HomeSouth AfricaSouth Africa: A Backpacker's Itinerary from Cape Town to Johannesburg

South Africa: A Backpacker’s Itinerary from Cape Town to Johannesburg

Many first-time backpackers choose Europe as their destination of choice. Maybe now you want to try someplace different? What about South America and Asia or, even better yet, South Africa! We can’t recommend South Africa enough; it will leave you speechless. Once you get a taste, we guarantee you will want to return several times with your backpack!

“SOUTH AFRICA: THIS IS NOT A HOLIDAY, IT’S AN ADVENTURE”

South Africa, overflowing with contrasts and diversity, can be summed up with one hashtag: #WildLife. The “wild” comes from its atypical landscapes and various animals, from lions and elephants to penguins on golden beaches. It also refers to the crazy parties on Long Street in Cape Town and the fun personalities and lifestyles of the South African people.

We go here to experience the incredible creative vibe and to participate in living the present moment to its fullest!

As a backpacker, safety is a priority, so you must prepare yourself well not to take unnecessary risks. Safe is always better than sorry! Always talk to your hostel reception and the locals before moving outside the tourist areas. Find out about the preventive measures before you leave and the things to avoid while you’re there.

How to get to South Africa?

You can fly to South Africa with Turkish Airlines to Cape Town or Johannesburg airport.

Nomadic tip: To save time and money, book your arrival flight in Cape Town and the departure flight in Johannesburg. This way, you’ll avoid having to take an internal flight or having to backtrack on your journey. 

If the COVID-19 situation is stressing you out, rest assured that there are health measures you can take at the airport and during the flight to make sure you travel safely and stay healthy. Turkish Airlines has implemented “TK Extra Care,” a high-quality protection protocol for every point of contact throughout your journey to ensure everyone’s safety. The protocol includes a contact-free luggage check-in service, temperature measurement of all the passengers, complete aircraft disinfection between each flight and the distribution of a small personal hygiene kit on the plane, among other things. Of course, you must respect the government measures of your country and the host country at all times.

Good to know: All Turkish Airlines planes have HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, which filter 99.97% of particles in the air to ensure clean and safe air inside the cabin. The air in the plane renews every 3 minutes thanks to this ventilation system. Very reassuring!

How to get around the country?

The Baz Buz is a bus service for backpackers that stops in all the essential places on your trip. The bus is an excellent way to explore South Africa by backpack. It takes you from one hostel to another hostel, so it’s ultra-secure! It also allows you to meet people and simplify your life. Buy a one-way ticket between Cape Town and Johannesburg, and you will be able to stop at all the stops you want, and it is valid for six months. You absolutely need a SIM card to text the location of your pick-up spot. Be mindful that you can only go in one direction; you cannot retrace your steps.

The best route for exploring South Africa with your backpack

1. Fall in love with Cape Town and climb Lion’s Head

Lion’s Head, Afrique du Sud

You’re going to love Cape Town, even if you’re not the type to like big cities. Stay in a hostel on Long Street; it’s the ideal neighbourhood near bars and restaurants. Cape Town is party central! Hungover or not, you can walk to Lion’s Head. It is a mini-trek that is definitely worth the detour. You will find a reward for your efforts with a superb bird’s eye view of the city and the ocean!

Simon’s Town, Afrique du Sud

To get to Simon’s Town and see the famous penguins on the beach, you can rent a car, hire a driver for the day, or take the Hop-On Hop-Off tourist city busIt’s an entirely scenic drive. You can google “Chapman’s Peak Drive” for an impressive taste. Simon’s Town is tiny and accommodating to pedestrians with lots of nearby beaches and cute restaurants.

2. Take the Garden Route

The Garden Route winds from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth for nearly 750 km. There are several classic stops, including multiple whale watching and wine tours.

Here are some detours you can take along the way:

Knysna

Knysna, Afrique du Sud

You can visit a real Rastafarian community through an organized tour (ask at your hostel) and learn more about this way of life.

Tsitsikamma National Park

Parc National de Tsitsikamma, Afrique du Sud

Tsitsikamma National Park is the place to try bungee jumping and tubing. There is also a famous “Tube’n Ax” hostel party that you won’t want to miss. The park is beautiful, although probably not in line with your preconceived image of an African landscape. We thought it looked more like New Zealand.

3. Get crazy about surfing (or surfers) at Jeffrey’s Bay

Jeffrey’s Bay, Afrique du Sud

Head to Jeffrey’s Bays or, as the locals say, J-Bay! It’s the surfing capital of the world with supertubes (giant barrel-like waves). Jeffrey’s Bay will charm you with its fanatic surfer culture.

Jeffrey’s Bay, Afrique du Sud

To soak up the beach vibe, you have to stay at the Island Vibe party hostel or, even better, at UBUNTU Backpackers, which is very cool and relaxed with a pool table, BBQ and ocean view. You can also visit the surf outlets to shop and go into town to dance in the evenings.

4. Stop for a single night in Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth is an obligatory stopover if you’re taking the Baz Bus. The city is big but rather uninteresting. Here you can rest before continuing your journey.

5. Venture to the Wild Coast and stay too long in Coffee Bay

Coffee Bay - Afrique du Sud
Coffee Bay, Afrique du Sud

The Wild Coast is a favourite amongst backpackers, especially the village of Coffee Bay. It’s a magical place in the land of the Xhosas with round, funny-coloured houses.

Coffee Bay is my favourite place in South Africa, thanks to the hippie vibe and cute coffee shops. But what I love most is that it finally feels like the Africa you’ve always imagined. Coffee Bay, what a crazy sight: it’s surfing, it’s tamtam parties in the evening, it’s a tiny village lost at the end of the world! You owe yourself to stay at Coffee Shack Backpackers, a trendy and relaxed spot that turns into a small party in the evening.

Coffee Bay, Afrique du Sud

There are 11 official languages ​​in South Africa. The most spoken language in Coffee Bay is Xhosa FYI, Afrikaans is the language of white South Africans of Dutch descent, and their favourite expressions are: “Lekke Lekke” which means calm and “Braii” which means barbecue.

6. Stop-over in Durban to eat Indian food

Durban, Afrique du Sud

It may seem surprising, but Durban is the largest Indian community in Africa. There are so many beautiful beaches there!

7. Admire the lunar landscape of the Drakensberg mountain range

Drakensberg, Afrique du Sud

Don’t leave South Africa without seeing this place! Go to Amphitheater Backpackers, a lodge that looks like a desert ranch in the perfect location.

Lesotho - Nomad Junkies
Lesotho

Nomadic Tip: From Drakensberg, you can book a day to go to Lesotho, a unique area with many treks and adventures around. Lesotho is a high-altitude country, a landlocked kingdom in the territory of South Africa.

8. Explore Johannesburg

Johannesburg, Afrique du Sud
Johannesburg, Afrique du Sud

Nicknamed Jozy, Johannesburg is one of those vibrant cities you must see in your lifetime, especially when exploring South Africa by backpack! The safest way to get around is with a tourist bus pass. Stay at the super lovely and cool Curiosity Backpackers hostel, which offers many exciting tours run by young people. During my stay, they took me to an outdoor DJ Black Coffee concert downtown. You can’t miss a visit to Soweto; so much key history happened there. In the township of Soweto, you can visit the former home of Nelson Mandala and the Apartheid Museum for an experience that will forever mark you.

9. Go on a game drive to see the Big 5 at Kruger National Park!

Kruger, Afrique du Sud
Kruger, Afrique du Sud

If you want to go on a safari without breaking the bank, do it on your own! Book a bus ticket with a reliable company, like Intercity, from Johannesburg to Nelspruit, closest to Kruger. Once in Nelspruit, stay at the Old Vic Travelers Inn, which has a large swimming pool and negotiate a 14-hour day Kruger ride at the inn for less than $100 per person.

Kruger, Afrique du Sud
Kruger, Afrique du Sud

In one day at Kruger National Park, you will see almost as much wildlife as you would in 2-3 days because you’re in full safari mode. Here you’ll ride in a big 12-person Jeep with a private guide, a touch of luxury during your otherwise rugged backpacking trip. It’s an extraordinary experience. Be prepared to see the Big 5: leopards, lions, rhinos, elephants and buffalo, as well as thousands of zebras and many other animals!

10. Be speechless in front of the Blyde River Canyon

Afrique du Sud en backpack
Blyde River Canyon, Afrique du Sud

You will be completely captivated by the Blyde River Canyon, the 3rd largest canyon in the world at 26 km in length. The red sandstone cliffs contrast with the lush vegetation and create a panorama that we would like to admire for hours. “The Three Rondavels” is one of the most popular viewpoints, but you can do several hikes to stretch your legs and find quieter lookouts. This half-day trip tends to be included in your tour to Kruger, so be sure to book it in Nelspruit.

When planning your next adventure, the most important thing is to follow health advice at the airport, on the plane and at your destination!

Nomadic Tip: Keep in mind that you can take advantage of Turkish Airlines’ flexible travel policy, which gives you the right to change the date of your tickets at no cost (or even change the destination) and also offers refund options if necessary. Make sure to consider this while making your plans!

While you’re booking, don’t forget about travel insurance! See our article on SafetyWing travel insurance which now includes coverage for COVID-19.

This article was originally published in French and adapted in English by Britney Claveau.

Emilie Robichaud
Emilie Robichaud
Je suis accro au mode de vie nomade! J’ai quitté ma zone de confort pour voyager à temps plein. Mon tour du monde sans fin compte plus de 71 pays et ça continue! Le voyage, c'est un style de vie et un état d'esprit!
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