Even though I get to stay at nice hotels a lot these days you can’t beat a backpackers for making friends and for an authentic travel experience without a hefty price tag. South Africa is a fantastic destination for backpackers, with hosts of owner-run hostels each with their own unique personality.
Here are my 10 top backpacker hostels in South Africa (in order of geography – from Johannesburg to Cape Town) for the ultimate South African backpackers’ road trip.
Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers
The king of township backpackers, Soweto Backpackers, is located in Orlando West in Soweto. Soweto’s main attractions, Vilakazi Street and the Hector Petersen Museum are easily accessible from the backpackers. Take one of their legendary bicycle tours, or even a walking tour or a tour on a tuk-tuk. Lebo and his team guarantee a local experience. The chilled out beach bar vibes (sans beach) and the lovely park opposite the hostel create a unique homely atmosphere and an experience you won’t forget.
Surrounded by the majesty of the Northern Drakensberg, Amphitheatre Backpackers is blessed with gorgeous scenery. Known for its quirky décor, the hostel even has as a pool, two private dams and a river on the property. There are a range of hiking trails available including the famous hike to Tugela Falls, the second highest waterfall in the world. It’s not all about hiking though: Amphitheatre is well known for its funky bar and live music venue and even hosts its own festivals. As the backpackers is quite remote, do come prepared if you’re planning to self cater.
One of the few purpose-built hostels in South Africa, Happy Hippo is large and spacious with plenty of chill areas. It’s as close to European-style hostels that you will find in South Africa. The hostel is conveniently located, walking distance from Ushaka Marine World and 5 minutes from the beach and city centre. One of the features of this hostel is its fantastic roof top bar, perfect for sundowners or a braai.
Coffee Bay, Wild Coast
I have a long love affair with Coffee Shack as it was the first backpacker hostel I stayed in. A party hostel with a super location, just off the beach and river mouth, Coffee Shack is the place of legends. There are plenty of daytrips on offer – from hikes to Hole in the Wall and cliff-jumping to surf lessons and village tours. With the friendliest staff and affordable food and activities, you may never leave.
Bulungula, Wild Coast
Just a few round huts situated on a river mouth, and a spectacular stretch of wild beach, this could be paradise. Dolphins and whales are not uncommon in these parts, and cows on the beach a regular feature. If you feel the need to be active go kayaking on the river or horse-riding on the beach. Bulungula is a role model for effective community tourism and eco-tourism, and is the place to get off the grid. Forget wifi or cellphone reception. Switch off. Mediate. It’s magic.
Island Vibe is a backpacking institution. A party hostel of note and located in SA’s surf capital J-Bay, expect lots of fit, bronzed bodies and late nights dancing on the bar. The hostel is well located, just off the beach, and with a bar infamous for its craziness.
Away with the Fairies
Perched on the edge of the cliff and inspired by the mystique of JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, Away with the Fairies is a place of magic. This chilled-out backpackers is perfect for exploring the surrounding Hogsback mountains, part of the gorgeous Amatola range. Don’t expect a party hostel, this is a place for rest and relaxation and taking in nature. Do check out the treehouse and the bath tub on the cliff. You might even spot a fairy.
Tube ‘n Axe Backpackers
A backpackers hostel for adventure lovers, Tube ‘n Axe Backpackers is located closed to all the attractions in Tsitsikamma. Bungee jumping, blackwater tubing, canopy tours, biking, horseriding and snorkelling are just some of the adventure activities on offer. Walks in the stunning coastal forests of Tsitsikamma are a must, with spectacular viewpoints and even a suspension bridge!
Albergo for Backpackers
The views from the balcony – or even your bed, depending on your room – where dolphins and whales are often spotted, are reason enough to visit Albergo. The beach, restaurants, shops and nightlife are all within walking distance to this friendly and comfortable hostel. Albergo for backpackers makes a great base from which to explore the Garden Route and its activities.
This award-winning backpackers is a Cape Town institution known for its social atmosphere and excellent facilities. Well located close enough to the Long Street party strip to walk but far enough not to be noisy, The Backpack is conveniently located to experience Mother City nightlife. With designer rooms, a full service travel desk, and a restaurant that could stand on its own, the Backpack’s reputation is well deserved. Free unlimited WiFi is definitely a perk.
Meruschka Govender is a travel blogger and a writer for Overlanding Africa. Follow her travels on www.mzansigirl.com.