South Africa Country Profile - Travel

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As with many other former British colonies, South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road, in right-hand drive vehicles. South Africa has an excellent motorway network (called National Routes) which connects the major cities and provinces. National Routes begin with the letter N and are numbered from 1-18. Most national routes are toll roads and a fare for a light passenger vehicle is charged from R10 to R200 (£0.46 to £9.50), depending on the distances travelled. Remember that South Africa is a huge country and it takes many days to traverse by car, even on the motorways. The speed limit on South Africa’s national highways and urban freeways is 120km/h (75mph) and 100km/h (60mph) on rural roads. In built up residential areas the speed limit is 60km/h (35 mph). Fuel is widely available, but petrol stations (called ‘garages’ in South Africa) are not self-service - an attendant fills the tank and takes payment.

Any driver’s licence is accepted in South Africa, providing it bears a photo and is written in English. The country has a high number of road traffic accidents and drivers often break the speed limit or drive erratically. It is advisable to drive slowly in rural areas as it is common to find wild animals and livestock on the road (feeding wild animals from cars is illegal and highly dangerous) it is also advisable never to stop to pick up hitchhikers.


Taxis are largely unregulated in South Africa which has led to unscrupulous practices. There are two types of taxi; the minibus taxi, usually with 15 or more seats and the standard car taxi. Taxi fares are regulated and should be relatively cheap but fierce competition among taxi drivers can mean that fares can be pushed up on popular routes. Minibus taxi drivers have a reputation for bad driving and many visitors to South Africa prefer to hire their own car instead of using taxis. It is advisable to call ahead to book a taxi and agree a fare with the driver before your journey.

Buses and Coaches

South Africa is a nation of car drivers but there are some publicly-owned/funded bus companies operating in the major cities. For example, Metrobus, which services the city of Johannesburg carries 90,000 people daily and the MyCiti bus service offers routes in and around Cape Town. Durban Transport also run scheduled services across the city. For coach travel between cities there are a number of companies, from luxury to basic, but the main three are; Greyhound, Intercape and Translux which offer cheap, long distance travel between the major cities. Johannesburg to Cape Town takes around 19 hours by coach but you can book a reclining ‘sleeper’ seat for extra comfort.


South Africa has over 20,000 km of track and all major cities are connected by rail, with Intercity services operating trains between Johannesburg, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Although the rail network in South Africa is the most developed on the African Continent, services are considered basic and slow. Luxury trains between Johannesburg and Cape Town offer more comfort and the option of sleeper cars. The South African rail network is publicly owned and contracted to different companies along each route. The popular Shosholoza Meyl passenger train runs between all major cities and is an economical way to see South Africa. The train offers reclining seats and sleeper cars for an extra fee.  

Gautrain, South Africa’s first high-speed train recently commenced operations with rail links connecting Johannesburg, Pretoria and O.R. Tambo International Airport. This underground and over ground railway is still currently under construction but once completed is expected to completely revamp South Africa’s public transport system.

Air Travel

South Africa has a large number of airports serving domestic and international destinations. Cape Town International Airport, Durban International Airport and O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg are the largest commercial airports in South Africa, with flight connections all over the world. Most of the largest airports are owned by the Airports Company of South Africa and the country’s largest carrier is South African Airways (SAA) which operates from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and has a global network of flight destinations. There are also a number of budget airlines such as and which offer cheap domestic flights between the major South African cities.

Other ways to get around

Larger cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg all have cycle lanes and actively promote cycling as a way of getting around. Cyclists should be aware that roads in South Africa can be quite chaotic with some questionable driving, so care needs to be taken to stick to the cycle lanes and be aware of passing motorists. Also remember that being caught without a cycle helmet is against the law and incurs a fine. Walking and hiking are popular activities in South Africa and it is a good idea arrange excursions through a reputable tour guide company such as Cape Nature.

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