Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Southern Africa by Air, Land, and Sea on a Budget

We loved Southern Africa, and we hope this diary is helpful for those planning a trip by air, land, and sea. Yesterday, we did a similar post for East Africa that you can visit by clicking here. Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

If you haven’t seen our 1,000 words about each country series, you can read more about Johannesburg, Durban, Mozambique, and Botswana. In the coming weeks, we’ll write 1,000 word diaries about Cape Town and Pretoria.

From the United States, the best point of entry is the Johannesburg airport, which runs direct flights from Dulles (DC) and JFK in New York (via Dakar, Senegal). You can find flights as low as $1,100USD round trip per person round trip on South African Airways. Just like Nairobi, people will try to scare you about Johannesburg. Yes, crime is a real problem – but don’t let that stop you from seeing this incredible city.

After a terrific meeting with Africa Harvest, we spent a half-day visiting the Apartheid Museum. This is an unforgettable stop and deserves a solid four hours to really absorb the incredible multi-media exhibitions. Also, check out Soweto, one of the most infamous ghettos in the world. If you can, take a small group tour by bicycle or by foot. We were rapt as we absorbed and listened to the incredible stories of struggle, including the amazing student revolts against Apartheid. On the fun side, the SAB beer museum is a must-do experience.  We loved it so much we even blogged about it.

A safe budget place to stay in the heart of the bustling area of Melville is a small bed a breakfast we found called the Sunbury House  – make sure to avoid Bob’s Bunkhouse.  The Sunbury can also hook you up with a cheap and affordable cab driver named Derrick, who will get you safely around town.

Lots of domestic and international bus companies operate in South Africa. We took them all. In general, our recommendation is to use Intercape. The buses generally left and arrived on time, their offices are safe places to wait, your bags are secure, the air-conditioning works – and they had a working bathroom on every bus we took. FYI, we heard only nightmare stories about SARoad.

In terms of getting to Swaziland, Baz Bus is your best bet, and they will pick you up from most hostels in Mbabane. They are also a good company to use for meeting fellow travelers in South Africa, and continue all the way to Cape Town.

For Botswana, use Intercape, from J’burg to Gabarone. Botswana is a must stop on your journey, and if you can’t afford to Safari in Kruger or Chobe, an affordable option is Mokolodi Nature Reserve  in Botswana – where in addition to an awesome permaculture garden, you can go on private walks or jump on a 4X4 to see some incredible wildlife for a fraction of the price. We stayed at the Gabarone Hotel and Casino.

For Mozambique, also use Intercape, from J’burg to Maputuo. Get a visa in J’burg before leaving, because without it, most bus companies won’t let you on board (costs a hefty $100USD pp). Maputo is a vibrant city, filled with terrific places to eat and incredible live music. A good budget option is Base Backpackers if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom. For those with a little more disposable cash, check out Ibis Hotel. For fellow vegetarians, Maputo is even surprising vegan friendly.

For those who love long bus rides, we took Intercape from Maputo to Durban via J’burg. The whole journey takes about 18-hours, but is doable for those who’d rather not spend a small fortune on flights. Durban is a very interesting stop on your journey with lots of things to do. Make time to enjoy a picnic and free live music at the Botanical gardens. For great organic, vegan, and locally grown food, check out a restaurant called EarthMother. Don’t stay at Gibela backpackers, trust us, lonely planet is wrong.

To get to Cape Town you can easily find affordable flights (provided you aren’t trying to fly during the World Cup). Discount carriers might be your best bet, such as Kulula. But if you want to reduce your costs, carbon footprint and see the incredible sights from the ground – we recommend you take the Sleepliner on Intercape from J’burg to Cape Town.

In Cape Town, book online in advance and plan a visit to Robin Island. A central and fun place to stay for tight budget travelers is Carnival Court on long street (Note: very loud on weekends). If you have a little more cash to spend (and want a more relaxed, less party-like atmosphere) then book at St. John’s Waterfront Lodge.

If you plan on visiting South Africa during the month around the World Cup, make sure to quadruple most prices listed in Rough Guide or Lonely Planet. With that said, some tickets are still available on the FIFA website, but to find a place to stay and bus transportation – you’re running out of time.  

We could easily write another 1,000 words, but feel free to email us for any advice at

Stay tuned for more ground travel advice in the coming weeks. Next up: getting from Malawi, to Zambia, to Zimbabwe, to South Africa by bus.

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