That was my predicament as I planned a 3 week backpacking trip across the country.
Travelling by coach seemed like a bit of a hassle (I’d be dropped off at a bus terminal and then still have to take a taxi to get to my hostel), renting a car sounded like a manageable option so long as I remembered to drive on the left, and then there was Baz Bus which calls itself “South Africa’s Convenient Hop-On Hop-Off Door-to-Door Backpacker Bus Service”. Quite the mouthful, but it fit the bill!
Since it was my first time travelling in the country I decided to save the car rental for my next visit and I opted for Baz Bus instead. Over the course of my 3 weeks in the country I used them to travel the full length from Johannesburg to Cape Town.
There were a lot of things I liked about their service, so this post will look at some of the benefits of travelling with Baz Bus as well as a few things to consider:
Door to door pick-up and drop-off.
This is one of things that won me over. Had I been travelling by train or coach bus I would have arrived at a bus terminal or train station in the middle of the city, and I then would’ve had to find my own way over to the hostel. However, Baz Bus offers pick-ups and drop-offs at a number of hostels and lodges across the country, which makes it safer and more convenient for travellers to get around. And if you happen to be staying at a hostel that isn’t affiliated with Baz Bus (I stayed in 2 hostels that weren’t), the owners are usually more than willing to arrange transportation for you.
No limit on how many times you can hop on or off.
With the Hop-On Hop-Off ticket, you buy one ticket to your final destination and you can then hop on and off as often as you like along the route. This is great if you’re travelling in one direction. Alternatively, you can get a travel pass, which allows you to travel in any direction you want and as often as you like within the time period (7 day / 14 day / 21 days).
The flexibility to spontaneously change your travel plans.
Technically, you are supposed to reserve your seat at least 72 hours in advance to ensure there are enough seats, but also so that the driver knows where to pick you up and drop you off. However, this didn’t stop travellers from getting off the bus earlier if they thought a destination looked interesting; I also saw this work in reverse where travellers chose to skip over a destination because they thought it looked a little too remote for their taste once they arrived.
Fun and personable drivers.
Whether it was Sammy trying to teach us his real name which involves clicking one’s tongue (I couldn’t manage to pronounce it right), or Johnny cracking jokes and imparting his wisdom on things to do in Durban, we had really fun drivers who were chatty and happy to share their insights on South Africa.
You get to see quite a bit of the country.
In a way, Baz Bus is a really great way to scout your next trip to South Africa. Since travellers get off at stops all over the route, you get to see quite a few towns and cities that you many not have previously considered. Over the course of my 3 weeks travelling with Baz Bus, I got off at a total of 7 stops and I also spotted a few places I’d like to go back and visit – Swellendam, I’m looking at you!
There are lots of breaks along the way.
The Baz Bus drivers made a point to stop off every 1.5-2 hours so that we could stretch our legs, pick up some snacks, and have a bathroom break. Sure, there were days when we covered long distances, but we certainly weren’t cooped up in the car for 10 hours straight.
You get to meet other travellers.
Baz Bus allows you to connect with a community of backpackers who are slowly working their way across the country, and even though you may not all be getting off at the same stops along the way, you still get to know each other and swap stories and travel tips. For example, while on safari in Kruger I ended up meeting a group of German girls and a Brit – I never thought I’d see them again but then I ended up running into them twice on the Baz Bus down to Cape Town. I also noticed that some travellers who were backpacking South Africa solo ended up joining other travellers from Baz Bus for a stretch of the journey, so it’s a great way to meet other backpackers.
Things to keep in mind:
This is a budget friendly way to travel across South Africa.
What I mean by this is that you shouldn’t come expecting plush headrests, reclining seats, and movies playing with surround sound. The bus is comfortable enough and it’ll get you where you need to go, but that’s it.
Baz Bus doesn’t run every day.
At the moment, the Cape Town to Port Elizabeth route runs 5 days a week. The other two routes run 4 days a week. This means that you need to put some thought into planning your itinerary and booking your hostels. If you don’t plan this carefully you could end up stuck in a destination for an additional night…which isn’t always a bad thing considering how beautiful South Africa is!
The route doesn’t cover the interior of the country.
Baz Bus has 3 major routes: Johannesburg to Durban, Durban to Port Elizabeth, and Port Elizabeth to Cape Town. (These same routes are also done in reverse.) These routes will allow you to travel through Gauteng, Kwazulu Natal, Eastern Cape and Western Cape, mainly focusing on destinations along the coast. It won’t get you to Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Free State, North-West Province or Northern Cape. Nor will it get you to Lesotho or Swaziland. I’m kind of hoping they expand in the future!
Lastly, on a note completely unrelated to Baz Bus – the Eastern Cape has some stretches of seriously curvy roads so if you get motion sick easily I suggest you stock up on Gravol. I opted for window seat and popped a pill to zonk me out for the journey.
For more info on travel in South Africa visit http://www.bazbus.com.
Have you travelled around South Africa?
What do you think is the best way to get around?