A car rental for Cape Town is essential for exploring and enjoying the city to the fullest! Though, if you plan on driving yourself around Cape Town and are new to renting a car or new to traveling South Africa there are a few things to know before you drive that ride out of the lot. Let’s dig in!
Car Rental Cape Town Tips
Can a foreigner rent a car in Cape Town?
Foreigners can easily rent a car in South Africa. Renters must have a valid English driver’s license and be 18 years old. They must also have had their license for at least one year.
If your home license is not in English, you will need an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) to rent a car in South Africa. In addition, you’ll have to show your passport and provide a valid credit card for the rental car purchase and hold a charge. You must always have your driver’s license on you while driving in Cape Town.
Is it safe to hire a car in South Africa?
For the most part, renting a car in South Africa is safe. Roads are well maintained and well paved throughout Cape Town and the rest of South Africa. With navigation and an understanding of how to drive on the left side of the road (steering wheel on the right), you should be good to go.
However, there are some dangers to be aware of while driving in Cape Town, though it’s unlikely you’ll experience many as a tourist visiting for a short period. We’ll discuss more of the risks and dangers of driving in Cape Town below.
Drive on the Left-Hand Side in South Africa
Depending on where you’ll be coming from, you could drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road in South Africa. That is on the left-hand side of the road rather than the right, like in North America. This means the steering wheel is on the other side of the vehicle from what you may be used to, with the gear shift (in manual transmission vehicles) and parking brake on the opposite side to you.
That said, the pedals are in the same order as in the US, with the clutch on the left (for manual vehicles), the foot brake in the middle, and the gas pedal on the right.
Hazards While Driving in Cape Town
I won’t sugarcoat it; South Africa is one of the most dangerous countries in the world and Cape Town ranks one of the world’s most dangerous and violent cities.
That said, most of the crime in Cape Town is gang and drug related and takes place in the townships, which is not where most tourists and visitors will be driving. Still, it’s always important to take caution in Cape Town, especially at night. Here are some problems you may run into while in Cape Town.
- Minibusses: Many locals use minibusses to get around the city. These minibusses drive aggressively and will overtake and swerve into your lane at a moment’s notice. They frequently run red lights and drive like there is no tomorrow. Take caution when driving near them.
- Windows: Keep your windows up while driving through the city center, particularly at traffic lights or anytime you are at a complete stop.
- Carjackings: Carjackings are a problem in South Africa, however it’s most prevalent in isolated areas and on secondary roads in Northern KwaZulu-Natal and Zululand. We have never had car jacking issues in the Western Cape, but it’s still important to always be aware of your surroundings.
- Lock Doors: When driving through Downtown Cape Town it’s worth keeping your doors locked at traffic stops. Always lock your doors when away from the car.
- Valuables: Keep valuables out of sight, especially at night. When parking your car overnight, remove all valuables from the vehicle, even if you are parked in secured parking. It’s not worth the risk of walking out to a smashed window in the morning. Thieves will break a window for just 100 Rand.
- Nighttime Driving: It’s best to keep nighttime driving in Cape Town to a minimum. Especially in the city center, Nyanga, Mitchells Plain, and Khayelitsha.
- Look Both Ways: This is more of a tip for when you are a pedestrian, but it’s always important to look both ways before crossing the street in Cape Town. Don’t rely on a light to tell you when to walk. We saw multiple drivers run red lights while walking across the street in Cape Town.
- Don’t Pick Up Hitchhikers: We get it, you have an extra seat in your car and want to be a nice guy. In South Africa, it’s not worth taking the chance. Don’t pick up people you don’t know in Cape Town.
- Parking Garages: When available, always opt to park in a secure garage rather than on the street – especially at night. If there is no parking garage to park at, at least opt for a well lit street. Though most places in the city center have secure parking nearby.
Take Caution at Night
I would advise against driving at night in South Africa if possible. This is when most of these muggings and carjackings occur, especially if you aren’t in a great neighborhood. Be extra aware of your surroundings at night, always lock the door, and be wary when stopping at stoplights.
Cape Town is an exceptionally hilly city, which makes sense considering most of the city sits at the base of Table Mountain. When driving around Cape Town you’ll immediately notice all the ups and downs! There’s no way to avoid it – bringing me to my next point.
Manual vs. Automatic
If you are not a confident manual car driver, renting an automatic vehicle in Cape Town is best. I can’t count the number of times we were stopped on an extremely steep hill at a stop sign, and being incredibly thankful that Cameron is a competent manual driver. I knew I would have stalled out at least 100+ times while driving in the city.
Most rental cars in South Africa are manual transmissions. You will have to specify and likely pay more to rent an automatic car in Cape Town.
People at Stop Lights
Things run a bit differently in South Africa, particularly in cities, and Cape Town is no exception. We’ve spent over three months living in Cape Town, and one thing that is very common in the city is the presence of people at almost every stoplight.
Yes, at most intersections in the city, you’ll come across people busking, begging, or selling something. It’s particularly rife in the Cape Town City Center, but we also noticed it on streets in Camps Bay and Sea Point (commonly considered the nicer areas).
Most of the time, these people are harmless. It’s estimated that over 35,000 people are homeless in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The South African wealth divide is extreme, and most people are just looking for a way to feed themselves. It’s a sad situation and can be pretty jarring to visitors, especially from a Western society where this isn’t so prevalent.
It’s something to note to visitors renting a car in Cape Town, as you’ll have to be aware of these people and pay attention to their movements. Sometimes they stand in the middle of the road in fast moving traffic; we even had someone physically run into our car while we were moving at 40+km an hour – no joke! At stoplights it’s truly best to keep your windows up and doors locked.
If someone starts washing your window at a set of lights, stop them immediately. If you allow them to continue they will demand money. If you don’t pay up they might take to damaging your vehicle. Just don’t let this situation happen.
Parking in Cape Town
Like many major cities, parking in Cape Town can be a struggle. Paid parking is in effect throughout much of the city. And if it’s not paid parking on the streets, you’ll likely encounter “car guards” (more on that later) to pay for the convenience of watching your car.
Besides paid on-street parking, many places in Cape Town have paid underground parking and parking garages. These parking garages are some of the safest places to park your car and are inexpensive.
Often grocery stores like Woolworths, Checkers, and Pick N Pay will offer one free hour of parking in the garage so remember to save your receipt!
Most hotels and guesthouses will have allocated spots for guests to park overnight.
Car Attendants in Cape Town
In South Africa, it’s widespread to have car attendants outside grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses – (yay, job creation).
Almost anywhere you park in Cape Town that is not in a paid garage is usually monitored by a “car guard” to ensure that vehicles remain safely parked while you go and do your business.
Sometimes these car guards are officially hired by an establishment, or sometimes they throw on a yellow vest and just stand outside a business, hoping to collect enough rand for a meal. As a tourist, it’s hard to know!
These guys are there to watch your car and “deter” car thieves. Sometimes they help you park in a spot or back out of place. Many times we found the “help” was unnecessary.
These guys expect a tip; often, 2-10 ZAR is more than enough. Sometimes if you don’t tip them, they will try and block your car with their body until you give them something.
Now, all that being said, it’s up to you if you want to help them out a little with some money. As mentioned, we have spent more than three months living in Cape Town and have become accustomed to these car guards.
If we felt they truly assisted us and watched our car while we were away, we had no problem tipping them 10 rand. However, often we would return to our car, get in, pull out of the parking spot just to have someone run up behind us and act like they were watching the car the whole time.
Most of the time, their effectiveness was questionable at best (hence the quotation marks). However, we often feel bad and would give food or a few rand because of these. Unemployment is high in South Africa, and a few rand might mean a little to us but a lot to others.
That said, it’s up to you and your discretion to tip car guards. It is in no way obligatory.
Renting a Car in Cape Town is Affordable
Every time I travel to South Africa, I am reminded of how affordable it is to rent a car there. You can get fantastic deals on a car in South Africa, especially renting in a major city like Cape Town. Depending on the season, getting a car for as low as $10 a day is possible. It’s best to compare rates online beforehand and shop for the best rate.
- Discover Cars: What we use to search rental car prices around the globe.
- RentalCars.com: Provides comparisons for car rentals.
- AutoEurope: I often find deals here for car rentals, even internationally.
What Car to Rent in South Africa?
We found Hertz and Avis to be the most affordable for a long-term rental, but we had the best experience with First, a Sixt affiliate. We also tried out Rent-A-Cheapie in Cape Town and had a mixed experience with them. Read more about renting a car abroad and compare car rental Cape Town prices here.
If you want a new experience, camping in South Africa is a fantastic way to explore. Happy Campers have now launched a branch out of Cape Town. Check them out! We partnered with Happy Campers in Iceland and had a fantastic experience.
A trendy way to explore Southern Africa is by renting a 4×4 truck. Not everyone has the time, patience, or wants to purchase a car as we did, so you have companies like Bushlore that rent out a fully kitted 4×4.
If you plan to drive into the natural African bush like Botswana or Mozambique, this is the way to go but be prepared to spend money as the rentals are expensive. We didn’t need a four-wheel drive vehicle anywhere in South Africa, but once you travel across borders, you’ll want one.
Car Rental Cape Town Insurance
If you have a US credit card or equivalent in another country, you may already have CDW (collision damage waiver) insurance for rental car coverage, and I don’t know! It’s worth checking your documentation and calling your credit card company to find out. It’s even worth considering signing up for a new credit card that does offer this, so you don’t have to pay for car rental insurance in South Africa. See our favorite travel credit cards here.
Bringing me to my next point – credit cards with primary rental insurance. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is my favorite travel credit card for many reasons, but direct rental insurance is one of its best perks (including Priority Pass membership). When you put the cost of your car hire on your Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you get primary rental car coverage around the world up to $75,000.
Car rental companies in South Africa and worldwide love to scare customers and upsell all their insurance packages. You need to make sure if you need it or not before falling victim to their trap. Call your credit card company and always find out before you get to South Africa.
If you don’t have a credit card that covers rental car insurance, it may be worth adding insurance to your package. That way, you won’t be stuck paying for a car hire out of pocket if there is an accident.
Fuel Prices in South Africa
At the time of writing (January 2023), fuel prices in Cape Town cost 23.135 per liter.
Expect a Hold Charge on Your Credit Card
Any car rental company in Cape Town will place a holding charge on your credit card. Typically the average holding amount (excluding the rental cost) is around R3000, but this may vary according to your specific rental.
We know they must put this hold on our card, but it can be a massive shocker if you are unsuspecting and exceed your credit card credit limit. These excess charges are for scenarios where you disappear with the car and are never seen again or get in a crash and refuse to pay.
Always Inspect Your Rental Car
The rental car agent will often ask if you’d like them to show you around the vehicle or whether you’re happy to do it yourself. Always accept being shown around the car, even if you feel silly.
The agent will generally start with the outside of the vehicle, pointing out any existing bumps or scratches and ensuring all the damages are noted. This will also assure you of the roadworthiness of the car.
Make sure you know how to alter the position of the driver’s seat, how the parking brake works (is it a traditional manual one you pull up or a newer electronic one), and how to engage reverse gear (which often requires you to push a button of some sort first). They will also help you set up the GPS if you’ve opted for one.
Remember that if you’re unhappy with anything you see, you should insist on an alternative vehicle if you find cigarette burns, broken mirrors, or windshield cracks, these need to be noted before you leave the parking lot. Otherwise, you could be charged for the damages once you return the rental.
Take lots of photos before you leave the rental car lot. When you return the car, make sure you have signed off on it and filled up the tank so they don’t charge your credit card for damages after leaving Cape Town.
Get a GPS, a Sim Card, or Download Google Maps
We always pick up a local SIM card when we arrive in a new country. It’s always a good idea to have a working phone in emergencies. We picked up a SIM card with Vodacom in when we landed in Cape Town. That way, we always had data to run a GPS from our smartphone. Or you can always get an eSim with Airalo quick and easily.
Google Maps is a good GPS option in Cape Town; you can download the map to your phone while on WiFi. Having a map downloaded to your phone means you don’t need the internet for turn-by-turn directions.
Western Roads in Cape Town
If you’re continuing on an African road trip after South Africa, you better enjoy the roads because they are the best you will come across in the region (trust us, we know). The roads in South Africa are, in general, pretty great. They are paved and aren’t the pothole-ridden roads in other African nations.
Hide Any Valuables
I should mention one more time to hide your valuables when you are driving and when the car is parked in Cape Town. That means zipping up backpacks, putting valuables in the trunk, and covering things like cameras with clothing items and blankets in the backseat. Thieves are opportunistic, and there’s no reason to give anyone an incentive to break in.
Let Others Fill Up the Tank
It’s not common to fill up your gas in South Africa. There will always be a gas station attendant to fill your car, just like in the good old days. They will often ask if you want your windows cleaned too. There’s no reason to ever get out of the car when filling up in Cape Town.
It’s expected to tip those lovely gas station attendants that fill up your car and clean those windows. South Africans usually last anywhere from 5-10 ZAR, but around 10-20 ZAR tourists seem to tip more. Any amount is acceptable!
Toll Roads in Cape Town
There aren’t many toll roads in Cape Town to be aware of. Besides driving Chapmans Peak, we never had to pay to use a street in Cape Town.
However, if you plan on making a big South Africa road trip, you must prepare for toll roads. Most South African rental cars will already have a system set up in the car, so you don’t have to do anything, but it’s still best to have some extra rand on you just in case.
If you hear the term “robot” in South Africa, they are referring to traffic lights.
There’s Always Uber!
If you don’t feel comfortable driving around Cape Town, Uber is an idea affordable option. There’s a bus system in Cape Town, but it’s not great for tourists and getting to sightseeing destinations. It’s more set up for locals in daily life.
If you only have a short time in Cape Town, another popular option is the Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing bus!
Cape Town is a Great Place to Start A Road Trip
Overall, South Africa is an excellent road trip, and Cape Town is a great place to start before you travel north to other African nations. We have spent more than three months in Cape Town and two more months traveling to all the best places in South Arica. We always have dreams of returning one day and doing it all again.
There is so much to see and do; the best part is you can make a road trip to South Africa on a modest budget!
Is it a good idea to rent a car in Cape Town?
Cape Town is a fantastic city with so many things to do. We’ve spent months there and every day we still find some new hike, restaurant, or beach to enjoy! All that being said, public transport is very limited in the Western Cape. As a tourist, I would not recommend taking the minibusses either.
If you are spending more than two days in Cape Town, I would absolutely recommend renting a car in Cape Town. At the very least so you can drive Chapman’s Peak and take in all the beauty with your window down. It’s also a great way to drive to the Cape of Good Hope, day trip to Stellensbosh, or stop in Muizenberg for a surf!
Check Car Rental Cape Town Rates Here!
TRAVEL SOUTH AFRICA
- When is the Best Time to Visit South Africa?
- 20 Incredibly Helpful South Africa Vacation Travel Tips
- 40 Fantastic Things To Do In Cape Town, South Africa
- Renting a Car in South Africa? Here are 21 MUST READ Tips
- 10 Awesome Places to Visit in South Africa
- Buying a Car in South Africa and Being Undesirable
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get ultra low.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
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