Riding the Big Red Bus
Here’s an interesting fact: did you know that the red bus tours all over the world are run by one company? (my source is pretty anecdotal here but this company does do tours in more than 100 cities around the world so they are clearly at the least a pretty big player on the red bus scene)
They are called City Sightseeing and we spent a few fun filled days riding all over with them in the last week so I thought I would post a little bit about their part of our Cape Town trip and what we did/loved/didn’t love so much.
We purchased a big activity pass for our time in Cape Town which included a three day pass to ride City Sightseeing tours as well as a one day Cape Point Explorer Tour and a half day township tour.
The best bits:
- It was very affordable, particularly in a new city where we could have easily spent a lot more cash catching ubers, taxis or even public buses to where we wanted to go.
- The audio guides for their routes are very interesting and I learnt a lot of stuff I wouldn’t have learnt otherwise. I would hasten to add here though that their information is designed to be interesting and topical so it did have a definite viewpoint. I dug it, and took everything with a grain of salt into an inquisitive mind. There were a few other passengers who at times loudly disagreed with the commentary.
- We felt safe - all the buses and many of the stops had staff there to answer questions and added a layer of surveillance to deter anyone wanting to take advantage of concentrated groups of tourists. (Although i do want to note here that In inner city Cape Town there were a few shaky scenarios at the traffic lights around their ticket office (Stop 5) which definitely did feel like tourists were being targeted pretty heavily, at times this was quite intimidating.)
- The routes and system were easy to understand.
- The staff were mostly amazingly friendly and straight-up about what would work or wouldn’t work and which experiences were perhaps the most interesting hen stretched for time.
- The open-topped buses were really lovely to ride (if you were lucky enough to get a seat up top and on the ‘better view side of the bus’).
- I would feel pretty comfortable doing these as a lone traveller.
The less awesome bits:
- The routes do take more time than if you were driving or being driven directly between places you wanted to visit. We saw less than we hoped we would (although to be fair we also found out about places to visit that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise).
- It is pretty luck of the draw for seating - you might have an excellent view, or you might be in a terrible spot downstairs facing a hill peering across the aisle for glimpses of coastline.
- Motion sickness. Bleh.
- The nature of these kinds of buses does not suit a rigid schedule. Their stops were sometimes exactly on schedule and at times left before they were supposed to or showed up quite late.
- Some of the tours (like the sunset tour we went on) were obviously better at specific times of year. We went on the last Sunset Bus of the season and the sun was finished setting about 15 minutes into our ride to the lookout. The 2.5 hour trip was all over in a little over an hour and if we had paid for it specifically (rather than in a package) we would have been super salty about what was at best a mediocre experience.
Overall I enjoyed the bus rides a lot and it added heaps of good stuff to our trip. I would definitely purchase trips through them again although I would probably start by planning fewer activities than we did this time around (do a few things well etc), I would also allow more time for travel between stops as we lost a lot of time and missed a couple of bookings because buses were late/left early or traffic was just terrible.
I hope this comes off as mostly positive, although I don’t think this kind of tour is the right option for everyone I am pretty sure that most people would, like us, have an amazingly fun time and really positive experience.
We were travelling on a five day iVenture pass which we each paid 1600ZAR for (or around $175NZD including conversion fees) which included all of our bus travel as well as entrance to around sixty attractions in and around Cape Town. We did save money with it although we didn’t do as may activities as we wanted to because of time or unwritten booking restrictions, would rate the buses a solid 4.5/5 and the activity pass in general probably a 3/5. The pass was able to be purchased through City Sightseeing but is a partner product rather than something that is run by them.