South Africa Car Hire
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Planning a South Africa holiday? You’re making a great choice – the Rainbow Nation is even brighter and more beautiful than its colourful nickname suggests and if this is your first time, don’t be surprised if it’s love at first sight. From rich savannahs teeming with jaw-dropping wildlife to dramatic mountains offering panoramic views, this is a strong contender for the world’s best vacation destination.
One of the foremost safari destinations, at iconic wildlife hotspots such as Kruger Park you can treat yourself to a braai breakfast and then head out to spot the Big Five (rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and lion) under the watchful eye of expert local guides and unwind to the natural rhythms of life at its wildest and most wonderful. Alternatively, if hiking is your thing, the terrific trails here take you through the otherworldly dunes of the Karoo desert, vertiginous Drakensberg mountains and verdant Cape coast winelands.
South Africa’s captivating natural attractions are complemented by some of Africa’s most amazing cities – from the cool music and cuisine of Cape Town to the dynamic vibes of Johannesburg, and Pretoria’s gorgeous green spaces and elegant architecture to diverse Durban’s laid-back beach vibes, there’s something for every type of traveller.
This is a great country to explore by car and since you drive on the left, it’s brilliant for British drivers. With Enjoy Travel, hiring a mini-sized car in Johannesburg like a Suzuki Celerio costs around £15 per day and a compact Toyota Corolla costs $25 a day in Cape Town. Meanwhile, an 11-seater Toyota Quantum minibus is just £81 a day in Durban – ideal for an SA road trip adventure with an extended group of friends and family. South Africa car hire is simple with Enjoy Travel - read on for more fascinating tips on making the most of this magnificent nation!
Guide to South Africa
About South Africa
A vast, diverse, and preternaturally beautiful country, South Africa’s visual vibes range from the vibrant greens of the Western Cape’s Garden Route to the arid Karoo semi-desert that bisects its centre and the grasslands of the Kruger National Park in the northeast to the charming town and cities traced across its entire terrain. Its population of 56 million includes 11 language groups – English is widely-spoken but you’ll also hear the hypnotic cadences of tongues like Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa and Ndebele, amongst others. There’s so much to explore here that you wouldn’t see it all in a year-long break – but by focusing on one area or choosing a twin-centred holiday, there’s definitely time to experience South Africa’s magic in two or three weeks. Its nine provinces each have their distinctive charms, so whether you want urban nightlife, unique music and culture, fascinating history, eye-popping wildlife or sublime scenery, there’s something surprisingly delightful around every corner. Last but not least, South Africa’s people provide a warm welcome for visitors from all around the world – bringing the boundless riches of a multitude of cultures to the table in a feast that stimulates all the senses.
History & culture
South Africa has a history that’s both fascinating and tumultuous. Its first inhabitants are believed to be the San and Khoikhoi – nomadic hunter gatherers who ranged across its vast plains for thousands of years. Dutch settlers arrived at the Cape in 1652 and gradually moved inland. While British settlers arrived in the early 19th century and then followed the Dutch inland when gold and diamonds were discovered. The Zulus were another influential culture in the region and their Kingdom under King Shaka in particular covered vast swathes of southern Africa. Various wars and conflicts ensued and the was a British colony until it gained nominal independence in 1910 and full independence in 1961. The terrible Apartheid policy was introduced in the intervening years, and it wasn’t until 1994 that it had its first democratic election – after which a government was finally elected that truly represented the democratic wish of its people. This is a stunning land with a complex history and challenging current affairs - but in the past few decades South Africans of all cultures have worked hard to build a country where cultural diversity is celebrated and there’s strength in diversity. These progressive South Africans have ensured that the Rainbow Nation is worthy of its sunny soubriquet.
South Africa has a number of world-class cities that are always a joy to explore. Cape Town is easily one of the world’s most beautiful cities – with its urban settlement suspended in a bowl between the iconic Table Mountain, The Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. A cosmopolitan city with a lively arts and music scene, swish suburbs like Camps Bay and natural attractions like the twelve Apostles mountain range and Cape Point (where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet) it’s truly one of a kind. Meanwhile, Johannesburg was transformed from backwater to boomtown by the goldrush that started in 1886 and it's now a vibrant city of 6 million inhabitants. If you want diverse culture, haute cuisine and bouncing clubs, Jozi has it all. Don’t forget Durban though – affectionately known to locals as ‘Durbs’, this beach resort city is home to a large Indian population, some superb Victorian architecture and chic bars and restaurants in its northern suburbs.
Things to do in South Africa
Safari & sightseeing
If your heart’s set on a safari, South Africa has some of the world’s best wildlife experiences. Kruger National Park is probably the most famous – located in the northwest, its 20,000 square km host 200,000 mammals and countless insects, birds, and reptiles. You’ll have no trouble seeing the Big Five here and if you’re lucky, you might even spot an elusive cheetah! Another excellent safari experience is on offer at the government-run Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape – naturally, there’s a focus on elephants but you’ll see a plethora of other big game and stay overnight in sumptuous lodges. Meanwhile, Pumba is a private reserve that’s also near Port Elizabeth and because the animals have been brought onto the reserve rather than living there naturally, there’s less of them – but you’ve actually got a better chance of regular encounters because the reserve is much smaller. There’s lots to see here but the highlight might be the rare white lions. Safaris aside, other popular tourist attractions in South Africa include the Blyde River Canyon (Africa’s largest), the lush Cape Winelands, The Garden Route between Mossel Bay and St Francis along the Indian ocean coastline, Cape Town’s Table Mountain, and Robben Island – the site of the prison where Nelson Mandela and many other high profile political prisoners were incarcerated during the nation’s struggle for freedom.
South African music is varied and vibrant, just like the nation itself – you’ll hear it played live in civic spaces and concert halls, and on pulsating sound systems in bars, cafes and clubs. Cape Jazz is a world-famous style that developed in the late 1950s with seminal artists like Abdullah Ibrahim, Basil Coetzee and Robbie Jansen, and it’s a distinctive fusion of local folk songs and North American rhythms. Other major international musicians who emerged from the South African jazz and choral scene include singer Miriam Makeba and trumpeter Hugh Masekela. Operas and classical music are also popular, while contemporary genres like Kwaito blend reggae, R&B, Hip-Hop and house – complemented by authentic South African lyrics, fashions and attitude. The Cape Town International Jazz Festival is normally held at the end of March/start of April and attracts international as well as local performers, while Rocking the Daisies is a diverse festival held in October at Cape Town’s Cloff Wine Estate – it attracts global acts like Scorpion Kings, Ari Lennox, Stormzy and more.
Another unifying force in South Africa is sport – many forms of which transcend cultures and have further enhanced the nation’s international profile. It famously hosted (and won) the 1995 Rugby World Cup, 2003 Cricket World Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup (remember crowds brandishing those loud and proud vuvuzela horns?). The most popular sports here are cricket, rugby and football – with famous soccer stars like Benni McCarthy, Lucas Radebe and Steven Pienaar enjoying successful careers with international clubs. The national rugby team (known as ‘The Springboks’) won the 2007 and 2019 Rugby World Cups as well as the 1995 title, and legendary players include Bryan Habana, Francois Pienaar and Joost van der Westhuizen. Meanwhile, other popular sports include boxing (the nation has produced champions such as Sugar Boy Malinga and Welcome Ncita) and golf (Gary Player and Ernie Els are two of its golfing alumni).
If you like your entertainment under one roof (or rather one big blue sky), try Sun City Resort, located a couple of hours drive from Johannesburg. This expansive complex has four luxury hotels, two casinos where you can try your luck, two championship golf courses, a South African cultural village, natural-effect beach and pool, and crocodile sanctuary with 7000 snappy inhabitants (not connected to the pool – don’t worry!). However, if you’d rather sample the nightlife on a more ad hoc basis in the city you’re based in, there are plenty of hot spots and hip strips to choose from. Long Street in Cape Town features popular venues like Honest Chocolate and the Waiting Room, Capital Craft in Pretoria is a haven for craft beer fans, Brampton Wine Studio near Stellenbosch is seventh heaven for wine lovers, and Cape Town’s rather weirdly-named Orphanage offers outstanding cocktails. Finally, for something more retro and genteel, try the Alexander Bar, Café and Theatre across town – this is one of the places to be seen in the Mother City and provides an immersive experience where you order drinks on old-school telephones and dance into the wee small hours in true speakeasy style.
Shopping & Eating out in South Africa
Arts, crafts & more
If you’re a culture vulture, there’s every chance you’ll want to pick up an arty memento if your time in South Africa. You’ll find independent art galleries in major cities like as well as Johannesburg and smaller boho towns like Franschhoek, but if you’d rather grab your gifts and keepsakes under one roof, the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town is ideal. With over 150 businesses and 365 brands, South Africa’s design story is brought to life in stunning ceramics, fashion, jewellery, textiles and furniture – it’s open 7 days a week. As you browse stalls like Iloni Jewellery, Ikhaya Crafts, Hint Hunt and Fact designs, there’s almost too much to choose from. For more mainstream shopping, skip across to the main V&A mall, where you’ll find international high street brands and a host of local SA favourites.
Upscale brands are as popular in South Africa as anywhere else and if you need to top up your collection of designer labels while you’re in SA, make a beeline for Johannesburg’s Sandton City Mall. Stellar brands here include Patek Philippe, Prada, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss and Michael Kors – amongst many others. Alternatively, Cape Town is no slouch when it comes to chic designer boutiques, with eco-friendly clothing from Sitting Pretty, elegant eveningwear from Eufrasia, trendy homeware from Stable and African-style kids clothes at Mareth Colleen.
South Africa is as tempting to the taste buds as it’s easy on the eye. If you fancy haute cuisine, Woodstock’s The Test Kitchen is rated as one of the best restaurant’s on the planet and there’s a months-long waiting list of customers yearning for head chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ culinary creations. Alternatively, Wolfgat in Paternoster on the West Coast specializes in seasonal dishes created from lip-smacking, locally-sourced ingredients including fresh vegetables, seafood, and lamb. Finally, for a la carte dining in stunning surroundings, Salsify in Camps Bay is a brilliant choice.
South Africa Transport
Major South African airports include OR Tambo International Airport (JNB), Cape Town International Airport (CPT), King Shaka International Airport in Durban (DUR), and Port Elizabeth Airport (PLZ). We offer car hire pickups at most major SA air hubs if this is more convenient than a downtown location.
The public transport system in South Africa isn’t as reliable as its British equivalent, but there are various options on those rare occasions when your car isn’t the best choice. The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) has a near-monopoly on passenger rail services and its three departments are Metrorail (inner city routes), Shosholoza Meyl (connecting every SA province), and Premier Classe – a luxury train between Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban that’s reasonably priced. There are four Metrorail services – in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal, and the Western Cape.
There’s no centralized bus transport authority but the network is supported by a mix of public and private entities. If you’re in Bloemfontein, Interstate Bus Lines is the main provider, MyCiTi and Golden Arrow are the foremost operators in Cape Town, Metrobus and Rey Vaya cover Johannesburg and PUTCO and A Re Yeng are prominent in Pretoria.
As stated, you drive on the left-hand side of the road in South Africa, but apart from that commonality, the driving experience can be quite different, so always proceed with caution.
Fellow drivers have a habit of overtaking at any moment and from any lane, so the best way to stay safe is observe all your mirrors carefully, be mindful of blind spots and safely pull over to allow them to pass. There are also many four-way intersections, and the rule of the road here is that the first car to arrive has the right of way, so stay alert and patiently wait your turn.
Be aware of minibuses – there are many of these vehicles on the road, they’re often overloaded and their driving standards leave a lot to be desired. Street signs are rare in rural areas but in general it’s best to avoid going off the beaten track anyway – stick to clearly marked roads and well-established tourist routes.
Lastly, be cautious about livestock – many farms here aren’t fenced off and large animals frequently wander into the middle of roads. This is a particular problem at night, so be extra careful.
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