Updated: Aug 19, 2019
About to visit South Africa or move there? Here a list of ways to get around, why use them and what to pay attention to.
Exploring by foot
South Africa is very similar to the U.S. from this point of view. Distances are huge, pedestrian crossings are not always existing, ways are not really made for walking.
People do not really walk here. Especially if you do not know your area, avoid walking anywhere. Ubering your way around is so cheap and safe that we never hesitate when going out.
The one occasion on which I encourage you to walk is if you are on a guided tour with a local - especially in townships and dodgy streets. Your guide will know where to bring you and how.
Tailor-made for the South African public, the Uber app is very well made even integrating safety features if you do not feel comfortable (sharing itinerary with a peer, security patrol alarm). In a country with such a high unemployment rate, Uber is a great way for motivated locals to have a job. Usually, drivers are full of stories and insights on the city you're visiting.
! Meter taxis: Having no app or system to check where they are taking you, if they have been checked by a real taxi company, or no way to pay digitally (avoid cash!), meter taxis are to be avoided.
Driving your own car
Purchasing a car in South Africa is extremely expensive. The market is absolutely insane, even for second hand car. So do carefully your calculation to see if your daily commute is worth the investment or if a full-time Ubering around isn't enough.
Renting a car on the other hand is pretty affordable. Also, roads are good all across the country and driving instructions straightforward. Rental dealership employees will probably scare the hell out of you when picking up the car with their theft stories. Everybody here heard at least once the story of a friend of a friend who got car-jacked. Get insured so you are covered. That's all. South Africans are pretty good drivers (just watch out for local taxis - see below- these guys drive as if they had several lives), and sceneries you will cross in your road trips are worth the while.
Our recommendation in car rental is to go via this website: Carflexi.com They allow you different pick up and drop off locations. Very convenient for road trips.
Additionally, if you plan on visiting many wild life reserves, I strongly advise you a 4x4 car or at least a vehicule slightly higher than average. Indeed, most parks in SA have beautiful tar main roads. But if you wish to go to waterholes or some off-road view points, you will quickly be frustrated.
Local "taxis" (private vans)
These Toyota Quantums are privately owned and have nothing to do with public transport. Drivers's is indexed on the number on people they take on board. Thus, they stop literally anywhere anytime on the side of the road to pick up passengers. This is the cheapest way of getting around (usually around 18R for a short trip, 25 for a long one).
It is said safe (we only took it once with a local and the experience was fun). You can use it if you feel like it, but I would rather recommend uber for a few rands more, which is much faster.
The only "public bus" I know of is in Joburg center, it is the Gautrain bus. It is very safe, has "official" bus stops and a schedule. The other are tourist buses such as Citysightseeing (excellent way of discovering town by the way).
Railroad is not the most developed way of transportation in SA. Lines are pretty slow and all locals we have met unadvised us to give it a try.
Local companies such as South African Air, Kulula, Safair are very reliable and safe (Kulula and Safair are the equivalent of our european Easyjet). Low cost for national flights, it is very convenient for weekend gateaways. Also, some airports such as Joburg O.R. Tambo have new security check systems allowing you to keep your liquids in your bag at the check in.