Southern Africa is a region rich with cultural and geographical diversity. From the wildlife-filled plains of Zimbabwe to the cosmopolitan cities of South Africa, there are endless opportunities for exploration and discovery.
The region is home to a myriad of ethnic groups, each with its own unique customs, languages, and traditions. And the landscape itself varies drastically, from bustling cities to pristine beaches to massive deserts. It’s all waiting to be discovered and appreciated by those who choose to venture off the beaten path and immerse themselves in this diverse corner of the world.
When it comes to exploring the southern region of Africa, many travelers automatically think about big budget safaris and glamourous road trips. However, one of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in the diverse cultures and stunning landscapes of this part of the continent is through bus travel.
Not only is it a budget-friendly option, but it allows you to connect with locals and experience the sights, sounds, and experiences that come with being on the road. From South Africa all the way up to Mozambique, Namibia, and beyond, hopping on a bus can open up a whole new world of discovery.
Where you can go by bus in Southern Africa
A large part of international tourists visiting the region of Southern Africa tends to stay solely in the country of South Africa, at the southernmost tip of the continent. Although it has its own unique attractions, such as its beautiful coastline and vast national parks, South Africa is also the gateway to a world of adventure and discovery.
From South Africa, adventurers can venture into Zimbabwe to visit Victoria Falls and the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe. Head north for Mozambique’s pristine beaches, or east for the diverse wildlife of Botswana’s Okavango Delta. Southward lies the desert landscapes of Namibia, and to the east is the lush lakeside beauty of Malawi.
Whether seeking a relaxing beach vacation or a thrilling safari experience, South Africa serves as a launching pad for endless possibilities. We strongly encourage you to make the most of your time in the Southern African region by visiting more than one country.
Here’s what you can explore from South Africa’s neighboring countries.
Venture beyond South Africa and see the best of the region
Zimbabwe has long been overlooked as a tourist destination, but those in the know have quietly recognized it as one of the most unique and beautiful destinations in Africa. The diverse landscapes include endless grassy plains, rugged mountains, and thundering waterfalls. Wildlife sightings are abundant, with everything from elephants to rhinos roaming the parks and reserves.
And let’s not forget about Victoria Falls – one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. But beyond its natural wonders, Zimbabwe also offers a rich cultural experience. The friendly locals are happy to share their traditional music and arts, and historical sites offer insight into the country’s complex history.
If you’re looking for a true adventure, hopping on a bus in Zimbabwe is the way to go. These buses are no luxury vehicles, but they offer unique experiences that you won’t get anywhere else. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to interact with locals and witness incredible sights while you travel on a budget. Expect long journeys, from 12 hours to 24 hours.
After an 8-hour bus ride from Johannesburg to Maputo, you’ll be ready to witness the undeniable beauty of Mozambique. From the crystal clear waters of its beaches to the vibrant colors of markets filled with fresh fruits and spices. But it’s not just a destination for sun-seekers and adventure travelers. History buffs will marvel at the ancient architecture of Ilha de Moçambique, once a center of Portuguese trade. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot African elephants, leopards, and endangered dugongs on their safari tours. And those seeking a break from the hustle and bustle will find peaceful serenity in Mozambique’s national parks and reserves.
The journey is long, but it’s worth it! 21 hours is how long the ride from Cape Town to Windhoek lasts. Namibia, known as the land of contrast, boasts a stunning array of landscapes and wildlife. From the awe-inspiring sand dunes of Sossusvlei to the rugged beauty of Etosha National Park, Namibia offers plenty for nature lovers to explore.
But the country’s charms don’t end there – Namibia also has a rich cultural heritage, with ancient desert tribes sharing their traditions with visitors. And let’s not forget the incredible experiences available from desert camping to hot air balloon rides.
A 7-hour bus ride will get you from Johannesburg to Gaborone, Botswana’s city capital. Botswana offers unparalleled opportunities for eco-tourism, particularly in the stunning Okavango Delta. The country’s dedication to conservation and sustainable tourism practices has resulted in thriving populations of animals, including some of the largest herds of African elephants in the world. In addition to thrilling wildlife encounters, Botswana boasts magnificent desert landscapes, pristine salt flats, and crystal clear waters teeming with fish. From luxury safari lodges to camping under the stars, Botswana offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience that immerses visitors in the untouched beauty of Africa.
The idea of a two-day bus ride may not sound appealing to some, but for those willing to take the journey, the rewards are well worth it. Just a short jaunt from Johannesburg lies the country of Malawi, often referred to as “The Warm Heart of Africa.”
Rich with beautiful lakes and mountains, diverse wildlife, and friendly locals, Malawi offers unique opportunities for tourists looking for something off the beaten path. From hiking through verdant national parks to experiencing the vibrant culture of its cities, Malawi has something for every kind of traveler.
Main bus companies in Southern Africa
There are several bus companies in the region! In terms of frequency of departures, coverage and overall quality, here are the two handpicked main bus companies for you:
Pro tip: to stay safe, avoid traveling with the mini-vans services if you can. Try to always book tickets with reliable companies to avoid scams and overcrowded buses.
Amenities on southern Africa buses
Taking a long bus ride can be an adventure in itself, but there are some amenities that can make the journey more comfortable. Unfortunately, not all bus companies in southern Africa offer amenities like air conditioning, reclining seats, and bathrooms. That’s why it’s important to come prepared for your trip with essentials such as a neck pillow for extra comfort, a water bottle to stay hydrated and some snacks.
It may also be helpful to bring along some entertainment such as a book or magazine, music player, or even just a good conversation with a travel companion. At the end of the day, it’s all about embracing the journey and making the most out of any situation. So pack smart and enjoy the ride!
How to make the most of the Luxury Service
Unlike in other countries, such as Brazil or Mexico, buses in the Southern African region don’t have class tiers. However, most bus providers often offer luxury services, which include extra amenities. For example, Intercape has its Sleepliner, and Citiliner operates a fleet of double-decker buses named the Dreamliner (in contrast to Boeing’s new plane with the same name, all passengers on the bus get VIP treatment and space for a good night’s rest, not just those in first-class).
Something good to know: Wi-Fi on buses isn’t widespread in Southern Africa, but air-conditioned is common, even when you book the more basic bus options. Here are a few extra amenities you can expect to find if you book a luxury service in Southern Africa:
- Seats that can recline up to 150 degrees
- Extra legroom
- On-board toilet (although several companies offer this in the basic bus options as well)
- Video entertainment (movies)
- Reserved seating
When to buy your bus ticket
As bus travel experts, we at Busbud agree to say you should buy your bus ticket as far in advance as possible, especially during peak times or high season (which in Southern Africa runs from November to March), because prices will generally tend to rise as the travel date approaches. We launched a new feature on Busbud where you can view your past searches and compare them to observe the price trends of the ticket you are looking to book.
Is bus travel safe in Southern Africa?
In short, yes! However, there are some safety precautions that are valid for any travel around the globe and that we would suggest you apply when in Southern Africa.
The first thing is to book tickets only with reliable bus companies. Avoid the mini vans and stay away of scams to make sure your trip goes smoothly. All the tickets you’ll find on Busbud are offered by reliable bus companies, so that’s a good way to start planning your trip.
Secondly, keep an eye on your luggage! Your heavy/large bags will most likely be stowed under the bus you’ll be traveling on. Once you arrive at your destination, be sure to stand nearby when the driver or company employee opens the baggage hold and starts unloading the bags, as this is the most favorable moment for thieves to snatch baggage.
Also, you will likely be solicited by locals who are very enthusiastic about carrying your bags for a tip. Take your time and make sure you have the situation under control if you decide to take them up on it, to be sure to avoid any unfortunate misunderstandings or an innocuous-looking person running off with your stuff before you know what’s going on.
So why not consider stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing the natural rhythm of travel by taking a journey on one of these buses? It may just be the most rewarding trip you’ll ever take.
Book your next bus ride through Southern Africa!