Budget Backpacking Guide To: South Africa

Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

Have you ever considered backpacking through South Africa but thought it would cost you too much money?  Well, think again.  This is a backpacker’s haven.  Yes, some excursions and things along the way will cost you a bit more than other countries, but the value for money in this country is amazing!  If you’re from Europe or North America, you will find the cost of travelling here to be cheaper than at home.

How Much Will South Africa Cost?

South Africa Budget

$119/day for 2 people.

This amount includes renting a car, paying for petrol, going to National Parks, buying groceries at the supermarket rather than eating at restaurants, drinking beer & wine and staying in nice backpackers accommodation.

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Budget Accommodation:

The backpackers (guesthouses) in South Africa are some of the best accommodation you will find anywhere in the world.  They have all the amenities a backpacker could dream of, and more! A double room with great facilities will cost you anywhere from $30 – $50.


Restaurants in South Africa have the standard western price tag attached to their menu.  What most budget backpackers do is buy groceries at the supermarket (Pick n’ Pay being the most popular) and make meals at the backpackers.  As an example: a pack of 4 chicken breasts costs $1.50, traditional South African sausages cost $5 and cheese is about $3 for a block.  The grocery store pricing is much cheaper than the prices in North America.

National Park Fees:

If you’re heading up to the more popular Kruger National Park, expect to see many other vehicles trying to spot wildlife.  If you want to do an exciting, less popular safari, check out Addo National Park, Umfolozi National Park and the St. Lucia Wetlands.  You even have the option to do a self-drive safari, which we highly recommend!  Check out this website for information on South Africa’s National Parks and entrance fees.


Booze is cheap in South Africa.  Wine is about $5/bottle at the grocery store and local beer is cheap at the backpacker bars, about $1.50/bottle.

Places to See in South Africa

Cape Town: Beautiful Cape Town is South Africa’s crowning jewel. Hugging the sea with the towering table mountain at it’s core and the charming harbour area, it can be hard to leave this city.

Stellenbosch: Who wants to go to South Africa without trying the wines? Stellenbosch and the Robertson area are the perfect places to head out on a wine tour and sample some of the countries finest grape varieties. Make sure you stick around a while and check out the town of Stellenbosch itself, which offers historical buildings and a fun young vibe. For all you need to know about travelling to Stellenbosch, check out this useful Stellenbosch guide.

Addo National Park: Our personal favourite national park in the country, Addo has tons of elephants, some zebra and a few lions. It’s much quieter and easier to navigate than Kruger and you just feel like you’re in the wild.

The Wild Coast: Probably the most scenic region in all of Africa, the Wild Coast is absolutely breathtaking. Make sure to stop at Port St. John’s and Coffee bay.

Want more? Check out The Crazy Tourist for 15 awesome things to do in South Africa!

What Is The Budget Accommodation Like In South Africa?

Budget Accommodation for budget backpackers
Budget Accommodation

The budget accommodation in South Africa is called “backpackers”.  Usually it’s someone’s home that they have converted into a guesthouse.  Some places have only 2 rooms, others have many rooms.  There’s typically a communal kitchen, shared bathroom facilities, a bar and restaurant area and usually some sort of yard.  These backpackers are  funky and have a really fun vibe.  You’ll meet many local and foreign travellers if you stay at them.    Another option is to pitch a tent in the yard.  Many people do this.  It costs much less and you still have the option to use the bathroom, kitchen and other amenities.

**Goat Note: Free booklets are available at the grocery stores and at the backpackers called “Coast to Coast”  and “Alternative Route”.  These are what you will use in order to find your backpacker/hostel accommodation.


Should I Rent A Car In South Africa?

Rent A Car In S.A

YES!  The only other option for getting around in South Africa is either buying a vehicle, taking the Greyhound Bus or taking the Baz Bus.  The Baz Bus goes between the more popular cities, departing on specific days and only dropping travellers off at designated ‘backpackers’.  This isn’t ideal and doesn’t allow you any freedom or room for spontaneity.

With your own vehicle, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want!

**Goat Note:  You can rent a small Chevy Spark car online at carhire3000 online for as little as $20/day including insurance and drop-off fee in a different city.

Pros Of Budget Backpacking In South Africa:

Pros of budget backpacking south africa
Pros Of Backpacking S.A

There are many pros to backpacking South Africa. It’s a place of wonder, adventure and diversity. The country itself is so incredible that you will wonder why you had never thought of coming here before. Of course we can’t list all of them, but here are a few of the most obvious pros to backpacking in South Africa.

The National Parks:

Sprawling grasslands, well marked trails and an abundance of wildlife are what you’ll find in the National Parks in South Africa. Check out Addo Elephant, Umfolozi, St. Lucia Wetlands and Kruger Park. We highly recommend doing a self-drive safari, it’s so exciting to come up to a pack of lions or a herd of elephants and and be the only ones around!

See our post: South African Safari – National Parks You Can Afford

The Wildlife:

Each day you will come across some sort of exotic wildlife, whether it’s a bird, a zebra, a snake, a penguin or a lion!  There’s always something beautiful to see.

The South Africans:

The people of South Africa are very hospitable and adventurous people who are knowledgeable about their country. If you need directions, someone to have a beer with or if you’re looking for somewhere great to go, just ask a local!


The food is much more diverse than the rest of Africa, with Michelin starred restaurants, Indian & Dutch influences and western standards.

The Wineries:

Stunning backdrops, delicious wines and free tastings at most wineries!

The Scenery:

From the wetlands to the coast to the mountains, this place has it all. Take a drive and see all of the gorgeous areas of South Africa.

Extreme Sports & Activities:

This is an adventure junky’s paradise! You can cage dive with Great White Sharks, jump one of the highest bungee lines in the world, sky dive, parasail, zip-line through the jungle, whale watch, scuba dive, surf and the list goes on and on!

Cons Of Travel In South Africa:

cons to budget backpacking
Cons Of Backpacking S.A

No matter how great a country is, there will always be a few cons to go along with the pros. South Africa is so full of amazing experiences, but there are a few things to watch out for.

There aren’t many cons to travelling here, but the few that stand out are listed below.



The discrimination between the Afrikaners (Dutch descendants), the English and the native South Africans is still prevalent even today. Make sure you visit the District 6 Museum and others like it in Cape Town to gain a better understanding of this awful topic.

Cost of Transportation:

You can take the Baz Bus, the Greyhound bus, buy a car or rent a car.  However, all of these options are quite costly and not exactly budget backpacker friendly.

Crime Rate:

Johannesburg and Cape Town have some of the highest crime rates in the world.  Be cautious when travelling in these cities, and any of the other big cities in South Africa.  Don’t keep your valuables on you when walking around, take a taxi at night and lock your car doors when driving.  Never stop for a hitch-hiker or someone else appearing to have car trouble, 9 times out of 10 it will be a set up and you’ll be robbed or car-jacked.  Having said all of that, we spent 5 weeks driving through this country and didn’t have a single issue.

Types Of Other Travellers & Backpackers:

Budget Backpacker
Types Of Travellers

The people who are travelling through South Africa, or Africa in general, are usually more mature than travellers in other parts of the world.  Most travellers are about 25 years of age older.  The travellers you’ll meet while backpacking are typically from South Africa (the English & the Dutch descendants), Europe and North America.  You’ll also find many people doing volunteer work.

Visa Regulations For South Africa:

Visa Budget Backpackers
Visa Regulations

A 90 day, free visa on arrival is available at land border crossings and at airports for nationals of the EU, the USA, Commonwealth countries, most South American countries, Israel, the Scandinavian countries and a few others.

South Africa is an easy country to enter!

Entry Requirements To South Africa:

Budget backpacker entry requirement
Entry Requirements

You will need to have at least one blank page in your passport, proof of a Yellow Fever vaccination if coming from other parts of Africa or South America and proof of onward travel (say the official websites, but we didn’t have to show anything).

Health In South Africa:

Budget backpacking health
Health In S.A

The great thing about South Africa is that you don’t need to take anti-malaria pills! The only high-risk areas are Mpumalanga, Limpopo (including Kruger National Park), Zululand and near the border with Mozambique. Most travellers don’t bother taking the pills, which can be expensive, cumbersome and include a long list of side-effects. This is of course your choice, but tales of malaria sickness and bad medical reactions are only usually heard outside of these borders. Malarone currently has fewer side-effects than other pills on the market.

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Phone & Internet In South Africa:

phone and internet budget backpackers
Phone & Internet

You’ll be surprised at the lack of internet in South Africa…well, the lack of decent internet anyways.  For a western, first world country, they are seriously behind in the internet department.  It’s slow and costs a lot to use.  There’s wi-fi in some restaurants and backpackers but usually it’s not fast enough to be able to upload any photos and the connection will cut in and out.  Very frustrating. SIM cards cost about $25, but if you are driving through the country, it’s necessary to have a phone in case of emergencies.  Also, it’s a good idea to call the backpackers ahead of time to book a room.

When Is The Best Time To Visit South Africa?

When To Go budget backpacker
Weather In S.A

September to November and April to May are the best times to visit South Africa, but these times can change depending on your travel pursuits. The temperatures are neither too hot or too cold in these months and the skies are at their clearest. But don’t worry, you can visit South Africa at any time of the year and still be quite comfortable. If you’re planning an ascent to higher altitudes, like those surrounding the Drakensberg Mountains, then you are better off visiting during the warmer months. The climate is driest around the winter months however, which makes animal spotting easier as they tend to congregate around ponds and rivers.





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The Ultimate Guide To Backpacking South Africa

Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

Written by

Nick Wharton

Nick is the co-founder, editor and author of Goats On The Road. He contributes to numerous other media sites regularly and shares his expert knowledge of travel, online entrepreneurship and blogging with the world whenever he can. He has been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and has more than 10 years of experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Nick's advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and he spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging. Learn more about Nick Wharton on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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