7 reasons you should backpack in Africa instead of Europe

As I sit here looking out over a green mountain that rolls into the sea, the music at the bar plays Milky Chance and I have a Savannah cider (that I paid $1 for) in my hand – I can’t believe how lucky I am. My fellow travelers here are from all over the world Germany, Israel, Denmark, Argentina, Norway – we are swapping stories of skydiving, discussing politics and the best places to eat eggs benedict.

I never knew a morning in Africa that I woke up and was not happy – Ernest Hemingway

I’m sure this isn’t what my friends at home think I’m doing. I’m not exactly sweating in a mud hut and fighting off crocodiles. In fact, I’ve happened upon a backpackers freaking paradise -adventure, affordability, culture, music, parties and jaw-dropping natural beauty. As much as I would like to keep Southern Africa a secret all for myself – I can’t. It must be shared. It must be discovered as the next backpacking and adventure haven that it undeniably is. So, as much as it pains me to share my secret adventure paradise…here are 7 reasons why you should revamp your travel plans and ditch the castles for the dark continent!

1. Unparalleled Adventure

Adventure is really Southern Africa’s true claim to fame. As far as tourism goes – the market is teeming with opportunities. Shark cage diving, the world’s highest bungee jump, mountaineering, skydiving, rock climbing, world class surf… this isn’t exclusive for resorts either. There are affordable opportunities for young people and backpackers that cater to adventurers of all shapes and sizes.

Everyone knows of Mt. Kilimanjaro but don’t miss other high altitude alternatives like Mt. Mulanje in Malawi and the entire mountain nation of Lesotho.

2. Cost

Traditionally Southern Africa has been known for the luxury safari traveling. Depending on your level of comfort this is still the item that may cost some extra dough. But depending on where you go, most national parks allow self-drive options. Otherwise, there are backpacker hostels that cater to budget travelers just outside of the parks. South Africa, Malawi, Botswana, and Namibia all offer affordable housing and wildlife viewing opportunities for the “safari” experience.

South Africa being the most developed nation in the region is truly a backpackers paradise. In fact, there is even a specific bus that will drop you off door-to-door at each hostel! (BAZ BUS) If you prefer more flexibility renting a car is only $15-$30 USD a day! Split this cost between other travelers you meet in the backpacker’s hostel and you’ve got a pretty sweet deal. A night in Cape Town will run you about $20 with quality lodges in smaller cities and countries about $8 USD per night.

In terms of food, a proper surf’n’turf dinner in Cape Town will set you back about 150 ZAR – the current equivalent of $10USD. Other parts of Africa may be more expensive for western style food as most items are imported. However, with some willingness to try the local cuisine the cost of food should be no hindrance to affordable travels throughout the region.

3. Natural Beauty

Mountains that roll into the sea and spill into turquoise waters, endless deserts invite orange sunsets that make you question every other sunset you’ve ever seen… green canyons stretch into bumbling rivers and moreover you can still get epically lost in this magic. Agh! But for real – it’s still wild – you can still be relatively alone in some of the most majestic landscapes nature ever created.

The only man I envy is the man who hasn’t yet been to Africa – for he has so much to look forward to. – Richard Mullin

4. Culture

The rainbow nation of South Africa has 11 national languages alone. As Africa was divided up during colonialism – tribes don’t exactly fall under western boundaries. Each nation in Southern Africa has an incredible flavor all to its own. The richness and depth of culture is unlike anything I have experienced elsewhere. They may not have the castles of Europe, but Africa holds a confusion of cultures that is still being sorted out in front of our eyes. This is an incredible time to travel Africa as you can literally see history unfolding.

Go on a quality township tour – Uthando

Go to a museum – Apartheid Museum

Go to a concert – The Orbit Johannesburg

4. Safety (it’s not what everyone seems to think)

I struggle to write this article as it’s so difficult to generalize for the entire region. Each nation within Southern Africa should be treated as a separate entity with different standards of safety and operation. It’s true – parts of Cape Town and Johannesburg are quite dangerous at the moment. However, I have felt less safe often walking the streets of San Francisco than I have in Cape Town. Just like in any big city, it’s smart to be street-wise. If you take normal precautions you should have no issues at all.

The southern cone is politically stable at the moment. Sure, there are some presidents who aren’t exactly leading a democracy but check out the rest of the world… do your research beforehand. Register with the embassy if you are nervous – even join a group overland tour. (Nomad Overland Tours being my favorite local operator.) In general don’t stress – there are travelers from all over the world adventuring solo in Southern Africa. Don’t let the media scare you.

5. Volunteer Opportunities

A wonderful feature of Africa travel is that it attracts individuals who want to give back during their trip. This has created a special market of organizations who offer volunteer opportunities. I recommend reading up before you go – research several organizations and make a positive impact. This is an unforgettable way to deeply connect with a place, I couldn’t recommend it more!

5 things everyone should know about wildlife volunteering in Africa


6. Parties and festivals

Music festivals are just one of the many reasons to visit southern Africa. Did you know South Africa even has its own version of Burning Man?! Check out these for a few of my favorite picks…

Africa Burn

Rocking the Daisies

Up the Creek

Lake of Stars – (read what to know before you go)


7. Do something different

The entire region of Southern Africa has truly captured my spirit. It’s high time that I stop being so selfish and allow the rest of the world to also experience the beauty that exists here. It may be a long flight from home but the type of traveler here is different. Africa doesn’t attract the hoards of binge drinking teenagers (although there are a few guilty gap year volunteers). Instead, people who make the journey tend to care about our planet and desire to discover themselves. In Swahili the word for ‘Safari’ means “to take a journey.” In my experience, I have found that people go on safari and return having taken an unforgettable and lifechanging journey.

In Swahili the word for “Safari” means “to take a journey.” In my experience, I have found that people go on safari and return having taken an unforgettable and lifechanging journey.

*Note: I have NOT been paid by any of the above-listed companies or organizations to promote their service or lodge. All opinions are my own and based on personal and professional experience in the African tourism sector.

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