South Africa was my favorite stop on my trip. Every country has something different and new to offer but I found myself enjoying countries providing distinct cultural differences, inexpensive recreation, delightful landscapes, and a lively backpacking culture. I found all of these as I roamed though the country.
Before arriving, I was met with negativity from a majority of the people I told about my plans to visit South Africa. The issue was largely one of safety, as according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, South Africa ranks in the top 20 countries for murder rates.
But hey, if I let a little death statistic stop me from doing what I wanted I would never get in a car (1-in-100 lifetime odds).
The high violent crime rate might not have stopped me from going, but it didn’t stop me from being cautious. When I arrived at my hostel in Johannesburg I noticed every building was surrounded by high fences and topped with barbed wire, glass shards or an electric fence. Maybe I’ll be staying in more than I thought…
However! I never felt unsafe or threatened for the entire time I was there and I’d HIGHLY recommend the country as a priority destination.
The Quick Break Down
Total Spent: 14,492 South African Rand ($1,644.43 USD)
Total Days: 29
Average Daily Spending: 500 South African Rand ($56.70 USD)
Top Experiences I’d Recommend
- A safari at one of South Africa’s Game reserves (I went to Pilanesberg)
- Traveling by Baz Bus
- Hike to Tugela Falls in Drakensberg
- Staying at Amphitheater Backpackers in Drakensberg
- Trip into Lesotho
- Coffee Bay
- Eat at Mzoli’s Meat Restaurant
- Trip to the top of Table Mountain
- Shosholoza Meyl train trip
Food & Alcohol
A majority of the hostels I stayed at (especially in the smaller towns) had a bar and restaurant with very affordable prices.
Many hostels offered community centered dinners. You’d sign up for dinner early in the day and at when it was ready, everyone staying in the hostel would come together to enjoy a meal, take the energy and carry it over to the bar, where it then spilled over into the rest of the evening’s shenanigans.
It seemed like it was a nightly party at every hostel–rounds of shots, black label and delicious food. Yet, I somehow averaged $16.80 USD a day on food and alcohol.
There are some truly gorgeous and affordable hostels here in South Africa, especially in the smaller towns like Drakensberg and Coffee Bay where there are only one or two to choose from. The Amphitheater Backpackers in Drakensberg was my favorite. The dorm rooms are converted grain silos, the walls are covered in old beer cans and built from bottles , and the surrounding scenery is divine.
Given the scenery and quality of rooms I’m amazed I averaged only $15 USD per night on acommodation
For South Africa I was able to take the Baz Bus from Johannesburg to Cape town along the coast and then return by the Shosholoza Meyl (translates to ‘pleasant experience’) train from Cape Town to Johannesburg.
I purchased the 14-day Baz-Bus travel pass which allows you 14 consecutive days of travel in any direction you want and as often as you like within the time period.
You get picked up and dropped off at the door of your backpacker hostel and from Johannesburg to Cape Town there are over 180 backpacker lodges to choose from and more than 40 cities, towns or villages to visit en-route.
Since most people are traveling in one direction on about the same time table it’s a great way to meet other travelers. I met a group on my first leg from Jo-burg to Drakensberg and we traveled together all the way to Cape Town, adding others to the group as we went.
One of the few downsides is you HAVE to stop in Durban and Port Elizabeth for the night, so if you choose this option on your trip to South Africa, make sure you factor this little tid-bit into your plans.
The Shosholoza Meyl trains are a great bargain (my one way ticket in tourist class was 560 Rand, which is about 64 USD); they are comfortable, inexpensive and I felt completely safe. Depending on your budget level you can reserve seats in the tourist class, which has sleeping cars with 2 & 4-berth compartments, as well as a restaurant car serving full meals, beer, wine and snacks. There is also the Economy class–it has regular seats and sometimes a restaurant car.
To find out about all of their destinations and time tables you can visit: http://www.shosholozameyl.co.za. Tickets for these trains sell out a few months in advance, so it’s best to purchase them as soon as you can. If you live outside of South Africa you can book a ticket through the African Sun travel agency.
Most hostels were a one stop shop for everything a traveler needed. Food, booze, beds and local tours. Many of the adventures I went on were tours organized by the hostel.
There were a variety of options to choose from, easy to book and very affordable. I was able to go on a full day safari, hike to Tugela Falls, take a day trip to Lesotho, and visit the top of table mountain among other things. The damage worked out to $9.66 USD per day.
Day 1 – Johannesburg
Day 4 – Johannesburg – Pilanesberg – Johannesburg
Day 5 – Johannesburg – Drakensberg
Day 7 – Drakensberg – Lesotho – Drakensberg
Day 8 – Drakensberg – Durban
Day 9 – Durban – Coffee Bay
Day 11 – Coffee Bay – Port Elizabeth
Day 12 – Port Elizabeth – Jeffrey’s Bay
Day 14 – Jeffrey’s Bay – Wilderness
Day 18 – Wilderness – Cape Town
Day 24 – Cape Town – Train to Johannesburg
Day 29 – Johannesburg – London