Flying to South Africa
Over 70 international airlines now fly into South Africa. Award-winning South African Airways, the national carrier, flies to destinations all over the world and is connected to major international air routes.
The Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) operates the major and principal airports and is responsible for approximately 200 000 landings and around 24-million passengers a year.
It’s a long haul from Europe (10 to 12 hours), Asia (12 to 17 hours) and the United States (up to 15 hours or even more). You’ll most likely fly directly into OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, or increasingly, there are direct flights into Cape Town International Airport.
Durban’s King Shaka International Airport is South Africa’s third major international airport, located about 35km north of Durban.
Principal domestic airports include Bram Fischer International Airport in Bloemfontein, as well as airports in East London, George, Kimberley, Port Elizabeth and Upington.
There are also scheduled flights between Johannesburg and the privately owned Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport outside Mbombela (Nelspruit), which serves the Kruger National Park and Mpumalanga. Visitors to the Kruger can also fly to Hoedspruit or Phalaborwa.
Several upmarket game lodges operate their own airstrips and charter direct flights from OR Tambo and other airports. Individual lodges will provide details of flights.
If you are heading off on safari, on a guided tour, or on your own, you might wish to break your journey in Johannesburg or Cape Town to catch your breath, do some sightseeing and adjust to the new time zone before flying to your next destination.
Domestic air travel
Depending on your next stop, a domestic flight might well be your best option if you have limited time, given the size of the country. Airlines serving the domestic market include:
- British Airways
- Mango Airlines
- South African Airlink
- South African Airways
- South African Express
It is always worth checking ticket prices and schedules across the airlines, as these can differ, especially if you are making online bookings.
Transfer services range from scheduled shuttles to pre-arranged pick-ups and even luxury cars. These services are run by experienced, professional providers who will see you safely from the airport to your destination. There are also public transport options available in the main centres of Johannesburg and Cape Town in the form of the Gautrain and MyCiti bus respectively.
Rendezvous: If you are touring South Africa in a large or small group, your local ground operator will have arranged transport for you. This will usually be in 10-seater microbuses or 48- to 60-seater coaches, depending on the group size. Many hotels also offer free guest shuttle services to and from the airport (enquire in advance about this).
Another hassle-free option is chauffeur-driven door-to-door airport transfers. These are offered by most car-rental companies at the airport, including Avis Rent a Car, Europcar, First Car Rental, Tempest Car Hire, Budget car rental and Hertz.
One of the best-known shuttle providers is Magic Bus, which offers airport shuttle services, exclusive transfers, door-to-door services, and conference transfers.
It also has a Sun City shuttle service between OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and the popular Sun City entertainment complex in North West province.
Hire a cab or shuttle: You will also find Acsa-approved metered taxi and shuttle operators located outside the arrivals terminals. If you have not pre-arranged a transfer, Acsa advises that you make use of an approved operator (the Acsa logo will be displayed on their vehicles). If you need help in arranging a transfer, go to the Acsa information desk at the airport terminal.
Take the Gautrain: Independent travellers wishing to save money and time in Johannesburg should consider using the hyper-modern and safe Gautrain service.
This train service has stations in Sandton, Rosebank and Pretoria, and runs from the airport. It takes only 15 minutes to Sandton (compared with around 35 minutes by car) and costs a fraction of what you would pay for a shuttle or taxi service.
Many Sandton, Rosebank and Pretoria hotels are within easy walking distance of the Gautrain stations. Alternatively, you can catch a Gautrain bus to a location near your destination, or take a taxi. Be sure to pre-load your Gautrain card with sufficient funds to swipe your card for the bus ride, as Gautrain buses don’t accept cash.
If you’re staying in Rosebank, you will have to change trains at Sandton for the short ride to Rosebank. Gautrain passengers travelling to Midrand or Pretoria change trains at Marlboro station.
Catch the MyCiTi bus: In Cape Town, you can make use of the city’s MyCiti bus service, which takes you directly from the airport to the city centre, from where you can easily hire a cab. The bus route also extends to the major tourist area in the V&A Waterfront, stopping at Thibault Square, Stadium, Granger Bay and Breakwater en route (you do not have to change buses for this).
Who to contact
Tel (Johannesburg): +27 (0)11 548 0822; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel (Cape Town): +27 (0)21 505 6300; email: email@example.com
Tel (Durban): +27 (0)31 263 2647; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel: +27 (0)800 428 87246
Many major international car-hire companies operate in South Africa, offering anything from small, budget-friendly cars to luxurious sedans.
It’s best to book car-hire vehicles in advance, especially if you are coming to South Africa in high season (during South Africa's summer, from December to February).
Some companies also offer 4x4 vehicles if you are planning to visit places off the beaten track. If you want to hire a 4x4, then get a quote from a specialised off- road rental provider. They may also assist with caravan, camper van and trailer hire.
TRAVEL TIP: If you are visiting a national park, you may wish to hire an SUV for comfort and to give you height advantage when game viewing. That said, most national parks have excellent roads and a sedan is just as adequate.
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)861 600 136
South Africa is a mecca for self-drive enthusiasts. Although distances can be daunting, the roads are well signposted, the majority are well maintained and the scenery is spectacular.
There are plenty of overnight accommodation options everywhere, ranging from B&Bs to farm stays, guest houses and hotels. It’s always best to book in advance if possible, especially at major tourist attractions and on major tourist routes.
The rules: South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road. Seatbelts are compulsory and you may not talk on your mobile phone while driving. All speed limits in South Africa are in kilometres per hour. Generally, the speed limit for urban areas is 60km/h, on secondary roads it’s 100km/h and on national highways its 120km/h. Always keep an eye out for the designated speed limit as these may vary depending on road conditions and law enforcement does take place next to the road.
Driver’s licence: You may use a valid driver’s licence issued in your own country as long as it has a photograph, the signature of the holder and is in English. Otherwise, it’s best to obtain an international driving licence before you leave home. You should always have your driver’s licence with you when you are driving as you will be asked to produce it if you are pulled over for any reason.
Maps: It’s wise to travel with a current road map or GPS system to help you find your way around. You can hire a GPS with your car or pick up a road atlas at most bookshops and convenience stores located at fuel stations.
Fuel: When you refuel, be sure to establish what kind of fuel your vehicle uses (diesel or petrol) before filling up, as a mistake could be disastrous. Most fuel stations accept cards. At the fuel station, a petrol attendant will fill your car, check tyres, oil and water and clean your windows if you ask. It’s customary to give a small tip of around R5 to the petrol attendant.
Cash: Carry extra cash to pay for toll roads as many of the national roads are tolled. Similarly, when you park in cities or towns, a parking attendant in a luminous bib might approach you in exchange for keeping an eye on your car. Once again, a tip is customary.
TRAVEL TIP: It’s best to keep your fuel tank topped up and to carry extra water in the event of a breakdown as distances between towns can be quite long, especially along major roads crossing the interior of the country.
South African rail travel provides an exciting way to take in the scenic beauty of the country without having to drive yourself around.
Options include economy class and luxury coaches as well as the ultimate opulent rail safari on the Blue Train or Rovos Rail. Steam enthusiasts can also enjoy rail journeys of old on restored steam trains.
South Africa train travel covers some of the most beautiful parts of the country, taking visitors from cities like Johannesburg and Bloemfontein to prime destinations like Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth.
On a budget: The Shosholoza Meyl is a passenger train that runs between all major cities. An economy-class ticket will buy you a reclining seat with sufficient legroom on routes that include 11 major cities across the country, but be prepared to rough it a bit.
An upgraded ticket will get you either a two-bed coupe or four-bed compartment, which double as suites during the day and bedrooms at night. Communal showers and toilets are available. This option exists on routes between Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, Durban, Bloemfontein and East London, and between Cape Town and Durban.
Mid-range: The Premier Classe is a luxury passenger line that accommodates guests in spacious single-bed, double-bed or family compartments, complete with well-appointed bathrooms. Little extras like gowns and toiletries are provided, and room service is available. The Premier Classe line operates between Johannesburg and Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth.
Luxury: South Africa's most famous train is undoubtedly the Blue Train. The final word in rail luxury, the Blue Train pulls out all the stops to guarantee an ultra-luxurious South African rail safari. Marble tiles, gold fittings, in-suite digital entertainment centres and top-class local cuisine and wines complete the experience. The Blue Train operates between Pretoria and Cape Town, and Pretoria and Durban. A special trip to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve is also available.
Steam enthusiasts might also be keen on a steam-train excursion on a beautifully restored locomotive, such as Rovos Rail, which offers all the romance and opulence of train travel from a bygone era, travelling between Pretoria and Victoria Falls, as well as between Pretoria and Cape Town. A trip with Rovos Rail is for the train enthusiast.
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)87 802 6674
The cheapest way to travel around the country is by bus, making it a popular mode of transport for locals and visitors on a budget. Be sure to book with a reputable service, though, as not all bus companies have an equally good reputation. There are a number of bus operators, offering both economy and luxury rides.
If you want to travel in southern Africa, some of these companies also offer cross-border journeys into neighbouring states like Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Intercape: Intercape has one of the largest regional inter-city infrastructures, offering 49 daily departures across South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Botswana.
Its fleet includes 57 luxury double-decker and 42 single-decker coaches, and it operates a Sleepliner (with reclining chairs) and Mainliner (standard seats) service. Coaches are air-conditioned, have audio-visual entertainment, on-board toilets and are serviced by cabin attendants.
Greyhound: This company, which is not related to the United States-based Greyhound bus service, offers a vast national network between major cities and towns. Its luxury coaches feature air-conditioning, reclining seats, audio-visual entertainment, on-board toilets and cabin attendants on certain routes.
Baz Bus: Backpackers should also consider the Baz Bus. It is a unique hop-on, hop-off door-to-door bus service between backpacking hostels around South Africa. Simply buy one ticket to your final destination and you can get on and off as many times as you want, wherever you want, with no time limit. Buses are 22- seater semi-luxury, with on-board TV, videos and Wi-Fi, and trailers capable of carrying surfboards and bicycles.
The Baz Bus service runs in each direction between Johannesburg and Cape Town, via the Drakensberg, Durban and Port Elizabeth, with many stops along the coast and drop-offs at 180 hostels along its route.