The best option to explore South Africa is without any doubt with a rental car. In this article, I will share some tips that can make your South African road trip better. These tips will ensure you get a smooth road trip through South Africa and you can enjoy every moment of this beautiful country! After all, you better leave well prepared and then we’re here to help.
Our Road trip through South Africa
Use a GPS
Google Maps works perfectly fine as a GPS in South Africa. You can download the maps of the areas you will be driving locally on your phone. This will limit the amount of data that you will use. Once you have the maps downloaded locally you would actually be able to use the navigation without a data connection but enabling the data connection will give you some advantages:
- You will be able to search for places by the name instead of the street address
- Google will not propose you the shortest or fastest route which can take you through dangerous areas like townships. Instead, the calculated route will be an optimized route based on how other people are driving
- When calculating a route Google Maps will also try to avoid traffic. (Not as important anymore once you’re out of Cape Town or Johannesburg.)
Buy a local SIM card
Using data abroad can be quite expensive so it’s best to buy a local SIM card. South Africa has 4 big telecom operators. The two that offer the best coverage are Vodacom and MTN. Both have stores in major airports and offer various data-only or data+voice packages. You can either buy or rent a SIM.
We rented a data-only SIM in Johannesburg and returned it in Cape Town 21 days later and paid 20 euros.
Use a mobile WIFI device
You can either replace the SIM card in your phone with the new one or you could use a mobile WIFI device as we did. The advantage of using a mobile WIFI device is that you can keep your regular SIM in your phone, the new SIM goes in the device instead. Your contacts will still be able to call you on your phone and another advantage is that the Mobile WIFI device acts as a hotspot and can be used by multiple people or devices simultaneously.
How it works is you just disable data and enable wifi on your phone. Next, you connect to the wifi signal that the device broadcasts and you should be ready to go.
As your phone will think it’s connected to a wifi signal it may start downloading huge chunks of data like updates. If you bought a limited data plan it may be best to pay attention to this and manually do the updates once you’re connected to “real” WIFI network.
We’re very pleased with this Mobile WIFI device we found on Amazon.
Don’t drive after dark
I had read this before and I can only confirm that it’s indeed true. The streets are not illuminated. In some areas, lot’s of people and animals are walking on and next to the road. I only had to drive once after dark but I found it really stressful certainly after I almost hit a goat that crossed the road right in front of our car.
Make sure to take an electricity adapter
The type of electrical plug used in South Africa is not that common. As we travel a lot we have a power plug adapter that works in most countries but not in South Africa. We stayed in both business hotels and guesthouses. Business hotels usually had at least one international (US-EU) plug in the rooms but in the guest houses, it was a hit or miss. Taking an adapter with you is certainly a good idea. Even in the business hotels, it came in handy to have an extra adapter as sometimes you need to charge your camera and your phone at the same time. This adapter works in South Africa.
Use points for hotels
South Africa is a great place to use your hotel points for free award nights. You will get great value for them. By using our Marriott Rewards points we managed to save 700 euros over the 3 weeks. As Marriott Rewards has acquired Protea Hotels, a local chain, you can use your Rewards Points in approximately 70 hotels across South Africa. Other chains don’t have as many hotels in South Africa but you will see that the point redemption levels overall are interesting. If you have enough points this may be the place to use them.
South Africa is known as a violent and dangerous country and whilst that is not completely untrue on average it’s not more unsafe than traveling to New York, Paris or any other big city for that matter. Staying safe would mean following the same safety rules you would be following back home as well as following your intuition. Here are some extra tips:
- Townships are some of the areas with highest crime rates but at the same time, they’re the ideal spots to pick up the local flavor. You shouldn’t avoid them all along but when you do visit them make sure it’s during the day and do so with a local guide.
- When tourists are targeted it’s usually for petty theft. Try not to attract attention by not wearing any fancy jewelry. Don’t carry your passport along when it’s not necessary and consider to take a dummy wallet with you with some small money that you can hand over when necessary.
- Try to avoid walking alone on the street after dark. Consider taking public transportation.
In Cape Town and Johannesburg the streets are illuminated so we made all our displacements after dark with our rental car and never really felt unsafe.
It’s customary to give a tip for good service in restaurants and bars. This is usually 10% of the bill.
You will also find that all petrol stations have attendants that will not only fill up your car up but will also clean your windshield. If you want you can also ask them to check your oil or tire pressure. Depending on what service you request it’s customary to give 2 rands or more.
Read also: Zip through the Spier vineyard on a Segway
Parking attendants are also quite common in parking lots as well as roadside bays. They will watch your car for you and in return will happily accept a small tip of 2 rands or more if you’re gone for a longer period.
Most restaurants accept credit and debit cards. Here you can add your tip to the bill but be sure to keep some change for the attendants in the petrol stations and the parking areas.
The risk of getting malaria in South Africa is rather limited. The disease is restricted to certain districts in the Northern part of South Africa. Popular tourist destinations that fall in these areas are Kruger National Park and St. Lucia. During the cold dry months of June, July and August the risk of getting bitten is also rather small.
More info about Malaria in South Africa can be found here.
South African itineraries
2 weeks in South Africa is not enough to discover it all but does give you the opportunity to discover the lush Southern part of the country. You pass some of the fantastic highlights such as the Cape of Good Hope, the Garden Route, and the Addo Elephant National Park.
Are you planning 3 weeks in South Africa, but could you use a bit of inspiration? Discover this beautiful country with this South Africa 3 week self-drive itinerary. It is a relatively classic road trip that will bring you past all the great landmarks. Ideal if this is your first time in this beautiful country.
Other tips or questions? Let me know I’m more than happy to answer them!
Please share your favorite part of your South African road trip with us. After 2 vacations in South Africa, the highlight for me is still the wildlife. Each safari is different again and I keep on taking pictures of each elephant or rhino that I see. Here are my tips for your visit to Kruger!
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