Backpacking in South-Africa is quite an experience! More and more backpackers find their way to Africa and this is great because it’s such an exciting continent! I visited South-Africa in 2008 (which is almost 10 years ago at the time of updating this blog) but it still ranks as my number 1 travel experience!
I did 3 weeks of volunteering with a project organised by an association affiliated with my university at the time (Maastricht University). After those three weeks I went backpacking in South-Africa for three more weeks to really experience the country 🙂
In this blog I will give you a detailed overview of the destinations we visited, the places we stayed and the tours we did. Happy reading!
Volunteering in South-Africa
Before leaving to South-Africa, our group got together many times. The group consisted of 50% University students and 50% high school students. We organised many activities together to raise money for the organisation (Thembalethu) we were going to visit.
During our three weeks, we got to know many amazing people but were also exposed to the horrors of daily life in a region where over 40% of the people is infected with HIV. The harsh reality of families only being able to afford one of their kids (the brightest) to go to school and move on to go earn money for the families. Disabled people being treated like outcasts and ignored by society.
But we focused on the positive, and spent amazing times at the pre/after school activities with the kids, visited care centres, painted a school, organised a sports week and much more! It was definitely a great experience and one that I will never forget. If we even made a difference in the life of one kid, that would have already been worth it.
The trip: 3 weeks of backpacking in South-Africa
During the volunteering trip we made some trips in the region and afterwards if it was time for a backpacking trip trough South-Africa!
Mpumalanga is the region in which I did my volunteer work. Next to the 3 weeks on the project, we got the chance to explore the region, which is amazing. Of course we did a daytrip to the KrugerPark, one of the highlights of South-Africa. But we also went to the Blyde River Canyon area. Waterfalls, views, pancakes, the Panaroma route, wonderful!!
The Krugerpark is a huge national park park (as large as Belgium and the Netherlands together) and my first safari experience! It makes sense to plan your trip ahead, especially if you want to stay within the park. We were at the entrance 30 minutes before it opened – otherwise we would have to wait several hours!
We saw many amazing animals in the park and had a great day! So many elephants, gazelles, zebras and giraffes, a true blast! Unfortunately we didn’t see lions, but that was the focus of the rest of the trip 🙂
Blyde River Canyon
The last weekend of our volunteering time we got to choose: another trip to the Kruger, or a trip to th Blyde River Canyon. I opted for the last one to see something new! And it was a great decision. Beautiful views, waterfalls, cute towns. Check a more detailed overview of the region in this blog about why you shouldn’t miss the Blyde River Canyon.
After the three weeks at Thembalethu, I took off with one of the other girls. We took a minivan to the border with Swaziland, the beginning of our trip. Swaziland is beautiful. Locked into South-Africa, this small nation has a lot to offer if it comes to wildlife and nature. And a king with MANY wifes.
Accommodation: Sondzela Backpackers. When I arrived, I was amazed. This might as well be the best located hostel ever. In the middle of a wildpark, with zebra’s and impala’s walking through the garden and a pool; what else can you wish for? This place is not close to the town centre, so diner is catered for. Impala stew with rice or sweet potatoes around the fire with the other backpackers or a sunset drive upon the mountain. Very much recommendable!
We did a night drive and went for a hike in the park. I really want to go back to this place!
Do you spot my ancient cellphone in the picture below? 😉
If you’re thinking about having a calm beer near the pond, think again 😉
Hlane National Park
Another famous park in Swaziland is the Hlane National Park. This park is famous for its lion population. Because we had not seen lions in our tour through the Kruger Park we visited this park. We went by public transport which was a bit exciting, but we made it!
It was a lovely small park with guided safaris of a couple of hours. We joined a tour and had an amazing time. We saw the lions indeed, and there were even cubs!! Also we found rhinos and we managed to take pictures from up close. Awesome!
is a lot of fun and not be missed, either travelling south or north! You could just bump into a Hippo on the street at night and see croc’s from your terrace sipping a beer. We stayed at Bib’s Backpackers. At the time, it was amazing. Slightly expensive (€10 for a dormbed) and nothing fancy, but great staff and party guaranteed! In their open-air bar you can drink lovely “springbokkies” and hang out with all the other backpackers. Perfect to get know other people. Loads of free stuff – morning walks, beach, croc & hippo watching and watch rugby with the locals. [update January 2017: according to Tripadvisor reviews, this place has seriously deteriorated!]. We visited the crocodile park and joined some safaris and walks to get to know the area.
I have not much to tell about Durban. We spent there 1 day which was quite nice with some good bars on the beach and relaxing. Day after we flew to Port Elizabeth to save a day in the bus. We spent the night in the Hippo Hide lodge, which was fine but far away from the beach so we had take a cab. Their “sister” at the beach is better positioned, but a dodgy area!
The same counts for PE. We arrived in the afternoon, had a stroll along the beach and went to the supermarket and had a relaxing night in our hostel in Port Elizabeth. Accommodation: Lungile Hostel. Nice relaxed common area. The Addo Elephant Park was really nearby, but we had already seen elephants so we skipped this 🙂
From Port Elizabeth, we moved on to Jeffrey’s Bay. This is an amazing place! What a party place and surfing all around. We stayed in Island Vibe Backpackers which was a lot fun. You don’t have to come here to have a good night of sleep, but if you’re up for a good day of surfing and then a party, this is the place to be!
Plettenberg was a nice stop over with good opportunities to entertain yourselves. We stayed at Albergo’s, a clean, spacious hostel run by Dutch people. Ask the reception for visiting the Tenikwa Cat Sanctuary to get really close to pretty big cats 🙂 also try the Monkey Sanctuary, so much fun! Here you also have the possibility to try one of the highest bungee’s in the world; jump 216 meters from a bridge!
Another party spot with amazing, thrilling adventures! Go shark-cage diving or canoeing with whales! Hermanus is definitely the best spot of South-Africa to go whale watching in an extraordinary way. You sit in your sea canoe, as close to the whales if you can imagine. Stay at Hermanus Backpackers for a great deal on activities and beds. We also visited one of the projects close to the city because the trip was recommended by the hostel. It was a good experience again and the crew guiding us around was lovely.
Buffels Bay was an unexpected stop, with a bit of a detour off the Baz Bus route. It was a lovely small place where we could relax and stroll along the beach 🙂
Stellenbosch is breathtaking and if you are backpacking in South-Africa you cannot miss this place! A lively student town settled in a beautiful part of Africa. This is the place to take a wine tour (don’t drink too much the night before..) and have delicious dinner for African prices.
Cape Town was the city I had been looking forward to. So much to do!! Climb Table Mountain (1 day), go souvenir shopping and explore Cape Town’s colonial buildings (1 day), go on the Baz Bus Cape Peninsula tour (1 day) and do not miss out on Robbeneiland and the waterfront harbour centre (1 day)! Also don’t forget to partying – in Cape Town you’ll find a young crowd partying all night in the most fancy clubs of Cape Town. 5 or 6 days in Cape Town are sufficient to explore the whole city. Try staying at Long Street Backpackers. Loads of people to meet, 24h reception and security and spacious dorms.
Transport, Safety & Money Matters of Backpacking in South-Africa
Please check Coast to Coast ; in 2008 this was a very valuable resource for us to get through South-Africa smoothly and get great deals on hostels and tours in the country.
Transport in South-Africa
There are many ways of travelling through South-Africa. One of the safest options, especially for travellers travelling alone or girls, is the BazBus. This is a backpackers bus that picks you up and drops you off your hostel. It’s a bit pricier than catching regular buses, but you won’t be dropped at a random gasstation in the middle of a city where you don’t know the way. You can buy different types of tickets and they are pretty flexible. If this is not for you, renting a car is also a good option. Domestic flights were also very affordable in 2008.
Safety in South-Africa
In general, I could say that I have experienced no dangerous situations. With some common sense (never go out alone and be in a group after dark) and a good planning (not arriving at night in an unknown city) you will most probably make it to the end of your trip safely. Be careful with your belongings, also in hostels. Backpackers are fun, but not everybody can be trusted!
Money Matters in South-Africa
In South-Africa you pay with the Rand. You will find ATM’s on the way, but always carry some cash with you. In many hostels you can pay with creditcard, but you’ll have to pay a small additional surcharge.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any questons about backpacking in South-Africa, accommodation or something else, feel free to leave a comment or write me a message.
If you want to pin this blog about volunteering and backpacking in South-Africa, feel free to take this picture below!