Driving South Africa Is Far Less Daunting Than You Might Imagine

Last Updated on March 14, 2016

Camps Bay

South Africa is celebrated for its incredible natural beauty.

During our stay in South Africa, we drove the majority of the trip from Johannesburg and Kruger Park to Cape Town. View additional photos HERE.

We found renting a car not much harder than renting one locally at home, as any valid driver’s license is accepted in South Africa, as long as it has the photograph and signature of the holder and is printed or authenticated in English. A valid passport must also be presented.

View near Cape Point














It didn’t take long to get used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road. In South Africa, you keep left, pass right, and the cars are right-hand drive vehicles, so any shifting is done with your left hand. The most confusing part of driving in a car that was “backwards” was remembering to walk to the proper side of the car. We are so programmed in the North American way that we found ourselves walking to the wrong side the whole trip!

The road infrastructure is excellent, making the drive between cities and towns an easy one. Add the stunning landscapes of South Africa and the drive is very enjoyable. Some of the distances can be quite long, so ensure you plan a tentative route in advance that outlines the distance between different points you want to stop at. If you are stopping in rural areas, expect the road to make for a bumpy drive with plenty of potholes.

Hiking Robberg

A few tips:

  • We chose to not drive at night as it can be quite dangerous if you are not familiar with the area and surroundings.
  • South African petrol stations are full-service. An attendant will fill the car and offer to clean the windshield. We found it easy to tell which petrol stations were safer to stop at and which ones looked like you were asking for trouble if you stopped.
  • Drivers of minibuses and taxis make their own rules of the road, stopping whenever and whenever they please.
  • There is limited fencing in the rural areas. Watch out for cows, sheep and other animals on the road.
  • Use common sense and do not stop to try to feed wild animals. It is dangerous.
  • Drive with your doors locked and windows up, especially when you will be coming to a stop at the “robots” (traffic lights).


While in awe of South Africa’s beauty, seeing the difference between the haves and the have-nots was a difficult pill to swallow.

School children dressed in their best walking long, long distances to and from school, houses with nothing more than basic metal walls, mothers walking long distances to gather and carry back all the necessities they can and workers piling into an already crammed taxi or back of a truck are some of the images we think of when we look back on what it felt like to drive through the poor areas. It was interesting, but sad, how conditions for working people in rural areas seemed so poor, yet big corporations continue to prosper not far away.


Shanty town


The biggest realization we had when driving South Africa was how different it was than what we expected.

South Africa is about more than just going on a safari.


The safari is the first thing we were questioned about upon return and is also one of the things we emphasized when planning our trip to South Africa. While a safari is an amazing experience and should be included in your trip, the rest of South Africa blew us away just as much. Stunning rapid and diverse landscapes, turquoise waters, and the myriad of activities available beyond a safari will keep a huge smile on your face. South Africa offers opportunities for just about any experience you can imagine.

We love that we had such a wrong perception of South Africa.

South Africa ended up truly being “a world in one country”. It felt like our misconceptions were expected, accepted and blown away. To understand South Africa, it must be experienced.

Muizenberg beach – coloured Victorian beach houses

It is a powerful statement, but South Africa really does change you.

It was an amazing journey.



Have you ever driven South Africa? Would you?