Buses and trains
South Africa is well served by an extensive and well-maintained road network, but it's a big country so if you're not used to driving long distances, travelling by bus or train may be a better idea than hiring a rental car.
There are several private bus companies in South Africa, most of which travel a variety of national routes, as well as offering charter services. Check out:
- Citiliner: Book on your mobile phone by dialing *120*GoByBus#call. Customer care 011 611 8000.
- City to City: phone bookings and info 0861 589 282.
- Eldo Coaches: travels between Johannesburg and Durban via Lenasia, Heidelburg, Harrismith, Estcourt and Pietermaritzburg. Contact 011 859 1933/31.
- Greyhound: Online bookings. Book via your mobile phone by visiting m.greyhound.co.za. Customer care 083 915 9000.
- Intercape: An extensive network throughout South Africa as well as other African routes, including Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. Online bookings. 24-hour customer care 0861 287 287.
- SA Roadlink: Seven major routes, covering most of the country. Online bookings. Contact 011 333 2223.
- Translux: offers more than 20 routes (100 destinations) in South Africa, as well as to other Southern African countries. Phone bookings and info 0861 589 282.
For backpackers, there's the Baz Bus, a hop-on, hop-off service between Johannesburg/Pretoria and Cape Town; Cape Town and Durban; and Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Buses are 19-seaters and can carry surfboards and bicycles. Calls within South Africa: 0861 229 287. International callers: +27 (21) 422 5202.
If you want to go upmarket, Compassline Africa offers tailor-made, personalised tours in luxuriously equipped Mercedes buses with a maximum of 12 spacious seats.
Spoornet is the parastatal railway that covers the routes between the major cities. Its long-distance passenger service, known as the Shosholoza Meyl, is by no means luxurious or fast, but it's comfortable, clean and safe, and offers a relaxed way to see parts of the country. The train travels between Johannesburg and Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London, Komatipoort and Musina. The tourist class has sleeper cars for two (coupé) or four people (compartments). Contact 086 000 8888.
Premier Classe, the upmarket service operated by Spoornet, travels between Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Johannesburg and Durban every week. Trains are air-conditioned, and offer single-berth coupés, two-berth coupés and family compartments. Fares include bedding and meals. Contact 011 773 9247.
- African Sun Service offers an independent online booking service for train travel.
- For detailed information, reviews and schedules, see Seat61's overview.
For real luxury, you have to try one of the world's most luxurious railways, the Blue Train, which runs between Cape Town and Pretoria, a 27-hour journey of 1 600km, through diverse and spectacular scenery.
Another classic upmarket option is Rovos Rail, which operates beautifully restored, spacious carriages, which are drawn by steam locomotives at the start and end of each trip. Old Edwardian carriages are available for charters.
Passionate independent operators work hard to keep the romance of steam train travel a reality in South Africa. Friends of the Rail is operated by enthusiasts and is committed to preserving South Africa's steam train and coach heritage. Its vintage steam train runs fairly regularly from Pretoria to Cullinan, an historic diamond village. Their "Tshwane Xplorer" trip travels around Pretoria.
Atlantic Rail runs day trips along the beautiful Cape Peninsula, usually from Cape Town to Simon's Town. The steam locomotive is a 1949 Class 49 steam loco, and the vintage coaches date from 1922 to 1938. One of the coaches is a lounge car with a full cash bar service.
For another short scenic trip, don't miss the Umgeni Steam Railway, located near Durban. Run by volunteers, the 100-year-old steam engine carries passengers through the Valley of a Thousand Hills. The service usually runs on the last Sunday of every month.
Unfortunately, the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe, which travelled along the picturesque Garden Route coastline, no longer runs as the railway line was damaged in floods in 2006 and Transnet, its owner, says it does not have the funds required to repair it.
The Gautrain is a suburban rapid rail service, linking Johannesburg (Sandton) and OR Tambo airport, as well as Johannesburg (central and Sandton) to Pretoria. It's new, efficient and safe – and an excellent way to travel between Joburg and the aiport, the journey taking less than 15 minutes.
Although Johannesburg's suburban trains, operated by Metrorail, are generally not considered safe, commuters are better served in Cape Town. It's a pleasurable way to travel to Stellenbosch and Paarl, or to enjoy the view between Muizenberg and Simon's Town as the railway hugs the rocky shoreline. See Cape Metrorail for schedules and fares.
SAinfo reporter and South African Tourism
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