Your Next Big Trip

The (Almost) Perfect 2 Week South Africa Backpacking Itinerary

Want to backpack South Africa but tight on time?

Although I had seven weeks in Southern Africa, only two of those were spent in South Africa. When most people think of backpacking, they think of a six week jaunt around Thailand or a six month journey of self-exploration in South America. This itinerary is a perfect way to fit a South Africa backpacking experience around your busy work or family commitments.Your Next Big Trip- Backpacking South Africa

What we found:

Backpacking South Africa is surprisingly easy and affordable. It might not have the backpacker friendly reputation of South America or South-East Asia. However, transport options like the Baz Bus (read my Baz Bus guide here) and laid back, quirky hostels, means that it’s the perfect short term backpacking destination. Two weeks is just enough time to get a feel for the country. A month would have been perfect and longer is the dream. Although the rand is gaining in strength, it is still pretty weak against the euro and prices in general were cheaper than in Europe. A decent hostel was around €10 per night for a dorm bed. A meal at a hostel was around 80 Rand (€5).

Cape Town: 3 Days

Your Next Big Trip South Africa

Cape Town is the obvious place to begin your trip to South Africa. Most international flights land either here or Johannesburg so this itinerary can also be done in reverse! We could have spent two weeks in Cape Town alone but in three days, here are the highlights:

  • Visit Robben Island
  • Take an Open Top Bus Tour
  • Visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope
  • Visit Boulders Beach to see the penguins
  • Wander around the V&A Waterfront
  • Visit Kirtenbosch Botanical Gardens

Mossel Bay: 2 Days

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Mossel Bay is the reason I call this itinerary almost perfect. It was recommended to us by countless people but for so many reasons, I just wasn’t a fan. There were only two others staying in our hostel.  The weather was terrible. We had planned to go whale watching but it was cancelled because of the terrible weather. We tried to hike but turned back (again because of the terrible weather!) Maybe we would have liked it if the weather hadn’t been terrible. But there are so many beautiful places in South Africa that spending two days in this industrial town felt like a crime!

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It’s only saving grace was a lovely little spa where I got my very first manicure so I suppose it wasn’t a total waste 😉

Your Next Big Trip- Backpacking South Africa

 

Knysna: 1 day

We arrived in Knysna at night without much of a plan, then luckily found some people who had a plan and ended up watching the sunset at Knysna Heads. After experiencing the Knysna nightlife (or lack thereof) we dragged ourselves out the next morning for some canoeing on Goukamma River, a nature and marine reserve. We had a private canoeing tour where Reneé, our guide from Southern Cape Tours, educated us on everything from birds and plants to politics in South Africa.

Your Next Big Trip- Backpacking South Africa

Afterwards we visited the Rasta Village in Knysna Township. The village began when a couple of Rasta families decided to create a small settlement of like minded people. Now home to over twenty families, Judah Square has a school, creche and small temple. The tour was short and probably only worth a visit as an add on or if you have a particular interest in religion or the Rasta faith. For me, it’s always interesting to talk to people about how they live!

Your Next Big Trip South Africa

Nature’s Valley: 2 Days

 

Your Next Big TripWhen I stay we stayed in Nature’s Valley, I’m going to be honest and say we didn’t venture far outside Wild Spirit Lodge. This place was like something out of a dream. We had heard so many things about this place so when we got a last minute booking, we jumped on it and found ourselves in spacious little safari tent with proper beds!

Fairies and gnomes are scattered throughout the common area. There are horses, drum circles and a meditation treehouse! An amazing communal dinner is served by the Wild Spirit “Angels” before everyone retires to the campfire for some drumming, songs and stories. We didn’t really do much at Wild Spirit. But sometimes it’s not about the journey but the destination (or something like that!)

Rock art on the way to the Big Tree, just past the meditation treehouse.

Rock art on the way to the Big Tree, just past the meditation treehouse.

Storm’s River: 2 Days

Storm’s River was our South Africa backpacking home away from home. Our arrival at Dijembe Backpackers began with a welcome shot and introduction to Baz the goat. As usual we had no plan besides a vague notion of ziplining in Tsitsikamma. This was knocked on the head by James, the guy who runs Dijembe who told us “it’s good but…not the best thing you could do here!” We asked him what the best thing was. “The bungy of course!” I told him there was no way I was jumping off the highest bungy bridge in the world. Fast forward two days later….

Your Next Big Trip Bloukrans Bridge

If that sounds too crazy, Tsitsikamma National Park is a short drive away (shuttle available from Dijembe.) Tsitsikamma was the reason I came to Storm’s River. The suspension bridges offer spectacular views of the river mouth. Tsitsikamma is also home to the famous Otter Trail. While the full hike takes 5 days and requires a permit, the beginning hike to the waterfall is beautiful and not too challenging for the reasonably fit.

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Port Elizabeth: compulsory stopover

Taking the Baz Bus has its advantages, but one potentially annoying aspect is the compulsory overnight in Port Elizabeth. The bus arrives at 10 p.m and leaves at 6.45 the next morning. Instead of catching up on sleep we went out for drinks and a catch up with friends (ok, we met them a week ago in Knysna but I had done a bungy jump- I was a changed person by the time we met again in P.E!) As a result all I can recommend in Port Elizabeth is the Beer Shack. Great little place for food and drinks, just don’t stay there so long that you arrive back at your hostel just as the Baz Bus is pulling out…not that I’d know anything about that!

Hogsback: 1.5 Days

Your Next Big Trip South Africa

Said to be J.R.R Tolkien’s inspiration for Lord of the Rings, it’s not difficult to imagine hobbits and elves bounding around the hills off Hogsback. It was getting dark when we arrived to our Lord of the Rings themed room at Away with the Fairies Backpackers (our room was called Boromir), but we arrived just in time to see the sun set over the glowing, orange mountains.

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We spent our one day in Hogsback hiking among Yellowoods and waterfalls in the Aukland Nature Reserve. While we hiked, Knysna Lourie monkeys played in the trees above us, wild cattle grazed beside us and the constant gush of the three nearby waterfalls made us feel completely at one with nature.

Your Next Big Trip- Backpacking South Africa

It’s quite remote, which is part of the charm, but it does mean you should stock up on food before you get there. Away with the Fairies hostel provide a meal every night and breakfast in the morning (additional charge applies) but you will probably want some snacks to bring when hiking. Hogsback isn’t on the Baz Bus route. It requires a special shuttle booked through Away with the Fairies hostel. The shuttle goes from East London and can take up to 2 hours. For this reason, we needed two nights here just to have one full day.

Johannesburg: 3 days

Our 3 days in Johannesburg were spend exploring Maboneng’s street art and creative scene (read my guide here) and take a bike tour of the sprawling, historic township of Soweto.

The bike tour began with some Bunny Chow. I finally felt like a proper tourist!

The bike tour began with some Bunny Chow. I finally felt like a proper tourist!

Don’t leave Johannesburg without visiting Soweto. Once home to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, this huge city within a city is an inspiring reminder of the power of protest, but also the great amount of work that is still required to bridge the gap of inequality in South Africa.

If I visited South Africa again I would skip Mossel Bay and stop at Wilderness and Coffee Bay. Have I missed anywhere spectacular? Or what would you do differently?

In case you’ve missed them you can read my guide to the Baz Bus here and my guide to Maboneng, Johannesburg here.

 

49 thoughts on “The (Almost) Perfect 2 Week South Africa Backpacking Itinerary

  1. Bee

    My favourite would be nature valley and storm’s river. I can’t believe I’ve never been to South Africa. I’m def planning to go soon.

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      They were my favourite too! I had never considered it either but was going to Zambia anyway so figured I may as well continue on!
      Clíodhna

  2. Jan Michael

    South africa looks really beautiful. It has almost everything a traveller would love to see and experience. Definitely worth visiting and glad to know how to squeeze in all those places in a short period.
    Thanks.

  3. Clare

    Looks like a great trip. I haven’t been to South Africa but the Baz bus looks like a great option of backpacking solo rather than doing an organised tour. Will be having a look at their options and your recommendations 🙂

  4. Tina and Jimmy

    Love the proper safari tents! That looks amazing and I would love it! I had not even considered South Africa a Place for backpacking, very good read. Thanks for sharing the information.

  5. Allison

    OK so I guess I am going to have to add South Africa my (ever growing!) list of places I need to get to stat! If only I had unlimited funds and leave. I’ve left my backpacking days behind me but this is a great sample itinerary for me to work with!

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Hi Allison,
      Oh I know that feeling! My year is a cycle of working to pay for travelling and then spending it on travelling! You could definitely do this itinerary as a self-drive and just stay in hotels instead of hostels.
      Clíodhna

  6. Lauren @ Television of Nomads

    It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy the Mossel Bay portion of your trip as that photograph is so lovely! And that forced stopover in Port Elizabeth seems annoying, but everything else looks awesome! I realllllyyy hope to backpack in South Africa myself soon enough!

  7. Rirhandzu

    This is a pretty cool Itinerary. I would add Cape Agulhas, the Southern most tip of Africa. I actually loved Mossel Bay, but I think it is more of local taste, There are a lot of antiquities, and there is also a coastal cave route, where you can follow the tracks and see where our early human ancestors lived. I would still recommend it.

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Thanks for the tip. Cape Agulhas looks great. I think the weather played a big part in my distaste for Mossel Bay but I still think there are more beautiful places to visit when tight on time. I did regret not getting to hike the coastal route properly!

  8. Roxanne Reid

    Some great choices along the Garden Route here, but here are a few things for your next trip: the Wild Coast, KwaZulu-Natal and some of the historic old routes in Mpumalanga and Limpopo. Even if you’re not a wildlife fan, Kruger National Park is a must for any South African itinerary too.

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Thanks for the tips! I left out Kruger as I had been on safari a few times before but I love animals so would love to go back there.

  9. Kiara Gallop

    One of my close friends and her hubby are heading to South Africa in January to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They’re in the process of planning an itinerary right now so this will be super helpful I hope! I’ll forward it on to them now 🙂

  10. Ama Addo

    I haven’t been to South Africa but I have a friend from there and she said it was absolutely beautiful, of course I believed her and seeing your pictures I want to go even more now! I love how there’s just so many different things to learn from it, from its beaches to Rasta communities to gnomes and fairies and Lord of the Rings! And a manicure too hahaha Great post!!!!!

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Hahaha you wouldn’t believe the amount of people when I got back, who hadn’t seen me for months, began the conversation with “well show us your nails!”

  11. Nam

    Oh – thanks for letting me know that South Africa is actually pretty affordable and easy to get around. I don’t know I have heard of any of these places except Cape Town and Johannesburg – the suspension bridge definitely looks good

  12. Delaine

    I wouldn’t bungee jump too even if someone paid me a million! I just touched the Africa continent for the very first time this year when I visited Tanzania. I haven’t visited South Africa yet, but I’ve heard only good things. Goukamma River looks super pretty & I’d definitely want to go canoeing there. It looks like you had a great time with nature all around you.

  13. Marina

    I have never though about South Africa as a backpacking destination, I guess is very unknown for everyone… most of us we just travel around SEAsia or SAmerica… so thanks that I stopped by and read your post will start considering it.
    Cape town has always been in my list, but wasn’t considering a back packing trip around!

  14. Jacky

    That looks like so much fun! I’m glad somebody finally writes about backpacking in Africa! Even though many parts of Africa are quite “touristy”, a lot still gets overlooked. So thanks for your post. Hope I can come back to it whenever we visit ?

    Jacky

  15. Gemma

    I’m so pleased you shared this. I always struggle to fit everything I want to do into a short period of time when I’m visiting a new place. It seems like you had a fun filled trip!

  16. Stacey

    Very cool! I did 5 days in Cape Town and a couple weeks with a friend in Joburg. Did you get to the Apartheid museum? It was actually a great look into to South Africas history, really emotional but ddefinitely gives you an understanding of the history.
    This is a great itinerary though! I loved Soweto!

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      I didnt get to the Apartheid Museum as I spent the morning with my friend at the police station after her phone was robbed. It was the one thing we both regretted not getting to do and something I definitely intend on going back for!

  17. La Dee

    I love South Africa, I used to go there from Zimbabwe every 2 months or so before I moved here (Germany), but I have never been to Cape Town…. Looking forward to my Southern African holiday next year! I’ll definitely refer back to this post 🙂

  18. Christine K

    One hears a lot about South Africa but not so much about backpacking there. Nice post and glorious photos. Sure enjoyed reading about your adventure, the zip lining, food, lodging, and transportation.

  19. Bonita

    I am definitely bookmarking this page! Or pinning it on my home screen. I love your descriptive narration. Makes one to pack their bags already. I love the safari tent experience at Nature Valley and the bungee! Nice. I never knew this backpacking side of SA! Keep up. I love this post. Will keep it for reference

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Hi Bonita,

      Apologies. it seems my replies for this post never went through! Thank you for your lovely comment. I loved South Africa, so fun and laid back!
      Clíodhna

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      When you do get there be sure to throw any questions my way! Cape Town is really beautiful. There just seems to be endless things to do there!
      Clíodhna

  20. Christina

    What a fabulous trip you had. South Africa has stunning scenery, beautiful weather and good food. What’s not to like about it! Did you always feel safe though? I know that Joburg can be a bit dangerous in places.

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Hi Christina,
      Apologies, it appears my replies never went through on this post! I felt safe in most places, save once or twice when we went hiking just the two of us and ended up on a very quite road back. I felt safe where we stayed in Joburg (Curiocity in Maboneng) but I definitely wouldn’t be straying too far from there without a guide. Generally the smaller towns and hiking routes felt safer than cities.
      Clíodhna

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Hi Ivana,

      You’d be surprised! I said the same until an hour before I jumped. You never know when the mood will take you 😉
      Clíodhna

  21. Janine Good

    This is a great itinerary! I haven’t been to South Africa yet, but this looks like it ticks off most of the boxes. I hope to go to South Africa at some point. Would love to do a safari and go up table mountain.

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      I didn’t do safari in South Africa as I had done it before in Zambia and Tanzania but I’ve heard Addo Elephant Park is a great, cheaper alternative to Kruger.

  22. Soraya

    I have heard only great things about travelling in South Africa, and it looks like you have suggested a fantastic 2 week itinerary. Hogsback looks beautiful, and I would love to visit especially if this was the place that would inspire J.R.Tolkien!

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Hi Soraya,

      I think anyone who is a fan of Tolkien would love Hogsback! Definitely a great place to get inspired 🙂
      Clíodhna

    1. Cliodhna Post author

      Hi Cristal,
      You’re in South Africa at a great time with the arrival of summer. I missed my Irish summer at home for South African winter and still feel a bit cheated lol. Let me know if you have any questions about any of the stops. I found it so helpful to talk to other people on the route to decide where to go next.
      Thanks for commenting 🙂
      Clíodhna

  23. Javi

    Hi Cliodhna,
    I’ll be backpacking South Africa in the second half of February 2017. I’m staring the trip planning and your itinerary comes very useful. I have two weeks from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. As a bit of adrenaline junkie I’m not gonna miss that marvelous bungee!

    My only concern is the hostel booking process. Most of the hostels on BazBus are not in Booking or have a website. Being high season, I’ve read it is necessary to book in advance. Is there any other way to book or you have to call directly? My English speaking is a bit rusty…

  24. Cliodhna Post author

    Hi Javi,

    First of all, I am very jealous! The weather in February should be much warmer than it was for us in August!

    Try get your hands on a Coast to Coast guide. They have a website (http://www.coasttocoast.co.za/) but the physical guide was attached to my hand for the whole trip. They have them free in many hostels (definitely in The Backpack in Cape Town). This is basically a guide book listing most hostels in South Africa. It gives a range of contact details for all of them and whether or not the Baz Bus stops there. It’s always free so if you see them, take a couple (we had 3 between 2 of us and found them a great way to make friends on the road!)

    We found most of the hostels were on hostelworld.com (although they do charge a deposit. which is annoying). When we arrived, we bought a cheap phone with a South African sim (you need your passport to do this). We found it very useful, if not essential for last minute bookings or changes. That being said, our style was very spontaneous, sometimes only booking on the day. Since you’ll be there in high season, I suggest taking advantage of anywhere you have decent wifi and making a number of bookings at once. Any hostels we couldn’t find on a third party website, we just emailed and most were good for getting back to us.

    To book the Baz Bus itself, they use Skype which we found useful when our phone credit ran out. You can just use the chat feature instead of calling to avoid speaking English. We also found that most hostels were more than happy to ring ahead to the Baz Bus and our next hostel to book for us so this is an option also, particularly if you are somewhere without wifi (I found South African wifi the poorest anywhere I’ve been in Africa).

    Hmm, I think my answer to your question could be a blog post in itself! Apologies for my late reply, technology has failed me recently but I’m back in action with a new laptop. Let me know if you’ve any more questions. South Africa is so much fun! 🙂
    Clíodhna

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