South Africa is not as scary as the media portrays, at the same time, you should note these lifesaving travel tips in South Africa. They are personal experience through a 2-week road trip in South Africa and advice from locals. Note: there is a serious drought in South Africa currently (summer season).
South Africa is absolutely beautiful, gorgeous safaris, a city surrounded by grand mountains, wild animals randomly popping out yet it is not clear of common crimes like robbery and theft. There is quite a number of murders in South Africa, so I suggest sticking to the common touristic locations and avoid going too far into the rural cities. Safety first. Here are the 10 travel tips in South Africa.
Baboons Are Dangerous.
Lifesaving travel tip #1 in South Africa: baboons are dangerous! This is the first South Africa tip locals gave me. Baboons are everywhere, especially if you are driving in Cape of Good Hope. They can get very aggressive and attack you or the car. NEVER GET DOWN FROM THE CAR. They have sharp nails and known for their vicious attacks.
Baboons love to sit in the middle of the road in a random place. But usually as the car approaches, they move to the side. Do not approach them and think “aww aren’t these baboons adorable”? They are not! In fact, they snare at you if you look into their eyes for too long. (Bad mistake! Luckily I had the windows up and doors locked.) Usually they just appear on the side of the road or simply crossing the road. You see them everywhere, so do not worry about missing them.
Don’t Speed. Speed Cameras All Around.
Do not speed. The road limit is 80-110km/h, depending on the stretch of road (i.e. Highway N2). When the roads are long and straight, it can get pretty boring. It is easy to accelerate and reach your destination faster than Google Maps suggest. However, there are speed cameras everywhere. I am convinced there are more speed cameras on the road in South Africa than Singapore.
So many travellers are unaware of the fines that many people are caught speeding. Although these traffic fines are to make roads safer and to reduce death due to traffic accidents, these speed cameras seem to exist in places to maximize revenue of the income of the city. E.g. Riversadal city has a substantial income from people speeding on the way east and stopping at the Wimpy. This is a good research article showing that cities are there to get maximum profits from speeders instead of reducing accidents.
Don’t Drive After Port Elizabeth and Above.
Do I feel safe in South Africa, yes, I actually do. But it is also because I was in very safe areas like the Garden Route. The Garden Route ends at Port Elizabeth, and when you are in the city of Pot Elizabeth, things definitely change. The city does not feel as friendly as Cape Town, and you get strangers staring at you, as if they are about to pounce on you. At a place where we stayed, you have random people circling our apartment every day. The apartment in Port Elizabeth also had electrical barbed wires, 2 security alarms and many locks. I’ve never stayed in such a safe place while feeling so unsafe before.
That being said, locals told me not to drive upwards from Port Elizabeth onwards. That is because crime is prevalent there. Even local South Africans do not dare to drive there, in fear of getting robbed. Especially if you are doing a caravan/camper car road trip, do not drive above Port Elizabeth as the people there are great at detaching the back of the caravan from the head and you do not realise it for miles. I recommend you to fly between the cities instead.
Refill Petrol Tank When You See One.
Refill your tank when you see a petrol station! We drove from Port Elizabeth to Addo Elephant Safari and could not find any petrol station along the way. Luckily out 1/3 tank lasted us the entire trip. There was a petrol station 2min drive from the exit of Addo Elephant Safari, so we went there to refill. There are some petrol stations near the park, but they did not have any petrol.
Refill, because you never know where the next petrol station is. Also, petrol is slightly cheaper outside of Cape Town. So make sure your tank is full before entering Cape Town city!
Self-Drive In Safari When Possible.
Check if your safari allows for self-driving. You have an entire day in the park, so I recommend that you follow the tour first as the safari guides know where are the feeding areas of the animals. After you know the place, you should explore on your own, checking out all the driving routes. We saw plenty of animals just roaming around. It is also good to drive around the safari on your own, as it is quieter and animals are less afraid. Self-driving is usually free.
DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE. You don’t want to be eaten by a wild animal. I’m serious.
Parking “Fee” Is Up To You. Usually 5-10 Rand
People usually offer to “look after” your car when you park. They appear when your car enters the car park. It is not mandatory to pay them, but we usually do. The rate is about 5 RAND, but if they are good, we usually give 10. Locals don’t even pay them, and they usually target tourists. Don’t be afraid to say no or pay them little. It took us 3 days to realise that 5 RAND was enough. Usually we just give the coins that we have.
Alternatively, park in a proper location with a parking attendant. They are very strict on the timing and give you a ticket when you pay. You pay in blocks of 15-minutes. The price is the same throughout.
Renting A Car in South Africa
- Right-hand drive (like the UK).
- Mainly old manual cars. You have to reserve in advanced for automatic cars.
- Beware of booking fees. I booked with Holidayautos (worst company!) and they charged a fee of 115€! Book with the companies directly (i.e. Hertz, Sixt) and if they do not have your automatic car on the website, call them up as they might not display it online.
- Minimum to drive is 23 years old. You usually have to pay a fee for drivers younger than 23.
- Only 1 registered driver is allowed to drive. Usually you have to pay to have an additional registered driver.
- You need your license and international driving license.
Careful of People Approaching You
People usually always try to approach you. Be it begging for money/food, selling you something or something else. Just say no and walk away. I love the world and believe in the good faith of people, but as always in travel, don’t be too gullible in the kindness of any random strangers and offer something too good to be true.
That being said, keep showing and sharing kindness to everyone you meet. Sometimes we will order extra food to take away and give it to people on the streets. People are grateful and I feel like just because we are privileged individuals who can travel and see the world, it only means that we need to share this privilege with other individuals. I love to start by sharing food. We also usually prepare small gifts when we travel, like a little beauty kit with some simple accessories to give to girls and mothers in South Africa.
Don’t Drive At Night
We had to drive at night one day due to an accident. It was scary! As mentioned, the roads are long and straight. As the night falls, you start to feel sleepy too. It is easy to speed up and drive fast.
- There are security cameras around. You don’t notice them as easily as in the day.
- There are huge trucks transporting things within South Africa. Sometimes you see trucks with large logs. The final destination scene is in my head.
- Google maps is not always accurate. We almost missed many turns because the road was so pitch dark that it was hard to see what’s ahead. Some turns/exits are quite random and easy to miss.
If possible, drive when there is daylight. We drive about 1-2 hours a day and move every day. It maximizes the cities we visit and minimizes the time we spend driving continuously.
There Are Wild Animals Everywhere.
Repeating it: there are wild animals everywhere. We saw huge elks (a mix between moose and deer), wild zebras, wild ostrich, baboons, seals and a bunch of many wild animals. Perhaps the most dangerous will be snakes. If you see snakes, call this guy: 0823851589.
When you see wild animals, stay indoors and keep calm. Avoid eye contact and drive away. It is fun to have a staring contest with the huge elks, but when they start coming towards you, we “noped” out of the place immediately.
South Africa is a gorgeous city and I will return in a heartbeat. Just be careful, as you will be in every country you travel. Be street smart, use common sense and lastly, share love and kindness to everyone you meet. We met some very beautiful souls along our way, giving us tips! We never had an issue with all these travel tips in South Africa.