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Backpacker's Guide To South Africa

Backpacking across Africa is much different than exploring any other country or continent. The scenery in Africa is so unique and offers once-in-a-lifetime experiences that North America and Europe cannot. Plus, the excursions available across the country offer more for the money. Many have found backpacking across South Africa to be a better value than anywhere else in the world.
Photo Credit: Thinkstock Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Best Locations To Visit

There are so many unique cities throughout South Africa, each offering a deep look into the country's culture. When backpacking across South Africa, you need to make plans to stop in Durban City, Pretoria, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Zimbabwe. These destinations offer everything a backpacking adventurer wants to experience. There are plenty of activities, tours, restaurants and experiences backpackers can enjoy.

Durban City

Durban City is one of the top places for backpackers to visit, mostly because of the many activities available to travelers. While there, you can swing on the biggest swing of its kind with Big Rush, or explore Umhlanga Rocks. Those looking to learn about the history of the area will find historic art exhibits at the Durban Art Gallery, which features more than 3500 works of art from South African artists. Durban City is a popular place for surfers, and those backpackers who love to surf will want to visit the beach. There, they will experience some of the most exciting waves and breaks, but these waves are tame enough for even the most novice of surfers to still be able to enjoy.

Popular places to dine while in Durban City include the vegetarian restaurant at the Temple of Understanding, or the many different restaurants and food stands in the Victoria Street Market. Both of these locations offer places for backpackers to try local cuisine and experience new food options

Those planning to backpack their way to Durban will find they have plenty of accommodations to choose from. Some of these places to stay include small beach bungalows designed just for backpackers. Popular places to stay when backpacking to Durban City include Ansteys Beach Backpackers, Hippo Hide Backpackers, Monkey Bay Backpackers, Secret Spot International Backpackers and Shapes of Africa.

Pretoria City Centre

Pretoria City Centre offers a safe place for backpackers to visit. Pretoria is home to many embassies and international delegates, which means security across the city is very high. Also referred to as The Jacaranda City (because of the thousands of Jacaranda trees planted throughout the city) is also home to many historic public buildings, museums, monuments and activities. All of the things to see and do offer backpackers a glimpse into the culture in Pretoria. Must-see attractions include the National Museum of Culture History, The National Museum of Natural History, the Union Building, Church Square and shopping at the many flea and art markets, such as the Wonderboom Market. Other activities available throughout Pretoria include drive-in movies, ice skating, go-karting and gambling at the casino.

Sandwich shops in Pretoria offer a place to grab a quick bite to eat before going back out and exploring the city. Other popular places to dine at while in Pretoria include Le Madeline, Burger Bistro, Deli on Duncan and Lucky Bread Company. Popular places to stay while in Pretoria include Pretoria Backpackers, 1322 International Backpackers and Pumbas Backpackers.

Sea Point

Sea Point offers backpackers a place to let their hair down and get some partying in while they are making their way through South Africa. This town is home to quaint pubs, funky clubs and some of the trendiest bars. To help support the nightlife, there are several late-night eateries that offer fine cuisine options around the clock. With the energetic night life and the warm weather, Sea Point offers a place for sun worshippers to get their sun bathing in during the day and a place to let loose at night.

Popular places to dine while in Sea Point include La Mouette, Jewel of India, El Burro, La Boheme, Myog and The Butcher Shop and Grill. Located in the Cape Town area, visitors to Sea Point make their plans to stay at one of the many accommodation options in Cape Town. Popular places to stay include 33 South Boutique Backpackers, Ashanti Lodge Green Point, Carnival Court Backpackers, Green Elephant and Once in Cape Town.

Victoria Falls

No trip to South Africa is complete without a stop at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. This town is located next to the falls and offers many outdoor adventures for backpackers. This is the perfect South African destination for those looking for thrills, adventures and lots of local culture while backpacking on a budget. Exciting things to do in Victoria Falls include crossing over the Zambezi River aboard a tram bridge tour from the Victoria Falls Station, taking a dinner cruise or exploring the 108-year-old Victorian Falls Hotel.

Popular places to grab a bite to eat in Victoria Falls include The Boma, Bridge Café Restaurant, Shearwater Café and the Lookout Café. Backpackers will enjoy staying at one of the unique hostels designed just for backpackers. Popular places to stay in Victoria Falls include Livingstone Backpackers and Jolly Backpackers.

Related: Top Safaris in Southern Africa

Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth is a must-visit destination because it is one of the most affordable places to stop while backpacking across the country. There is a lot to see and do while visiting Port Elizabeth that will leave you feeling like a king without having to pay for it. Must-see attractions in Port Elizabeth include the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bayworld, Snake Park and the Market Square. Those wanting to experience some African Wildlife will want to visit Addo Elephant Park, Shamwari and Schotia Lion Park.

There are many different unique places to dine while in Port Elizabeth. Many of these restaurants offer local cuisine options and international flavors. Popular places to dine in Port Elizabeth include Vovo Telo, Fushin Sushi and Eastern Cuisine, Elephant Walk and Flava. Top places for backpackers to stay while in Port Elizabeth include Kings Beach Backpackers, Orange Elephant Backpackers and Pearson Park Resort.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock Photo Credit: Thinkstock
Backpacking Tips

Visiting South Africa with everything you need in a single backpack will definitely open up many adventurous opportunities. Just make sure you are ready, know where you want to go and are prepared for just about anything that could happen. Here are some backpacking tips to help make your adventures more exciting:

  • Avoid traveling during local school holidays (Dec.-Jan. and June-July)
  • Book flights, accommodations and tours well in advance
  • Keep maps with you for all areas you plan to visit
  • Bring a friend for company and to help split the bills
  • Stick to local restaurants that are not in tourist areas (this will be more affordable)
  • Engage with the locals
Safety Tips

When backpacking to Cape Town and Johannesburg it is important to stay on high alert. These areas have some of the highest crime rates in the world. Pay attention to your surroundings and do not keep any valuables on you while exploring the areas. Never hitch-hike or stop for someone who looks like they are needing assistance. A majority of the time it is a set-up, and you could be robbed and car-jacked.

Other safety tips include:

  • Programming local emergency numbers into a cell phone
  • Use pre-loaded currency cards instead of cash
  • Take a taxi at night instead of walking
  • Always lock doors

Backpacking through South Africa offers adventurers the opportunity to experience everything from historical sites to the wild wilderness of Africa and dine in restaurants that feature local cuisine while learning about the culture from locals. Those wanting to experience something new will want to make plans to backpack their way across South Africa.

Related: Top Tips for Safe Travel Abroad

Heather Landon (Heather Leigh Carroll) is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She has combined two of her passions - writing and travel - to share her experiences with others. You can read more of her articles at
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