How NOT to do self-drive safaris in South Africa – 5 things to avoid

Top 5 aspects that you should avoid while contemplating a self-drive safari in South Africa


Self-drive safaris in South Africa, give you a glimpse of Africa’s hospitality that many miss


1)      Too much driving

GansbaaiUsually people plan to drive too far in one day. Other times they plan a hectic trip which has them driving too far, too often.

We don’t mean that it is not physically possible, more that it is no longer enjoyable and becomes a chore and very tiring – something you are trying to avoid when on holiday!

Sometimes it takes the form of being too ‘gung ho’ about the types of roads you are comfortable driving on. See Tip 3.

The Namibian car rental companies have some horrendous statistics on how many rental car drivers have an accident on their roads because they are not used to the driving conditions.

Have a look at our recent blog on good adventurous self drive safaris in South Africa to get some ideas of what we recommend.



2)      Choosing an unsuitable car because it’s cheaper

NamibiaOur standard entry car is a Group C. this is a 1.6 Toyota Corolla or similar. It is not uber-powerful but it’s fine for tar roads which is the norm for most of our self-drive routes.

However if you are planning to do a self-drive safari in South Africa or Namibia with quite a few kilometers on gravel, you may want to look at a high clearance vehicle?

You rarely need a 4×4 in South Africa – believe us – but if you are trying a more adventurous self drive safari in Namibia, especially in the summer rainfall months, you may want a 4×4 for extra peace of mind.

 See our recent blog about the different types of vehicles



3)      Being more adventurous than you should be, or are happy with


South Africa Self-DriveMost of South African roads are tar but we do have a fair number of gravel back roads, especially in the safari areas.

Gravel roads vary from being pretty good – but still much more tiring to drive than tar roads – to seriously challenging. If you haven’t had much experience of driving on gravel roads, don’t be too ambitious.

Similarly consider how comfortable will you feel in unfamiliar territory? How comfortable will you feel driving in a very remote area or driving through small African towns? For many of our clients, this is EXACTLY what they want. But make sure you pick the trip that’s right for you.

Similarly the reality is that if you break down in a remote area, assistance may not be able to get to you immediately. They will need to bring a replacement vehicle from the nearest depot which could take a few hours. You need to be comfortable changing a wheel (and ask us to book a second spare tyre for you in Namibia). We also recommend that you travel with food/water in case you are stranded for a few hours in the heat of summer.

Note: This is very rare but as the boy scouts say…



4)      Not having a clear sense of where you are going

         (a.k.a. not using a Tour Operator)

Self-Drive South AfricaIf you are planning a more adventurous self drive safari, you need to be more prepared. The GPS coverage on your rental car may not work in remote areas, or it may be distinctly suspect. (See our post about driving using GPS to get around). So you need to have a good road atlas (not just the one from the car rental company) and know exactly where you are going.

We would argue, of course, that having the assistance of a tour operator is invaluable here. They can assist you with driving distances and specific directions to your overnight stay. They can also give you tips about the journey.


 5)      Driving after dark


Of course we plan our self drive safaris in South Africa so that you get to your overnight stop by the late afternoon. Occasionally a late arriving flight might scupper this but that’s the general rule of thumb. However it’s a self-drive trip. So we cannot force you to depart at a specific time.

If people get to a hotel late eg 7 or 8pm, it’s usually because they only set off in the mid afternoon!

Invariably this leads to longer driving times as you drive much more slowly on unfamiliar roads at night. Sometimes they find it harder to find the hotel as road signs or landmarks are not so clearly visible. If you realize that you will be arriving late, it’s always a good idea to ring. Tell the hotel what time to expect you and where you are now.  Then no one will worry about you.

As you can see, none of this is rocket science. It’s just a question of knowing yourself and choosing the right trip for YOU.


What to do now?


Check out our South Africa Self drive sample tours


Send us an enquiry for a tailormade self drive           

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Kate Bergh is co-founder of Cedarberg African Travel, a specialist tour operator for Southern and East Africa.

She heads up the South African office, having lived in South Africa since 1993. Her home looks up to the Cedarberg Mountains, where she enjoys hiking and cycling, when she’s not out discovering new places to visit, with her three children in tow. Kate has travelled extensively throughout the region to Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe as well as most areas of South Africa. She also loves history, meeting people and a good thriller...


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