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Exploring South Africa's Transportation Services | A Beginner's Guide

Havana Dauncey
· December 27, 2023
Exploring South Africa's Transportation Services | A Beginner's Guide

Whether it’s the bustling cities or the vast rural countryside, South Africa has a lot of places to go and many ways to get there — from the busy streets taking you into the heart of the CBD to the straight roads through the Karoo.

To explore everything this beautiful country has to offer, you’re going to need a basic understanding of South Africa’s transportation services. Knowing all the options and careful considerations help you easily get where you’re going, saving time, money and stress.

So for anyone new to South Africa’s transportation services, here’s the complete beginner's guide, covering the variety of transportation options available, to help you get from point A to B in the Rainbow Nation.

Road Transportation in South Africa

Cars

South Africa's road network is the lifeline of the country's transportation system, providing access to both urban centres and remote natural attractions. Driving a car is the staple form of transportation for many South Africans.

The country's roadways vary from multi-lane highways connecting major cities to scenic routes winding through picturesque landscapes. The major national highways in South Africa include:

  • N1: Connects Cape Town and Johannesburg going through Bloemfontein and extending all the way to Polokwane.

  • N2: Connects Cape Town and Johannesburg going through Gqeberha and Durban.

  • N7: Connects Cape Town to the Namibian border.

While you may come across a few potholes on the back roads and the state of the roads varies from province to province, South Africa’s roads are typically very safe, well-developed and effective at getting wherever you need to go by car. This makes road trips a beloved activity in South Africa, especially with the number of popular stunning routes, such as:

  • The Garden Route

  • Route 62

  • The Wild Coast

  • The Panorama Route

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A post shared by Garden Route (@gardenroute)

Fuel stations, also called petrol stations or garages in South Africa, are conveniently located so that there’s always one around the corner. And with the rise of electric cars in South Africa, there are also a number of electric charging stations, especially in the cities.

While driving a car is very safe, if you do have your own wheels, don’t forget to get car insurance, especially if you’re parking your car outside overnight. If you don’t have your own car — don’t worry! South Africa also has a bunch of e-hailing services including Uber, Bolt, InDrive and DiDi.

If you’re new to South African roads, here’s an in-depth guide to South Africa’s road rules.

South African Bus Transport System

For those not keen on driving their own car, an extensive bus network operates throughout the country. Long-distance buses, such as Greyhound, Intercape and Intercity Xpress, connect major cities and tourist destinations, providing a cost-effective and comfortable alternative. You also have private shuttle services like Gecko Tours in the Garden Route that service specific areas.

You’ll also find a public bus network within the major cities for everyday transport, such as:

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A post shared by MyCiTi (@mycitibus)

Please note that most public transport in South Africa isn’t recommended due to safety concerns. Only a few options like the MyCiTi and Metro Bus services are considered relatively safe.

Taxis

You can’t talk about South African transport without talking about taxis — the main form of transport for the majority of South Africans. In fact, with more than 200 000 taxis on the road, the taxi industry generates about R40 billion per year and has created approximately 300 000 direct and indirect job opportunities, including drivers, taxi marshals and administrative support.

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A post shared by GoodThingsGuy (@goodthingsguy)

While not for the faint of heart, these shared minibus taxis are a vital part of the country's public transportation system, particularly in urban areas and townships. Passengers share rides along predetermined routes, and while they may not follow strict schedules, they offer an affordable mode of transport.

However, it’s important to note that they aren’t always the safest option and have established quite a notorious reputation for their reckless driving and road accidents.

Train Travel in South Africa

For a unique journey, a great way to explore South Africa is by train. The country boasts some of the most scenic rail routes in the world, offering passengers an opportunity to witness diverse landscapes in comfort.

When looking at long-distance trains, you have quite a few options

  • Shosholoza Meyl: As the country's passenger rail service, it provides more affordable options, connecting major cities and towns.

  • The Blue Train: A world-famous luxurious experience that travels between Cape Town and Pretoria.

  • The Shongololo Express: This iconic luxury rail experience in South Africa offers travellers a unique and leisurely journey with three different routes to choose from, showcasing the country's diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage.

  • Rovos Rail: Claiming to be the most luxurious train in the world, enjoy a luxury train experience, offering travellers an extravagant journey through the heart of Africa aboard meticulously restored vintage carriages.

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A post shared by Rovos Rail (@rovosrail)

Additionally, each major city has their own train network with the Metrorail system to allow short-distance train transport. However, please be advised that, generally, public trains aren’t very safe with a high frequency of muggings and even violent attacks. It’s also important to note that sometimes the trains aren’t able to run due to theft and vandalism of the train tracks, so if you do choose to commute by train, make sure your line is actually operational.

Another popular train is the Gautrain, which runs between Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo Airport. This train service is considered safe and reliable, allowing access to effective public transport in South Africa’s biggest city.

Air Travel in South Africa

For those covering vast distances or wanting to reach remote areas quickly, domestic flights are a convenient option. South Africa has a well-established air travel industry, with multiple airlines offering domestic flights between major cities and regional airports.

The major airports in South Africa with both international and domestic connections include:

  • O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg

  • Cape Town International Airport

  • King Shaka International Airport in Durban

Some of the other busy smaller airports include:

  • Chief Dawid Stuurman International Airport in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth)

  • George Airport

  • Bram Fischer International Airport in Bloemfontein

  • Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport

  • Pietermaritzburg Airport

  • King Phalo Airport in East London

  • Polokwane Airport

  • Plettenberg Bay Airport

While it’s had its ups and downs, closing for a few years, South Africa’s main international airline is South African Airways. Several other regional airlines include:

  • FlySafair

  • SA Airlink

  • CemAir

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A post shared by Chelz (@marichel_chelz)

The competition among these carriers often results in competitive pricing, making air travel an attractive option for both business and leisure travellers.

To get the best deals on flights, try South Africa's own Skyscanner service - TravelStart. They're a trusted website for finding flights in SA.

Other Transportation Services in South Africa

South African Transportation Services Motorcycles

Sometimes, it’s not just yourself that you’re needing to transport. South Africa also has a range of transportation services whether it’s your motocycle, car, boat or even your pets !

Companies like Wise Move offer a variety of these transportation services across the country and are trusted by thousands of South Africans. Using Wise Move’s moving company platform you can find them all in one place, including:

Check out Wise Move’s services to get your quote today!

Ready to get moving?

No matter where you’re going, or even what you’re transporting, South Africa's transportation services offer a diverse range of options, catering to various preferences and travel styles.

Whether you're seeking the freedom of the open road, the scenic beauty of train travel or the convenience of air transport, South Africa has it all. By understanding the available modes of transportation and incorporating them into your travel plans, you'll be well-equipped to explore the wonders of this captivating country.

So, buckle up, relax and get ready for an unforgettable journey through the heart of South Africa.

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