It can be a nerve-wracking experience when deciding to rent a car and drive through a foreign country. The question always comes up, in this case for us it was: What to know when driving in South Africa?
Should I Rent a Car to Drive Through South Africa?
This can simply be answered by doing what you feel is comfortable for yourself. Some travellers prefer to travel like a local and use public transportation. Buses are also cheap and can take you to the main destinations. However, you are stuck on their schedule. There is no leniency. If you miss a bus, that could throw off your entire day.
Driving provides some sort of comfort for us. I know I can drive my way around certain countries (others, I am sure I would pull my hair out). We get to make our schedule and do not have to follow a schedule made for us.
Time frames are also important. Do you have enough time in your travels that if you miss a bus, it wont destroy the rest that you have planned? If you are short on time in a country, maybe rent a car to make the most out of each day you have. If you are more flexible in your schedule, try for busing and using taxis.
Our decision to drive through South Africa was based on these factors. We only had 13 days in the country and a long list of things to see. Knowing what we wanted to see and knowing that we only had enough time to see those things, renting a car was a no-brainer.
What Should I Know When Driving Through South Africa?
There are a few key things to remember when you buckle up and get behind that wheel in South Africa:
- Driving on the left side.
- Driving standard or manual gear.
- Driving on the highways.
- Get a GPS.
- Toll highways.
- Planning your trips.
Depending on where you are from in the world, driving on the left side of the road and sitting on the right side of the vehicle while driving can take some getting use to. Prepare to adjust on the fly. Surprisingly, it did not take me long to adjust. After hitting a few curbs, your spatial awareness quickly adjusts.
Have you ever driven standard? Maybe it is best not to try it for the first time in a foreign country. Especially if you are not use to the first point. Having to adjust to two things at once when driving may be overwhelming. However, it is difficult to find an automatic transmission vehicle in South Africa. Make sure you specify this with your car rental company when making your online booking.
The highways are faster than they are in Canada. In comparison, in Canada we drive at 100 km/h on our major highways. In South Africa, it is 120 km/h or whatever is comfortable with the drivers around you. It is courtesy when on one lane highways to move over to the shoulder, as long as it is paved and you are comfortable, to allow for the car behind you to pass you. When approaching towns, watch your GPS. Your GPS will tell you when there is a camera that will catch you speeding and send you a bill later to your rental car company who will then forward it on to you after you have left the country.
It is worth it. So worth it. I would never plan a trip in a foreign country, especially one I do not feel comfortable driving in, without a GPS. It made our trip so much easier, and it helps with the previous point.
There are several toll highways, especially when we reached Durban. Everything north of Durban cost us a little bit of change. From Cape Town to Durban, we never experienced any toll routes. If you plan to do a lot of driving around Durban, bring some cash on hand to pay for these toll routes.
Plan your driving in advance. Ask your host about your route. Safety always comes first when travelling. It is always better to be safe then sorry.
Safety in South Africa
Without diving deep into the issue of safety in South Africa, we will touch on some ways when driving the country to keep yourself out of danger. It is important to note that anywhere you are in the world you should be cautious of your surroundings.
First and foremost, we never felt in danger while in South Africa. This does not mean that others have had the same experience. The capital of South Africa is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Our experience is a bit biased because we steered clear of that area. However, the people you will find are incredibly warm and helpful.
Whenever we arrived in a new area, we asked our host where the areas are that we should stay away from and ways that we can protect ourselves from theft. Being prepared never hurts when you find yourself in new surroundings.
While driving, plan your route accordingly. The road conditions in South Africa are great. Most roads are well-paved. It still never hurts to ask your host about your planned route. Let them know which roads you plan to travel and whether it is the best possible route.
Keep your eye on the time as well. Plan the right amount of driving in one day and leave with enough time before sunset. Everywhere that we read and all of our hosts warned us of driving at night time. Most of what we read warned us about being stopped at a blocked road and being mugged. However, our hosts warned us of animals on the roads and at night time not being able to see them. Lucky enough for us, we drove for 13 days without any problems.
All in all, our experience driving in South Africa was positive. It did take some getting use to considering I am from Canada and we drive on the right side of the road and sit on the left side of the car when driving. However, after hitting a few curbs (and luckily not pedestrians or other motor vehicles) you quickly learn to adjust.
Our experience driving South Africa has inspired us to pass our knowledge on to others willing to do the same and addressing their concerns. If you have any questions regarding your next trip to South Africa, do not hesitate to get in contact with us or leave a comment below. We would love to help you with your next trip.
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