My epic Garden Route roadtrip wouldn’t have been possible without renting a car in South Africa. It was (dare I say it?) my favourite part of the three-week trip in 2019 so much so that I extended my rental by three days, going from a four-day short trip to a full epic week.
Driving in South Africa as a tourist isn’t unusual; during my previous trips, getting around by Uber / Bolt were the most convenient, easiest and cheapest options to visit touristy locations as I was based mostly in Cape Town. If you really want to explore South Africa beyond just hanging out in Cape Town and/or Johannesburg, then here’s the ultimate guide to renting a car in South Africa!
The good news is that South Africa has an abundance of car rental companies to choose from – brands you’re probably already familiar with such as Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, EuropCar, Avis, Budget, and more. Whenever I travel to South Africa, I usually arrive and depart from Cape Town and finding a car rental in Cape Town (or car hire as they are locally known) is very easy – with pick-up and drop-off locations in key areas in the city! Most of the car hire Cape Town offices are usually clustered together so if you’re not satisfied with one company, you can walk to another office and get a different quote!
You can rent a rental car and drive in South Africa as long as you are 18 years or old, have a valid driver’s license (of at least 1-3 years depending on the company you’re going with), bring a proof of ID (passport), and credit card for deposit. The process of renting my rental car took less than 30 minutes and this was me deciding on a whim that I wanted to do this at 11PM the night before!
A trip you may want to consider renting a car for is a Garden Route roadtrip; with many visitors/tourists and locals doing this common week-long trip, you can expect availabilities to be scarce during the high season. I’ve included some points of interest that mark the Garden Route roadtrip I did at the bottom of this post.
Renting a Car in South Africa
Getting a rental car is one of the best ways to really explore South Africa – it gives you time to explore and visit places at your own pace, and discover places you might not if taking public transit or through a group tour. South Africa is a very self-drive country and despite how easy it is to get a rental, feels very safe to drive around.
Although South Africa was the first destination I’ve visited where I decided to rent a car, I think I may end up renting a car more frequently now given my positive experience there.
Should I Rent a Car in South Africa?
As someone who’s usually comfortable with taking just the public transit, walking, or flying between destinations, renting a car wasn’t always the top of my list. I figured it would be too expensive, full of hassles, and there’s always many stories going about someone’s bad experience with so-and-so car rental company (Fake damages, dishonest insurance charges, etc). It didn’t seem worth it.
I’m glad I gave it a chance while I was in Cape Town because I spent a week road-tripping the Garden Route and driving around Cape Town which was another great way of exploring a city I thought I’d seen everything from my previous trips.
As I mentioned earlier, the convenience factor was huge about picking up and returning my rental; although I only decided mid-way during my stay in Cape Town to get a rental, it was worked out very easily and quickly. Initially, I went with AroundAboutCars which had great reviews online, despite a bit of hiccup (mostly because I wanted a small car, which they didn’t have so they had to organize with a partner agency to rent me the size I was looking for), I was able to pick up my rental within 45 minutes and start my road trip within the hour.
Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the AroundAboutCars rental experience except for their top-notch customer service; I was looking for a small, automatic car (a “Group A” subcompact car, usually the likes of popular subcompact including the Hyundai i10, Honda Brios, Toyota Yaris) as they are more economical gas-wise, easier to drive and has enough space for one person. The customer before me beat me to the car so they called up a few partners and I ended up renting from Tempest Car Hire who had one.
- Around About Cars: 20 Bloem St, Schotsche Kloof, Cape Town, 8001 (Website)
- Tempest Car Hire: 26 Chiappini St, De Waterkant, Cape Town, 8001 (Website) – at the time of writing, this branch appears to have been permanently closed since I was last there in 2019, likely due to the pandemic.
Choosing a Rental Car for your Trip
Deciding on which rental car can make or break your trip – if you’re on the taller side, or traveling with a large group / family, consider going with a larger car than what you need. South Africa is a big country so you’ll be spending a lot of time in said vehicle. Better to have more space for everyone and everything rather than having to switch up the car half-way through.
Also consider where you’re planning to go – if you’re crossing the border into Namibia or going to do a safari, or taking the backroads where road conditions are rougher, you might want to opt for a 4×4 that can handle the drive.
Consider whether you can drive a manual or absolutely need an automatic. I’m in the latter camp as I’ve never driven a manual car before and there is usually fewer automatic cars than manual available so it’s worthwhile to call up ahead of time to make sure you get the car you can actually drive!
Self-Drive Safari in South Africa
South Africa is one of the best countries to enjoy wildlife and my safari experience at Kruger National Park in 2016 was a testament to how amazing the experience was. Renting your own can for a safari is an option many tourists and locals take so it wasn’t too surprising to see a lot of personal cars on the safari trail.
If you’re not pressed on time, and want to get close to the wildlife, or just want spend as much time on your game drives as possible, a self-driving safari is the way to go. Kruger National Park had very easy-to-navigate routes and well-developed roads so it’s very easy to drive a small car on your own.
Car Rental Companies in South Africa
As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of international car rental brands available including brand you may already be a member of like Enterprise, Thrifty, EuropCar, Avis and so on. There’s a dedicated car hire office and I took a snapshot brand availability from the Cape Town airport website; here is the information for the Johannesburg OR Tambo airport.
Requirements for Renting a Car in South Africa
You must be 18 years or older with a valid license of more than 3 years per Tempest rules. Keep in mind, different companies may have different rules (it looks like AroundAboutCars will let you drive with a license that’s only 1 day old!) and may or may not charge a Young Driver Fee.
South Africa Driving Tips and Etiquette
- To pass a car, signal to the right and the car should let you pass
- Once you pass a car, you can signal your thanks by clicking on the hazard flash button briefly
- Watch out for stop signs, speed cameras – they can be positioned a little randomly in some areas and South African police are quite stringent about speed limits
- I found driver are generally courteous, and not aggressive; honking is not common except to signal a warning
- Get a GPS if you can; the country is very vast, and even on the N2 Highway, there are some gaps in connectivity so don’t be too reliant on your data/phone
- I didn’t drive frequently at night but I’ve seen people walking on highways (an Uber driver confirmed someone died trying to cross the highway on foot on the N2) as I was driving from Cape Town airport during the day so it may not be safe to drive during the night where there aren’t as many traffic lights around
- Keep spare change to tip the parking guards – R20-40 are sufficient
- On the long stretches of N2 outside of the major cities, there’s no traffic lane dividers on a road that’s the approximate width of 2 cars. You really need to keep an eye on where your car is to avoid incoming cars
- Road conditions are generally good but on the N2 there are a lot of trucks and they take up a lot of the road space so be careful when trying to pass them on the road
- Gas prices are regulated in South Africa and they’re quite abundant on the major stops but there can be quite long stretches in between. There are attendants that will fill up your tank, check your tires and clean the windshield for you. Similar to the parking attendant, you’ll want to tip them R10-20
Safety Tips for Driving a Rental Car in South Africa
South Africans drive on the left, meaning the steering wheel is located on the right. It’s very similar to driving in the UK, Australia, India, Singapore, and Thailand. Canada / US (along with around 163 other countries/territories) are right-hand traffic countries, meaning the driver’s seat/steering wheel is on the left.
The first 30-45 minutes of driving felt really strange as everything felt it was on the “wrong” side. My brain was just not used to flicking the turning signal on the opposite side and ended up activating the windshield wiper more often that needed.
Fortunately, I picked the morning on a weekday to get my rental which meant that after skipping on the traffic, I was able to drive slowly and more cautiously out of the city. Once you get on the highway, it was much, much easier to drive on the opposite side as you don’t need to turn, stop or switch lanes as frequently. After about 1/2 day on the road, it felt a lot more more natural to drive on the opposite side.
The road surface marking / signs on the roads in South Africa for most of my journey are clear, easily seen, and well-marked; the traffic flow is calm and not as aggressive as I’ve witnessed in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. Road signs are usually written in English and Afrikaans (where applicable) so it wasn’t difficult to keep track of where you are.
Driving alone, I didn’t feel harassed (despite obviously driving a little slower than the posted speed sign) and drivers are very courteous.
Make every effort to ensure valuables are not left in the car – I read that even iPhone USB/charging cables should be hidden if possible to prevent possible carjacking/theft.
Cost of Renting and Driving a Rental Car in South Africa
My Toyota Yaris costed me R316/day (That’s roughly CAD$30-31) with unlimited mileage – that’s a real bargain. I had read about making sure you know that the rental companies’ daily mileage cap is and I was glad to have an unlimited option which obviously made it one less thing to worry about when it comes to how much I was driving. I drove a total of 1349km for about a week.
Getting a car rental insurance is a requirement – you’ll need to discuss with the rental car company and pick which ones you think you need. I have the American Express Gold Card which automatically covers Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) – which is similar to Third-Party Liability coverage, and Loss Damage Waiver (LDW). I did opt for the tires and windshield insurance (CAD$7 for the week) as I had read about carjacking / theft and $7 was a small price to pay for the peace of mind.
My car also came with a toll responder so when I pass a tollroad, it would record the cost and be added to my final bill. Although this wasn’t a must-have, I thought it was a convenient element that was a nice to have. You can also add on GPS, baby seat, roof-racks rental to your invoice.
Gas wasn’t too expensive; I spent a total of CAD$250 to drive all way to Jeffries Bay (the furthest point I drove to from Cape Town and back). I didn’t top up upon return (this is what they recommend) and they only had to top up ~$30 worth of gas when I dropped it off at the airport. You will need to pay this fee if you’re picking up the car from the airport.
I didn’t have to pay a separate fee to drop off the car at the airport, and the handover was a very smooth process.
My Experience Renting a Car South Africa for a Week
I must say that my experience renting and driving in South Africa exceeded all of my expectations and The Universe aligned to give me the best possible experience. I was very apprehensive about the whole journey (a bit nervous about the idea of driving alone to cities I’ve never been to, making sure I left early enough during the day to make sure I don’t have to drive in the dark and so on) so perhaps everything ended up looking a lot better.
The first “awesome” experience was of course, coming across the very competent, customer-oriented AroundAboutCars customer service team. Despite my arriving at 8AM (the office opening hour), I got beaten for the small automatic car by another customer. They organized the paperwork for my rental with a partner agency and gave me the office location / address to pick up said vehicle.
When I arrived at the Tempest office in De Waterkant, a car had already been reserved for me, and I was told that I was super lucky. Turns out, I got a (basically) new Toyota Yaris hatchback with only 135km on it. The car still has a that “new car” smell about it, came with a built-in GPS (no additional charge for me), toll responder, superb mileage and the Carplay making the whole experience incredibly smooth, comfortable and safe.
As I was finishing up my paperwork, they gave me the keyless fob with a keytag attached with two numbers: an emergency and their customer office number. This was helpful when I needed to call in to extend my rental (which by the way, took all of 3 minutes!)
After I got my paperwork out of the way, I was shown to the car – at this point, you need to do a visual inspection with one of their staff and make sure you note any pre-existing damages / scratches. Be very thorough – inspect the inside and outside of your vehicle and note everything even if it seems small.
This wasn’t my first time renting a car but I still spent a good 15-20 minutes inspecting every surface and the inside. I signed off on the paperwork and was on my way with my new rental!
Garden Route Points of Interest
I’ve highlighted a few must-not-miss destinations here although you can customize your itinerary to your preference! ( – Must-see/visit/do; – stop here if you have time)
- Hermanus and Gansbaai – well-known area for whale watching (Hermanus) or shark cage diving (Gansbaai) – the two are often lumped together given their short distance (~40 minutes drive). Some months are better than others to visit
- Cape Agulhas – where the Indian and Atlantic ocean meet and also the southernmost point of the African continent
- Mossel Bay – a harbour town, “officially” the starting point of the Garden Route. Lots of fishing to be found here and a key attraction is the Bartolomeu Dias Museum Complex from where you can send a postcard from the The Post Office Tree (the first post-office in South Africa. I sent myself a postcard from here, and it did arrive, albeit it took around 2 months)
- Oudtshoorn – the ostrich capital of the world; you can visit an ostrich farm and buy a beautifully carved ostrich egg souvenir or visit Cango Caves on guided tours
- Wilderness – where you can find “The Map of Africa” viewpoint and go paragliding
- Knysna, Sedgefield & Knysna Lagoon – where you can find the “world-famous” Knysna oysters (You can find these in Cape Town but they’re super pricey), visit “The Heads” / Knysna Lagoon and Estuary, Featherbed Private Nature Reserve
- Plettenberg Bay (Plett) – a small harbour town between Knysna and Stormsriver – you can visit the Robberg Nature Reserve & Birds of Eden sanctuary here
- Bloukrans Bridge – go bungy jumping! Located at almost exactly the half-way mark between Tsitsikamma’s national park and Plett; an activity not for the faint-hearted!
- Stormsriver Mouth / Tsitsikamma National Park – known as the garden of the Garden Route; beautiful hiking trails, adventure activities (ziplining, dune safari, segway tours)
Where to Stay on the Garden Route
Comfort // MosselBay
Stunning views of the Indian Ocean from your terrace? Check. Craft their own bottle of gin on site? Check! Unique experiences for a surprisingly small price tag!Book Here
Comfort // Hermanus
A small guesthouse featuring ocean views, a hot tub and sauna. Centrally located with tons of activities nearby and a breakfast bar with spacious rooms!Book Here
Comfort // Knysna
A small, comfortable guesthouse with views of the Knysna Lagoon – tucked in a quiet location and a short distance from Knysna’s main attractions!
Luxury // Knysna
Located at the tip of Thesens Island, Lofts Boutique Hotel offers uniquely themed accommodations and an outdoor splash pool overlooking the Knysna Lagoon.Book Here
Comfort // Plett Bay
Located a 2-minute walk from the beach with Indian Ocean, garden or Robberg Nature Reserve views. The hotel has 2 outdoor pools, a sun terrace and a braai area.Book Here
Budget // Stormsrivier
A budget option for travellers – rent the whole chalet or just a bed; free wifi, parking and braai facilities with the main sites being driving or walking distance!
Where to Next?
- Kruger National Park is the premiere spot for safari in South Africa and here’s how you can do an African safari on a budget!
- If you’re looking to explore all of South Africa, consider taking the BazBus – a hop-on-hop-off cross country bus!
- Here’s how much it costs to go to South Africa as a solo traveller
- Consider taking rideshare like Uber/Bolt to get around
- Make time to in surf in Muizenberg; here are spots closer to Cape Town
- Don’t forget to plan a day for hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head!