Backpacking In South Africa

in Africa,Best Places To Backpack,South Africa

Africa in general tends to get a bad rap with travelers as it’s seen as being entirely dangerous, lawless, or impossible to navigate. South Africa is just one of the best places to backpack in Africa, which is full of possibilities. You can go on safari, enjoy Johannesburg, or head to the beautiful beaches of Cape Town. There is also Kruger National Park in the west, the cuisine (a blend of local African, Dutch, and Indian), and of course the kind exchange rate if you’re visiting with dollars or the Euro. Are you excited to go yet?

Visa Requirements

South Africa does not grant visas upon entry for many nationalities so you’ll need to make arrangements before purchasing your plane tickets. The visa takes around 10 business days but plan for double that amount of time and we don’t recommend booking until your visa is approved. (You never know and you don’t want to be out the cost of a plane ticket you can’t use or transfer.) A typical tourist visa lasts for 3 months.

  • Cost: Approximately 45 Euro.
  • Most EU citizens and Australians won’t require more than a tourist visa. Americans however will need to apply for a visa.
  • Always check the official South African visa information for the latest.

The easiest way to get the visa process started is by visiting an embassy or consulate if there is one close to you. Make sure that your passport has at least one completely empty page (not just a section) for the visa and have gotten any necessary vaccinations. (Call the embassy beforehand to get the latest information.) You’ll also need to confirm, using bank notes or showing cash, that you’ve got enough to support yourself during your stay and have a return ticket out of the country.

south african coastHostels and Places To Stay

Depending on what your backpacking budget is, you may find hotels a good option over hostels in South Africa. They are relatively cheap, particularly if there are no events in town, and if you’re traveling in a small group splitting the costs goes even further. That said, there are a number of excellent hostels in South Africa though.


Cape Town

To search for other hostels in South Africa, you can search HostelBookers below.

Getting Around South Africa

Between most of the larger cities you can catch one of the many buses that travel in between. The long buses are cheap, easier to figure out, and a bit safer than the smaller minibuses that also go along most routes. Johannesburg also has a decent subway system that’s safe during most regular hours. It’s important to get an idea of the stops that might not leave you in the best neighborhoods and that’s best found out by asking your the staff at your hostel.


  • South Africa does have a high crime rate so never wear or leave your valuables in plain view. Always exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings and check with the hostel or hotel staff about the areas of town you’ll be visiting.
  • Remember to keep up your general security precautions. You don’t need to do much extra in South Africa than you would in other parts of the world that are heavily traveled but do maintain them. It’s easy to get comfortable after a few days or weeks and forget not to wear your expensive watch or leave your backpack in the car.

There is also the Baz Bus, a touristic style all day bus that you tend to find in large cities. You pay a single fee to hop on and off the buses as they move through town. Renting a car is also an inexpensive option as they roads are well developed. It may take you a bit to get used to the South African traffic however and it’s probably best to rent after a few days of getting a lay of the land.

Climate and Weather

south african  wildlifeThe climate of South Africa is moderate in general and varies depending on your elevation and proximity to the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. Temperatures aren’t extremely hot as one might assume as the surrounding water keeps the temperatures from rising or falling drastically. A typically hot day in the summer (January, not July) is about 30C which is around 84F. There are mountains in the southeast of the country and like in all places the higher your elevation the colder it is.

You should bring light clothes that reflect sunlight in the summer months (remember they are in reversed in the Southern Hemisphere) and a light jacket like the American Apparel Fleece for the cooler evenings. If you plan on heading to the mountains, bring along a good warm jacket (we recommend this London Fog one) as you’ll need it for any serious climbing.

Things To Do

  • Go On Safari – There are several excellent tour and safari companies providing safaris in Kruger National Park and elsewhere.
  • Sporting Events – Soccer, rugby, and cricket are all some of the popular sporting events you can attend in South Africa.
  • Art Shows – South Africa’s history and geography make it a natural melting pot of cultures and this is reflected in the artwork you’ll find at one of its famous museums in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and other large cities.
  • Drink Wine – South Africa is home to many wonderful wineries, particularly in the central part of the country. Take a tour to one of them and enjoy a day in the countryside.

Recommended Gear

South Africa can be warm during parts of the year and if you’ll be going on safari it’s a good idea to bring a light pack that won’t leave your back drenched. These are some of the backpacks and gear we recommend.

Backpacking The Region

If you’re considering a regional backpacking trip try combing South Africa with:

| Australia | New Zealand | South America |

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