South Africa is well served by an extensive public transport network of trains and buses, conveniently offering travellers to ability to reach all corners of the country.
Brand South Africa reporter
South Africa is a large country to explore and those not used to driving long distances, there are other options available to travel around South Africa, both between cities and around metropolitan areas.
Most of the companies below offer online booking facilities, as well as telephonic enquires. All information supplied accurate at time of publication.
There are several private bus companies in South Africa, regularly travelling national inter-city and crossborder routes, as well as offering charter services.
- City to City: Bookings – 0861 589 282 / 011 774 8304.
- Eldo Coaches: Bookings – 011 213 9953
- Intercape: Bookings – 021 380 4400.
- Translux: Bookings – 0861 589 282.
For travelling backpackers, there’s the Baz Bus, a hop-on, hop-off service between all major urban centres, including Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Buses are 19-seaters and can carry surfboards and bicycles. Bookings can be made online or via phone 0861 229 287 (within South Africa) or +27 (21) 422 5202 (international calling).
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.
Prasa – Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa is responsible for the Metrorail commuter Services in the metropolitan areas and long distance passenger rail services between South African cities, including regional passenger rail services.
Its long-distance passenger service, known as the Shosholoza Meyl, may not be luxurious or fast, but it is a comfortable, clean and safe way to South Africa. The Meyl travels between Johannesburg and Cape Town, with routes down to Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London, as well as up north to Komatipoort and Musina.
The tourist class has sleeper cars for two (coupe) or four people (compartments) available at competitive rates.
Contact 086 000 8888 or book online.
The Shosholoza Meyl Premier Classe is an upmarket service that travels between Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Johannesburg and Durban every week. Trains are air-conditioned, and offer single-berth coupes, two-berth coupes and family compartments. Fares include bedding and meals. Contact 011 773 9247.
The Blue Train is one of the world’s most luxurious railways, and well worth the investment of seeing the diverse and spectacular scenery between Pretoria and Cape Town that one would otherwise miss travelling by car. The 1 600km route takes 27 hours, but offers hospitality services that are both world-class and uniquely African.
- African Sun Service offers an independent online booking service for all train travel in South Africa.
- For detailed information, reviews and schedules, visit the travel blog Seat61’s overview of train travel in South Africa. .
Vintage train travel
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.
Umgeni Steam Railway is 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.
Urban commuter trains
The Gautrain is South Africa’s first suburban rapid rail service. It links the two major cities in Gauteng, Johannesburg and Pretoria, and is an efficient and safe service for commuters travelling to work in these centres, as well as offering an alternative to driving for tourists looking for a quick daytrip between the two cities. Most importantly, the Gautrain also runs an express service from Johannesburg’s central business district Sandton to the OR Tambo airport in under 40 minutes.
Johannesburg’s suburban trains, operated by Prasa’s Metrorail, are generally not considered safe, while commuting in Cape Town does have much of the same hazards, it is still one of the more pleasurable ways to see the Cape, including routes to Stellenbosch and Paarl, and a particularly scenic trip along the shoreline, through Muizenberg and Simon’s Town.
See Cape Metrorail for schedules and fares.
*Updated 6 October 2015
Sources: South African Tourism, Gautrain, Prasa, Metrorail, YouTube
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