Having the freedom of a rental car in Cape Town really opens up options and will save you plenty of time and frustration at the expense of some added stress.
The public transport system in Cape Town and indeed the whole of South Africa is not exactly efficient, reliable or user friendly. And without a car at your disposal you will miss out on plenty. Unless you plan on spending most of your time within the city centre and Atlantic Seaboard, without a vehicle your excursions out of town will be restricted to guided tours
Choosing a rental company:
In the past car rental has been comparatively expensive, but there are now a number of operators that offer affordable rental, see this cheap car rentals page for some of the cheapest. Alternatively is your budget includes the use of a better vehicle there is another car hire page.
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Renting a car at the airport is convenient, but invariably far more expensive. My advice would be to book a car through your desired operator and collect after settling down in your accommodation. Alternatively many operators will deliver the car to your residence with a bit of persuasion.
Petrol here is quite pricey, but still only half that of the UK, so you would be well advised to stick to a small car if possible. VW golfs are very popular, and are quite a fun little car to zoot about in. Beetles are very cheap to rent, but they make a heck of a noise and in my opinion are a pig to drive. Most cars in South Africa are manual, as in “stickshift” you would have to request an automatic if you have not been exposed to a clutch before.
South African roads and driving etiquette:
South Africans drive on the left (correct) side of the road, the same as the UK, but opposite to the USA and most of mainland Europe. Don’t let the change intimidate you, it doesn’t take long to adjust, just pay attention when entering a main road from a side street, as this is (from experience) usually when the mistakes happen.
South Africa drivers have a bit of a reputation of being unruly and inconsiderate, and this is quite true. Expect the unexpected, don’t assume anything. It’s not bad once you get used to it, but for your own safety drive defensively until you get the hang of it.
On first visits many travellers are impressed by the quality of our roads, which are actually very good. I would definitely suggest buying a road map or bringing a G.P.S with you as the roads here follow the geography, not aligned to compass points which can disorient you quickly.
Please let me know if you have any questions regarding car hire or traveling on our roads. I will be updating this page with tid-bits every so often.