With everyone telling me how dangerous South Africa is and how extremely cautious I should be there I didn’t really know what to expect from my travels there (safety in SA is a topic for another post). I also didn’t know anyone who’s been backpacking there so there was no one to ask for the advice. I’m a very organized person, especially when it comes to travelling.. Of course there’s some space for a little adventure here and there but I like to know I that at the end of the day I will have a place to sleep. I slowly started to freak out and doubting my decision to go but as soon as I started doing some researched the wonderful world of backpacking in SA opened.
The most popular way of moving around South Africa, at least among backpackers, is BazBus. I was in love with their concept right away! At the scheduled time the bus comes to pick you from the hostel you stay at (the whole list of hostels working with BazBus is available at their website) and after the journey they drop you off at the next hostel chosen by you. It’s a typical hop on hop off service but with this (excellent) feature that it really is door to door. In the country with such a bad safety reputation travelers can’t ask for anything better!
During the journey the bus stops every 2-3 hours on the petrol station or other restaurant/shop places. I was really surprised how well equipped these were! There were all kind of drinks, snacks and just about everything else in a very fair prices! Usually there was also a fast food chain to get some warm food. Some places even had special offers on lower prices for BazBus passangers. The restrooms were really cleaned and well maintained too. All of these made travelling around not too bad.
There are also a lot of various tickets options for you to choose from. Since I was pretty limited with time (as it turned out 2 weeks in South Africa is extremely little!) I picked a 7 day travel pass (it costs 1700 ZAR = 160 USD / 120 EUR / 480 PLN) and used it extensively. In that time I did Johannesburg – Drakensberg – Durban – Port Elisabeth – Knysna – Cape Town; around 2250 kms! I was considering 14 days (2700 ZAR) pass and stopping in more places on the way but I simply didn’t have time for that… oh well, I have a reason to go back! Anyway, besides passes you also have options of tickets for specific route, there is no time limit to use that one and you can stop on the way as much as you want to. To give you the example of prices: Cape Town – Johannesburg is 3600ZAR one way or Cape Town – Port Elisabeth is 1550 ZAR one way.
I did the last leg of my journey, Cape Town to Johannesburg, in the regular long-distance bus. There are couple of companies serving that line and the price may vary a lot. I went for Greyhound and the only reason was that it had the best time of arrival to Johannesburg, early on the morning, it was also the most expensive option. The journey was supposed to take 18 hours (it’s over 1000kms) but we were one hour delayed. The bus was the most comfortable ever, we don’t have this kind of fancy buses in Europe! There was free coffee, for the big part of the journey movies were screened. We also stoped every 3 hours on the petrol stations to stretch legs, use the restrooms and get some food. It was a pretty good journey and the changing landscape was pretty spectacular.
I was really surprised how many hostels are in South Africa! And all of them seemed to be really cool so I had a pretty hard time choosing one to stay at. Every single place I slept in was unique and had some cool features that made it special. Almost everywhere was a pool, not with the cleanest water ever but still it was good to have an option ;) Hostels were really well equipped, had a big social areas to hang out and every single of them had a really cool vibe that made me want to stay there longer. Sometimes I feel weird in the hostels, like I’m an unwelcoe guest – it never was a case in South Africa! When I was stoping in all the hostels when travelling with BazBus I just wanted to stay in every second one!
The prices of accomodation in the hostels were really good! For a double room (sometimes ensuite) we paid on average 200 ZAR per night (18,50 USD / 13,60 EUR / 56,50 PLN), the dorms were of course cheaper (more or less 120 ZAR for bed). Every single room was really good, nothing was missing! They are really good at hostelling there!
What I found a little bit weird was that many hostels kept emailing me to confirm and then re-confirm my reservation, even if they’ve had all my credit card details and already charged me 10%. But seeing how easy-going and flexible all the fellow backpackers were I could understand that. I bet there are lots of people who book the bed and never show up because they just liked some place and prefered to stay there longer.
South Africa is an amazing country but sometimes getting to the great attractions can be tricky. However the hostel staff is always extremely helpful and will organize you just about everything. I didn’t really plan much for my stay in Drakensberg (not to mention going to Lesotho where I officially need a visa) yet the hostel had some tours available and shortly after arriving I found myself trying to decide if I’d rather go hiking to the second highest waterfall in the world or maybe visiting illegally the remote country would be a better option (well, of course I went to Lesotho;)).
The rates they offer to backpackers are also really good! In Port Elisabeth I had a tour to Addo National Park arranged but didn’t really talk over the details with the company before and the internet was non exisiting all over the way. Once I finally got to Port Elisabeth at 4am all I could think about was going to sleep. I woke up 4 hours later to see what’s up with the tour I planed but then I learnt the hostel offers more or less the same tour yet for 200ZAR less (700 instead of 900) so of course I went for that one. It was an amazing tour, there was only me, my friend Magda and our awesome guide Kevin who was so much fun! Somewhen along the day we learnt that it’s all one company organizing tours to Addo and the difference in price comes only from the different profile of backpackers and regular tourists. Over lunch we even met the owner of the company, the one with whom I was emailing before, and he was super nice and sincerely happy that we didn’t get lost and got to see incredible wildlife of Addo :)
If you need to get to the hostel (and public transport is pretty much non existing in South Africa) the hostel will gladly arrange a pick up for you, sometimes even for free (that’s what happened to us when we arrived to Johannesburg, we only needed to call the hostel – and tourist information was very helpful with that – and 20 minutes later we were already on the way to our accomodation)
Besides the usual guidebooks you travel with there are two publications you will be able to find everywhere, are free of charge and are a great use to backpackers. They are „Coast to Coast” and „Alternative Route”. They cover all the places that are of any interest and that the hostels are located in. You will find a short description of the attractions, what’s interesting, what shouldn’t be missed etc. But they are mostly created to show the overview of all the hostels, pointing their best features, some discounts and hip description. It can give you a great impression of the place and of backpacking in South Africa!
Sadly internet in South Africa was one of the worst ever! Not only the connection was very slow but also few hostels charged extra for using internet! Usually wifi was cheaper than surfing on their computers but it was still around 20ZAR for one hour… I also couldn’t find wifi in many public places, cafes, restaurants etc…
Just like with accomodation, eating out doesn’t need to be very expensive in South Africa. Of course there are fancy restaurants that would cost you a fortune but even when you’re on a budget you will find many great options around! Just ask in the hostel and they will definitely tell you where to eat good and cheap! In Cape Town just opposite my hostel (in Observatory, the coolest area of the city!) was a really amazing restaurant, serving food from Africa and India. It was incredibly good and more than enough for me yet I never paid more than 60 ZAR for a dinner (5,50 USD / 4,10 EUR / 17 PLN). That’s actually the average I paid for lunch / dinner everywhere in SA.
Grocery shopping is even cheaper if you feel like cooking for yourself! I would assume that if you buy all your food you would spend ~40 ZAR The 0.5l bottle of coke bought at the petrol station is between 10 and 12 ZAR (1USD / 0,70 EUR / 3 PLN).
Well, you can see some example prices above. As for everything else – it depends on you! Some entrance fees are pretty expensive but South Africa is (most likely in my case) once in a lifetime adventure and I didn’t mind spending a little bit for a cable car to the Table Mountain in Cape Town or the boat to see seals’ island (even if I’ve never been as scared as then!!)
I’ve never expected South Africa to be so easy for travelling, and so affordable! In many places I didn’t have to worry about some simple things like getting around, BazBus or the hostel did that for me! I seriously find this country the best one for backpacking. There are so many options, so many unforgettable adventures waiting for you on every step! And travelling around is just the pleasure! Since I’ve returned I keep recommending South Africa to everyone and I don’t think I’m gonna stop that anytime soon! Such a wonderful place to visit!!
Would you like to go to South Africa?
If you think of visiting South Africa or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
Note: my travels around were in partnership with BazBus however as always I’m keeping it real and all opinions are 100% mine, I really loved it there!
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