If you need to travel in South Africa, this guide includes all transport types in South Africa, including taxis, minibuses, airport shuttles and the ‘Gautrain’.
Local public transportation in South Africa is very limited and most expats moving to South Africa purchase a car. However, there are many ways to get around the country if you count air travel and luxury trains. Below you will find a summary of the various transport options in South Africa, public and otherwise.
Air travel in South Africa
The best way to get around South Africa (and beyond) is by air. A domestic flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg takes 2 hours, versus 16 hours by road and 24 hours by rail. Next to South African Airways, (see www.flysaa.com) there are several local discount airlines:
Rent a car in South Africa
Rental cars are fairly inexpensive and they are a good way to get around when travelling (or while you’re still jumping through hoops trying to purchase and register your own car). Aside from the well-known rental car companies, there are some more “local” options:
Airport transfers in South Africa
Whether you’re travelling or first arriving in the country, you will need some kind of airport transfer. If you’re staying at a hotel, check if there is a hotel shuttle. Otherwise, you can take a taxi or rent a car at the airport. For transport from your home to the airport (even if you all fit into your own car, you will likely need another one for your luggage) you can hire a transport service, such as one of these:
Taxis in South Africa
If you consider moving to South Africa without purchasing a car, you should note that, in general, taxis have to be ordered on demand by calling ahead, unless you’re taking a cab from the airport. You can’t simply hire taxis that are driving by. Also, not all local cabs use meters, so be sure to ask for a quote ahead (should range from R50 to R100 for most shorter rides). Taxi companies not listed above in “Airport Transfers”:
These are what are commonly called the ‘black taxis’, typically in the form of, ironically, a white Toyota minibus, in various stages of disrepair, and South Africa’s roads are full of them. As the name suggests, they are mainly a mode of transportation for the local population and not recommended for tourists or expats. First of all, they don’t necessarily depart once you’ve gotten in, as their drivers tend to wait until they are full (and I mean really full!); there are no official routes and timetables; you might not get any money back if you don’t have exact change; their drivers engage in fairly reckless driving to get through traffic; and their roadworthiness is often very questionable. You hear of more traffic deaths connected to minibus taxis than anything else. Nonetheless, black taxis provide one of the most needed and efficient services in South Africa and, unless the public bus companies can wrest their market away from them (which is fiercely protected by Mafia-like methods), they are here to stay.
Buses in South Africa
Even though Metrobus www.joburg.org.za claims to cover the Johannesburg area with over 80 routes, I have yet to see one of their buses anywhere in the Northern Suburbs, which is where most expats live. Actually, 80 routes is probably what you’ll find in any small-size European city and to adequately cover Joburg you’d need thousands, so I’m not surprised. Don’t count on any busses to get you around Johannesburg.
I can’t speak to the quality of Cape Town’s new rapid bus service (MyCiTi) www.capetown.gov.za but according to their website it offers a shuttle service from the airport to the city for R50 one way. If you’re more interested in sightseeing than commuting, consider the following:
There are also a number of long-distance bus companies (even though the availability of inexpensive domestic air travel makes them somewhat less attractive).
Commuter trains in South Africa
What might be considered as the closest thing to a ‘metro’, the high speed Gautrain has been operating in the greater Johannesburg area since the 2010 World Cup, and judging from most reviews is considered a complete success (to the surprise of most locals) – clean, safe, and on time. If only it were available on more routes! The only journey you might currently take the Gautrain for is to get from Sandton to O.R. Tambo International airport, especially during peak traffic hours. But you’ll still have to get to the Sandton station from wherever you are. There is a bus link from Montecasino but it makes your commute that much longer, as the bus stops frequently and is still stuck in the same traffic you would encounter with your car.
Cape Town’s Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) has been around much longer than its Gautrain counterpart and offers an extensive route network. I have heard that IRT trains are notorious for not being on time, but you will be able to get around inexpensively and enjoy some beautiful scenery along the way.
Luxury trains in South Africa
A great way to travel in South Africa is on board one of the luxury trains. As the name suggests, it won’t be cheap, and it also won’t be very fast, but it is quite an experience. And if you have enough time, it might even prove cost-effective to, say, take your car with you on the train to Cape Town, spend a week there without having to rent a car, and drive back to Johannesburg.
Joburgexpat / Expatica
When it became clear that her family of six would have to relocate to Johannesburg, South Africa in 2010, Sine immediately knew that she would have to start a blog about their trials and tribulations. Read her often-humorous, always informative observations on life as an expat in South Africa at joburgexpat.blogspot.com.