Air

Domestic fares are generally affordable but it depends on the route. A budget flight from Jo’burg to Cape Town, a popular route served by numerous airlines, costs around R1000, while Cape Town to East London, a less competitive route, might cost double that.

There are a number of budget airlines connecting all the major South African cities. It rarely works out cheaper to fly with the main carrier, South African Airways (SAA).

Keep costs down by booking online months before travelling, either directly or through the likes of Computicket Travel or Travelstart (www.travelstart.co.za).

Airlines in South Africa

Airlink South African Airways’ partner has a good network, including smaller destinations such as Upington, Mthatha and Maseru.

SA Express This South African Airways partner has a good network, including direct flights between Cape Town and Hoedspruit (for Kruger National Park).

South African Airways The national airline, with an extensive domestic and regional network.

Budget Airlines

South Africa's budget airlines also offer hotel bookings, car rentals and holiday packages.

CemAir A small airline connecting Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, George, Plettenberg Bay, Margate and other destinations.

Kulula Budget airline connecting Jo’burg, Cape Town, Durban, George and East London. It also offers discounts on domestic flights with sister airline British Airways.

Mango The South African Airways subsidiary flies between Jo’burg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, George and Bloemfontein.

FlySafair Offers cheap fares between Jo'burg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and George.

Bicycle

As long as you’re fit enough to handle the hills, South Africa offers some rewarding cycling. It has scenic and diverse terrain, abundant campsites and numerous quiet secondary roads. The major drawback is sharing the tarmac with South Africa's often erratic and aggressive drivers.

Good areas The roads around the Cape Peninsula and Winelands are popular, although busy and swept by summer wind. The Wild Coast is beautiful and challenging, and the northern lowveld offers wide plains.

Public transport Trains can carry bicycles, but most bus lines don’t want bikes in their luggage holds, and shared taxis don’t carry luggage on the roof.

Purchase Larger South African cities, especially Cape Town, have a good selection of mountain bikes for sale. Jo’burg and Cape Town are the best places to look for touring bikes. To resell your bicycle at the end of your trip, try hostel noticeboards, bike shops and clubs, and www.gumtree.co.za.

Rental For day rides, some hostels offers short-term mountain-bike rental. Rentals can also sometimes be arranged through bike shops in the cities; you’ll usually be required to leave a credit-card deposit.

Safety Distances between major towns are often long, though, except in isolated areas such as the Karoo, you’re rarely far from a village or farmhouse. Many roads don’t have a hard shoulder; on those that do, motorists use the shoulder as an unofficial slow lane. It’s illegal to cycle on highways, and roads near urban areas are busy and hazardous. Before heading off anywhere, contact other cyclists through local cycling clubs or bicycle shops to get recent information on the routes you’re considering. Bring a good lock to counter the ever-present risk of theft, store the bike inside your accommodation (preferably inside your room) and chain it to something solid.

Spare parts Mountain bikes and parts are widely available in the cities. It’s often difficult to find specialised parts for touring bikes, especially outside Cape Town and Jo’burg. Establish a relationship with a good bike shop in a city before you head off into the veld, in case you need something couriered to you.

Weather Much of the country (except for the Western Cape and west coast) gets most of its rain in summer (late November to March), often in the form of violent thunderstorms. When it isn’t raining, summer days can be unpleasantly hot, especially in the steamy lowveld.

Boat

There are few opportunities to travel by boat. The most likely possibilities are between Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Local yacht clubs are good starting points. Cruise liners also ply the east coast between the Cape and Mozambique, with opportunities to join or leave along the way.

Bus

A good network of buses, of varying reliability and comfort, links the major cities.

Classes There are no class tiers on the bus lines, although major companies generally offer a ‘luxury’ service, with features such as air-con, a toilet and films.

Discounts The major bus lines offer student, frequent-traveller and senior-citizen discounts, as well as specials – check their websites for details.

Fares Roughly calculated by distance, though short runs are disproportionately expensive. Your fare may also be based on the bus's whole journey (so travelling from Jo'burg to Bloemfontein costs the same as travelling from Pretoria). Prices rise during school holidays.

Safety Lines are generally safe. Note, however, that many long-distance services run through the night. On overnight journeys, travellers should take care of their valuables and may feel more comfortable sitting near the front of the bus.

Ticket purchase For the main lines, purchase tickets at least 24 hours in advance, and as far in advance as possible for travel during peak periods. Tickets can be bought through bus offices, Computicket Travel and Shoprite/Checkers supermarkets. Computicket is particularly useful and functional, offering the major carriers in one booking engine and generally accepting foreign credit cards and mobile-phone numbers. Just note that, unless you're travelling out of a large city, you must usually pick up your physical ticket at a Shoprite or Checkers before catching your bus.

Bus Lines

City to City In partnership with Translux, it operates the routes that once carried people between the homelands and the cities under apartheid. The no-frills service is less expensive than other lines and serves many off-the-beaten-track places, including townships and mining towns. Destinations include Mthatha (for the Wild Coast), Nelspruit (for Kruger National Park), Zeerust (for Botswana), Cape Town and Durban.

Greyhound An extensive nationwide network of comfortable buses, including Jo’burg to Durban via Richards Bay. Also operates other lines, including the cheaper Citiliner buses.

Intercape An extensive network stretching from Cape Town to Limpopo and beyond. For longer hauls (including Cape Town to Windhoek, Namibia, and Mossel Bay to Jo’burg), it’s worth paying extra for a reclining seat on an overnight Sleepliner bus.

Translux The main long-distance operator, serving destinations including Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, East London, Mthatha, Nelspruit and the Garden Route.

Backpacker Shuttles

A convenient alternative to standard bus lines, the Baz Bus caters almost exclusively to backpackers and travellers. It offers hop-on, hop-off fares and door-to-door services between Cape Town and Jo’burg via the Garden Route, Port Elizabeth, Mthatha, Durban and the Northern Drakensberg.

Baz Bus drops off and picks up at hostels, and it has transfer arrangements with those off its route in areas such as the Wild Coast. You can book directly with Baz Bus online, by email, phone or SMS, or at hostels.

Point-to-point fares are more expensive than on the major bus lines, but it can work out economically if you take advantage of the hop-on, hop-off feature. Sample one-way hop-on, hop-off fares from Cape Town are Jo’burg R5400, Durban R4470 and Port Elizabeth R2300. One-/two-/three-week travel passes cost R2600/R4100/5100.

New challenger Mzansi Experience offers a similar service to Baz Bus and is fast gaining popularity among travellers. Prices are lower: a hop-on, hop-off ticket from Cape Town to Jo'burg costs R4400; and three-day/one-/two-/three-week travel passes are R1500/2500/3800/5000.

Car & Motorcycle

South Africa is a spectacular country for a road trip. Away from the main bus and train routes, having your own wheels is the best way to get around, and if you’re in a group, hiring a car is often the most economical option.

Road maps are a worthwhile investment and are readily available in South Africa.

Automobile Associations

Automobile Association of South Africa offers a vehicle breakdown service, which can be useful if you’ll be driving in the areas it covers.

Its fleet of emergency response vehicles operates nationwide, with AA-approved operatives available elsewhere and numerous other benefits offered to members. Membership costs from R111.50 per month. Check the website for motoring news, information and tips.

Members of foreign clubs in the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (www.fia.com) group have access to AASA – contact your club to find out what is available to you in South Africa.

Driving Licence

  • You can use your driving licence from your home country, provided it is in English (or you have a certified translation).
  • For use in South Africa, your licence should also carry your photo. Otherwise you’ll need an international driving permit.
  • Police generally ask to see foreign drivers’ passports, so keep a photocopy in your car.
  • You can be fined for not being able to show your licence, passport or other ID.

Fuel & Spare Parts

  • Unleaded petrol costs about R12 per litre.
  • An attendant will fill your tank and clean your windows – tip R2 to R5; if they check your oil, water or tyres, tip R5 to R10.
  • Along main roads, there are plenty of petrol stations. Many stay open 24 hours.
  • There are petrol stations in most South African towns.
  • In rural areas, fill up whenever you can.

Lesotho

  • The main petrol stations are in Maseru.
  • Other major towns have limited facilities and unreliable fuel availability.
  • Carry a jerry can, as fuel is not readily available in remote areas.

Swaziland

  • Mbabane and Manzini have the best facilities.
  • Manzini is the best place for sourcing spare parts.

Hire

  • Car rental is inexpensive in South Africa compared with Europe and North America, starting at around R200 per day for longer rentals.
  • Many companies levy a surcharge for drivers aged under 21.
  • Most companies ask for a credit card and will not accept a debit card. Many use a chip-and-pin machine, so you'll need to know your credit card’s PIN.
  • For low rates, book online months in advance.
  • Many companies stipulate a daily mileage limit, with an extra fee payable for any mileage over this limit. This can be a drawback if you’re planning a long road trip. Four hundred kilometres a day is generally sufficient. If you plan one- or two-day stopovers along the way, 200km a day might be sufficient.
  • A few local companies offer unlimited mileage. If you rent through an international company and book through an overseas branch, you may get unlimited mileage for no extra cost, except at peak times (such as December to January).
  • Make sure that quoted prices include the 14% value-added tax (VAT).
  • One-way rental is charged according to the distance of the relocation.
  • There are rental operations in cities, major towns and airports, but it’s generally cheapest to hire in a hub such as Jo’burg or Cape Town.

Rental Companies

In addition to the companies listed, check with backpacker hostels and travel agents, as many offer good deals. Local companies are usually less expensive, though they tend to come and go, and their vehicles are often older.

Argus (www.arguscarhire.com) Online consolidator, covering South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Around About Cars Covering South Africa and Swaziland, this recommended budget agent secures low rates with other operators, including Budget, Tempest and First. One of the few companies offering unlimited mileage.

Avis (www.avis.co.za) Covers South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

Budget (www.budget.co.za) Covers South Africa and Swaziland.

Europcar (www.europcar.co.za) Covers South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland.

First (www.firstcarrental.co.za) Covers South Africa.

Hertz (www.hertz.co.za) Covers South Africa.

Sixt (www.sixt.com) Covers South Africa.

Tempest (www.tempestcarhire.co.za) Covers South Africa.

Thrifty (www.thrifty.co.za) Covers South Africa.

Campervans, 4WD & Motorcycles

  • Some campervan and motorhome rentals include camping gear.
  • One-way rental is not always possible.
  • ‘Bakkie’ campers, sleeping two in the back of a canopied pick-up truck, are cheaper.
  • Mopeds and scooters are available for hire in Cape Town and other tourist areas.
  • For Lesotho and provinces such as the Northern and Eastern Capes, with many gravel roads and national parks, consider a 4WD.
  • Besides standard rental-car companies, check Britz in Cape Town, Jo’burg and beyond for 4WDs; Drive South Africa (www.drivesouthafrica.co.za) in Cape Town for 4WDs and campervans, and Maui (www.maui.co.za) in Cape Town and Jo’burg for motorhomes.

Insurance

Insurance for third-party damage and damage to or loss of your vehicle is highly recommended, though it's not legally required for private-vehicle owners. Generally it is only available on an annual basis.

If you're renting a vehicle, insurance with an excess should be included, with an excess waiver or reduction available at an extra cost.

Check that hire-car insurance or the rental agreement covers hail damage, a costly possibility during summer in the highveld and lowveld regions.

Insurance providers include the following:

Automobile Association of South Africa

Old Mutual iWyze (www.oldmutual.co.za)

Outsurance (www.outsurance.co.za)

Sansure (www.sansure.co.za)

Purchase

South Africa is the best place in the region to purchase a vehicle for a Southern African, or larger sub-Saharan, journey. It’s worth buying a vehicle if you plan to stay longer than about three months.

Jo’burg is the best place to buy; prices are often lower here, and cars tend to build up rust in Cape Town and coastal towns. Cape Town is the best place to resell; the market is smaller and prices tend to be higher.

In Jo’burg you’ll find a good congregation of used-car dealers on Great North Rd, Benoni; in Cape Town, look on Voortrekker Rd between Maitland and Bellville metro train stations.

Buying privately, prices are considerably lower, though you won’t have any dealer warranties and shopping around is likely to take longer. Dealers can advise on the arduous process of registering the car, and they may have some of the forms you need. You may find one willing to agree to a buy-back deal, though the terms are likely to be unfavourable.

Prices are high. Lonely Planet readers and writers have paid R124,000, at a Benoni dealership, for a four-year-old Nissan 2.4 4WD bakkie with a canopy and 135,000km on the clock; R70,000 to a private seller in Cape Town for a seven-year-old Toyota Corolla with 95,000km on the clock; and most recently, R60,000 to a private seller in Cape Town for a 10-year-old Renault Clio with 120,000km on the clock.

Paperwork

Make sure the car details correspond accurately with the ownership (registration) papers, that there is a current licence disc on the windscreen and that the service-history book is up to date. Check the owner’s name against their identity document, and check the car’s engine and chassis numbers.

An up-to-date roadworthy certificate is required when you submit the change-of-ownership form and pay tax for a licence disc. Roadworthy test centres issue certificates for a few hundred rand and will generally overlook minor faults. In Cape Town many test centres are found on Oswald Pirow St (also known as Christiaan Barnard St), near the Civic Centre.

Registration

Registering your car is a bureaucratic headache and will likely take a couple of weeks. Officials have told travellers they cannot register a car without South African citizenship, but this is untrue.

The forms you need to complete should be available at vehicle registration offices and dealers:

  • ANR8 (application and notice in respect of traffic register number)
  • RLV/NCO5 (notification of change of ownership/sale of motor vehicle)

Submit your ANR8 as soon as possible, as this registers individuals to drive on South African roads. Without this piece of paperwork, you cannot register a car in your name; it takes several weeks to process. You generally need a proof of your permanent address, such as a utility bill in your name; check what is required, as this has proved to be an obstacle for foreigners.

To submit your RLV/NCO5, present yourself at a vehicle registration office along with the following items:

  • your passport and a photocopy of it
  • a copy of the seller’s ID
  • the registration certificate (in the seller’s name)
  • a roadworthy certificate
  • proof of purchase
  • proof of address (a letter from your accommodation may suffice)
  • a valid licence
  • your fee (in cash)

Ideally get photocopies of IDs and other documents certified at a police station before submitting them.

Charges rise annually and typically start at around R400 to register and license a car.

If the licence has expired, you will have to pay a penalty.

Contacts & Resources

Auto Trader (www.autotrader.co.za) Car ads across South Africa.

Cape Ads (www.capeads.com) Car ads around Cape Town.

eNaTIS (www.enatis.com) Forms and information on registering vehicles.

Gumtree South Africa (www.gumtree.co.za) South African car ads.

Mahindra Benoni (www.msmdealer.co.za) Jo’burg dealer offering car and bakkie sales and trade-ins; has experience selling to foreigners and helping them register vehicles.

South African Government Services (www.gov.za) Information on applying for a traffic register number and driving licence. Click on Services, Services for Foreign Nationals and Driving.

Suedafrika-forum.net (http://suedafrika-forum.net) A forum in German.

Western Cape Government (www.westerncape.gov.za) Forms and advice on registering a vehicle in the Western Cape; click on Directories then Services and search for the Licences, Permits and Certificates link. Also details of vehicle registration offices in and around Cape Town; click on Directories then Facilities and search for the Motor Vehicle Registering Authorities link.

Road Conditions

  • A good network of highways covers the country.
  • Major roads are generally in good condition.
  • Outside large towns and cities you may encounter gravel (dirt) roads, most of which are graded and reasonably smooth.
  • Check locally on tertiary and gravel roads’ condition, which can deteriorate when it rains.
  • In rural areas beware of hazards such as dangerous potholes, washed-out roads, unannounced hairpin bends, and livestock, children and dogs on the road.
  • The N2 highway through the Wild Coast region is in poor condition.

Road Hazards

  • South Africa's roads can be treacherous, with a horrific accident rate and well over 10,000 deaths annually.
  • Notably dangerous stretches of highway: N1 between Cape Town and Beaufort West, and between Polokwane (Pietersburg) and Louis Trichardt (Makhado); N2 between Cape Town and Caledon, along the Garden Route, between East London and Kokstad, and Durban and Tongaat; N12 between Springs and Witbank; N4 between Middelburg and Belfast.
  • The main hazards are your fellow drivers. Motorists from all sections of society drive sloppily and often aggressively. Be particularly wary of shared-taxi drivers, who operate under pressure on little sleep in sometimes-shoddy vehicles.
  • Overtaking blind and with insufficient passing room are common.
  • On major roads, drivers coming up behind you will flash their lights at you and expect you to move into the hard shoulder to let them pass, even if you are approaching a corner and regardless of what is happening in the hard shoulder. Motorists often remain hard on your tail until you move over.
  • Drivers on little-used rural roads often speed and assume there is no other traffic.
  • Watch out for oncoming cars at blind corners on secondary roads.
  • Despite roadblocks and alcohol breath testing in South Africa, particularly in urban areas, drink driving is widespread.
  • Do not be seduced by the relaxed local attitude to drink driving; you can end up in a cell, so nominate a designated driver.
  • Farm animals, wildlife (particularly baboons) and pedestrians stray onto the roads, especially in rural areas. If you hit an animal in an area where you’re uncertain of your safety, continue to the nearest police station and report it there.
  • In roads through townships (such as the N2 from Cape Town International Airport to the city), foreign objects are occasionally placed on the road and motorists robbed when they pull over after driving over the object. Continue to a garage and police station to inspect your car and report the incident.
  • During the rainy season, thick fog can slow you to a crawl, especially in the higher areas of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
  • In the highveld and lowveld, summer hail storms can damage your car.

Carjacking

In Jo’burg and, to a lesser extent, in the other big cities and elsewhere in the northeastern provinces, carjacking is a danger. It’s more likely if you’re driving something flash, rather than a standard rental car.

  • Stay alert, keep your taste in cars modest and avoid driving in urban areas at night; if you have to do so, keep windows wound up and doors locked.
  • If you’re waiting at a red light and notice anything suspicious, it’s standard practice to check that the junction is clear and jump the light.
  • If you do get carjacked, don’t resist; just hand over the keys immediately. The carjackers are almost always armed, and people have been killed for their cars.

Road Rules

  • Driving is on the left-hand side of the road.
  • Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and all passengers.
  • The main local idiosyncrasy is the ‘four-way stop’ (crossroad), found even on major roads. All vehicles are required to stop, with those arriving first being the first to go (even if they’re on a minor cross street).

Speed Limits

Stick to speed limits, as speed traps (cameras and guns) are increasingly common in South Africa, although limits remain widely ignored by locals.

  • 120km/h on most major highways
  • 100km/h on open roads
  • 60km/h in built-up areas
  • 40km/h in most wildlife parks and reserves

Signage

Signage is good in South Africa. Signposts are sparser on secondary and tertiary roads, sometimes only giving route numbers or directing you to nearby towns, rather than the next large town or city.

Roads are normally numbered (eg R44). When you ask directions, most people will refer to these numbers.

Tolls

On some South African highways a toll is payable, based on distance. You can usually pay with cash or card. Many rental cars have a transmitter attached; you will automatically be charged and the fee added to your final rental bill. If this is the case, the transmitter will beep and the toll gate will open automatically.

There’s always plenty of warning that you’re about to enter a toll section (marked by a black ‘T’ in a yellow circle), and there's normally an alternative route (marked by a black ‘A’ in a yellow circle).

Calculate journey tolls at Drive South Africa (www.drivesouthafrica.co.za).

Parking & Car Guards

Parking is readily available at sights, eateries and accommodation throughout South Africa. Particularly in Jo’burg and other locations where crime is a problem, secure parking is often offered.

If you are parking in the street or even a car park in larger South African towns and cities, you will often be approached by a ‘car guard’. They will keep an eye on your vehicle in exchange for a tip: R2 for a short period, R5 to R10 for long stays. They may also offer to wash your car for an extra R20. Do not pay them until you are leaving, or if they did not approach you when you arrived. Ensure you give the money to the right person; in Cape Town, for example, approved car guards often wear high-visibility vests.

Hitching

Hitch-hiking and picking up hitchers is inadvisable.

If you’re strapped for cash, you can look into drive-shares. Hostel noticeboards often have details of free or shared-cost lifts. Also check out FindALift (https://findalift.co.za) and Jumpin Rides (www.jumpinrides.co.za).

Local Transport

Bus

  • Several urban areas, including Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria and Jo’burg, have city bus networks.
  • Fares are cheap.
  • Routes, which are often signboarded, are extensive.
  • Services often stop running early in the evening, and there aren’t many on weekends.
  • In terms of safety and convenience, only Cape Town’s MyCiTi buses and Durban People Mover are recommended.

Shared Taxi

Shared minibus taxis run almost everywhere – around cities, and to the suburbs, townships and neighbouring towns. Riding them offers an insight into local life, but be aware that there are safety issues.

  • They leave when full – though ‘full’ in South Africa isn’t as packed as in many African countries.
  • Most accommodate 14 to 16 people. Slightly larger ‘sprinters’ accommodate about 20.
  • Away from train and bus routes, shared taxis may be the only choice of public transport.
  • At weekends they generally have reduced services or no departures.
  • Visit TaxiMap (http://taximap.co.za) for a useful database of minibus-taxi routes, fares and other information.
  • Car taxis are sometimes shared. In some towns, and on some longer routes, a shared car taxi may be the only transport option.
  • Shared car taxis are more expensive than minibus taxis and similar in terms of safety.

Security

Money saved by taking shared taxis is generally outweighed by safety considerations.

  • Overall, taking shared taxis is not recommended.
  • Driving standards and vehicle conditions are poor.
  • There are frequent accidents.
  • There are occasional gangster-style clashes between rival companies.
  • Shared-taxi stations and their immediate surroundings are often unsafe.
  • Muggings, pickpocketing, sexual harassment and other incidents are common.
  • If you want to try riding in a shared taxi, don’t travel at night, read the newspapers and seek local advice on lines and areas to avoid.
  • In a few areas shared taxis are relatively safe during daylight hours. This is notably the case in central Cape Town, where locals from all walks of life use shared taxis.
  • Do not travel with luggage, partly because most shared taxis don’t carry bags on the roof, and stowing backpacks can be a hassle.

Shared Taxi Etiquette

  • Passengers with luggage should sit in the first row behind the driver.
  • Move along the seat to the window to give others easy access.
  • Pass the money forward (your fare and those of the people around you) to the driver's assistant.
  • If you sit on the folding seat by the sliding door, it’s your job to open and close the door when passengers get out. You’ll have to get out of the taxi each time.
  • Some shared taxis, for example in Cape Town, have a conductor who calls out to potential passengers and handles the minibus door.
  • Say: ‘Thank you, driver!’, when you want to get out, rather than just: ‘Stop!’

Private Taxi

  • Larger cities have private taxi services, with taxi stands in popular areas.
  • Phoning for a cab is often safer; you will have to wait for the taxi to arrive, but the vehicle will likely be better quality than those at the stands.
  • Rates vary between cities; in Cape Town, rates average R10 per kilometre, often with a minimum charge of R30 or more.
  • Uber is popular in larger cities and operates in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Port Elizabeth.

Train

South Africa’s Shosholoza Meyl offers regular services connecting major cities.

For an overview of services, descriptions of trains and valuable advice, visit The Man in Seat Sixty-One (www.seat61.com/southafrica).

Classes

Both tourist and economy class are affordable options. Unlike on long-distance buses, fares on short sectors are not inflated.

Tourist class Recommended: scenic, authentic but safe, and more comfortable than taking the bus, albeit often slower. The overnight journey from Jo’burg to Cape Town is a wonderful way to get a sense of the country’s vastness, entering the Karoo as night falls and eating a celebratory lunch as the train swishes through the Winelands. There’s a dining car and showers, and the fare includes accommodation in a two-berth coupe or four-berth compartment. Depending on what’s available, couples are given coupes and single travellers and groups are put in compartments. If you are travelling alone and you want a coupe to yourself, you'll need to buy two tickets. There’s an additional R60 charge for bedding hire. Cars can be transported on the Jo'burg–Cape Town, Jo'burg–Durban and Jo'burg–Port Elizabeth routes.

Economy class Does not have sleeping carriages and is not a comfortable or secure option for overnight travel.

Tickets & Fares

  • At the time of writing, Jo’burg to Cape Town in tourist/economy class cost R690/440.
  • Tickets can be purchased up to three months in advance and must be bought at least 48 hours before departure.
  • Tourist-class sleepers can get fully booked a month or two ahead, especially on popular routes such as Jo’burg–Cape Town.
  • The easiest way to purchase tickets is through travel agent African Sun Travel. It charges a small commission (about R100 for Cape Town–Jo'burg tickets and R80 for Jo'burg–Durban tickets).
  • Bookings can be made at train stations, by phone or through Shosholoza Meyl’s website. You must then collect and pay for your tickets at a station within two days.
  • A more complicated and lengthy option is to deposit the money in Shosholoza Meyl’s bank account and send the company proof of payment; it takes four days for funds to clear in Shosholoza Meyl’s account.

Routes

Jo’burg–Cape Town Via Kimberley and Beaufort West; 27 hours; tourist (Tuesday to Friday and Sunday) and economy (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday).

Jo’burg–Durban Via Ladysmith and Pietermaritzburg; 14½ hours; tourist and economy (Friday and Sunday).

Jo’burg–East London Via Bloemfontein; 20 hours; tourist and economy (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday).

Jo'burg–Komatipoort Via Nelspruit (Mbombela); 12½ hours; economy (Wednesday to Friday and Sunday).

Jo’burg–Port Elizabeth Via Bloemfontein; 20 hours; tourist and economy (Wednesday, Friday and Sunday).

East London–Cape Town Via Queenstown and Beaufort West; 28 hours; tourist and economy (Tuesday and Sunday).

Luxury Train Trips

In addition to the Shosholoza Meyl services, there are numerous special lines. Travel agents New Fusion and African Sun Travel offer bookings on the Blue Train, Premier Classe and Rovos Rail. JB Train Tours sells train holiday packages.

Blue Train

South Africa’s famous Blue Train travels between Pretoria and Cape Town, stopping en route in Matjiesfontein or Kimberley. For 27 hours of luxury, one-way fares (per person sharing) are R20,280/25,615 for deluxe/luxury during high season (September to mid-November), including all meals, drinks, off-train excursions and en-suite bathroom. Fares drop by about R4000 during low season. You can book directly or through travel agents, both in South Africa and overseas. Enquire about packages including accommodation and one-way flights between Pretoria/Jo’burg and Cape Town. The train also occasionally travels between Pretoria and Hoedspruit (for Kruger National Park).

Premier Classe

Shosholoza Meyl's luxury offering, Premier Classe is an affordable alternative to the Blue Train et al. Trains run from Cape Town to Jo'burg (R3120 per person) on Tuesday, returning on Thursday; and from Jo'burg to Durban (R1230) on Thursday, returning on Sunday. The fare includes meals in the deluxe air-conditioned dining car. Single travellers occupy two-berth coupes, couples occupy four-berth compartments. There’s a lounge-bar and shared bathrooms, and vehicles can be transported.

Rovos Rail

Rovos rivals the Blue Train as Africa’s most luxurious and expensive service. Regular services include Pretoria–Cape Town over two nights/three days, with stops at Kimberley and Matjiesfontein; Pretoria–Durban over three days; Pretoria–Swakopmund (Namibia) over nine days, via Etosha National Park and other Namibian highlights; and Pretoria–Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) over four days.

Shongololo Express

Rovos Rail's Shongololo offers four train tours, including between Pretoria and Victoria Falls (12 days), and Pretoria and Cape Town via Swaziland and Durban (15 days). You travel by night and disembark during the days.

Umgeni Steam Railway

Umgeni Steam Railway (www.umgenisteamrailway.co.za) Steam-train day trips in KwaZulu-Natal.

Atlantic Rail

Atlantic Rail (www.atlanticrail.co.za) Steam-train excursions from Cape Town to the Winelands.

Ceres Rail Company

Ceres Rail Company (www.ceresrail.co.za) This vintage-train company operates three steam locomotives with renovated lounge cars on a historic line reopened in 2012 from Cape Town to the mountainous, fruit-producing Ceres area. Trains normally run every other Saturday, arriving at Ceres Golf Club in time for lunch, before returning to town in the afternoon.

Metro Trains

Cape Metro Rail Services from Cape Town south to Simon’s Town are generally safe during peak daylight hours.

Gautrain The rapid-transit Gautrain is a safe and slick link between OR Tambo International Airport, Sandton, Rosebank, Park Station (downtown Jo'burg), Pretoria and Hatfield. Trains depart every 12 minutes at peak times (5.30am to 8.30am and 3pm to 6pm Monday to Friday), and every 20 to 30 minutes outside peak times. A one-way ticket between Pretoria and Park Station costs R76. If you’re travelling in peak periods or staying near a station, it’s a fast, state-of-the-art and cost-effective way to enter and exit Jo'burg.