Whether you’re an intrepid traveler, cash-strapped meanderer, or just someone aiming to keep their #wanderlust game strong, backpacking allows you to see some of the most beautiful and under-explored parts of this country (and the world) on a shoestring budget. Like all things in life however, not every backpacker’s lodge is created equal, many have even played host to some downright disturbing accounts. Lucky for you though, we’ve survived the horror stories so you don’t have to, and even luckier, we subscribe to the philosophy of ‘sharing is caring’. So, in no particular order, here are undoubtedly eight of the most magical backpacking Meccas in South Africa.
Kicking off our secret selection of the best backpacker’s hostels is Karoo Soul; arguably the most luxurious entry to grace our list (and quite possibly the country). This quaint Tudor-style manor house finds itself neatly tucked away in the Klein Karoo’s town of Oudtshoorn; with over 330 days of sunshine year, it’s every heliophile’s dream destination.
Backpackers setting up camp at this oasis can go on to explore the unique and diverse fauna and flora of what is known to be an internationally recognized ecological hotspot. From meerkats to cheetahs, or the Cango Caves to the Swartberg Pass, Karoo Soul affords travellers the chance to experience a part of South Africa that is often overlooked – and from the luxury of a hammock to boot.
Price Range: R150 – R520 per night
For those adventurers with more of a coastal penchant, we’d recommend the Natural Moments backpackers lodge operating out of KwaZulu-Natal’s unadulterated Sodwana bay. Founded by Archie Rielly in 2000, Natural Moments’ rustic yet comfortable self-accommodation choices, as well as the host of oceanic activities on offer, will have you feeling like a real salty seadog in no time.
Take part in scuba diving trips, rent a board and learn to surf, try your hand at spearfishing, or choose to go exploring on any number of land or sea wildlife safaris. If lazing about is more your thing, then dig your toes into the sand and enjoy some fire-side conversation with your fellow campers over a few pieces of bona fide South African braaivleis.
Price Range: R160 – R250 per night
Mysterious, otherworldly, and technically still “in” South Africa, Semonkong lodge, also known as the “place of smoke”, calls the magical and underexplored Kingdom of Lesotho its home.
The lodge lays perched on the banks of the Maletsunyane River, where the falls thunder so hard they throw up a constant haze and drown out the noise of even the most frantic minds. Surrounded by the Maluti Mountains, Semonkong strives for a mixture of wilderness, adventure tourism, and luxury. The rooms are all built of stone and thatch, with fireplaces, electricity, and hot water all included. Aside from the sheer beauty of the location, the lodge offers everything from trout fishing and pony treks, to overnight trails and rock climbing. They also offer a variety of cultural tours, and are well embedded within the local surrounding community.
For the more adventurous types, the lodge even offers a variety of pub crawls on donkey-back, as well as the world’s longest abseil. If you’d rather leave that to those with younger bones, there’s a fully licensed pub on site; the Duck and Donkey serves a superb variety of affordable food, and could very comfortably swallow a few days of your stay all on its own.
Prince Range: R432 – R857 per night
Situated on an 8 hectare plot of land in the Eastern Cape’s unspoilt area of “Chintsa” (a local isiXhosa word meaning “river of crumbling banks”), Buccanneers Backpackers, and its expansive village-like layout, grant travellers both the chance at adventure as well as the opportunity to be part of a vibrant community lifestyle experience.
Their wide variety of accommodation options are almost as diverse as their patrons, who have been said to include “cool cats, cocooning couples, jolly festives, and quiet contemplatives”. Similarly varied are the range of activities and learning opportunities on offer while sojourning at Buccanneers. Sign up for surf school, horse rides, a private safari, yoga classes, or indulge your inner hedonist at the infamous Buccanners Bar or tropical pool.
Price Range: R900 – R950 per night (two bedroom cottage)
Mantis and Moon
Looking to quieten your mind and achieve Zen but can’t afford Tibet? Then grant yourself some much needed respite from the city at Mantis and Moon backpackers in tropical Umzumbe, KwaZulu-Natal. Whether it’s their yoga studio, moon dancing, live music, or dreamlike fire pit, Mantis and Moon and its enlightened staff will have you transcending the doldrums of your 9 to 5 before you know it.
Take delight in the sounds of vervet monkeys traversing the jungle canopy while relaxing in your treetop cabin; or perhaps soak up the sunlight and panoramic beauty of your natural surroundings from a glass cottage – the choice is yours. If you’re looking to spice up your stay with a dollop of adventure, then why not embark on a hike of the local terrain, or even an ocean safari, Mantis and Moon caters to Buddhist monks and gallant daredevils alike.
Price Range: R200 – R630 per night
Peas on Earth
What’s better than stumbling across a homey farm-style backpackers in the middle of nowhere? Well, stumbling across one that’s also committed to social upliftment and environmental sustainability of course. Peas on Earth is a true hidden gem in respect of both its offering to backpackers, as well as its philanthropic contribution towards the environment and community.
Travellers taking shelter at this majestic farmstead based in the Eastern Cape’s rural Kei Mouth area can have their pick of either adventure or “voluntourism”. The former will see those who are brave enough attempt a seven day hike from the wild coast all the way through to the Amatole Mountains; a tour renowned for its descent through the enchanted Hogsback forest. The latter – a combination of volunteering and tourism – gives individuals the option of getting involved in three separate streams of charitable activity, namely, permaculture, schooling projects, or natural horsemanship.
Price Range: R115 – R150 per night
Once in Cape Town
Cape Town’s beauty is surpassed in scope only by its prices, thankfully however, hidden in plain sight is the both affordable and trendy backpacker’s hostel, Once in Cape Town. Situated above one of the city’s hottest haunts and branded as an “All Star Hotel where you can tailor-make your own experience”, this establishment caters to those who want to explore Cape Town in style, sans the crippling debt.
Travellers can choose from either a hostel or hotel experience depending on the length of their stay and the depth of their pockets; both options are inclusive of an on the go breakfast from Yours Truly café, free internet, as well as access to a self-catering kitchen and 24 hour reception.
If you’re feeling torn over how to start exploring the Mother City, consider opting for one of the packaged tours or activities provided in partnership with the hostel itself. Some of your options include wine tasting by bicycle, visiting the Cape of Good Hope and the penguins of Boulder Bay, a Garden Route tour, or hiking up Table Mountain, just to name a few.
Price Range: Seasonal
Not to be confused with your local java purveyor, this aptly titled Eastern Cape lodge derives its name and reputation from the picturesque alcove of Coffee Bay. For those looking to dash their backpacking experience with a rich blend of adventure and late night shenanigans, consider The Coffee Shack’s plethora of day trips and hikes, as well as their fabled Babalaza bar and restaurant. Their three hour Hole in the Wall hike comes highly recommended too, so best come prepared, selfie stick and all.
The local Tshezi community’s involvement in the Coffee Shack serves as a rich cultural backdrop for travelers passing through the Transkei, and has been instrumental in the traditional Xhosa design of many of the lodge’s thatch roofed rondavels. The Coffee Shack is certified by Fair Trade Tourism, and is a must-visit for swashbucklers of foreign and South African heritage alike.
Price Range: R140 – R760 per night
If you’re still looking for more top spots to hang your hat while exploring the country , head over to the South African backpackers website. If you need a South African visa for your trip, then contact SAvisas.com today.
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