The best companion for a road trip in South Africa is a good paper road map. We have used quite a few different ones on our trip, and made a comparison for you here. We tested maps from Michelin, Tracks4Africa and Map Studio.

South Africa road maps and an atlas from Map Studio, Michelin and Tracks4Africa.
From left: Map Studio atlas, Michelin, Tracks4Africa, Map Studio map.

Michelin

The Michelin motoring and tourist map may be familiar to you as they are published for destinations all over the world. The main features of the South Africa national map 748 are:

  • Edition from 2018* on Amazon
  • Scale of 1:1,400,000
  • English and French legend
  • Untarred roads and tracks are shown and differentiated from tarred roads
  • Zoom in of the Major City areas (Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban).
  • Major tourist destinations indicated on the map
  • Index of places and location on map on backside
  • Suggested driving tours on backside

This is a relatively small scale map, meaning the overall size of the map is relatively small, and as a result shows less detail. That being said, all the roads are on here, so it is complete.

The Michelin map has a small scale but is complete.
Small scale but complete.
Handy suggested driving routes and an index of places on the backside of the Michelin map for South Africa.
Suggested driving routes and index of places.

For South Africa specifically it is important that a map indicates which roads are unsurfaced. These unpaved gravel roads are found throughout the country and a navigation aid like google maps or dedicated satnav sometimes directs you via these roads. It depends on your car and the condition of the road whether it is better to take a detour and avoid unsurfaced roads. This Michelin map indicates unsurfaced roads so that is a plus. However, it does not indicate anything about its condition.

Tracks4Africa

Tracks4Africa is a South African map maker for countries in Southern Africa. They are also known for their GPS maps that you can load onto you satnav or mobile phone, but also have paper maps:

  • Second edition from 2018* on Amazon
  • Scale of 1:1,000,000
  • Travel times and distances shown on most roads
  • Untarred roads and tracks are shown and differentiated from tarred roads
  • All border crossings are also indicated with opening and closing times
  • Tear and water-resistant paper
  • Many points of interest indicated

The scale of this map is large, resulting in a very large map. They use the backside as well to print the entirety of South Africa. Many details are shown in this map as a result of this large scale. It makes distinctions between many different roads, with four levels of tar roads and also four levels of gravel or untarred roads. It also tells you if the road is restricted and even indicates some riverboat and hiking trails.

Tracks4Africa South Africa map folded out.
Really large map folded out.
Tracks4Africa South Africa map folded to smaller size.
Map folds well to smaller size.
A detailed zoom in of the Tracks4Africa South Africa map.
Many details are shown.

Travel Times on Gravel

The best feature of the map is the travel time that is indicated on most roads. This is based on the users of their GPS software and gives you an idea of how long a certain road takes. With our Defender, we are a bit slower than average, so we mainly used it to compare route options and check ‘the quality’ of gravel roads. When the indicated time is very long for a stretch of gravel road, is may be worth avoiding that route. However, road conditions can change quickly and these indicated times are not always realistic any more.

Many points of interest are indicated on the map, from fuel stations to camping. It distinguishes well between different accommodation. For example, if a lodging also has camping, a different symbol colour is used to those without camping. For the smaller towns it also indicates what facilities they offers, like shopping, petrol stations and car mechanics.

There are no zoom in’s for city areas, so there this map is not really useful for cities, and you can better rely on for instance Google maps.

Map Studio

Map Studio is another South African mapmaker. They have a range of maps and atlases that cover South Africa and we have tried three of them; the Africa road atlas, the Garden route road map, and Cape Town and surrounding attractions road map. They also have a road atlas and road map for South Africa specifically, as well as some other regional maps.

Africa Road Atlas

  • Third edition from 2019
  • Scale of 1:1,500,000 in Southern and East Africa
  • Scale of 1:3,000,000 in Central and North Africa
  • Untarred roads and tracks are shown and differentiated from tarred roads
  • Elevation shown by colour contours
  • Index of places and location on map in back
  • Some points of interest indicated

This road atlas is especially ideal if you are venturing beyond the borders of South Africa, and the atlas format makes navigating in the small space of a car easier. It makes distinctions between different roads, with three levels of tar roads and also four levels of untarred or gravel roads. The best feature of the atlas is that literally the whole of Africa is in it, although some places in Africa have not many roads to show…

Map Studio Africa Road Atlas shows quite some details in South Africa.
An area with more details.
Map Studio Africa Road Atlas shows not many roads in some parts of Africa.
An area devoid of roads.

Because of its relatively small scale, detail is sometimes missing, especially for roads inside some National Parks, for instance Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We have used it during the planning phase of our trip, as you can easily mark routes across borders or draw on potential camp sites.

Garden Route Road Map

  • Seventh edition from 2018* on Amazon
  • Scale of 1:375,000
  • 1:20,000 street map zoom in’s of (small) towns
  • Untarred roads and tracks are shown and differentiated from tarred roads
  • Detailed descriptions of points of interests
  • Some photos of points of interests
  • Suggested tourist routes highlighted

If you are not venturing beyond the Garden Route and you don’t want to rely on for instance Google maps for navigation in town centres, then this is an ideal map. It is a very large scale, especially for the zoom in’s of town centres. These street maps also include street names.

Detailed descriptions of points of interest on the Garden Route map from Map Studio.
Detailed descriptions of points of interests.

It distinguishes between three levels of tar road and two levels of untarred road. All major and most minor points of interest for tourists are indicated, but in terms of accommodation only a few caravan parks are shown.

Cape Town and Surrounds Road Map

  • Sixth edition from 2017* on Amazon
  • Scale of 1:325,000
  • 1:20,000 street map zoom in’s of Cape Town CBD and some surrounding towns
  • Extensive description of towns with to do’s on backside
  • Untarred roads and tracks are shown and differentiated from tarred roads
  • Some photos of points of interests
Cape and and surrounds map from Map Studio has many little points of interests.
Many little points of interests like shipwrecks.
The Cape Town map also includes extenve descriptions of towns on the backside.
Detailed description and street map of towns on the backside.

This map is quite similar to the one for the Garden route, with some differences. It distinguishes between four levels of tar road and two levels of untarred road. It uses a different colour scheme. Unique is the description of the towns on the backside, and smaller places on the front, almost like a small tourist guide book. It is a good companion to the Garden Route map if you venture to the Garden Route, as you will likely start in Cape Town.

Best Map South Africa

For a serious road trip through South Africa, my pick would be the Tracks4Africa South Africa map*. The main reasons for this choice are:

  • The level of detail in terms of type of road and indicated points of interest and facilities of towns.
  • The indicated travel times on most roads, especially important for the many untarred roads.

These two features mean that you can rely on this map without needing to use your phone, except for in the major cities. If you are travelling beyond the borders of South Africa, Tracks4Africa also makes maps for Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia and even Zambia.

The Map Studio maps of Cape Town and the Garden Route are a nice alternative if you are only visiting these regions.

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