Top Reason To Backpack
In South Africa
South Africa is one of
my favorite places in the world. The country has some of the most beautiful
national wonders you can find. Nelson Mandela famously declared the Western
Cape to be South Africa’s gift to the world and I couldn’t agree more.
South Africa combines
the best of both worlds with a beautiful cosmopolitan city with world class
nature at your fingerprints. You have incredible mountain ranges, beautiful
beaches, safaris galore, world class wine, amazing food, and super friendly
Above all, South
Africa is a cheap place to travel. The Rand (South Africa’s currency) is
constantly under pressure so you’ll find it quite affordable if you’re coming
from a country like the US or Europe.
It’s also becoming a
digital nomad hotspot in recent years with Cape Town leading the pack.
Tip 1: Ideal 2-week Itinerary For South Africa
You could spend months
in South Africa and not see it all. I lived in South Africa for two years after
all and there are still so many places I didn’t see.
However, not everyone
has this amount of time so I would say two to three weeks is a perfect amount
of time to backpack for those with time constraints. I would focus my time
around Cape Town, the wine country (if you’re into that), the Garden Route, and
a safari in and around the Kruger.
Day 1: Land in Cape Town and explore the city
Day 2: Explore Cape Town, hike Lions Head
Day 3: Cable Car up Table Mountain, drive to Cape Point
Day 4: Explore Stellenbosch
Day 5: Stellenbosch/Franschhoek
Day 6: Cage diving with great whites, explore Hermanus
Day 7: Drive to Oudtshoorn, visit ostrich farm at night
Day 8: Morning visit to Cango Caves, drive to Plettenberg/Knysna
Day 9: Plettenberg/Knysna
Day 10: Plettenberg/Knysna
Day 11: Bloukrans, Tsitsikama, Port Elizabeth
Day 12: Fly to Johannesburg in morning, Kruger NP
Day 13: Kruger NP
Day 14: Kruger NP in morning, end in Johannesburg
Day 15: Early morning flight home
Tip 2: Best Places To Visit In South Africa
South Africa has a
wonderful mix of beaches, mountains, nature, and city life. Cape Town is the
crown jewel of South Africa and it is the most naturally beautiful city in the
world. Yes that is my firm belief (yes I’m looking at your Rio because Cape
Town is more beautiful!) and these are fighting words .
Nearby to Cape Town
you’ll find the most beautiful wine region in the world. After traveling to 90
countries, I’ve been to countless wine regions and I still hold that South
Africa are the most visually stunning. Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are my
favorite with so many incredible wineries offering wine tastings at affordable
After the wine
regions, a road trip through the Garden Route is a must. Places like Knysna and
Plettenberg Bay are beautiful yet relaxing. Make sure to try the oysters when
they are in season.
For the avid hikers
out there, a visit to the Drakenberg National Park will blow you away. These
mountains are incredible and the views from the top of the valley will rival
anything you’ve seen. If you have extra time, you can even drive over to the
mountain kingdom of Lesotho which is a whole different world than South Africa.
Finally, a safari is
on the top of everyone’s list in South Africa. While it’s not as picturesque
and famous as a safari in the Serengeti of Tanzania, you will surely see the
big 5 in South Africa. While the Kruger is the most popular place for a safari,
I actually prefer the landscapes in the Limpopo province. There are beautiful
lodges here that are ultra-luxurious but cheaper than their counterparts in the
Tip 3: Top Things To Do In South Africa
In no particular
· Climb Lion’s Head and
have a drink with one of the most stunning views in the world (BYOB)
· Visit Cape Point and
hike the Cape of Good Hope
· Drink copious amounts
of wine in Stellenbosch and be blown away by the views
· Visit the heads in
· Get your adrenaline on
by bungy jumping off the tallest bridge in Bloukrans (210 meters)
· Hike through the
Tsitsikama National park
· Road trip along the
· Hike in the
Drakensberg National Park
· Self-drive on a safari
in the Kruger (if you’re on a budget), or go to a luxurious private lodge in
the Limpopo province
· Dive in the South
African sardine run during the winter months. This is probably one of the most
epic dives you can do in the world but you must time it right
· Get your surf on in
Tip 4: Ideal Budget To Explore South Africa
I would say you should
expect to spend $50-$100 a day in South Africa. Because South Africa is so
diverse in what you do, it’s impossible to quantify one set of budgets for the
You can expect to pay
something like the following in Cape Town:
· Hostels: $10-20 a
· Meal at a mid-tier restaurant:
· Meal at a cheap
· Glass of beer: $2-$3
· Glass of wine: $3-5
· Uber between Camps Bay
and CBD: $6
· Cocktail at a cool
· Mobile data: $15 per
month for 20 GBs data
· One way Flight from
Cape Town to Johannesburg: $50
Of course, if you want
to stay at a nice place in Cape Town for example, you can easily spend $200+ a
night especially during the summer season.
you go on a safari you expect to pay much more. South Africa is great as there
are many price tiers for lodging given how developed it is. You can stay in
cheap budget bungalow accommodations, all the way to 5* ultra-luxury lodges
where you can pay $2000 a night.
If you’re a solo
traveler, you can expect to pay about $150-$250 a night for a basic safari.
This includes your room which is usually just a basic chalet/bungalow with a
communal bathroom. This price also includes your daily game drives with a
professional ranger as well as meals. If you’re traveling with another person,
it would be cheaper to just pay for the rooms but self-drive.
Tip 5: How To Pack For South Africa
South Africa is a
developed country so you will find everything you need in the cities. Otherwise, I would
just pack the typical items you take on your normal travels and of course a big
sense of adventure. The winter months can
be cold in South Africa but not overly so. I would pack a nice fleece jacket
especially for the morning hours.
Many people wanted to
know about the need for malaria medication for the country. The answer is no. As
well, there is no need for yellow fever or typhoid vaccinations.
Tip 6: Best Time To Visit South Africa
In Cape Town, the
summer months between November and April are the best times to visit. You can
expect temperatures to be in the mid-20s to low 30s for this time with plenty
of sunshine. The winter months are also mild with lows in the mid-teens. The
weather is more volatile during these months and you can expect more rain and
In Johannesburg and
the surrounding areas, the winter months has sunshine with temperatures ranging
between 10-20 degrees. The summer months are warmer and filled with some of the
most epic thunderstorms you’ll ever see. The best time to go on a safari in
Johannesburg is actually during the winter months as this is the dry season.
Dry season means there is less rains so animals are forced to visit and
interact at the watering holes. There is also less rush during these months
making it easier to see the animals.
Tip 7: Tips To Explore South Africa
South Africa is known
worldwide to be an ultra-dangerous place which is unfortunate for their
reputation. The truth of the matter is South Africa does have really
unappealing crime statistics due to the history of the country and the immense
racial inequalities the country still faces. When I lived there, my South
Africa colleagues would routinely tell me about the crimes they’ve seen and
things like never stop at a red light at night.
However, most of the
violent crime in South Africa happens far away from the typical tourist places.
It’s unlike other cities where you could take a wrong turn somewhere and end up
somewhere you don’t want to be. You need to really want to visit areas that are
As a foreigner with a
fresh perspective, I didn’t find crime and safety to be that big of an issue. With
that said, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vigilant. Like most places in the
world, don’t flash the cash and don’t bring anything super expensive. Cab
drivers routinely try to rip off tourists so always stick to using Uber which
is very cheap in cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Tip 8: Working Opportunities For Backpackers
plenty of volunteering opportunities available in the country. There are many
areas of the country that are still heavily impoverished and many charities need
help in these areas. As well, I know many people that volunteer at animal
shelters working with beautiful animals like lions, cheetahs, rhinos etc.
Tip 9: Entry Requirements For South Africa
South Africa is easy
to enter for most nationalities. You can obtain a free 90 day visa on arrival for
most countries in the world.
Tip 10: Ways To Travel Around South Africa
The best way to get
around South Africa is by car. Much of the sights in South Africa are nature
based and there isn’t much of a bus system to these types of places. South
Africans love their cars after all.
If you are traveling
with a friend and can split the cost, then a popular route is the road trip
from Johannesburg to Cape Town. The Garden Route is one of the best places to
take a road trip and having a car gives you the flexibility and freedom to go
wherever you want. Additionally, you can save a lot of money by self-driving
through the Kruger National Park as a DIY type of safari.
There is a hop on hop
off bus that travels through the Garden Route. If you’re a solo traveler, this
is a great option to save money and meet people but you’ll want to make sure
you have a few extra days for this option. The problem is once you get to a town
along the Garden Route, you don’t have many options besides just walking around
the town. The beaches and hikes nearby are almost impossible to reach without a
From Johannesburg to
Cape Town, take a cheap flight with one of the many local airlines in South
Arica (~$50 one way).
Tip 11: Food To Try In South Africa
South Africa has no
shortage of amazing food. The local cuisine is heavily into meat so if you are
a meat lover, you will be in heaven. The steaks in South Africa are among the
cheapest in the world next to Argentina. They are world class and won’t set you
back a small fortune.
You must try the local
delicacies as well including
· Biltong, the South
Africa version of beef jerky but 100x more delicious
· Droewors – A type of
dried sausage which is another beloved snack of South Africa
· Bunny Chow – A South
African Indian dish popular in Durban
· Nandos – grilled
chicken with peri peri. Nandos comes from South Africa and the best version is
definitely in South Africa.
· Game meats – all
different types of animals can be tried in South Africa including springbok,
kudu, buffalo, warthog, ostrich and even giraffe
· Any of the Cape Malay
cuisine – Sadly, I did not eat as much Cape Malay food as I would have liked.
This incredible blend of different cuisines is South Africa’s best kept secret.
Tip 12: Unique Experiences In South Africa
Having lived in South
Africa, there are countless experiences on my mind!
South Africa is also a
very diverse country. Most people know there are white and black people in the
country but there is also a huge Indian diaspora that moved here during
colonial times. As well, there were also people from SE Asia sent here during
colonial times to work. These people all mixed with the local population
creating another group of people in the Western Cape called the “Cape Colored”
people. Yes, this sounds incredibly racist if you’re coming from the US but
this is actually what they call themselves and there’s nothing racist about it.
I was really
pleasantly surprised by the amount of diversity I saw around me and it was
unlike anything I had experienced before. Being Asian American, I was kind of
that outside racial group that no one really understood but was welcomed in
with open arms by all. The existing racial tensions (which there still is
plenty of) didn’t really apply to me because I didn’t fall into of the existing
buckets in South Africa.
On a more serious
note, it was very eye opening to see the income equality in South Africa. I
thought the US had a major income inequality problem (and it definitely does)
but South Africa is on another level. Given its appalling history with
Apartheid where blacks (and other nonwhite groups) were systematically stripped
of rights and openly discriminated against, this ensured that all the wealth of
the country was concentrated in the tiny white minority. This lasted until 1994
once Nelson Mandela took power. However, the effects of Apartheid are still
felt to this day as it takes many generations for something like this to get
Some of my highlights
in South Africa are the following:
· Bungy jumping at
Bloukrans. I was terrified because this bridge is damn high. I have a funny
video of me being terrified to jump
· Hiking Lion’s Head: I
must have made this hike at last 10x and it never ever got old
· Partying in the
townships with my black South African friends.
Playing with almost grown
lions. I visited a private game reserve where the lioness had a litter that was
too big. Given that these are wild animals, the lioness would have killed her
cubs as she couldn’t support so many. The owners of the game reserve decided to
take these cubs and raise them separately from the pride. These lions were
raised around people and domesticated which meant they were totally friendly to
people, almost like dogs. Getting this close to such a big animal like a lion
really gets your heart pumping. A lot of people do think this is a very
questionable practice so do keep this in mind.
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