Backpacking South Africa
Looking for important travel information while backpacking in South Africa? Here you will find information on working in South Africa, entry visas, South Africa hostels, and much more.
Table of Contents
- Facts About South Africa
- Things to do in South Africa
- Entry Visa Requirements for South Africa
- Foreigner Work Permits and Backpacker Jobs in South Africa
- South Africa Hostels & Budget Accommodation
Facts About South Africa
South Africa is an excellent introduction to the African continent. There is enough development to make cities like Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town as comfortable as many European cities. At the same time, there are spectacular deserts and ample opportunity to view Africa’s unique wildlife.
Post-apartheid South Africa is a poster child for the continent an excellent reflection of the multicultural history of the reason. The crime rate is still a little high in the country but by taking sensible precautions like keeping valuables out of site and not walking alone after dark you can ensure you have a trouble-free visit.
- Currency: South African Rand (r) = 100 cents
- Time Zone: GMT + 2
- Language: English and Afrikaans
- Telephone Services: Country code +27, International access code 09
- Emergency Numbers: 1011 Police, 10222 Ambulance, 1022 Fire
Climate in South Africa
When deciding the best time to visit South Africa, weather certainly plays a role. South Africa has a very favourable climate; in general, the country is sunny and pleasant with a slight cold spell during the winter which occurs between May and August. The mountain areas are the only places that receive snow making the winters very mild.
Things to do in South Africa
Cape Town is South Africa’s oldest settlement and is definitely the most essential destination in the country. The most obvious attraction is the unique 1000m high Table Mountain. The cable car ride to the top gives the most fantastic views in the city and there are also numerous walking trails on the summit.
In the city itself, the prime attraction is the Castle of Good Hope which was built in 1666 by Dutch pioneers after Jan van Riebeeck’s landing at Table Bay in 1652. Also worth a look are the South African and District Six Museums, the latter being a chronicle of the community forcibly displaced in 1901.
Just outside the city on the eastern side of table mountain, you will find the Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens which are perfect for a relaxing day away from the city bustle.
The port of Durban is well known for its string of fantastic surf beaches which are warm all year round and its busy nightlife. As well as these hedonistic pleasures you can also discover some hidden gems when exploring the city itself. The Victoria Street market is a good place to start but an even better place to soak up the busy day to day life is in the Indian District to the west of the city.
Also worth a look is the natural science museum which offers a range of educational exhibits. Other attractions include the African Art Centre which displays contemporary work by rural African artists and the city hall gallery which also houses some interesting artworks.
Unique activities in South Africa
Another good way to get an idea of things to do in South Africa is to scan the activities offered by Get Your Guide or Viator. They work directly with local tour operators, so you won’t have to scour the internet or roam around town trying to find the best deal.
How to Travel Around South Africa
South African Airways runs a domestic service linking Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and several other towns as well as cities in other African countries. An Africa Explorer pass is available to those arriving in the country on an IATA airline, this pass offers unlimited travel on South Africa Airways flights for between three days and two months.
There is the restriction that no particular sector may be crossed in the same direction twice but with careful planning, you can produce itineraries which can save you a fortune. There are also discounts of up to 30% on some standby flights which are useful for those who haven’t got a fixed tour in mind.
If you’re flying to South Africa or plan to take short flights within the country, we recommend using a few different flight comparison search engines. Kiwi is a new favourite among travellers. On average, we have found the cheapest flights to South Africa with them compared to the other websites out there.
Of course, it is always worth checking Skyscanner to guarantee you’re getting the best deal. Both websites offer great flexible search options, allowing you to search the whole country of South Africa to find the cheapest airport to fly into, and also see prices for a full month if you’re flexible on travel dates.
Train travel in South Africa
There are a number of rail services operating in South Africa, the most well known is the luxury Blue Train which offers express services between Pretoria, Victoria Falls, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. The weekly Trans-Oranje is an express service between Cape Town and Durban, the daily Trans-Natal Express runs between Johannesburg and Durban and finally Trans-Karoo express runs a service between Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria four times a week.
All services offer first and second class accommodation and all of the long distance trains have air conditioning. Children under two years of age travel for free and those between two and eleven pay half fare.
Driving in South Africa
The road network in South Africa is remarkably good for an African country, with around a third of all roads being paved. The best way to get around by road is by greyhound bus or Baz Bus which offer very comfortable air-conditioned coaches. Greyhound also offers flexi-passes which allow unlimited travel for between 7 and 30 days. Translux and InterCape also run very good intercity coach services again using comfortable air-conditioned buses.
Backpacking Tours in South Africa
Though part of the fun of backpacking South Africa is exploring on your own, there are situations, especially when venturing off the tourist trail, when it does make sense to go with a guide or a small group. A great way to explore and experience Africa is an Overland Tour.
One of the companies organizing such tours is G Adventures. They hand-select local guides to ensure authenticity and quality. This is especially a good option for those travelling South Africa alone who would like to meet up with like-minded travellers. Their most popular trips in South Africa are their National Geographic Safari Experience, 18-to-30 Somethings Adventure Tours.
Health and Safety in South Africa
The medical facilities are very good throughout South Africa with Western Medications being plentiful. You may be required to pay for some treatments so health insurance is highly recommended.
Vaccination against typhoid is recommended before traveling to South Africa, this should be available from your local GP for around £40. There is a malaria risk in the low altitude areas throughout the year, there have been reported cases of resistance to chloroquine so the recommended treatments are now chloroquine plus proguanil, chloroquine plus pyrimethamine or mefloquine. You should contact your local GP for the most appropriate treatment for you to take with you.
Tap water in urban areas is considered safe, although in other areas it is recommended that you boil or otherwise sterilise any water before use. Food including dairy products and drink are also considered safe to drink. Normal everyday precautions should be used when purchasing food from street vendors.
Entry Visa Requirements for South Africa
All foreign visitors to South Africa require a passport valid for at least 30 days after the period of intended stay and evidence of a return ticket. EU and US nationals do not require a visa for a stay of up to 90 days.
Those seeking work must apply for a work seekers permit which costs $118, those studying in the country must obtain a study permit which costs between $89 and $118 depending on the level of education being studies. All other visa and immigration enquiries, or applications for work seeker’s/study permits should be addressed to your local South African Embassy.
Foreigner Work Permits and Backpacker Jobs in South Africa
African Impact is one of the few African based volunteering organizations. They offer a wide range of volunteer projects in South Africa such as wildlife preservation, education, and healthcare with a duration of 4 to 12 weeks.
South Africa Hostels & Budget Accommodation
Hotels are plentiful in South Africa with major cities usually boasting several international standard hotels. Almost all towns will offer hotel accommodation of some standard and although the lower ungraded hotels are somewhat basic, the South African Tourist Board enforces a basic standard of quality. In addition, there are nearly a thousand hotels which are members of FEDHASA which further guarantee certain levels of quality.
There are plenty of bed and breakfast of guesthouse style places throughout South Africa and you will be able to find them in virtually every town regardless of size. It is recommended to book in advance for the peak season as they can get quite busy. The standards are again enforced by the South African Tourist Board so you can feel confident that you won’t be staying in a complete dump!
We have had good experiences finding hostels on HostelWorld. They have the largest inventory of hostels worldwide, and with over 10 million reviews and ratings from other travellers, you know exactly what to expect.
Another good way to find accommodation in South Africa is by checking hotels.com and booking.com. With both sites, you’ll not only find hotels, but also homestays, hostels, and other unique accommodation. We have discovered some great finds and have appreciated the ability to book ahead. You can use their advanced filtering to narrow your results by budget, location score, overall review score, and amenities. Many of the places on booking.com also offer free cancellation, which takes the pressure off the planning phase of your trip.
Camping is only permitted in the 800 or so official campsites around the country, the facilities are generally quite good and most are situated near good tourist locations. In addition, there are thatched huts available in the National Game Reserves and even sometimes small air-conditioned cottages. The CCA has more information on accommodation within South Africa’s protected game reserves.
Useful Links for Backpacking in South Africa
- The CCA has more information on accommodation within South Africa’s protected game reserves
- FEDHASA has nearly 1000 member hotels throughout South Africa
- Greyhound offers an excellent intercity bus service in South Africa with flexi-passes available
- The Blue Train is an express service operating between Pretoria, Victoria Falls, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town
- South African Airways runs a domestic service linking Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and several other towns as well as cities in other African countries
- Drakensberg Tourism Association – Site promoting tourism in the Central and Northern Drakensberg region.
- BazBus – South Africa’s only convenient hop-on hop-off door-to-door backpackers bus service to over 180 hostels.
- Kiwi, Skyscanner, and Opodo – Flight comparison search engines to find the cheapest flights to South Africa and within the country
- GetYourGuide and Viator – a collection of local tours and things to do in South Africa. Also offers Skip the Line tickets for crowded attractions
- G Adventures – guided small group backpacking tours in South Africa, great for solo travellers or for those interested in a more adventurous trip which would require a guide
- HostelWorld – #1 hostel search website to find accommodation while backpacking South Africa. Thousands of hostels and millions of reviews from fellow travellers
- Booking.com – commonly used booking site to find accommodation in South Africa. Hostels, hotels, and other unique accommodation with advanced filtering and millions of reviews
- Travel Insurance – read our comprehensive overview of Travel Insurance and some recommended providers for your backpacking trip to South Africa
There you have it, the ultimate South Africa backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around South Africa.
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