Bicycle Touring In South Africa: Everything You Need To Know

By Darren Alff on - Download my FREE bike tour starter guide!

The country of South Africa is a beautiful and interesting, yet under-appreciated, location for bicycle tours of any length. While the nation is currently struggling with issues of racism, finance and a lack of technological infrastructure, South Africa is arguably one of the best locations in the world for both guided and self-supported bicycle tours of various lengths.

Whether you’re looking for a 1-2 week guided bike tour where your food, lodging, and transportation is all taken care of for you so that you can simply sit back and enjoy the ride… or you want to travel on your own, create your own cycle touring route and experience some of the lesser known regions of the country, South Africa might just be the bike riding destination you’ve been dreaming about!

I’ve just recently completed my own bicycle touring adventure in South Africa… and it was (for the most part) amazing! I spent two weeks in South Africa’s Garden Route area as a participant in a high-end guided bike tour with a company called African Bikers, and then I conducted two-and-a-half more months of solo travel across the country (and it’s neighboring countries of Lesotho and Swaziland) on a self-supported bicycle tour of my own making.

I learned a lot during my three months of travel in South Africa, so I’d like to take this time to share with you some of the things I learned and answer some of the most common questions I’ve received about bicycle touring in Africa’s southern-most nation.

Questions such as:

  • Is South Africa as dangerous as everyone says it is?
  • Will I encounter wild animals while cycling across the country? If so, what kind?
  • What are the road conditions like?
  • Which areas of South Africa are worth seeing most?
  • Do I need a mountain bike or off-road capable touring bicycle tour travel in South Africa?
  • What should I pack for a self-supported bicycle tour in South Africa?
  • Where can I purchase bicycle touring panniers, racks, handlebar bags and more in South Africa?
  • What does a typical day of bicycle touring in South Africa look like?
  • What kind of food/restaurants can I expect to encounter while in the country?
  • Is it difficult to find enough water to drink?
  • What accommodations are available to bicycle travelers in South Africa?
  • Is it safe to camp in South Africa?
  • How much does it cost to go bicycle touring in South Africa?
  • Can I ride my bicycle inside Kruger National Park?
  • Should I conduct a guided or self-supported bicycle tour in South Africa?
  • What kinds of guided bicycle tours are available in the country?
  • And a whole lot more!

If, after all of this, you have a question about cycling in South Africa that I have not answered here, you can ask me your question in the comments section at the very bottom of this page and I will get back to you with an answer just as soon as I possibly can.

Is South Africa As Dangerous As Everyone Says It Is?

Before I answer this question, I need to say something very important.

My parents raised me to never judge another individual – not by the color of their skin, the country they were born in, the amount of money they have, their religion, their political beliefs, the clothes they wear, the foods they eat or anything else. I grew up in a very diverse part of the world where it is normal to interact with people of different nationalities, backgrounds and languages on a daily basis. I have friends from all over the world that look, act and believe differently from the from the way I look, act and believe… and that’s okay! I like the diversity.

It is because of my understanding, non-judgmental upbringing that I found my time in South Africa to be both strange and depressing. While what I’m about to say may sound harsh and even racist at times, it is important for you to understand that I DO NOT FEEL THIS WAY myself. Instead, I am simply sharing some of the views that people in South Africa expressed to me during my three-month-long bicycle tour across the country. I wish South Africa (and the world as a whole) were not this way. I wish that some of the people in South Africa had not told me these things, but this is the way I experienced the country and the people in it while I was there.

With that being said… no, South Africa is not nearly as dangerous as it is made out to be. During my three months in the country, I never once felt threatened or in danger.

I think South Africa is described as being a dangerous place, not because it is as dangerous as it is made out to be, but mainly because of the racism that is so prevalent throughout the country.

If you’re a white person and you’re afraid of black people (as I know many white people (sadly) are), South Africa will appear to be a very scary place. The population of South Africa is largely black with a small white minority.

In many of the cities I visited throughout South Africa, I was often times the only white person around. I would sometimes go for days on end without seeing another white individual (whether that be a local or a tourist).

While many of the white people in South Africa are afraid of the black population, the different classes of black people also seem to harbor some fear (or resentment, perhaps?) toward one another. On top of all this, many of the black people fear and mistrust the white people. It’s a crazy, weird and wicked circle of fear, hatred, misunderstanding, injustice and, of course, plain and simple racism.

Do I think South Africa will be a kinder, friendlier, safer and less racist country at some point in the future? Yes, I think so! However, I don’t think it will be happening any time soon. In two or three generations, I can see South Africa becoming a totally different (and far better) place. But for the time being, the racist undercurrents that are so prevalent throughout the country make it a strange (and some would say, scary) place to be.

With that said, I found most of the people I met in South Africa to be incredibly friendly.

While the occasional individual would approach me with a stern look on his or her face (they usually looked like they were scared of me and were waiting to see what I was going to do – was I going to be friendly or hostile?), as soon as I smiled or lifted my hand and gave them a polite wave, their demeanor would instantly change. They’d smile, wave in return and usually offer a friendly “Hello!” On occasion, a short conversation would then follow.

While I liked most of the people I met in South Africa, there were plenty of people who approached me on the street and in restaurants where I was eating and asked me for food or money. This bothered me. It is important to note, however, that I never felt threatened by these individuals (in the way I might if I thought I were going to be robbed, attacked or murdered). Instead, I mainly just felt annoyed – especially after multiple people would hit me up for food/money in a short period of time. Not once, however, did I ever feel scared or unsafe.

Besides the racism and the frequent beggars on the streets, another reason South Africa seems like such a dangerous place is because security is taken so seriously throughout the country. Almost every property in South Africa is surrounded by a barbed wire fence. In the cities, many houses sit behind large metal gates. Alarm systems are popular and there are security guards everywhere.

After seeing more of South Africa during the last three months than most South Africans will likely ever see themselves, I don’t think a lot of this security stuff is really needed. I could be totally wrong (and I very well might be), but I think that security has become such a big business in South Africa that national fear is generated almost on purpose in order to keep the security industry alive.

There are thousands of people in South Africa working in the security world at the moment. If the country were to suddenly become a safe place to live, all those people currently working as security guards, alarm installers, gate operators, police officers and more would instantly be out of a job. While crime does indeed take place in South Africa (and just about everywhere else in the world for that matter), I think a lot of the fear that people in South Africa have is perpetuated in some sense by the security industry in order to keep all those jobs alive.

While I said earlier that I never felt scared or threatened during my time in South Africa, I did feel like I was being watched more often than I like to be… and this did make me a little nervous at times. More than anything, however, it simply added to my annoyance with the country.

For example, almost every time I went to use an ATM machine, there would be a security guard standing nearby. When I entered a supermarket, there would be a guard at the door, watching to see what I was carrying into the store… and what I was carrying out. At some of the hotels and guesthouses I stayed at during my bicycle tour across the country, I would have to ring a bell in order to call to the employee on watch so that he or she could let me in or out of the large metal security gate that surrounded the property. All these things added up over time, not necessarily to a feeling of being scared for my safety, but instead, building to point of severe annoyance.

For example, I was annoyed to have to depend on another person just to come and go from my guesthouse. I was annoyed that the security guard at the door to the supermarket thought I might be stealing something from the store when I was actually spending my hard earned money there. And I was annoyed to see how much money was being spent on people, resources and infrastructure in the name of safety. The heightened sense of security throughout the country didn’t scare me or make me feel any safer. It simply annoyed me!

Now that I’ve said all this, it should be noted that bad things do happen in South Africa. Crime is supposedly high in both the cities and the countryside… and murders do take place more frequently in South Africa than in many other countries. On my solo bike tour across the country, I rode past two separate crime scenes where it appeared as though someone had been killed and their body had been dumped in a ditch (or wild area) on the side of the road. I’m not exactly sure that’s what happened, but it sure did look that way.

Crime is high in South Africa (several locals told me) due largely to the fact that there is such a huge difference in lifestyle between the wealthy and the poor. While the black population far outweighs that of the whites, white people in South Africa own most of the country’s land, buildings, businesses and more. And when it comes to political power, the white population takes the cake. In many cities, large, expensive homes are located in close proximity to hundreds of people living in tin and scrap wood houses with no running water and few basic amenities. And if that weren’t enough, many white individuals, guesthouses, businesses and more have black individuals working for them – often times for very little (and seemingly criminal amounts of) money.

It should be noted that not all the black people in South Africa are poor. There are plenty of wealthy black people… and there are thousands of poor white people as well.

Overall, I found the people in South Africa to be just like people almost everywhere else in the world. No matter what their financial status, skin color, or personal beliefs, I found the individuals I met in South Africa to be friendly, caring, and loving to their friends, family and strangers alike. Most of the people I met were nice, normal people who simply want something better for themselves and their family.

If I had to rate the apparent level of danger in South Africa on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least dangerous and 10 being the most, I would rate South Africa somewhere around an 8 or 9. The actual danger in South Africa, however, I would rate much lower. Probably around a 3 or 4.

If I had to rate the level of annoyance caused by the security industry in South Africa and people asking for handouts all the time, I would rate the country as a 7 or an 8. While South Africa may not be as dangerous as it is often times portrayed, I found it to be an annoying place to live, work and travel.

Will I Encounter Wild Animals (Such As Hyenas, Lions & Rhinos) While Cycling Across South Africa?

It is a common misunderstanding amongst individuals that have never traveled in Africa before that there are wild animals (lions, tigers, hyenas, elephants, rhinoceros and more) roaming around in the towns and villages. The truth, however, is that the large, dangerous animals you associate with African travel are kept in large national or regional parks by large barbed wire and electrified gates and fences. In other-words, the wild animals are locked up in giant cages and you don’t need to worry about a lion attacking you as you ride your bike across the country.

African Lions

That said, you will likely encounter a few wild animals on your travels in South Africa.

Baboons are common and they can be dangerous. They usually roam in packs of eight or more and are typically more afraid of you than you are of them. However, baboons are large, wild animals and in some areas of the country (around Cape Town for example), the baboons have learned to equate people with food. Therefore, it is important not to feed or approach any baboons you see on the road.

Besides baboons, you’ll be sure to see a great number of antelope. There are dozens of different types of antelope in South Africa. Some of these antelope species (such as the springbok, for example) are quite large, while other species (such as the impala) are much smaller. Like the baboons you will encounter in the country, the antelope you see in South Africa will likely be more afraid of you than you are of them. Antelope tend to roam in groups of six or more and are capable of jumping over, or climbing through, many of the wire fences that are found throughout the country. Antelope are not innately dangerous, but like so many wild animals, should not be fed or approached.

Snakes of various kinds can be found throughout South Africa, but an encounter with a snake of any kind is rare on most of the country’s paved roads. During my three-months of bicycle touring in South Africa, I saw three snakes and only one of these was poisonous – an African Cobra. You shouldn’t worry about snake encounters in South Africa, but you should be aware of your surroundings at all times and be especially cautious when traveling off road or walking through deep brush.

South African snakes

Wildebeest are another common animal you may run across during your bicycle tour in South Africa. Wildebeest are actually a kind of antelope, despite their obvious differences in appearance. Wildebeest are large, awkward animals that are usually found in small groups of six or more and can run very fast. Like other animals in South Africa, wildebeest will usually keep their distance from you and should never be fed.

Finally, you will be sure to see several types of small monkeys and birds in South Africa. The small, grey Vervet monkey is common and extremely fast. And if you are interested in birds, then South Africa is a paradise! During my short 3-month bike tour in the country, I saw more than 100 bird species that I had never seen before. None of these birds were dangerous or threatening in any way. Instead, both the monkeys and the birds I encountered were a delight to see during my day to day activities.

If you are afraid of a run-in with a dangerous animal in South Africa, don’t be! There is very little to be afraid of. The large, dangerous animals are fenced in and kept away from the public by large fences surrounding the game parks that are scatted across the country.

If, however, you’d like to ride your bike alongside elephants, giraffes, antelope or other African animals, there are ways to do it. While cycling in many of South Africa’s game parks is not allowed, there are some parks and reserves that allow bicycles. And in some areas of the country, bicycles can be ridden inside the parks when you are being escorted through with an experienced (and usually armed) professional guide.

What Are The Road Conditions Like In South Africa? Are The Roads Dangerous For Cycling?

The roads in South Africa are surprisingly excellent. In most of the country, the roads are remarkably well maintained, with little traffic and wide shoulders.

The road conditions obviously vary throughout the country, but on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best, I would rate South Africa’s paved roads an 8 out of 10.

roads in south africa

While it is possible to ride across the entire country on paved, asphalt roads, some cyclists might wish to seek out dirt or gravel roads for their bicycle touring adventures. While these types of roads are less commonly traveled on, they are plentiful.

Most cyclists, however, will be pleased with the roads in South Africa and delighted to learn that the traffic is not nearly as bad as the locals make it out to be.

If you are planning an extensive cross-country bike tour in South Africa, you should come prepared to cycle in a number of different conditions – from hectic city streets with lots of traffic and no shoulders whatsoever, to empty country roads with shoulder’s so wide you could drive a truck down them.

Do I Need A Mountain Bike Or Off-Road Capable Touring Bicycle To Cycle In South Africa?

No, you do not need a mountain bike or off-road capable touring bike to conduct a bicycle tour in South Africa. Most of the main roads in South Africa are paved and are perfect for road, hybrid or touring bicycles of any kind.

If, however, you wish to conduct a mountain bike tour, or you plan to spend any time traveling on dirt or gravel side roads, then a road or traditional touring bicycle probably won’t cut it… and a mountain bike or a touring bicycle equipped with wide, 26 inch tires would be ideal.

off road touring bike

What Should I Pack For A Self-Supported Bicycle Tour In South Africa?

What you decide to carry on your bicycle tour through South Africa is going to depend on how you choose to travel (guided vs. self-supported), the type of touring you wish to conduct (road touring vs. off-road touring), the time of year you choose to travel (summer vs. winter) and a number of other factors.

While there is no one ideal packing list for a bike tour in South Africa, here is a complete list of everything I was carrying with me during my bicycle tour in South Africa. Be warned, however, that I was traveling in the autumn and carrying far more electronic items on my bike that I would ever recommend.

Bicycle Touring Basics

Bicycle Tools

Camping Gear

Cooking Equipment

Because I’m traveling without a camp stove, I either have to eat cold picnic style meals or go out to eat somewhere in order to get a warm meal in me. My kitchen consists of only three small items.

If you want to cook your own food, you’ll need to carry a small camp stove, fuel canister, and fuel.

Clothing

  • Giro Xen Bike Helmet
  • Fox Racing Short-Sleeved MTB Jersey
  • Cycling Shorts (I use for walking around in and for riding my bicycle)
  • Jeans
  • T-Shirts (3)
  • Marmot Rain Jacket
  • Patagonia Fleece Jacket
  • Baseball hat
  • Shimano SH-MT43L SPD Shoes
  • Nike Running/Walking Shoes
  • Socks (5) (For both cycling and walking)
  • Underwear (3)
  • Sunglasses & Case
  • Beanie

Electronics

Your typical bicycle traveler isn’t going to carry this many electronics. The only reason I have this much stuff is because I am working while I am traveling. I have to run the website here at BicycleTouringPro.com and that involves taking photos, shooting video, storing all the data I’ve collected, and editing everything on my computer. I do not recommend that everyone carry this much stuff.

Toiletries

  • Toiletry Bag
  • Camp Towel
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Razor
  • Shaving Cream
  • Tweezers
  • Nail Clippers
  • Shampoo
  • Face Wash (3)
  • Sunscreen
  • Safety Pin
  • Toilet paper roll
  • Travel Laundry Soap Packets (3)
  • Travel Mirror

Miscellaneous Items

  • Small Backpack (used to carry things with me when I am walking around off the bicycle)
  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • Cash & Coins
  • Credit Cards (2)
  • Debit Cards (3)
  • Journal
  • Pen

Where Can I Purchase Bicycle Touring Panniers, Racks, Handlebar Bags & More In South Africa?

If you live in South Africa (or are traveling in the country) and want to find a local store that sells bicycle touring panniers, racks, handlebar bags or anything touring related… good luck! These items are extremely uncommon in South Africa and are almost impossible to find.

If you are looking for camping gear (such as tents, sleeping bags and sleeping mats), that can usually be found in South Africa’s larger cities: Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. These items will be difficult (or impossible) to find in many of the country’s smaller towns.

If you are looking for bicycle touring equipment, the best place to look is online at www.cycletouring.co.za.

This website, which is based out of Lady Grey, South Africa, stocks some of the best bicycle touring equipment- Ortlieb and Arkel panniers, Old Man Mountain racks, and a whole lot more! You can go to Lady Grey to pick up the items you need… or you can have the gear you purchase shipped directly to your home.

What Does A Typical Day Of Bicycle Touring In South Africa Look Like?

One day of bicycle touring in South Africa will vary greatly depending on the type of tour you wish to conduct (guided vs. self-supported) and the region of the country in which you are traveling.

For a detailed example of what a typical day on a guided bicycle tour is like, I suggest you read my lengthy review of the African Bikers Garden Route Mountain Bike Tour.

For an example of what a typical day of self-supported bicycle touring in the South African Karoo is like, see this link.

What Kind Of Food/Restaurants Can I Expect To Encounter?

Meat is king in South Africa. Chicken and french fries (or “chips” as the South Africans call them) are probably two of the most common foods. There are KFC fast food restaurants in almost every South African town and other chicken and french fry restaurants will usually be found in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Steak, sausages and eggs are also extremely popular.

If you are vegetarian, vegan or simply not a big meat-eater, however, there’s no need to worry. Fruits and vegetables are easy to find in cities of even the smallest size, although packaged foods and carbonated drinks are extremely popular.

When it comes to eating out, there are a number of common restaurant chains.

  • KFC – Chicken and french fries fast food
  • Nando’s – Chicken
  • Spur – Steak and grill sit down restaurant
  • Wimpy – American sit down style restaurant
  • Debonaire’s – Pizza

If you want to cook your own food, large supermarkets are common and smaller corner markets are even easier to find. If you are looking for a supermarket, look for the following names:

  • Checkers
  • OK
  • Shoprite
  • Spar
  • Pick N’ Pay
  • USave
  • Woolworths

Is It Difficult To Find Enough Water To Drink?

Finding fresh, clean water to drink can be difficult in some areas of South Africa. While drinking from the tap is generally not recommended, many locals will drink the water even if it is discolored and full of obvious mineral or foreign contaminants. Luckily, bottled water is plentiful in most cities. In smaller cities and villages, however, bottled water can occasionally be difficult to find.

While even the smallest roadside stands will have Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta and other Coca-Cola brand products for sale, bottled water is not nearly as common.

During my bicycle tour across South Africa, I commonly encountered stores where nothing but soda or alcohol were being sold. Water, juice or anything even remotely healthy was not on offer. Be ready for this! I am not normally a soda drinker, but I had to go for a few days in South Africa by surviving on nothing but Sprite and Coca-Cola. My whole body was shaking due to the caffeine high, but at least I didn’t die of dehydration.

During my bicycle tour across the South African Karoo (a large desert region in north-western South African), I spent several days surviving by pulling water of out small wells. I would simply spot a windmill in the distance, ride my bike as close to the well as I could get, and then walk the rest of the way over on foot – while carrying two or three water bottles in my hands. These desert wells weren’t always functioning (some of them were broken or filled with stale water and dead animals), but many of them were flowing as they should and I used the water from these structures to fill up my bottles, wash my face and sometimes even ring out my dirty clothes.

What Accommodations Are Available To Bicycle Travelers In South Africa?

There are really only two main types of accommodation in South Africa – guesthouses and hotels.

Guesthouse are by far the most common type of lodging.

The guesthouses in South Africa vary dramatically in both size and scope. In some parts of the country, the guest houses you find will be similar to a bed and breakfast, whereas in other parts of the country, the guest houses you come across will be similar to inexpensive hotels. In much of South Africa, the guesthouses are private homes which have been converted for the partial or exclusive use of guest accommodation. In almost all cases, the owner of the guesthouse lives in an entirely separate area within the property and has one or more staff members on hand to help with the lodging business.

You can find guesthouses in every city in South Africa. However, knocking on the door and asking for a place to sleep for the night is not a common approach. Most guesthouses are surrounded by a metal, barbed wire, or electrified fence… and there isn’t always someone on hand to welcome you to the property. Instead, you are going to need to call these guesthouses for accommodation in advance. This means that you should probably be traveling with a phone of some type. I did not have a phone during my time in South Africa, and this made it very difficult for me to secure lodging in some areas of the country.

South African guesthouses are common, but they are not necessarily cheap. Expect to pay anywhere from 350 – 850 Rand or more for a single night of lodging in most guesthouses! If breakfast or dinner is included (which is common), the price can be even higher.

If you want to decrease the cost of your lodging, ask for a room without meals. This can reduce your nightly cost by as much as 100 Rand or more. Another great way to reduce your nightly costs is to ask for a discounted rate if you plan to stay in the guesthouse for more than one night. Almost all the guesthouses I stayed at were quick to give me a discount when I told them I wished to stay for two or more nights.

If guesthouses aren’t your thing, there are hotels in some areas of the country… but they are definitely not everywhere!

While hotels may not be as charming or as personal as the many South African guesthouses that are littered across the country, the price of most hotels is slightly below that of the guesthouses. I usually paid between 250 and 400 Rand to rent a room in a hotel for a single night. If I had been sharing the room with another individual, we could have split that cost in half and dramatically reduced out lodging expenses.

Once again, many of the hotels come with breakfast included. If you want to reduce the cost of your stay, be sure to ask for a room without meals.

Is It Safe To Camp In South Africa? If So, Where Should I Camp?

Campgrounds are scarce in South Africa… but camping is a great way to experience the country.

The safest way to camp when bicycle touring in South Africa is to find a local farm and ask someone working the property whether it would be okay for you to camp there for the night. Be careful when approaching farmers and remote farm houses, because crime is a major concern in South Africa and people might become frightened if they see you on their property or approaching them on foot.

camping in south africa

During my time in South Africa, I did not ask for even a single place to camp. Instead, I stealth camped for approximately one whole month while I was in the country. When I found a place to camp for the night, I would roll my bicycle off the road, push my cycle touring vehicle out of sight and set up my camp in an area where I would not be disturbed for the evening.

In many parts of the world, stealth or wild camping is easy to do and extremely safe, but South Africa is not one of the locations.

I do not recommend stealth camping to anyone… unless you are a seasoned stealth camper who has camped in this fashion in several different countries all around the world.

Stealth camping in South Africa usually requires jumping a barbed wire fence (with a fully-loaded touring bicycle), camping illegally on someone else’s property, and then getting out of there in the morning before you are discovered. This is not for beginners or the faint of heart… and I do not recommend it for most people. If you are caught camping or even standing on someone else’s property in South Africa, you could find yourself in a very serious (and potentially, life-threatening) situation.

Read this for more information on stealth camping and how to do it successfully.

How Much Does It Cost To Bike Tour In South Africa?

It’s hard to say exactly how much a bicycle tour in South Africa might cost you.

If you plan to conduct a guided bicycle tour (which has a set cost), then figuring out the cost of your trip to South Africa will be relatively easy. Just add the cost of the bike tour to the cost of airfare to South Africa and add a couple hundred extra dollars for additional expenses and you will easily be able to determine the estimated cost of the tour.

But if you are planning to do a self-supported bicycle tour, coming up with an estimated budget is going to be a little more difficult.

During my 2-month self-supported bicycle tour across South Africa, I kept detailed records of my spending and found that I spent just over $2,300 USD during those two months.

As you can see, the difference between my first month in South Africa and my second month is quite significant. This is due largely to the fact that I spent most of my first month in South Africa camping for free… and most of my second month in the country in hotels and guesthouses.

The cost of your bicycle tour will vary greatly depending on where you choose to sleep each night, the types and amounts foods you eat, and what you spend on entertainment, souvenirs, etc.

Can I Ride My Bicycle In Kruger National Park?

No! You can’t ride your bicycle inside Kruger National Park (or most of South Africa’s wild animal parks).

If you want to enter Kruger National Park, you need to either rent a car and drive yourself into the Park… or you need to pay to be a part of a guided tour within the Park.

elephants inside kruger national park

If you try to get into Kruger National Park on your bicycle, you will be turned away. There are dangerous animals (such as lions, hippos, rhinos, hyenas and more) inside the Park… and you would be incredibly susceptible to attack if you were to ride through the area on your bicycle.

Even people driving through the park in a vehicle will get in big trouble if they try and exit their vehicles (even for just a moment) inside the Park. So don’t try entering the Park on your bike!

Guided driving tours of Kruger National Park are diverse, easy to find (both online and near the Park entrances) and can range in price from just $90 USD per day to as much as $4,000 USD or more for a multi-day adventure. The cost of your travels inside Kruger will depend largely on how long you plan to be inside the Park, the type of accommodations you wish to stay in (camping vs. nice lodges, etc), and the food or drink you ingest while you are there.

buffalo

I participated in a full-day safari drive inside Kruger National Park… and I was happy with just that one day in the Park. However, I would have loved to have spent more time in the Park if I had been able to afford it and had been feeling better at the time (I was suffering with food poisoning at the time).

Click here to see my photos from my safari tour inside Kruger National Park.

Should I Conduct A Guided Or Self-Guided Bike Tour?

There are a number of different ways to enjoy a trip by bike in the country of South Africa. You can participate in a guided bicycle tour (where the route is planned out for you in advance and your lodging, meals and more are all taken care of for your by an established bicycle touring company)… or you can choose to conduct a self-supported bicycle tour (which requires you to travel alone (without a professional guide) and carry all the food, clothing, tools and more you will need to survive on your bicycle for days, weeks or months at a time).

If you don’t enjoy the planning process or you simply don’t have the time to conduct extensive research on which roads to travel on, which areas to see, or which places are safest, then participating in a guided bicycle tour is probably the best way to go.

If safety is a concern (or you simply don’t want to travel on your own), a guided bicycle tour with a group or even an individual guide is probably a good idea.

While guided bike tours do tend to cost more than self-supported bicycle tours, they do have a number of benefits – the time you will save, the added safety, the friends you will make, etc.

Self-supported bicycle touring has some benefits as well though! Traveling on your own is less expensive, allows you to see the real South Africa (places they might not take you on a guided bicycle tour), and gives you the independence to go where you want, cycle as far as you want, and do pretty much anything you want each day.

I was fortunate enough to be able to conduct both a guided bike tour and a self-supported bicycle tour while I was in South Africa. While I enjoyed both experience, I can honestly say that my guided bicycle tour with African Bikers was the absolute best thing I did while I was in the country. The tour was amazingly well-run, the bike I was provided with for the tour was fantastic, the tour leaders were wonderful, the people on the tour with me were incredibly friendly, and the cycling each day was superb.

My self-supported bicycle touring experiences in South Africa weren’t nearly as good, but they were still quite enjoyable. I loved the cycling in South Africa. That is probably the best thing about the country when it comes to bicycle touring – it has some amazing roads and trails that are perfectly designed for short or long-distance bicycle adventures. I had a number of wonderful nights camped out under the stars and I met a lot of really nice people during my travels. I felt safe the entire time, but I was very frequently annoyed. I was annoyed with people constantly asking me for money. I was annoyed with the super slow (and often, non-existent) Internet access. And I was annoyed with the overblown security, racist conversations, and lack of education that I experienced in the people while I was there.

If this is your first time traveling in Africa, I think South Africa is a great place to start. Whether you decide to conduct a guided or self-guided bicycle tour in the country, you’re sure to find something about the place that you enjoy… and probably some things that you dislike as well.

Additional Notes & Comments About Bicycle Touring In South Africa

My favorite thing about South Africa was the cycling each day. I loved my time on the road there. Whether I was cycling as part of the guided bike tour with African Bikers or bicycle touring across the country on my own, I loved my time on the bike. When I look back on my experiences in South Africa 10 years from now, I will remember a few of the people I met and many of the negative experiences I had while I was there, but more than anything I will recall just how great it was to wake up each day and pedal on beautifully paved roads with wide shoulders and little traffic, while spotting monkeys and antelope and birds running and leaping and flying all around me, before calling it a night and camping under a sky filled with stars.

If I were to conduct my bicycle tour in South Africa all over again, I would only make two small changes.

First of all, I would have only stayed there for about two months, instead of three. Three months was too long to be in the country by myself, without Internet or access to the outside world. I was ready to call it quits and go home after just two months.

Secondly, I think I would have enjoyed my self-supported bicycle tour a whole lot more if I had traveled with another person. Even though most people in South Africa speak English, I found it difficult to converse with the locals at times – due in part, I think, to differences in culture, education, etc. While I did meet a few people in South Africa that I connected with, those individuals were few and far between.

My final piece of advice to you is this: If you are thinking about participating in a bicycle tour of any kind in South Africa… don’t let fear (of animals, people, or anything else) stand in your way! Go there… do it… and have a blast! South Africa is a beautiful, friendly, and relatively safe country with some of the best bicycle touring roads I have ever experienced. Be prepared for a memorable, life-altering adventure… and be sure to send me a postcard from your travels!

If you have any additional questions, comments or concerns about bicycle touring in South Africa, leave a message below and I’ll get back to you just as soon as I possibly can.

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20 Comments

  1. Alex Bennett

    August 14, 2013 at 2:01 am

    I enjoyed reading your article very much – a really interesting perspective of a country I would love to visit.

    The comment is specifically about the Exped 7. I have the Exped 9 which I recently used on a tour in Europe. As an older rider I can say it gave me the most comfortable night’s sleep I have ever had on a mattress – the first where my hip does not hit the ground. I am surprised about your negative experience with the Exped given that my experience is so different. Why do you not like the Exped?

    Cheers

    Alex

  2. Don A. Holshuh

    August 14, 2013 at 9:05 am

    Hello Darren,
    I had the good fortune to travel extensively in South Africa both before and after apartheid. I also traveled in Namibia, Botswana, Rhodesia, Swaziland and Lesotho. I found your article to be very insightful and informative. I agree with you wholeheartedly that the hype about the dangers of South Africa is greatly overrated. I heard similar stories of the dangers when I first traveled there in 1970. Just as in the United States, there are some areas to avoid most of which are common sense. As you pointed out, your smile was your best weapon. I hope to someday bicycle tour in South Africa. To replace your sleeping pad, I can highly recommend the Nemo Cosmo Air Sleeping Pad. Good bargains can be found at campsaver.com Thanks for all that you do to support bicycle touring.
    Don A. Holshuh

  3. Alexander

    August 15, 2013 at 11:30 am

    I enjoyed your report would like to go to Africa would you take your on
    Own bike or hire one over there??????

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      August 15, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      Alexander, if you are planning a self-supported bicycle tour, then I would definitely take your own bicycle. Finding bicycles and/or bicycle touring gear of any quality in South Africa is not easy! But if you are going to participate in a guided bicycle tour, like the African Bikers tour that I did, then you might be fine using one of the bicycles that they provide.

  4. Penny Kemert

    August 20, 2013 at 3:53 am

    Darren I think your article is a bad reflection on a wonderful country. The security situation is a serious problem here and is definitely not blown out of proportion just to generate jobs in the security sector. Plain and simple – if you don’t have security your business and property will be broken into over and over again. You are trying to look at South Africa through first world eyes instead of realising that it is almost a third world country.

    Education, poverty and unemployment is a problem so obviously you will get beggars. We are busy with a bicycle tour of Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia and believe me if you think you had a hard time with beggars and internet problems in South Africa then there is no place for you in Africa.

    As I have said to you before, you are the type of person that should stick to “civilization” . There are thousands of campsites in and around SA, nearly every town has one. Also camping equipment is readily available in most towns. The water coming out of the taps is perfectly fine to drink excepting some rural areas.

    I am really disappointed that you have portrayed SA as a backwater with good roads. It is way more than that. If you expect to find Europe or The States in Africa then you will be dissatisfied, but if you expect to find a jewel in Africa ten South Africa is the place to visit.

  5. logan

    September 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Hello, can you tell me what sizes of tubes and tires are available in South Africa?

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      September 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm

      LOGAN, 26 inch mountain bike tires are going to be the easiest to find in South Africa. You’ll probably only be able 700c wheels/tires/tubes in the bigger cities (Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg).

  6. Jannes Kruger

    November 20, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Hi Darren

    Thanks for the write up. Im a South African planning an extensive tour through the country soon and your review of roads and experiences regarding safety for bike touring is encouraging.

    I was a little annoyed with your judgements, but I suppose it takes more than three months to really get a feel for the heartbeat of a country and its people, especially one with such a complicated political history and situation. So I’ll let that slide. Being a local, I don’t think those little issues would bother me as much, and that’s even more encouraging for me.

    I agree that finding dedicated touring equipment and bikes are a headache. The MTB craze has taken over the market completely. Thank you for the link to the website of the guys in Lady Grey. I’ll definitely give them some business in the near future.

    All in all, great article and lovely photo’s. Thank you.

    Regards,
    Jannes Kruger

  7. Katherine

    January 6, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    Hi Darren,

    Thank you for the information. Can you tell me whether there are roads (coastal highways, for example) that cyclists are not allowed onto? I have read that it is illegal to bike on highways in SA.

    Katherine

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      January 17, 2014 at 2:04 pm

      Hi Katherine,

      Yes, there are certain roads that you can not cycle on in just about every country in the world. Usually large freeways, interstates and some highways can not be cycled on. However, most smaller highways can be ridden on as long as there is no sign saying that cyclists are not allowed. For example, when I was in South Africa, I spent several days cycling along the 1 between Cape Town and Beaufort West. It was a big highway road with loads of semi-truck traffic, but the shoulder was massive and I had no problems cycling there. The police passed me on multiple occasions and didn’t pay any attention to me.

      The main rule is, if there is a sign saying cyclists are not allowed… then you have to find another way to go. Otherwise, you can probably cycle there. Just be careful!

  8. Frederick Swanepoel

    January 29, 2014 at 5:02 am

    Hi Darren
    Interesting read I must say, i do however agree with Penny Kemert.
    Unless you have not lived in SA yourself you won’t understand, but I get your point of view as a foreigner.
    I would be interesting know what route you did throughout the country, any chance you could share that with us somehow? SA has a huge diversity of climates.

  9. Royce Christensen

    August 20, 2015 at 11:08 am

    I’d like to fly into J’Berg, then ride from there to a school I’ve connected with, called Botshabelo. It’s in Magliesberg, about 75 km from J’Berg. Any advice on choosing a route from the US, other than Google Maps?
    Royce Christensen

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      August 21, 2015 at 11:19 am

      I have spent a lot of time in South Africa, but I don’t live there myself or know every road. So if it were me, I’d probably just plan a route that took me across smaller side-streets. There are so many ways you could do it. You just have to pick one… and go for it!

  10. Colin Morrison

    February 1, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Hi Darren. Just came across your blog and found it pretty much as what I would have expected before I came to SA. However, I’m heading back out for my fourth trip this year, and absolutely love the country and its people. I’m a Scot, and used to roaming about, but one of the best decisions my family and I ever made was to work alongside a small NGO outside Durban. Apart from all the life changing stuff, we have never had a single issue, and I always try to remind folk that bad stuff can happen on your own doorstep, so don’t worry about what will happen round every corner.
    So what about South Africa from a guests point of view. Roads vary from great to hold onto your hat, but the road outside my house in Scotland breaks my neighbours springs so it’s a bit like home in that respect.
    Food is exactly the same as at home – I mean why would you think it would be different, and remember Scotland has Haggis.
    Accommodation, well you forgot to really talk about the incredibly priced hostels, and yes camp grounds can be found all over the place. Water! – well if it doesn’t rain soon in KZN there won’t be any in the taps, but usually it’s on a par with anything in the west. If you go to some of the old Highland hotels in the west of Scotland the water will be brown with the amount of peat in it – and I’m still here!!!
    The people – amazing, resilient, funny and wonderful. They are generous of spirit and I have as many friends in SA as I do at home.
    Go see it, you will always go back for a second look!

  11. Sam

    February 6, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Hi Darren

    Really interesting read. What milage were you doing each day?

    • Bicycle Touring Pro

      February 7, 2016 at 10:52 pm

      I think I was doing about 50-80 miles per day in South Africa – sometimes more, sometimes less. But I’d say closer to about 50-60 miles on most days.

  12. Jeremy

    November 4, 2016 at 11:32 am

    Hi Darren,

    Its always interesting to see one’s own country through the eyes of a visitor. As an indigenous South African I have travelled extensively by car, motorbike, hitch-hiking (in my youth)and on foot through some of the most scenic and rugged parts of our country and neighbouring Southern African states. Next year I am planning a 2 month semi-supported 2000 km (my wife !) cycle meander through the Karoo, Eastern Cape, Lesotho and central KZN. Your tips and equipment suggestions will come in very handy. I expect to be able to source all the gear through local SA cycling and outdoor gear shops many of which have good online platforms.

    Having also travelled, hiked and motorbiked extensively in Europe, UK, South America, Australia and the Far East I still think we have some of the best outdoor and camping gear ( local and international brands) outfitters, of necessity, in the world and at very affordable prices, especially for visitors spending US$, UK Pounds or Euros.

    Pity that you struggled to have good comms while in SA because 95% of the country has excellent GSM coverage and extensive 3G (and free or cheap Wi-fi networks) in all cities, along most main roads and in most of the larger towns and surprisingly even in some really isolated areas. I would suggest that any visitor bring their ‘smart’ phone along and buy a local SIM card. Cross border mobile data roaming is always expensive.

    One thing you did not mention are emergency medical facilities and travel insurance. Private and public medical facilities in our major cities and larger towns are world class. Obviously in rural and isolated areas emergency medical response times and services might be slow and limited. For this reason access to the emergency mobile networks via 911 or 10111 is essential. Travel insurance coupled to airline tickets bought with credit cards is generally very affordable. I agree with your observation about not cycling alone over long distances or in isolated areas in SA. No matter where in the world one cycles or travels it is much safer and more fun sharing the experience with a companion and of seeing and experiencing new places and cultures.

    Important word of warning : even on main roads with wide verges make sure you are aware of vehicle traffic around you. South African drivers generally drive faster than speed limits allow, especially on paved and main roads, and often ignore the ‘1,5 metre’ rule when passing cyclists — make sure you as a cyclist are very visible by wearing bright ‘dayglo’ clothing at all times and try to avoid cycling at night or in low visibility conditions!

    Finally camping ‘rough’ is fun but it is common courtesy and advisable anywhere in the world to ask permission of the private land owner or local authority or even tribal chief, who in most cases will be very ‘chuffed'(thrilled) to welcome a bicycling visitor onto his property, and will probably insist on you staying in his home, on the front lawn or in a shed. As stated elsewhere by other folk there are municipal and private campsites in most towns with generally basic, but clean, and secure facilities — much more affordable than guesthouses or hotels. Backpacker lodges are common in all cities and many larger towns.

    Cyclists planning to tour SA should do do extensive ‘desktop’ internet research in planning routes and accommodation options. Platforms like Tripadvisor most often give well balanced and first hand reportage of accommodation, activities, routes and other useful local tips which can save time, money and help avoid potentially dangerous or frustrating situations.

    I look forward to again exploring my own country next year under ‘pedal power’. Safe travelling to all cyclists around the world!

  13. Elizabeth zieman

    August 23, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    Darren, we are contemplating a bike tour in SA, and very much welcome your comments. It’s unfortunate that after you take the time and effort to describe in detail your experience while touring, that readers complain they are “annoyed” by your candor. Please keep it coming!

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