South Africa offers something for everyone: a beautiful, diverse landscape, many different cultures, wicked wildlife-watching opportunities, friendly people, vibrant cities, the best beaches and of course a wide range of adventure activities for thrill-seekers. Backpacking South Africa is easy and South African hostels rank among the best in the world with amazing facilities and great vibes. South Africa is an absolute backpackers mecca.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, below are 10 extra reasons to go backpacking in South Africa! Will you let me know, whether you ‘ticked’ all experiences?
Backpacking South Africa: 10 things you don’t want to miss!
1. Drink traditional African beer in a ‘shebeen’
A shebeen is a small, formally illegal type of tavern, which served during the Apartheid period as an important place in the townships. The beer was brewed by local women, who became known as ‘Shebeen queens’. Order a beer, sit back and cheers!
2. Learn about South Africa’s history
South Africa’s history is incredibly interesting. Find out more about the San people via their rock-paintings, behold the British and Dutch influence which are still present in everyday life (e.g. street names, food) and learn all about Apartheid in one of the powerful museums (e.g. the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto and the District 6 museum in Capetown. Also, make sure to read Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and to visit famous Robben island.
3. Enjoy South Africa’s extremely sociable and fun hostels
South Africa has some of the best hostels in the world! They understand what backpackers need. All hostels have great facilities (swimming pool, pool table, book exchange etc.), superb locations, awesome dorm accommodation (from sleeping in a tree house to a cottage right on the beach) and cool, affordable tours and activities. Most hostels also offer family dinners and game nights, which are a great way to meet other people.
Favorite hostels for backpacking South Africa: Curiocity Hostel in Johannesburg, Bulungula Lodge in Bulungula, Coffee Shack in the Wild Coast & Amphitheatre in Drakensbergen.
4. Witness the greenest mountains in Drakensbergen
Breathe in fresh mountain air, enjoy an ice-cold beer in the highest pub of Africa and do spectacular hike at ‘the Berg’. The Drakensbergen range is truly one of the most magical places in South Africa with its jagged, green peaks in the clouds.
5. Spot the big five during a safari
An obvious must-do during your South Africa backpacking adventure! Go for a multiple-day safari at the famous Kruger National Park or visit one of the smaller parks, such as Addo (which I visited). Some safari companies offer discounts for backpackers, so make sure to ask around.
6. Make numerous friends on the Baz Bus!
After considering traveling by car or public transportation, I eventually decided to travel South Africa with a ‘Johannesburg-Capetown Baz Bus pass’. This turned out to be a great choice! It was a great way to meet new travel buddies (especially when traveling solo). Most people travel either in the direction of Capetown or in the direction of Johannesburg. This means you keep bumping into the same people in the bus and you may even end up traveling together for a few days. The Baz Bus also literally picks you up and drops you off at your hostels doorstep, thereby making sure you arrive safely at your destination and you don’t need to wait at the bus station at night. I would highly recommend traveling by Baz Bus!
7. Explore Capetown’s beautiful surroundings!
You can easily spent weeks exploring The Mother City and her surroundings. Visit one of the nearby beaches (e.g. Muizenberg or Camp’s Bay), go for some wine-tasting in Stellenbosch and see beautiful Cape Peninsula! A fun, easy and ‘quick’ way to ‘do’ Cape Peninsula is via a Baz Bus Cape Peninsula day tour. During this tour you will visit Hout Bay, Duiker Island with the Cape Fur Seal colony, Boulders Beach famous for its penguins, the Cape Point Nature Reserve and the most South-Western point of Africa!
8. Learn to surf at Coffee Bay or Jeffreys Bay
Coffee Bay offers the cheapest surf lessons in the world, Jeffreys Bay is the ultimate surfer paradise and there are plenty of other good surf spots along the coast: all excellent places to ride your very first waves! After your surf lessons, go for a braai with your friends, relax at the beach or go shopping in one of the Billabong outlet stores (Jeffreys Bay).
9. Braai and party with locals and your travel buddies
Don’t leave South Africa without having done a braai. Simply find some friends and buy some meat, vegetables and beer at the local shop. Still got energy left? Explore Capetown’s and Johannesburg’s vibrant local nightlife. South Africans definitely know how to party! Go crazy at Long Street in Capetown, which is famous for massive parties and comparable to Khao San Road in Thailand. If you have more time, you might want to look into one of the many music festivals that are organized during summer!
10. Learn about local culture at one of the community-focused hostels
One of those hostels is Bulungula, situated on the absolutely stunning Wild Coast and ran by the local Xhosa community. Here you can try your first words of the Xhosa language, wander for hours in the pastoral landscape and learn more of their daily lives. Although Bulungula is not a party place, it’s very sociable. It’s one of those places that you should not miss!
So, are you ready for Backpacking South Africa? Book your backpack trip to South Africa now!!
Disclaimer: Baz Bus provided me a Baz Bus ticket. However, views and opinions are as always my own. I was not obliged to mention them in this article.
South Africa was part of my RTW trip ‘BoB’s Epic Adventure’. Read all the articles here!
Do you have South Africa tips for fellow backpackers? Leave them in the comments!