Public transportation isn’t so great in South Africa. This is something you’ll quickly realize if you want to travel around the country independently.
While in other countries you might have a choice of, say, at least a dozen daily services between destinations, in South Africa you’re lucky if a single greyhound bus passes through town once a day. Getting to smaller rural places can be even more challenging if you don’t have transportation of your own.
This is why most travellers either rent a car, or reach for the only other alternative: the Baz Bus.
This dedicated hop-on-hop-off backpacker bus service runs along the coast from Cape Town to Johannesburg or in reverse. Typically you pay for a ticket once which then lets you take as many of the pre-defined stops as you want with no overall time limit. You even get picked up and dropped off right at your hostel (if it’s one of the participating hostels). Sounds amazing, right?
Well, it really isn’t.
Baz Bus markets itself as a flexible service. I saw other travel bloggers praise this supposed flexibility as well, though I later noticed they were given free tickets in exchange for a write-up. Honestly, I don’t think it’s flexible at all.
The Baz Bus comes with a ton of limitations, many of which are not properly spelled out on other blogs, and so I want to take this opportunity to give you an honest take on what it’s like to travel using this service.
I paid for the ticket myself, so I’m under no obligation to hold back.
It’s actually very rigid
Baz Bus admittedly has some convenient aspects—like being dropped off directly at your hostel—but I didn’t anticipate how frustrating it could be overall.
Consider the following limitations:
- It only goes once a day, 4 or 5 times a week (depending on which part of the route you’re in). This makes it seriously difficult to keep an efficient itinerary. You may find you have to stay longer in a place that doesn’t really warrant a longer stay, which then cascades down your plans as somewhere further down the line you’ll also have to stay a day longer, and another day longer… and so on.
- Departures are at awkward times. Unless you’re at the start of a route in one of the major cities, chances are your Baz Bus will leave at some terrible hour like 3pm or 11pm. Your days get constantly split in half. Sometimes you’ll be having evening drinks with people at your hostel only to have to abandon them so you can pack up your things and leave. It’s super annoying.
- There are obligatory stops. The schedule forces you to stay at least a night in Port Elizabeth and Durban. Both are very industrial and commercial cities, but there’s no way to skip them if you wanted.
- You’re only dropped off at participating hostels. This is not a biggie usually, as the selection of hostels is typically good. But in some places, like in Northern Drakensberg, there is only one hostel drop-off. It’s in the middle of nowhere, so you’re pretty much forced into using this hostel, which gets many bad reviews online.
While all of these things are communicated on the Baz Bus website and in its timetables, it doesn’t really sink in how restricting this all is until you’re actually using the service.
Obviously, a hop-on-hop-off service that has so many stops is inherently going to be slow, but I think it’s still important to point out.
Take my first section on the Baz Bus, which took me from Cape Town to Wilderness. By car, this takes about 5 hours. By Baz Bus, it takes 9 hours. Keep in mind that all the stops and all the loading and unloading of people’s bags makes the Baz Bus slow as a donkey.
It’s not that social
If you’re travelling solo or just want to meet people, it might seem like the Baz Bus is the perfect option for you. But the truth is that most people (myself included) are just happy to have some precious me-time on these journeys, and will be mostly reading books or listening to music.
You won’t meet many people on the bus. Most other passengers are going to totally different places or different hostels anyway. The situation is not like in Southeast Asia or Latin America where you might spontaneously meet people on a minibus and even decide to find a hostel together when you arrive. On the Baz Bus, everyone is going different ways, and to different pre-booked hostels.
The only people you’ll probably talk with on the Baz Bus are the ones you’ve already met elsewhere.
I should say I fully expected this and wasn’t hoping to make BFFs on the Baz Bus, but I’ve seen people specifically recommend the Baz Bus to solo travellers. I don’t think it matters as you’ll meet people in many other ways.
If the Baz Bus is meant for budget travelers, it doesn’t seem all that budget-priced.
A one-way ticket from Cape Town to Joburg costs 5400 Rand, which is about $400 USD or EUR. (I got mine in an online sale for 4400 Rand.)
A Greyhound bus from Cape Town to Joburg costs just 735 Rand. Maybe I’m comparing apples to oranges here, but it’s just to indicate the cost of a normal bus service running the same amount of miles. Even if a hop-on-hop-off service were to cost three times that of a regular bus (to account for all the extra stops), that’s still half of what they’re charging here.
For 5400 Rand, you could even rent a car for about 3 to 4 weeks!
It limits your freedom
When I travel I love having the freedom to make decisions on the fly. This is hardly possible with the Baz Bus; I found that I had to keep detailed plans for my 3 weeks in South Africa and keep careful track of the days during which Baz Bus doesn’t run.
I hate making rigid plans like that. It goes counter to everything I love about travel and it’s a total buzzkill for me.
You can never perfectly predict your trip. Just to give an example: near the end of the trip a tropical storm hit the north of South Africa which meant I just had to change my plan. There was a 100% chance of rainstorms in Drakensberg for the next two days, which made hiking there pointless, so at the last minute I decided to stay longer in Durban where there’s more to do even on a rainy day.
Baz Bus got pissy about this and said that if I made a last-minute change like that again, I would forfeit my ticket.
So… should you take the baz bus?
If you can drive, then in my opinion, no you shouldn’t. A cheap car rental costs about as much as a baz bus ticket but will be vastly more flexible, faster, and more convenient.
You can even offer people rides in exchange for fuel money. I saw notes in several hostel receptions from people requesting or advertising a ride.
If you’re travelling together, then sharing a rental car is probably actually cheaper than getting baz bus tickets for each person.
If you’re travelling solo and you can drive, then just go on a solo self-drive. If that seems scary, it’s really not. The road conditions are good, everything on the main routes is safe, and it’s not difficult to figure out where to go. You won’t need the Baz bus for a social experience; you’ll meet plenty of people at hostels.
If you’re travelling for longer than 1 month, then the baz bus may admittedly be a more attractive option. On a very long trip, you probably won’t mind the rigidity of the bus schedule quite as much. I met people who were travelling in South Africa for 6 or 8 weeks and they had few complaints about the baz bus, as time wastage was less of a concern for them. The Baz Bus is also nice if you’re an inexperienced traveller and don’t mind the downsides in exchange for some convenience.
But if your trip is several weeks, or you want actual flexibility, then a car rental is absolutely the way to go.
I didn’t self-drive on my trip in South Africa, but I hitched many rides with other travellers who did. If I come back to South Africa, it’s definitely what I’ll do as well.
Renting a car in South Africa
You can rent a mini for as little as 13 US dollars or 12 euros a day!
If you’re one person booking for one month, that makes it a bit cheaper than Bas Buz (not counting fuel). For two or more people it gets waaay cheaper, and you’ll be gaining total freedom.search rentals on Hertz »
From what I’ve seen, road conditions in South Africa range from excellent to good enough. I heard some things about the Wild Coast having bad roads, but these roads have actually been upgraded and there should be no issues getting to places like Coffee Bay or Port St. Johns. Bring a phone with GPS and you should be fine.
Safety-wise, just don’t pick up random hitchhikers (many people have warned against this) and it’s best to drive during the day.
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