Why not a Self-Drive in South Africa?

An unsurprising trend at the moment is that my clients are all looking for the best value in their safari vacations. Whether this takes the form of searching for special deals on the internet or simply trading down from a five star hotel to a three/four star hotel, the trend amongst the majority of our clients is clear -  they simply don’t want to spend as much money this year on their African safari holiday as two years ago.

But what are the best ways of getting great value for money on your South Africa safari vacation? One of my blogs on my old site addressed the issue of

How to Save on Your Safari (which is now an article on our website).  But today I thought I would address one of the simplest, and in many ways painless, ways of saving money. It is simply this – consider switching, at least part of your vacation, to a self-drive tour.

Most of our North American clients choose to take an escorted holiday to South Africa and combine it with a safari. Most will take a private guide for the greater flexibility and personal care. In contrast most of our UK and European clients opt to do a self-drive holiday in South Africa.  I don’t think I have EVER had a self-drive client who’s come back to me and said that they wished they had taken an escorted tour. Uniformly they all enjoy the experience.

By switching to a self-drive holiday, you can usually retain your preferred standard of accommodation and reduce the cost of your vacation by 25% or more …

What’s more  – consider the following advantages…

1)    Great flexibility to do what you want when you want. If its cloudy, you can choose to delay an outdoor tour and opt for relaxing day instead. There is no guide who is booked and paid for. You can do it tomorrow instead, or not at all, if you feel like it.

2)    You can choose from a range of cars from compact to luxurious

3)    You don’t have to always be with another person (your guide) no matter how nice they may be. You can kick back, relax and just be with your loved ones. Particularly important on key anniversaries and birthdays!

So what are some of the concerns about self drive in South Africa and how would I deal with them?

1)    We drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road
Yes, we do drive on the left but it is surprising how quickly you get used to it as all our Continental European clients will agree (as they also are used to driving on the right). It takes only an hour or two to adjust because all other cars are driving on the left. Really…

2)    I can’t use a manual transmission in a car
No problem. Both Avis and Budget, our preferred partners have a range of automatic cars in all sizes

3)    It’s Africa. The roads will be appalling!
No, they are not! The vast majority of our South African roads are good quality tarred roads and usually wider than many European country roads!  They are well-signposted and the signs are in English. If you are particularly concerned about road quality, then specify that you do not want to drive any gravel roads. (It’s unlikely we would suggest that anyway but some off the beaten track destinations have some gravel roads).

4)    I am going to get lost
Any reputable tour operator who has a lot of self-drive clients will give you good documentation with detailed instructions on how to get from one hotel to the next. In our case we give you detailed route and area descriptions as well so that you hardly need a guide book. You also get road maps with your rental car and also the option to hire a GPS with your rental car if you want.

5)    I’m worried about my safety
It’s natural to be apprehensive about driving in a foreign country. The rural areas of South Africa are generally very quiet and safe and we never compromise our client’s safety by suggesting inappropriate routes or areas. However if you are nervous about driving in cities that you don’t know, then why not consider the ideal compromise. You are met at the airport and transferred to your first hotel in Cape Town. You enjoy one or two guided tours whilst you settle into South Africa and get the feel of it, then we arrange for your rental car to be delivered to your hotel. This gives you the chance to enjoy the Cape Peninsula drive under your own steam or to visit the Cape Winelands. Then you head off for a few days of self-drive pleasure perhaps visiting Hermanus or the Garden Route.

6)    What about my safari?
We don’t usually suggest self-drive to your game lodge as the roads are, of course, bumpier and usually gravel. Typically our European clients enjoy a self-drive holiday for the majority of their holiday and then return the car to the nearest car rental office and have road or air transfers into their safari destination.

If you have any further questions about self-drive in South Africa, have a look at our Self-Drive pages…

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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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