When I was planning a trip to South Africa it was hard to avoid any mention of the “backpacker bus” called Baz Bus. It’s in all of the guides and there are mentions on most the hostel websites. I initially thought something like this would not be my style but it was my first time in Africa and I wasn’t sure how difficult it was going to be to get around.
After three months in South Africa and speaking with numerous other travelers, I formed a pretty solid opinion of the Baz Bus and even tried it out for myself. Hopefully this information will help when planning your own trip and deciding whether the Baz Bus is for you or not. Keep reading to the end for some pics from one of my favourite spots in South Africa (St Lucia) which is not a Baz Bus stop.
What is it?
The Baz Bus is marketed as “South Africa’s convenient hop-on hop-off door-to-door backpacker bus service.” You can either buy a ticket to your chosen destination and get on and off as many times as you want along the way, in ONE direction and with no time limit OR you buy a Travel Pass and get on and off as many times as you want, in ANY direction, within a specific time period.
Baz Bus operates along the coast between Cape Town and Durban and then north to Johannesburg and stops at major cities and towns on the way with hostel-operated shuttles connecting passengers to further out of the way locations at an additional cost.
A ticket on the Baz Bus will cost you from R2600 to R8100 with an additional service charge that is annoyingly not included in the initial price.
A better option?
While doing my research I thought there must be a less expensive option. This is South Africa and paying up to R8100 (aprox $600 USD) to make my way around the country seemed excessive.
With a little more digging you’ll find that there are mainliner bus companies that travel all around the country and to places you are unable to access on the Baz Bus. Shorter routes start from as little as R140 and some buses go directly to towns that you would have had to pay extra for a shuttle had you gone with Baz Bus, like directly to Oudtshoorn instead of having to get a shuttle from George.
There are also mini-van taxis that can help you get from one neighbouring town to another for R12 or more. These are easy and cheap once you’ve caught a couple and are a great way to spend some time with actual locals. One of my first memories in South Africa was taking a mini-van taxi and singing along to the radio with a car full of people. We were squished but had a great time!
Another great option if you have a driver’s licence is to hire a car. It’s only slightly more than a Baz Bus ticket for one person and definitely cheaper if you have two or more people. Most roads in South Africa are paved and easy to navigate and you will be able to make your own schedule and access places that even the buses don’t often go to.
Having your own car also makes it a lot easier to get to sights and activities which means you don’t need to spend money on expensive tours that you can do on your own. A great example of this is the popular waterfall hike in Northern Drakensberg. Amphitheatre Backpackers charges R860 for a day trip where you can easily do the hike on your own, pack you own lunch and save over R500 per person if you can just drive the two hour-long trip to the top of the trail head.
How did I get around?
During my time in South Africa I used a combination of mainliner buses, mini-van taxis, sharing rides with other travelers and then finally the Baz Bus.
To provide a balanced review of Baz Bus I brought a 14 day pass to get me from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg. I chose this segment for a couple of reasons:
I wanted to visit Northern Drakensburg which is very difficult without a car. Even the mainliners don’t stop near by, meaning you have to spend a few hours changing to get to the hostel, whereas the Baz Bus drops you right at their door step.
The mainline buses left Port Elizabeth at 6:45 am which is the same time the Baz Bus starts it’s hostel pick ups and it arrived around the same time in Coffee Bay. I thought I would be happy to pay for the convenience of not getting up extra early in PE to get a taxi to the bus station. The Baz Bus ended up arriving an hour and a half later than it’s scheduled time so this point was negated.
If the Baz Bus is half empty then you might get to spread out. The back seat is a coveted spot where you get to lie down and sleep off the previous night’s activities. The seats are the typical style you would see in a van and do not recline so if you’re unfortunate enough to be attempting a long journey of more than a couple of hours, you will be very uncomfortable.
Possibly the worst thing about the Baz Bus is that there is no air-conditioning which I think makes the Baz Bus the biggest rip-off of all. On hot days, the sun can beat down on you and you have to rely on the people in front of you to open the few windows wide so you can get some air. When it’s raining, you have to shut the windows, the only ventilation, making it unbearably warm and stuffy.
Although the Baz Bus advertises a TV and DVD player, I never saw these in use.
Waiting, waiting, waiting...
You spend a lot of time waiting around for the Baz Bus. Up to an hour for pick up in the bigger cities and several hours for shuttles. The hostel shuttles often wait for the mainliner buses anyway so if one of those are running late you end up waiting for other guests to arrive.
From Coffee Bay we had to leave the hostel at 11am, got dropped off at Mthatha (the main stop along the main road) and then waited two and a half hours until the Baz Bus picked us up again.
Another example is getting to and from Oudtshoorn, one of the first stops on the Garden Route. Here you can explore the Cango Caves, visit an ostrich farm and do crocodile cage diving. This is a very popular place to visit for a couple of days but the Baz Bus only stops at the closest town on the coast, George, and from there you have to get the R150 shuttle to the recommended hostel, Backpackers Paradise. One Way. That’s a further R300 on top of the Baz Bus ticket.
By comparison, I travelled from Cape Town to George for R300 on a bus and then got a minibus for R50. It’s a small town so I was able to easily walk from the minibus stop.
Also consider that when you visit Oudtshoorn by Baz Bus you arrive at the hostel around 5pm, including the shuttle trip. You then need to stay a whole day to visit the sites in the town, where the hostel offers a full day car/bike tour option so you can get the most of the trip. Then you have to wait until 1pm the next day before the shuttle leaves to go back to meet the Baz Bus in George. That’s a whole half day lost waiting for the Baz Bus.
By comparison, I was able to leave the next morning after breakfast and jump on another minibus to George. Which sounds like the more convenient option?
On my second trip on the Baz Bus the driver accidentally forgot to pick some one up at one of the hostels in Port Elizabeth so we had to drive back to get them after already making some distance. This was not a fun prospect after getting up for a 6:45 am pick up and not leaving Port Elizabeth until 7:45.
The Baz Bus also operates only 5 days a week on each route so you might be in a position where you’re in a town that you’re not a big fan of but can’t leave because it’s the Baz Bus’s day off. I unfortunately lost one day of my 14-day pass because the day I wanted to leave Drakensberg was a break day so I had to leave a day earlier instead.
What are the mainliners like?
Intercape, Translux and Greyhound are all recommended bus options and have slightly different schedules so make sure to check them all out for the most convenient time for you. All buses have reclining seats and most have onboard toilets but also allow for a 15 minute break every few hours to help break up the trip and to get a meal along the way.
With these buses you can even travel through the night where the Baz Bus always stops for the night along the way, either in Port Elizabeth or Durban, two not-so-popular places to stop in. The hostels are expensive and there are not a lot of great options.
One of the benefits of travel using the mainliners is that not only is it a cheaper way to travel than Baz Bus but it’s usually faster. Baz Bus needs to stop in each town and drop everyone off at individual hostels. The mainliner usually stops once in each main town and the route is otherwise very direct. I found I saved up to three hours for some of the longer trips over the Baz Bus.
All of the mainliners I took had comfortable padded seats that reclined and air-con. I could easily nod off with a nap or spend time staring out at the scenery no matter where I was seated.
Should you use the Baz Bus?
I would recommend the Baz Bus to a couple groups of people:
1) You’ve never traveled independently before
Baz Bus is a big confidence booster when you’re travelling through South Africa. Even though I can attest to the fact that it is one of the more modern and well connected countries I’ve travelled through, it can still be daunting when you haven’t seen it for yourself.
Baz Bus will drop you off at your hostel door and pick you up there when you are ready to leave again, albeit on their schedule. You get to sped time in transit with other backpackers and your opportunity to meet other travellers slightly increases
2) You don’t have a lot of time
If you have just a week to explore the Garden Route close to Cape Town then Baz Bus can still be a reasonable option. I would also suggest checking out a local tour company. One popular company, Hotspots2c offers an 8 day tour for R8,900 including all accommodation and most entry fees and activity costs. I think this takes all the stress out of panning a shorter trip and you don’t have to worry about Baz Bus’s failings and fitting into their schedule.
While I didn’t get the opportunity to try this company out I did meet a few people doing the Hotspots tour at some of my hostels. Some were more than happy with the experience and others were a little bit less enthusiastic.
For everyone else, I would encourage you try the local transport or if there is more than one of you travelling then you can rent a car which works out to still be cheaper than Baz Bus and way more convenient. Most of South Africa’s road are accessible by a regular sedan and if you’re heading off road anywhere, then Baz Bus wouldn’t be going there anyway. All the travellers I spoke to who chose to drive were all surprised and happy by how easy it was to drive around South Africa.
If you’re worried about not meeting any travellers just remember that you’re still going to be seeing the same people at the hostels. I encourage everyone traveling to South Africa to head out there and explore the country outside of a mini bus filled with other backpackers.
If you are two or more people definitely rent a car;
If you are new to travelling, on your own and would like the security and peace of mind of a door-to-door service then the Baz Bus is a good option;
If you are used to travelling and have caught public transport in other countries before then you will be fine to use regular buses and public transport;
If you are looking for direct transport with only a couple of stops in between, then use a regular bus. You will spend half of your trip on the Baz Bus watching passengers get on and off at hostels along the way.
If you have anything to add or have any experience with travelling around South Africa, please share this with me in the comments!
Check out another review of the Baz Bus from the Indie Traveller website here.
Bonus - St Lucia
Here are some pics from one of my favourite towns in South Africa, St Lucia. It's three hours north-east of Durban and is not on the Baz Bus route. It's the starting point for one of the cheapest safaris in the country and also one of the most beautiful spots along the coast. You can also spot hippos walking around the outskirts of town at night time!