Backpacking South Africa

Looking for important travel information while backpacking around 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

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


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 see and do

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 is 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 art works.


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.

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 a half fare.

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 inter city coach services again using comfortable air conditioned buses.

A great way to explore and experience Africa is an Overland Tour. One of the companies organizing such tours is Overlanding Africa, who with their experienced staff offer tours including safari’s, rafting, bungee jumping and much more. Tours are offered in all of Southern Africa going up all the way to Kenya, and range from 3 day tours to 8 weeks long trips.


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!

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 have more information on accommodation within South Africa’s protected game reserves.


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.

A vaccination against typhoid is recommended before travel 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.

Useful Links

The CCA have more information on accommodation within South Africa’s protected game reserves

FEDHASA has nearly 1000 member hotels throughout South Africa

Greyhound offer an excellent intercity bus service with flexi-passes available

The Blue Train is a 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

Bomvu Backpackers African budget accommodation.

Drakensberg Tourism Association – Site promoting tourism in the Central and Northern Drakensberg region.

Package Tours South Africa – Packaged Tours including accommodation, tours, transport, arranged to include game viewing, adventure and adrenaline activities. Car Hire and overland trips.

BazBus – South Africa’s only convenient hop-on hop-off door-to-door backpackers bus service to over 180 hostels.

Where to Stay – South Africa’s oldest and largest accommodation site with detailed maps and lists over 1800 “establishments”.

Accommodation in South Africa – Accommodation in South Africa for all Holiday Travellers. South Africa Accommodation & South Africa Travel.

INTERLINK School of Languages – Learn English in Cape Town, South Africa.

Entry Visas 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.


Visa and immigration related enquiries should be addressed to the nearest South African High Commission:

High Commission of the Republic of South Africa 
South Africa House 
Trafalgar Square 
Tel (020) 7 451 7299 
Fax: (020) 7 451 7284

If you require UK assistance while abroad you should contact the British High Commission:

British High Commission 
91 Parliament Street 
Cape Town 8001 
South Africa 
Tel: + [27] (21) 461 7220 
Fax: + [27] (21) 461 0017 

There is also British representation in Pretoria, Johannesburg, East London, Port Elizabeth and Durban.

Local tourist advice is dispensed by the South African Tourism Booard:

South African Tourism Board (SATOUR) 
Private Bag 
442 Rigel Avenue South 
Pretoria 0001 
South Africa 
Tel (12) 347 0600 
Fax (12) 454 889

Foreigner Work Permits in South Africa

African Impact is one of the few African based volunteering organizations. They offer a wide range of projects such as wildlife preservation, education and healthcare with a duration of 4 to 12 weeks.

South Africa Hostels

Hostels are a cheap form of accomodation, and so they are essential to backpackers and other budget travellers. We have compiled a list of hostels in South Africa to help you plan your journey. If you are looking for a hostel in South Africa, you’ve come to the right place.

Kwazulu Natal
Western Cape

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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