours) via Pretoria.
Less safe and comfortable than buses, shared taxis run from Jo’burg to Gaborone (seven hours) and Lobatse (Botswana) with a change in Mahikeng (North West Province). Another route from Jo’burg is via Grobler’s Bridge/Martin’s Drift to Palapye (Botswana; eight hours).
Shared taxis connect Jo’burg and Maseru (eight hours). It’s quicker and easier to catch a bus to Bloemfontein, then continue by shared taxi to Maseru (three hours).
South African bus lines, including Intercape, also link Bloemfontein and beyond with Ladybrand (2½ hours), a few kilometres from the Maseru Bridge crossing.
Leaving Maseru, long-distance shared taxis depart from the rank at Maseru Bridge.
Other possible shared-taxi routes:
- Butha-Buthe to/from Fouriesburg (Free State)
- Leribe (Hlotse) to/from Ficksburg (Free State)
- Quthing to/from Sterkspruit (Eastern Cape)
- Qacha’s Nek to/from Matatiele (Eastern Cape)
Bus companies including Greyhound, Intercape and Translux run daily ‘luxury’ coaches between Jo’burg/Pretoria and Maputo (Mozambique) via Nelspruit (Mbombela), Komatipoort and the Lebombo/Ressano Garcia crossing (R300, 10½ hours). Passengers must have a valid Mozambique visa before boarding the bus.
Intercape buses run between Windhoek (Namibia) and Cape Town (R630 to R780, 21½ hours), departing roughly every other day.
Daily shuttles run between Jo’burg and Mbabane.
Shared taxi routes:
- Jo’burg to/from Mbabane (four hours); some continue to Manzini
- Durban to/from Manzini (eight hours)
- Manzini to/from Maputo (3¼ hours)
Car & Motorcycle
- If you rent a car in South Africa and plan to take it across an international border, you’ll need a permission letter from the rental company.
- South African car-rental companies typically charge around R500 for cross-border travel to Lesotho and Swaziland, R1500 for Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and R2000 for Mozambique.
- Most companies permit entry to most neighbouring countries, though some may be reluctant regarding Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
- Check that the right information is on the permission letter; companies sometimes get it wrong.
- Taking a car across a border also raises the insurance excess.
Bringing Your Own Vehicle
- You’ll need the vehicle’s registration papers, liability insurance and your driving licence.
- You’ll also need a carnet de passage en douane, the international customs document, which allows the temporary admission of motor vehicles.
- Obtain a carnet through your local automobile association (from about US$300).
- Drivers of vehicles from outside Africa must typically pay a 50% refundable security deposit of 25% of the vehicle’s value.
- Cars registered in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana and Namibia, and driven by citizens or permanent residents of these countries, don’t need a carnet to visit the other countries in this group.
The following crossings are passable in 2WD cars:
- Grobler’s Bridge/Martin’s Drift
- Kopfontein Gate/Tlokweng Gate
- Skilpadshek/Pioneer Gate
Road tax of M30 (or R30) is payable on entering Lesotho. The easiest entry points for cars and motorcycles are on the northern and western sides of the country.
Most of the entry points to the south and east are unsealed, though many are passable in a 2WD, depending on weather conditions. A sealed road runs around the perimeter of the country from Qacha's Nek clockwise to Mokhotlong.
It’s more economical to rent a car in South Africa than in Lesotho. You must have two red hazard triangles in your car in case of a breakdown.
You must have two red hazard triangles in your car in case of a breakdown.
Kosi Bay/Ponta d’Ouro Travelling to/from Mozambique via this border post, you’ll need your own 4WD vehicle. Accommodation options in Ponta d’Ouro (Mozambique) offer transfers if you need to leave your vehicle at Kosi Bay.
Lebombo/Ressano Garcia (Komatipoort) The N4 highway connects Pretoria with this post, joined by the N12 from Jo’burg. The EN4 highway runs southeast from here to Maputo. There are tolls on both sides of the border.
Namaacha/Lomahasha The roads leading to this border post with Swaziland are sealed, and negotiable with 2WD.
Giriyondo It's 95km from Kruger’s Phalaborwa gate to Giriyondo, and 75km further to Massingir, the first major town on the Mozambique side. A 4WD and proof of overnight accommodation in the relevant park are required.
Pafuri Just 29km from Kruger's Pafuri gate, but on the Mozambique side, there is an unbridged crossing of the Limpopo River near Mapai (makeshift ferry during rains) and a rough bush track thereafter via Mabote and Mapinhane to Vilankulo (4WD required). Allow two full days for the journey. Proof of accommodation in Kruger or Limpopo park is required.
2WD Highways lead to the Vioolsdrif/Noordoewer and Nakop/Ariamsvlei crossings.
4WD A 4WD opens up more options for crossing the border, including through the Kgalagadi and |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld transfrontier parks.
- Swaziland’s borders can be crossed in a 2WD.
- Road tax of E50 payable on entering the country.
- It’s more economical to rent a car in South Africa than in Swaziland.
Entering or leaving South Africa, vehicles pay a toll at the border to use the Limpopo Bridge.
- You can travel to/from South Africa’s neighbours by local shared taxi.
- A few routes go direct.
- It’s normally necessary to walk across the border and pick up a new taxi on the other side.
- Long-distance services generally leave early in the morning.
The Man in Seat Sixty-One (www.seat61.com) has ideas for train travel throughout Southern Africa.
Caminhos de Ferro de Moçambique (www.cfm.co.mz) has a daily train between Maputo and the Lebombo/Ressano Garcia (Komatipoort) border post (US$1, 3¾ hours), where you can cross the border on foot and continue by bus, shared taxi, shuttle or train.
TransNamib StarLine (www.transnamib.com.na) connects Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Windhoek with Keetmanshoop and Karasburg in southern Namibia. From the latter, you can catch an Intercape bus across the border to Upington (Northern Cape).
South Africa is an important stop on world shipping routes. Cape Town is a major port of call for cruise ships, and many also stop at Durban. Both are good places to look for crew berths on private yachts sailing up the East African coast.
It’s possible to find cruise and freighter lines linking South Africa with Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. Many freighters have comfortable passenger cabins.
Even on freighter lines, the thrill of approaching the tip of the continent by sea certainly doesn’t come cheap. Fares from South Africa tend to be lower than those to it.
Cruise People (www.cruisepeople.co.uk) Based in London.
Cruiser Log (www.cruiserlog.com) Crew positions and forum.
Cunard (www.cunard.co.uk) Luxury cruises to Cape Town. Has a list of cruise travel agents around the world.
LBH Africa (www.tallships.com) Southern African freighter line.
Maris Freighter Cruises (www.freightercruises.com) Freighter cruises from North America.
Perpetual Travel (http://perpetualtravel.com/rtw/rtwfreighters.html) Suggests reference books and further links.
Royal Mail Ship St Helena (www.rms-st-helena.com) Cape Town to St Helena and Ascension Island.
Safmarine (www.safmarine.com) Cargo ships. Headquartered in Cape Town.
Dozens of tour and safari companies organise package tours to South Africa and its neighbouring countries. If you prefer a more independent approach, you can book flights and accommodation for the first few nights, then join tours locally.
Itineraries typically include Kruger National Park and Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula.
For particular interests such as birdwatching and botany, check the advertisements in specialist magazines.
Adventure World (www.adventureworld.com.au) A range of tours and safaris in South Africa and the region.
African Wildlife Safaris (www.africanwildlifesafaris.com.au) Customised tours and safaris in South Africa and neighbouring countries.
Peregrine Travel (www.peregrineadventures.com) Guided and independent tours and safaris in South Africa and beyond, including family adventures.
Makila Voyages (www.makila.fr) Upper-end tailored tours and safaris in South Africa and its neighbours.
Dragoman (www.dragoman.co.uk) Overland tours.
Exodus Travels (www.exodus.co.uk) A variety of tours, including overland trips, walking, cycling, wildlife and cultural itineraries, covering South Africa and surrounds.
In the Saddle (www.inthesaddle.com) Strictly for horse aficionados, with various rides in South Africa (including the Wild Coast and the Cape Winelands) and its northern neighbours.
Intrepid Travel (www.intrepidtravel.com) Tours advocating the philosophy of independent travel; numerous itineraries cover South Africa, Swaziland and the region.
Naturetrek (www.naturetrek.co.uk) Specialist nature tours, visiting parts of South Africa (including the Drakensberg and Kruger National Park) as well as Botswana and Namibia.
Temple World (www.templeworld.co.uk) Upper-end ‘educational’ tours in South Africa, Swaziland and elsewhere in the region, focusing on themes such as history, culture and wildlife.
USA & Canada
Africa Adventure Company (www.africa-adventure.com) Upper-end wildlife safaris, including the private reserves around Kruger National Park, plus itineraries in and around Cape Town.
Born Free Safaris & Tours (www.safaris2africa.com) Itineraries covering areas from the Cape to Swaziland and further north in Southern Africa.
Bushtracks Expeditions (www.bushtracks.com) Luxury safaris and private air charters.
Heritage Safari Company (www.heritagesafaris.com) Canada-based company offering wildlife-watching tours in South Africa and bordering countries.