13 July 2014 by Daphney Mngomeni

The road less travelled: Exploring South Africa solo

For many, the thought of travelling alone can be quite daunting, especially when going to unfamiliar places. But the reality is you shouldn’t be afraid of travelling solo in South Africa. In fact, you should add it to your bucket list right now.

Travelling solo can be fun. Image courtesy of Martin Heigan

South Africa is a great holiday destination, and the locals – who are known for being open and friendly – will make your solo travel experience even better.

Getting around South Africa is a breeze and the best part is, you don’t even have to drive yourself – unless you really want to.

The Baz Bus, a unique backpacker bus, has a hop-on, hop-off system that allows you to get off at as many stops as you want before you reach your final destination. The Baz Bus will even pick you up and drop you off at the backpackers' hostel where you’re staying. The Baz Bus runs each way between Cape Town and Johannesburg/Pretoria (Cape Town-Port Elizabeth-Durban-Johannesburg/Pretoria), with stops along the coast.

There are other bus services, such as TransluxGreyhound and InterCape, that travel between South Africa’s provinces.

As daunting as the initial thought of travelling alone is, there are some great perks to it.

Siyabulela Mayeza, a Durban-based data analyst who has travelled to Cape Town, Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal on his own, says: 'For me, travelling alone is about the experience of where you’re going. You get to soak in everything – the place, the people – a lot better than if you travelled with company.'

There’s also nobody there to rush you away from watching the sunset from Signal Hill or Cape Point, or drag you away from listening to the sounds of the Tsitsikamma Forest while you ponder where next to go.

It is said the best way to tackle a big task is to start from the bottom and work your way up, so why not start your travels from Cape Town and take it from there?

Cape Town is a city that’s buzzing with colour, creativity, culture, music and tastes, and is home to the only New7Wonder of Nature in an urban area: Table Mountain.

The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway gives visitors a chance to view Cape Town from a different angle. Image courtesy of Paul Williams

Challenge yourself with a hike up one of Table Mountain’s 900 routes. The mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world, and home to over 2 000 species of fynbos, found only in the Cape.

There are various companies in Cape Town that offer guided hikes up the mountain, although taking the cable car is a better option if you want to reach the summit alone.

Shark cage-diving in Gansbaai, outside Cape Town, will give you an adrenaline rush like never before – the cage is only thing standing between you and a professional diver, and the sharks in the water.

Shark cage-diving in Gansbaai will get your heart pumping. Image courtesy of Martin Farrington

But if you’d rather watch the great predators of the deep than swim with them, then rather head over to Cape Town’s Two Oceans Aquarium.

After a day of action and getting used to the idea of travelling solo, you'll need to turn in for the night.

You may be worried about accommodation costs, but gone are the days where you had to pay for an invisible second person simply because the room is for two people sharing. South Africa has a large range of guest houses, lodges, backpacker hostels and dorms that offer affordable accommodation for those travelling alone (dorms and hostels in South Africa are more often than not located in awe-inspiring locations).

Spend the night in Cape Town at The Backpack or Stoked Backpackers, before moving on to your next destination.

From Cape Town there are many options of where to head next, and what’s great is that you can go wherever your heart desires.

You can take the Cape Route 62, which was modelled after the US’s Route 66. Route 62 starts in Paarl and meanders through what is said to be the longest wine route in the world – and it wouldn’t hurt to take a bottle or two home to remind you of your time spent there.

Stop off at Worcester, visit the Bird’s Paradise Zoo in Robertson and do some mountain biking in Montagu.

The route continues through the scenic Karoo, which is characterised by red soil, striking cliff faces, rivers, orchards, and indigenous scrub, and ends in the friendly city of Port Elizabeth.

Stay at Lungile Backpackers or African Ubuntu, where you can go horse riding on the beach to unwind after a long day of travelling.

An alternative to Route 62 is the Garden Route.

The Garden Route runs parallel to South Africa’s southern coast, a coastline that boasts lakes, indigenous forests, mountains and golden beaches, and has lots to offer if you’re looking to get in touch with your nature-loving side.

Explore the Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn, along Route 62. Image courtesy of Thomas

The route ends in Plettenberg Bay, where you can explore the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park.

Along the way, add a canopy tour or bungee jumping off the Bloukrans Bridge, the world’s highest commercial bridge bungee, to your list of adventures. The canopy tour involves zip-lining 30m off the ground, through the treetops of the Tsitsikamma Forest.

A hike along the Otter Trail on the Garden Route will deepen your appreciation of South Africa's beauty. Image courtesy of Roger Gordon

Unwind and enjoy a home-cooked meal at Tsitsikamma Backpackers, a four-star eco-friendly accommodation.

You may be travelling alone, but along the way you’re bound to meet some people and possibly make some new friends, whether it’s on a hike up Table Mountain or the Drakensberg, or on the Baz Bus to your next destination.

And who knows, their stories of Johannesburg’s bustling streets, the Rain Queen Modjadji’s village in Limpopo or river rafting in Clarens might be the inspiration for your next destination.

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Category: Adventure, Attractions, Food & Wine, Routes & Trails

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