Being a solo traveler is a two-fold affair! On the one hand, you are completely independent, having to think only of yourself and no one else’s likes and dislikes. (Phew!) But on the other, you’ll need to carefully consider issues like the extra cost of guides and private transfers, as well as security and safety, single supplements, etc.
We’ve listed some important tips and options to take into account for your solo trip to South Africa. From our experience, we find that there are some places – and some ways of traveling – that work better than others for solo travelers in Southern Africa.
How to get around
Small group tours
One option is to take a small group scheduled tour. This allows you to meet fellow travelers in a friendly atmosphere. You can opt to take a full tour of 11 to 14 days to cover your whole trip. Or you could take shorter tours only 3 or 4 nights at a time.
The former gives you the opportunity to really get to know people over a long period of time. But the latter ‘hedges your bets’ if you are not sure you are a ‘groups’ sort of person.
The only downside is that small group tours tend to be arranged around the most popular things to do and mid-range hotels. They also tend to cover quite a lot of ground quickly as many people have a limited time to spend.
So for those reasons we don’t have lots of small group tours on our website as most of our clients have much more independent ideas. But sometimes a scheduled group can fit the bill!
The mix of Private Transfers and Scheduled Tours
Another option is to mix private transfers with some scheduled day tours in the larger cities of Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg. Some scheduled tours are also on offer in the Winelands area and in the environs of the Kruger Park.
This gives you more flexibility than a group tour as you can choose your ideal hotel AND you can stay longer in one area. It also means you are not locked into one group of people who may or may not be your ‘type’.
However, scheduled day tours (where you are picked up from your hotel) are not an option throughout South Africa, and so this is not really possible in the rural areas. Sometimes there are excursions on offer which you can also join.
BUT… sometimes you still have to get from your hotel to the departure point of the excursion and local taxis are not always a viable option.
So you need to be open to different options. Ask to stay at hotels that are centrally located so that you can easily walk to the departure point for excursions.
Plus plan your excursions at the same time as your accommodation. You don’t want to decide on a country lodge and then realize that you cannot easily do some planned excursions at a later date.
If you are considering a trip to Africa, and want some experienced assistance at no extra cost to booking direct, Chat to us!
If money is no object then a private tour can be the way to go. It gives you the ultimate flexibility in terms of touring and a ready-made person to chat with. But of course, it is daunting to consider spending a long period of time with one person you don’t know! Even if all our guides are very friendly and convivial. But it could be an option for a day or two if there is something specific that you want to do which is not offered on a scheduled tour. (But remember this is pricey for one! Basically it is double the cost of a private tour for 2 people and 3-4 times the cost of a private tour for 4 people as you are paying for the guide and his vehicle.)
Many people are not really keen on a self-drive if they are traveling alone – and we understand why. There’s naturally more trepidation when doing it alone and no-one else to help you navigate a strange country.
BUT if you don’t mind doing self-drive for a few days, it can be a handy way to keep costs of traveling solo under control.
Self-drive holidays South Africa, Chapmans Peak
A safari is an ideal option for solo travelers in South Africa, and throughout Southern Africa, as you find that you naturally mix with your fellow safari-goers. You share a 4×4 vehicle and guide for the duration of your stay, and usually participate in any other activities, such as walking, together as well.
Naturally, the smaller safari camps are more conducive for mixing and we have recommended a couple of good ones:
Affordable South Africa, Victoria Falls & Zimbabwe
Okavango Delta Safari
Cape Town, Botswana & Victoria Falls – this is not the cheapest of sample tours but the routing is a great option for solo travelers and can be adapted to suit your budget.
Botswana Water & Wildlife
Zimbabwe Safari Offer
No single supplement
There is often no single supplement at many safari camps in Southern Africa, outside of the peak safari season (which is typically July to October). Indeed a few camps have no single supplement at any time of year. See our suggestions for where to stay. These lodges have single supplements ranging from 0% to 25% (which is much lower than the more typical 50% extra).
If you are a passionate photographer and traveling solo, going on a photographic safari is ideal! There’s nothing worse than being on a game vehicle where you are the only keen photographer (no-one understands the need to wait 10 more minutes for the light to be perfect!). Instead, join a photographic safari where game drives are specifically geared for photographers. These vehicles are generally well set-up to assist in capturing those golden moments, and the drivers are there to ensure you have enough time at each spot. You’ll also be with fellow photographers who know all too well what it takes to make the perfect image.
As with photographic safaris, it just makes sense to surround yourself with like-minded people. If birding is not quite your thing, it can be very frustrating to be on a game drive with guests who want to stop for EVERY Lilac-breasted roller, and vice versa! Birding safaris, therefore, guarantee that your trip will be focused around the best bird sightings.
Mobile safaris – where you join like-minded people on an exploration staying in more rustic fly camps or sometimes a combination of tented camps and fly-camps is a perfect safari option for the solo traveler in Southern Africa. We have a selection on our site (see below) but we can offer many more…
Walking Tours & Walking Safaris for Solo Travelers
Probably our most frequent request from solo travelers in South Africa is that they want to join others on a walking tour.
Unfortunately, this is often NOT possible. Though South Africa has some stunning walking terrain, we don’t have local companies that specialize in set departure walking tours.
Most walking tours are arranged, (like ours), on a private basis for a group of friends, or even a couple. This is pretty expensive if it’s only a couple and super-expensive for a solo traveler.
Options for the Solo Traveller for Walking
So generally if you are traveling alone and want to do some walking, you should look at combining some of the ideas that we mentioned above. ie. combine private transfers with some walking day tours.
This is usually an inviting environment for the solo traveler. Zambia is the spiritual home of walking safaris but we can also tailor-make a walking safari in Zimbabwe…
Mobile Walking Safari with Robin Pope Safaris
Many slackpacking trails are also organized around a specific private group.
But some walking trails depart on a daily basis or with set departures. Then it is easy for a solo traveler to book into a departure.
Sometimes people are happy for solo travelers or other people to join them. Often this brings down the cost for all so everyone wins!
Tip: However for this to work, you need to be quite flexible with your timing as you would need to fit in with an already booked departure. In reality, this is only possible occasionally!
1. Single supplement hotels
Ask for hotels and lodges with a low single supplement e.g only 20-30% extra than per person sharing. The norm is 50% extra for single occupancy and some hotels charge on room rates, so try and avoid this!
2. Friendly Lodges
If you are choosing your own hotels, remember to ask for smaller country lodges, especially ones which offer some complementary activities where you are likely to meet other guests.
3. Convivial Excursions
Excursions are a great, inclusive way to meet and mingle with people. Some lodges offer a range of excursions that allow you to join a group, like Thonga Beach Lodge (sundowner trips, canoeing on the lake, night-time walks etc).
Also, consider visiting destinations like Victoria Falls or Livingstone that have a variety of day tours and activities that can be arranged by whatever lodge you are staying at.
Or if you’re staying in a city or its surrounds, you can always join cooking tours, wine tours, ocean safari experiences, and other city tours to keep you busy and socializing!
4. Set appropriate expectations
As you can see, South Africa has lots to offer the solo traveler but it’s not New York or London where there are loads of excursions to enjoy with easily-available public transport and taxis.
Have appropriate expectations. Don’t expect loads of scheduled walking tours everywhere you go. BUT do encourage your travel professional to think creatively so that you can see as much as possible and also meet other people.
5. Use a Travel Professional
Finally, we DO recommend working with a travel professional – such as us (shameless plug!). As your needs are more specific than many people’s. A travel professional can ensure that you get the best options for you! Booking a holiday on your own can be daunting! We have years of experience and we’d love to plan the ideal holiday or safari for you!