Love exploring a place on no one else’s timeline but your own, but worry about safety? We asked seven women where they went on their own, why they loved it, and what their solo travel strategy is. Here are 14 epic destinations tested by women who travel solo – plus seven useful tips.
1. Piketberg, Western Cape
Recommended by Helen Walne
Helen Walne is a writer who likes to head off on solo trips into rural regions where the only threats to her safety are poorly made fires, stray dogs and her terrible sense of direction.
‘I’m perpetually working on a novel and every few months I take myself off to a farm cottage for 10 days to write and make extremely bad fires. My routine goes like this: start working at 8am, drink tea at 9am, fiddle around with resident dogs at 10am, work until 1pm, eat broccoli, work until 3pm and then walk or run for an hour. In the evenings, I might venture into a nearby village for beer and company.’
Stay here The Old Kapteinskloof Guest House near Piketberg in the Western Cape is a beautiful historic cottage with exposed beams and thatch. the cottage is divided into two and can sleep either two or six. 0837109017, kapteinskloof.co.za
Helen’s best international trip
In 2015, the novel still wasn’t writing itself, so I went further afield – to Bolivia – to stay with an author friend whom I hoped would encourage me to write. Instead, I did a lot of travelling. Who wouldn’t? I did a solo trip to the mountain area of Sorata, taking a three-hour ride in a minibus taxi that seemed to be stuck together with pan pipes. But once there, I hiked alone, my only safety concern the numerous stray dogs that sometimes bared their teeth.
Stay here I stayed at Altai Oasis, a good-value eco-lodge just outside the village of Sorata comprised of rustic yet comfy cottages.
I make sure the cottages I stay in are quiet and private, yet near enough to a main house in case of emergencies. If the cottages are pet-friendly, I take my dogs – for protection and company. I speak Spanish, which made getting around Bolivia easier, and I generally chose accommodation out of the main towns to avoid noise and drunk men. And I always hiked with a stick to ward off any miscreant dogs.
3. Inner-city Johannesburg, Gauteng
Recommended by Joonji Mdyogolo
Joonji Mdyogolo is head of content at Livity Africa and a columnist for City Press. She travels whenever she can and her favourite trips are when she can immerse herself in the history and future of a city.
‘That building there that looks like ulusu (tripe) – follow it to get home,’ my mother used to tell me when I went off to explore Joburg’s inner city as a teenager. That skyscraper, the Southern Life building, was one of the places where taxis to Pimville Zone 1, Soweto, lined up. It was – and still is – my North Star. Exploring the city alone without the burden of someone else’s itinerary reveals a marvel of gems – from old buildings (like my favourite, the Post Office on Rissik Street) to bargain buys on the street. As a first-time traveller, though, you have to stay alert as Joburg’s streets can be as busy and confusing as New York’s. Without a landmark to lead you safely home, I recommend you ask for help from strangers: ‘Sawubona, mama (or baba, sisi or bhuti). Bengicela ukubuza…’ is the best place to start.
Stay here The Reef Hotel on 58 Anderson is in the financial district. It’s got lovely views of the Johannesburg skyline if you get a room on one of the top floors. It’s right next to the Standard Bank headquarters, so if I’ve got time, I like to visit the Standard Bank Gallery.
4. Kampala, Uganda
Joonji’s best international trip
In Kampala, I didn’t feel the need for vigilance. Seeing young women walking the streets well past midnight made me vow to come back again to really party. My Ugandan girlfriends were invaluable in negotiating with private taxi drivers, who will drive you from spot to spot and wait, for a fair price. So was the watchman and gardener at our AirBnB rental, who organised boda (motorbike) drivers so we could zip around the hilly suburbs.
Stay here Yellow Haven, which overlooks Lake Victoria, has a pool and modern rooms.
Speaking to and making friends with locals makes me feel safe. I’m terrible at reading maps and directions, so people on the streets are my verification mechanism to get me where I need to go. Simply put, I prep as much as I can for solo travel, then I trust in people. Mostly they don’t let me down.
5. Balule Satellite Camp, Kruger National Park
Recommended by Melanie van Zyl
Melanie van Zyl was Getaway’s senior travel photojournalist who wants to be the most qualified adventurer possible. She’s an Open Water Padi Diver, a field guide and not scared of camping, 4x4ing or getting lost.
I’ve been to Kruger a number of times and to date this small rustic camp is my favourite. Named ‘Balule’ after the Tsonga word for the Olifants River, the small number of campsites – just 18 in total – makes this satellite camp an incredibly intimate and wild bushveld experience. Almost all the sites and the six rondavels are based at the fence, which acts as the only barrier between you and the hyenas that patrol the camp border every night.
Stay here Balule Satellite Camp is just around the corner from the main Olifants Rest Camp in the centre of the park – where you might even spot the elusive Pel’s fishing owl. The rondavels are very basic with shared facilities and I personally prefer camping, but neither option detracts from the cosy atmosphere.
Melanie’s best international trip
I did a 10-day road trip through Botswana and up into the Zambezi Region with journalist Vuyi Qubeka. Just two women, a 4×4 and the open road and not once did we feel threatened. We capably camped our way around the country before heading into Namibia – but sometimes there’s nothing like a soft bed.
Stay here I love the quirky finishes at Planet Baobab. It’s also a great base for checking out the nearby Makgadikgadi Pans.
Also read: How to see the best of Botswana in 10 days
If I feel uncomfortable, I’ve learnt recently that I can simply get in the car and leave. There’s no shame in self-preservation. I’d rather be rude and leave than spend a night stressing and listening to foreign noises with my heart in my throat ‒ even if it means driving through the dead of night.
7. Port St Johns, Eastern Cape
Recommended by Vuyi Qubeka
Vuyi Qubeka’s favourite memory is dancing the pasada in a local spot in Maputo, Mozambique. She and her friends were headed to Tofo and hadn’t booked accommodation for the night – so they decided to forgo sleep and dance the night away instead.
Travelling solo to Port St Johns was one of my favourite sojourns and I revelled in the natural beauty, the simple way of life, the affordability and the friendliness of the people. It’s easiest to self-drive to the village, but once there, there are minibus taxis … and you can walk, and walk, and walk.
Stay here There are many backpackers where you can make friends, arrange day jaunts and get reliable suggestions for things to do, see and eat. My favourite was Amapondo.
8. Bus to Harare, Zimbabwe
Vuyi’s best international trip
It wasn’t so much about the destination but the journey. A friend was getting married in Harare and my twin and I took a bus there with Intercape. What an experience! It’s a Christian bus and there’s a prayer at the beginning, so you know God is on board (if you’re into that kind of thing). We sat at the top of the double-decker bus and the views of Beit Bridge were unimaginable. I loved that a community is formed during the trip, especially at the border stops, which can be quite daunting. It felt safe and I was able to observe the movement across borders that thousands of Africans undertake every day.
Stay here In Harare, we stayed at the gracious, 100-year-old Meikles Hotel.
A one-way Intercape bus ticket from Johannesburg to Harare.
Also read: The insider’s guide to a weekend in Harare
Travelling by yourself, at least once, is so important for introspection. A good tip is to call the SA embassy in the country you’re visiting and notify them you are around. Leave your full details, emergency contact numbers and a copy of your passport or ID at your hotel reception in case of emergencies. Make an effort to learn a few words in the language of the country you’re visiting.
9. Agulhas National Park, Western Cape
Recommended by Nicole Biondi
Nicole Biondi is a marketing and communications specialist, spoken-word artist, prolific public speaker, murder-mystery writer, half-marathon runner and is far too claustrophobic to be boxed.
A few years ago I had the enviable job of marketing the South African National Parks (SANParks) in the Cape region. While each of them has unique merits, my favourite visits were the ones that took me to the southernmost tip of Africa, to Agulhas National Park. The two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cape Town offers the opportunity for thoughts to turn inward, while sheep-dotted hills and sleepy towns with towering church steeples keep the eyes amused.
Stay here Agulhas Rest Camp is a haven of serenity. Nothing beats sitting on the deck of one of the fully equipped wooden chalets, smelling the sea mist-kissed fynbos, listening to an orchestra of birdsong and gazing out at the ocean.
10. Mumbai, India
Nicole’s best international trip
An experience in complete contrast to my serene Agulhas trips was my virgin visit to India last year. I was going to be staying in Mumbai for a day and night on my own before heading off to meet my boyfriend in Kochi. Arriving in Colaba in Mumbai, I did what I always do when travelling: headed into the streets with the plan of getting a little bit lost. I instantly fell in love with the bustling, sound-filled, colour-coated, manic city and after half an hour of wandering, stopped to ask a kind-looking man for directions back to my hotel. He was aghast to find I was traipsing around Mumbai unaccompanied and immediately asked where my husband was.
Stay here I stayed at the gorgeous boutique Hotel Abode, which has chic, locally inspired decor (hand-crafted tiles, vintage Indian furniture and original artworks).
My SANParks journeys, always incident-free, showed me I had nothing to fear from solo-tripping around the Western Cape, while India taught me that sometimes for ease of travel, it’s necessary to embellish the truth when it comes to marital status.
11. Jacobsbaai, Western Cape
Recommended by Angel Campey
Angel Campey is a professional stand-up comedian by night and a wanderluster by day, and got her first passport stamp at age two on a family visit to Zimbabwe. She has been everywhere, from South Korea to New York.
There’s something about the chilly ocean, windswept landscapes and white-washed cottages of this West Coast hideaway that beckon a solo visit. It’s quiet enough to be free of leering tourists but quaint enough to feel safe, and lends itself to pretending you’re the forlorn heroine of a Jane Austen novel as you run up and down the beaches. Or wander the beaches – running is cardio and heroines don’t wheeze. The dirt road there is an easy drive and you can buy oysters for R8 from Charlie’s Fish Shop in Saldanha along the way. It’s also about 20 minutes from Paternoster, which has fine-dining options.
Stay here I stayed at Klokkiebosch Guesthouse, which, with its high ceilings and attention to detail, has an opulent ambience. There’s also a lovely balcony and glass front room, so you can find a cosy nook in which to read (or write the next bestseller), no matter the weather.
12. Sri Lanka
Angel’s best international trip
I’d always wanted to travel to India but had heard enough cautionary tales about women travelling alone to put it on hold. Then I discovered Sri Lanka – or, as I like to call it, ‘India Lite’. It has all the checklist items for your dream island vacation (including cricket, curry and saris) and travelling here felt safe. Aside from the town of Kandy, which is very touristy, I never felt hustled. People were friendly and polite. Its backpacker trail is still relatively untrodden and you’ll feel more like an adventurer and less like a vest-wearing kid on a gap year. I went from ancient ruins and tea-farm tours to palm-fringed beaches frequented by turtles and blue whales, all in a single three-hour private van ride.
Stay here Chamodya Homestay in Ella, a small town in the south, has views of a waterfall tumbling out of lush vegetation – and the woman who runs it will bring you sporadic pots of tea. F
I found that when taking long train rides, it was best to befriend fellow travellers so I didn’t appear to be a solo traveller and perhaps more vulnerable. Meeting people in the common areas of hotels and hostels not only leads to safer travels, but can lead to lifelong friendships. I put a ring on my wedding finger in Asia as I found local men more respectful if they believed me to be married.
13. Montagu, Western Cape
Recommended by Teagan Cunniffe
Recommended by Teagan Cunniffe: is our photo editor who spends most of her time on the road. The more isolated it is the better – throw in a hammock, glass of wine and a book and she’s hard-pressed to ever leave.
My favourite part of driving to Montagu is dipping through the natural rock archway that heralds the unofficial entrance to this quaint town. There are the normal small-town features – little church, vineyards, good food, glorious mountain escarpments and hikes – but for me the special aspect is the Leiwater birding site in the middle of town, teeming with sacred ibis, cormorants and egrets, among others.
Stay here One of my favourite South African finds, Klein Nektar, is a farm cottage surrounded by an olive grove. Its wrap-around veranda has a tempting daybed. From R1900 for two.
14. Kigali, Rwanda
Teagan’s best international trip
The first thing you’ll notice about Kigali is how clean the streets are. The next is the hordes of taxi motos (motorbikes) whizzing around, bobble-headed passengers clinging on. Get on one of those, you say? Absolutely not. But it’s the main mode of transport and is surprisingly safe and dirt cheap. Before you know it you’ll be standing on the side of the street, nervously flagging down your first of many. It’s the best way to travel between the sprawling suburbs, all of which you can wander through alone and at ease, camera swinging by your side. You’ll find nothing but friendliness in this colourful city of contradictions.
Stay here I stayed at the pricey but reputable Lemigo. This huge four-star hotel is well situated to access both the airport and CBD, and more importantly has staff who are happy to chat to you about getting around the city.
Save all your important documents (such as copies of your credit card, passport and ID) to Dropbox for on-the-go access. Always charge your phone before heading out, and keep an emergency battery charger on you. Upon entry into foreign countries, buy a local SIM card and data package. You can use this to access WhatsApp as well as Google maps (to trace the route your taxi is taking, or navigate while walking).
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ALSO READ: St Helena: In the Valley of the Saints
This story first appeared in the August 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.