While researching options for transportation within South Africa I’ve discovered several luxurious, my ideal, and budget modes of conveyance. Having traveled there before I know it’s safe in most places, even as a solo female. Preferences are personal and financial choices. I tend to be a middle of the road traveler, not quite straddling the center line. So I usually go for somewhere between my ideal and budget.
By plane because a cruise takes too long
I bought airplane tickets for my two month journey after several months of searching for the best deal. This time Kayak came through. Prices varied up to a $500 difference. Had to work the return flight around Easter, a school break with many people traveling, and my birthday just five days before. Johannesburg here I come.
From the USA to South Africa, 10,111 miles, has me leaving one day and arriving the next. Time to dig out the support stockings so my feet don’t swell up like last time. The first leg of only 3.5 hours from Phoenix to JFK/New York shouldn’t be too bad even on a narrow body Jet Blue. Thank goodness for the luxury on South Africa Air’s wide body for the next 21.5 hours. A pillow and blanket await on the seat for an overnight flight plus a personal kit including washcloth, toothbrush and eye mask. Once in flight a free and tasty dinner is served and before landing free breakfast. I saw many options upon ticket purchase from Asian to Vegan, or meat, all at no extra cost. My last experience felt like eating at a good restaurant with a safety tray. On top of that, they serve free alcoholic beverages. Yea,you read right, free. That does not happen in the USA in economy.
I hope to sleep after dinner is cleared and wake up relatively refreshed in Johannesburg in the morning. Knowing long flights usually mean heavy jet-lag I’ll try to go with the destination time zone and not just go to sleep immediately after arrival. Arriving in Johannesburg at 8:30am will give me plenty of time to retrieve luggage, go through customs, eat and settle in somewhere. It’s sure to be an early bedtime but I want to be up and about in the morning.
Major airports are located in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town with many other options along the coast and inland. That could be convenient if my journey doesn’t end back in Joburg where my return flight is booked from.
Driving makes sense, just takes a lot of dollars
Once I get there how should I get around? I’m not a backpacking traveler any more due to bad shoulders from carrying too much for too long. Yet I love to camp and so do many in South Africa with over 700 caravan parks—campgrounds—to choose from. Being a 20-year veteran of the RV lifestyle my ideal would be to travel in a campervan, not a big motor home or towing a trailer. May be a way to fill a teenage fantasy VW bus, or Kombi.
I’ve only found two businesses that rent a van-like camper, Wicked Africa and Lekker. These 2-berth campers provide the basics for cooking, food storage and sleeping. Perfect, except for the expense of longer than a one month hire. Comparing those prices with renting a little car cuts expenses in half even buying some camping equipment once I get there.
The roads were in good condition right before the 2010 Cup except for some construction. And even then less than I see here in the States. Many of the National roads charge a toll but in some cases the free pre-National roads run Lekker VW campervan nearby and through communities and landscapes at a slower pace. My own pace.
Can you see me rolling down the road in one of these unique paint jobs from Wicked?
The best budget option for getting around would be by bus and taxi. Minivan-taxis are the most common local transportation everywhere I went in South Africa, even the one I literally bumped into, while it was parked and no one was hurt. They can be more than overly crowded and not my preference especially with luggage. Bus options include Greyhound or Bazbus which caters to backpackers with a hop-on/hop-off option and stops at hostels.
My preference includes stopping absolutely wherever I want, within safety, and choose my own route. But other affordable options make travel possible on your own chosen budget.
OK, having just said I want to drive, I do see the advantage of letting someone else do the driving, at least once in a while for photography reasons alone. Although I am known for photog-driving that’s only possible with the small Fuji I had to buy after loosing my P&S to the Indian Ocean.
South Africa seems a land of tours, city, townships, safari and walking. So many as to be overwhelming and my list will certainly be longer than the time I have. I’ve found South Africa Tourism very helpful during my research for this journey.
Tours will add some expense to the journey yet I believe a few will be worthy for the information from a local guide.
Over the long haul
South Africa has an extensive rail network, commuter and long distance. There’s the famous and luxurious Blue Train which I find a bit expensive. However the more economized “Purple” train called the Shosholoza Meyl (meaning pleasant experience) Tourist Class follows the same route over 956 miles (1530 km) in two days.
Tourist class trains consist exclusively of sleeping cars (2 & 4-berth compartments) and a restaurant car serving full meals, snacks, beer and wine. The sleepers even have hot showers at the end of the corridor. Economy class trains consist of sitter class seats and sometimes a restaurant car.
The only “long” train ride I’ve taken, almost 40 years ago, couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred miles from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois. So I’m considering the Purple train from Cape Town to Johannesburg at the end of my journey. It’s almost the same price as the three hour flight but in my case, not in a hurry.
So my ideal choices are plane, train and campervan although I’m not sure that’s what I’ll end up with.
How would you choose to travel in South Africa?
March 2010 Pilgrims Rest camp Mpumalanga
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