Solo Travel in South Africa
South Africa doesn’t have the best reputation for safety and with a high crime rate there’s a good reason why, but most of the crime takes place within the townships. The tourist areas are much safer but it’s still a country that you need to take extra care in especially travelling solo in South Africa.
South Africa attracts the older traveller and not the seasoned partygoer that you’ll find in Australia or Asia. There are opportunities for group travel here or you could hire a car with other like-minded travellers for extra security. Avoid entering into townships alone and don’t go out by yourself at night.
About South Africa
South Africa is a beautiful country known as the ‘Rainbow Nation.' It’s a mix of African culture and chic cities with a turbulent past, and is teeming with an abundance of wildlife and the Big Five.
Cape Town is a vibrant city and a great place to start your African adventure. It’s the land of wineries, great beaches and Al Fresco living with a fantastic V&A Waterfront that rivals that of San Francisco (along with the resident seals). Take a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain – a symbol of hope and freedom – for views of the city and its beautiful bay.
Wander around the artisan market at Greenmarket Square, listen to jazz at Cape Grace or take a stroll along Camps Bay. Or just go celeb spotting with a cocktail on the beach whilst watching bronzed bodies play volley ball.
To learn about the history of this country, visit the SA Museum or take an escorted Township tour to District Six, an important district at the time of apartheid between 1968 – 1985 when 3.5 million people were forcibly removed from their homes. People lay in front of bulldozers and only seven churches and mosques remain and stand as memorials of what happened here. Read more about the apartheid.
If you are vegetarian avoid the ‘smileys’ which are barbecued sheep heads. Cape Town is great for fresh fish though and their local catch is ‘snook.’
Boats from the waterfront will take you to Robben Island, once a high security prison where Nelson Mandela served eighteen years. Former prisoners and guards will take you on a tour around the island which has now become a symbol of peaceful resistance. Allow plenty of time to buy your ticket for the 30 minute journey across.
East from Cape Town is the Garden Route, one of the prettiest drives. It takes three to five days to drive with the option of staying in lodges, guest houses and hotels along the way. Head to the small wine town of Franschoek for your first stop, then onto the wine route to Paarl where the world famous vine grows.
You may want to avoid the crowds at Mossel Bay as its calm blue bay and natural harbour pull in the tourists. If you’ve ever wanted to see an ostrich you won’t be disappointed at Oudtshoorn, renowned for its ostrich farms (and you can ride a camel here too), but don’t bypass Cango Caves, a labyrinth of stalactites and stalagmites.
If you carry on the Garden Route you’ll get to the Wilderness (it is actually the name of a place) with unspoilt beaches, a lagoon and endless sand dunes. There is another lagoon in the next stop of Knysna which is one of the highlights of the drive.
You can take a ride on the steam train or cross the peninsula on a ferry then uphill by train. It’s a really beautiful place where you’ll find many South Africans coming for their holidays. The last stop is the Coastal National Park of Tsitsikamma, a large canyon carved out of sandstone, before finishing at Port Elizabeth.
Port Elizabeth is a windy, coastal city which thrives on tourism and has plenty of museums to keep you busy. You can take tours from here to a township or Nelson Mandela Bay City. Visit the ruins of Fort Frederick or just explore some nature at Alexandria Dune Fields – the largest coastal dune field in the southern hemisphere.
Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and also has the worst reputation for safety so stick to the tourist destinations. You can’t get more touristy than Gold Reef City (the city was actually built on gold), a theme park with old mining wagons. For more excitement, venture into the fantasy world of Sun City – a giant theme park in an African savanna – with a Lost City, picturesque gardens, waterfalls, casino and water sports.
Pretoria is the administrative capital and is a contrast from Johannesburg. Take a township town to Soweto, visit a Komodo dragon at the local zoo or check out the view of the city from the Presidential residence. It's great for buying souvenirs too.
For a more cultural experience go North to the culture centre of Lesedi where you can meet the locals in their tribal villages. Families from all over Africa have settled here and will give you an impressive display of their ritual dancing. Pilgrims Rest is nearby. This living museum was once Africa’s first gold mining village.
The Zulu Kingdom of KwaZulu-Natal is the battlefield area of South Africa where you can learn more about the Zulu history and walk in the footsteps of Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi. Visit the Elephant Coast, a mecca for eco-tourism where you can spot whales and bottlenose dolphins whilst enjoying the views of the Drakensberg Mountains.
For the adventurous traveller there are activities such as: sand boarding, mountain biking, hot air ballooning, canyoning, bungee jumping, and cage diving with great white sharks! If you prefer the finer things in life, the wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschoek provide some of the best Pinot around.
Other places to go in South Africa are: Durban for excellent surfing and a golden mile of beach, the waterfalls of Drakensberg, Seal Island, and the Cape of Good Hope; a nature reserve of rugged landscape and a 40km coastline. See the ‘real Africa’ at Nelspruit and go whale watching at Hermanus.
South Africa is a country full of with tribal ancestry, wild animals and breathtaking beauty.
Take a township tour on afternoon weekdays where you meet more locals.
You simply cannot visit South Africa without going on safari in one of the many game parks. You may need to take malaria tablets if you choose to do a safari in the northern area of the country. Read here for more of South Africa’s game reserves and National parks.
Kruger – Everyone’s heard of Kruger. It's one of the best parks in the world with a great diversity of animals and an endless landscape of African bush.
Mala Mala – Borders Kruger and is game packed with the Big Five.
Kgalagadi – A spectacular Transfrontier park with the Big Five (not as touristy as the others).
Richtersveld – Arid and desert scenery (better for desert flora than the Big Five). *malaria free
Shamwari – Cultural history and the Big Five. *malaria free
Addo Elephant National Park – Lots of elephants! *malaria free
Madikwe – Excellent year round game viewing and renowned for sightings of wild dogs. *malaria free
Kariega – Boasts the ultimate safari experience. *malaria-free
The best time to go on safari is May to September
How long do I need?
If you’re planning to see as much of South Africa as you can, two weeks should be enough time to explore Cape Town, the Garden Route then fly to Johannesburg for Sun City or a safari.
Accommodation in South Africa
South Africa has a variety of accommodation from hotels, holiday apartments and and of course African game lodges. If you are backpacking South Africa you’ll find hostels in the cities too. Booking.com is a great site which has places to stay for all budgets.
Guest houses are a sociable way of staying in family homes. Plus there’s Airbnb which connects you to unique travel experiences and isn’t just limited to staying in a local’s spare room. Save $20 off your first stay with this Airbnb link.
Solo Favourite – The Dune Guest Lodge, Wilderness
This gorgeous guest house is right on the beachfront, overlooking the sea. Not only are the staff super friendly but the place is spotless and it has an outdoor pool to cool off. It’s really close to the National Park too. Prices from £60 p/n. Find Out More
Solo Favourite – Menlyn Boutique Hotel, Pretoria
Perfect for solo females, this boutique hotel has an outdoor pool, a gym, and a spa and wellness centre. It’s beautifully decorated, with balconies in some of the rooms and is near to a shopping centre – perfect for shoppers. Prices from £60 p/n. Find Out More
Solo Favourite – Lagoon Beach, Cape Town
If you're looking to stay on the beach, I stayed at Lagoon Beach which has rooms and apartments and offers a free shuttle to the city so you can visit V&A Waterfront and other spots. This hotel is stunning. Prices from £80 p/n. Find out more
Tours in South Africa
If you feel more comfortable in a group for either part of your trip or the whole duration, G Adventures is a responsible tour company which mainly caters towards budget travellers. Most tours have an average of 10 people and there is no upper age limit. Once you book your trip you pay extra for any excursions you want to do when you’re there.
Adventures start from 7 days exploring Kruger National Park to an epic 40 day trip from Cape Town to the Serengeti through South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. I have personally used G Adventures and recommend them as a solo female friendly company.
Intrepid Travel is similar to G Adventures with an average of 12 people on each tour. Over 50% of people using their trips are solo travellers. They tend to use hotels instead of hostels and have a more comfortable style of accommodation hence the trips can appear more costly than G Adventures.
Trips include a 3 day Kruger Experience, 12 days cycling around South Africa, and a 14 day Garden Route Adventure. With both tour companies you share a room with another female or you can pay extra for your own room.
- Africa Travel Company – This company offers overland camping tours through the majority of Africa. It's perfect if you are looking to travel across several countries with others.
- Emzini Tours – Explore an African township with a personal touch.
- Urban Adventures – Day tours with a local in Johannesburg, and Cape Town.
Travelling Around South Africa
Travel around South Africa by car or bus. Baz Bus is a hop on hop off bus service that will take you from Cape Town to Johannesburg, stopping off on the way.
There’s also the Greyhound bus service if you don’t fancy the company of other backpackers and if you’re not on a budget
Rovos Rail offers luxury train travel. Hiring your own car gives you more flexibility and allows you to fly into one destination and out of another but make sure you’re comfortable with driving.
To hire a car we recommend pre-booking car hire with Avis so you can collect your car when you arrive at the airport.
From the Airport
There are many domestic and international airports within South Africa.
Cape Town – Buses leave every 20 minutes from 05.30 until 21.30 for the 40 minute ride into the city and cost £20 or take a taxi from the outside of the terminal.
Johannesburg – There will be lots of people offering you taxis and transfers as you arrive but go to the airport approved taxi desk in arrivals to book your taxi. The 30 minute journey will cost approx £55.
Feel more confident with someone waiting for you at the airport when you pre-book a transfer with Hoppa, a reliable and safe service for solo females.
Travelling onwards (check visas before you travel)
- South Africa to Botswana – There are so many borders. The most popular is Pretoria to Gaborone and a bus runs daily from Pretoria Station and takes 8 hours via Johannesburg (approx £20).
- South Africa to Namibia – There are flights from Cape Town or Johannesburg. The best border crossing overland is via Springbok along the N7 highway. The Trans Kalahari highway goes from South Africa to Namibia. Other crossings are: Onseepkans, Alexander Bay, Vioolsdrif, Rietfontein, Noenieput and Naroegas.
- South Africa to Zimbabwe – Buses leave Johannesburg to Harare where the border is open 24 hours. There are also buses from Jo’burg to Bulawayo which you can buy from Greyhound.
- South Africa to Swaziland – Bus services run from Johannesburg (3.5 hours to the Ngwenya border), Durban or Cape Town to Mbabane or Manzini. The South African Baz Bus (popular with travellers) travels from South Africa to Swaziland.
Where can I go from here?
Namibia 2 hrs
Madagascar 3.5 hrs
Mauritius 5 hrs
- Can I drink the water? In the urban areas – yes. Not outside.
- Is tipping expected? Yes, approx 10%.
- Fixed price or barter? Fixed price.
- Any ATMs? Yes.
- Which side of the road do they drive? Left.
- Good for vegetarians? Yes.
- Any seven wonders of the world? No.
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Map of South Africa
Budget – £45 a day
Capital – Cape Town, Pretoria
Population – 49.9 million
Language spoken – Many including Afrikaans, Zulu, English
The Best Time to Go – Jan and Feb, Nov and Dec
Did you know? Robben Island used to be a former leprosy colony.
Mind Body & Soul
Weather in South Africa – Below is the annual weather forecast for South Africa from January to December.