Public transport

Trains, planes, buses and taxis

Public transport

South Africa enjoys good travel infrastructure throughout most of the country, meaning traversing its vast area shouldn’t be too difficult a task. In fact most of the issues come within urban areas, where congestion can be extreme and road safety standards low.


In 2012, the South African government invested 201 billion rand (US$20.25 billion) in railway infrastructure, to add to an already extensive and relatively efficient network. Tracks run between most major towns and cities, and a number of private providers offer services of varying price and quality.

For longer distance trips, there tends to be a choice between economy and tourist class. The latter of these offers travellers greater comfort and privacy. This is thanks to the luxury of a private compartment with a bed, rather than the economy equivalent of a reclining seat within the main compartment. Of course, prices differ between the two. The following links lead to the websites of two of the most well known providers, who offer extensive services throughout the country:

A real luxury option comes in the form of the Blue Train , which runs about once a week between Cape Town and Pretoria. On this two-day service, the complimentary meals are extremely high quality. You can also enjoy unlimited free drinks, including superb South African wines and even complement these with free cigars. What’s more, some of the luxurious cabins go as far as to include full sized baths! However, this high life doesn’t come cheap, and cabins start at 10,930 Rand (US$1,100) for the two day journey.

Despite these extensive domestic options for train travel, there are very few that traverse borders to neighbouring nations. As such, taking a bus or plane is a more practical option for this.


The roads in South Africa are both extensive and well maintained, however the sheer size of the country can make journeys long and grueling. There are a number of bus companies offering services between various different towns and cities. Some of the main providers worth checking out are:

The quality of buses tends be good in terms of comfort and vehicle safety, however it’s important to note that not all services have a toilet. As tends to be the case with long distance bus services, the entertainment for the journey (if provided) is never the best, and there tends to be a rather odd choice of films or TV programmes.


The more formal and typical metered taxis are reminiscent of those of many other countries. These only make up roughly 10% of taxis in South Africa, and are vastly outnumbered by the omnipresent minibus. These minibuses are not entirely advisable for tourists for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being safety. The vehicles used are often in poor condition and inappropriate for the road. This problem is frequently coupled with reckless driving, meaning they can become somewhat of a death trap. What’s more, the system can be very difficult to get to grips with, as rather than have a set route, they tend to go wherever the driver wants, and stop wherever passengers say. Each route has a specific hand signal for those wanting to hail a minibus, which again makes the system very confusing for outsiders. If you can, however, find a guide or local willing to help you out, these minibuses can provide a uniquely South African experience.

Metered taxis generally need to be called by phone, apart from near to airports and tourist hotspots. This is because they don’t tend to roam streets in search of passengers as is the case in other countries. Hotels can easily call a taxi for you, or if you note down the number it’s also simple enough to do yourself.

Air travel

The main airports of South Africa are Johannesburg’s (OR Tambo International); Cape Town International Airport; King Shaka International Airport in Durban and Port Elizabeth International Airport. All of these serve a variety of domestic and international routes, and are located within reasonable distance of city centres.

In 2013, Skytrax announced King Shaka International as the best airport in the world that deals with less than 5 million passengers. The others are also all modern and efficient. The main providers within South Africa include South African Airways  and Comair . For internal flights, two cheap options are Kulula  and Mango .

Further reading

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