About backpacker hostels

Southern Africa offers an extensive collection of backpacker hostels and budget accommodation. Southern African backpacker hostels offer the traveller much by way of facilities and services.

Backpacker hostels can also be found in most major tourist destinations and have the best locations. There are several backpacker hostels on the beach, some in the mountains and a few in remote, rural Africa. Others can be found in the heart of the cities and in its trendy districts.

Every hostel in Southern Africa is a unique entity with its own attitude and atmosphere. There are no mass produced hostelling franchises here. There is so much variety. You’re sure to find one that suits your budget, your needs or your particular taste.


Backpacker hostels South AfricaMost backpacker hostels offer a variety of sleeping arrangements including dorm rooms, double rooms, twin rooms and en suite double rooms. Single rooms and family rooms are less common but some backpacker hostels can arrange them if you ask. Most hostels supply linen; including sheets, pillows and a duvet or a blanket.


Backpacker hostels South AfricaCamping grounds are very rare in the cities, but are more common out of the cities. You’ll have to bring along your own tent and sleeping bags. Some backpacker hostels will rent or loan you mattresses. Most camping grounds in backpacker hostels do not have power points, but the kitchen and other facilities are made available to campers.


Backpacker hostels South AfricaIf a place is called a ‘backpackers hostel’ or ‘backpackers lodge’, it will have a kitchen available for you to use. Most kitchens are very well equipped. Even the most basic have enough for you not to carry any cooking stuff other than your food. The only thing you may want to carry is a small, all-purpose knife but don’t carry it onto the plane in your hand luggage. Braaing, the South African equivalent of the barbeque is very popular in backpacker hostels. Almost every hostel has a braai stand. Most backpacker hostels offer free tea and non-filter coffee(chicory/coffee blend).


Backpacker hostels South AfricaMost backpacker hostels offer breakfast or dinner or both. Some have a restaurant with an a la carte’ menu. City backpacker hostels are less likely to offer meals as there are usually restaurants nearby. Most backpacker hostels in far-flung places offer meals.


Backpacker hostels South AfricaTravelling is just that little bit more relaxing after a drink at the end of a day. Backpacker hostels have bars where you can swap tales with fellow travellers and not have to worry about breathalyser tests on the way back to your accommodation. For an authentic South African drink, ask for a “Springbok”


Backpacker hostels South AfricaMost backpacker hostels offer safe-keeping of smaller valuables and documents in either individual safes or the hostel safe.


Backpacker hostels South AfricaAgain, more backpacker hostels have internet access than don’t. But, South Africa has been slow to get connected, so some backpacker hostels are still on snail-mail dial-up connections. But, we doubt that you came to Africa in search of reliable internet connections, so remember that there are backpacker hostels in places so remote that there is no electricity and running water let alone a computer. Visit these places and unplug from the matrix if only for a short while.

Bed bugs

Backpacker hostels South AfricaBackpacker hostels are trying hard to fight the scourge of bed bugs. Unfortunately, the resilient buggers also make good travellers and are often brought into backpacker hostels by guests. If you do get bitten by bed bugs during your stay at a hostel, please don't see it as a sign of a dirty place. The best thing to do in that situation is to inform management without making it sound like an accusation. Once they know there's a problem, they'll be quick to act.


Backpacker hostels South AfricaYou can get your laundry done almost anywhere. Most backpacker hostels offer a laundry service. Bear in mind that tumble dryers are rare in our sunny country and that washing dries on the line. You’ll most probably have to be spend at least one or two nights in a backpacker hostel to get fresh clothing. Nudity is not legal in our country and smelling fruity chases away the pretty girls, so we advise you plan your laundry stop.


Backpacker hostels South AfricaAll backpacker hostels have a solution for travellers who need to park their car. Most backpacker hostels out of the cities offer off-street parking at no extra cost. In the cities space is more of a problem. You may need to park on the street or hire a parking bay from the backpacker hostel.

Credit card payments

Backpacker hostels South AfricaBackpacker hostels in the cities will be more likely to accept credit card payments. Visa and Mastercard are more widely accepted, American Express less so. If you plan on staying in a rural backpacker hostel, it may be better to ask before you arrive if they accept credit card payments and if not, if there is a cash machine nearby.

Travel desks

Backpacker hostels South AfricaArranging your travels can be much easier if you speak to someone who knows more than you do. Most backpacker hostels have a travel desk. Some are big and can sell you everything from safaris and tours and will help arranging your car hire. Other travel desks, especially those in the middle of the country are smaller but will still arrange your next Baz Bus trip, your stay at other backpacker hostels and local tours.

Shuttle services

Where taxi-cabs are not available, backpacker hostels usually offer shuttle services to and from the hostel and bus stops, the shops and other locations. Some shuttle services are free, some not. Ask if you are unsure.

Star grading

This is a contentious issue amongst backpacker hostel owners. On the one hand, some owners are graded because they feel that they offer a level of service and facilities. They want to attract guests looking for this standard. Other owners feel that the appeal of their backpacker hostels is in the atmosphere that they create rather than the standard of their facilities. They feel that atmosphere cannot be graded.

The truth is that some graded hostels have wonderful vibes and some ungraded hostels have great facilities. If you do want to make sense of what the star grading of backpacker hostels means, here it is:

A Backpacker and/or Hostelling establishment is an accommodation facility that provides communal facilities, including dormitories yet may offer a range of alternative sleeping arrangements. Only establishments that cater for transient guests (travelling public) will qualify for grading...

What does each star mean?

  • 1 star - Fair to good (acceptable/modest) quality in the overall standard of furnishings, service and guest care. Clean, comfortable and functional accommodation.
  • 2 star - Good quality in the overall standard of furnishings, service and guest care.
  • 3 star - Very good quality in the overall standard of furnishings, service and guest care.
  • 4 star - Superior (excellent) comfort and quality with a high standard of furnishings, service and guest care.
  • 5 star - Exceptional quality and luxurious accommodation (matching best international standards). Highest standard of furnishings, flawless service and meticulous guest care.

Backpacker hostels are assessed every 12 months. Complaints about a graded hostel can be forwarded to the Tourism Grading Council.

Ethical and responsible travel

Backpacker hostels South AfricaBackpacker travellers are understood to be open-minded people with a deeper perception than your average package tourist. But, the truth is that even for backpackers, it’s easy to forget our conscience when we travel. After all, nobody wants to ask guilt-laden questions about the negative consequences of our travelling when we just want to have fun.

But, our travels do have consequences on the environment and the people of the places that we visit. Backpacker travellers will have to be the trendsetters of responsible tourism. We are closer to this goal than any other type of tourist. We don’t expect you to give up travelling. Infact, South Africans who rely on tourism would be distraught if you didn’t visit. Rather visit http://www.responsibletravel.com and become aware. Then visit South Africa as an ethical tourist.

Look for backpacker hostels and other tourism products that are Fair Trade in Tourism accredited. Fair Trade in Tourism is about ensuring that the people whose land, natural resources, labour, knowledge and culture are used for tourism activities, actually benefit from tourism. Go to www.fairtourismsa.org.za for more info.


Backpacker hostels South AfricaPeople who work in South African backpacker hostels are friendly and helpful. At first, you may be suspicious of their friendliness, but you’ll soon realize that it’s genuine.
You may get a bit confused and frustrated that staff who want to be helpful struggle to be. Or they may not be as quick as you’d like them to be. Just remember that a staff member in a South African hostel may not know how things are done in your country. And this is not ignorance. Rather, it’s a naivety of people who are only now coming into contact with foreigners. So trade attitudes; adopt some African cool while Africans work on perfecting customer service.

South African travellers

Backpacker hostels South AfricaSouth Africans may find it hard to believe that they're not universally loved in backpacker hostels. Until recently, South Africans were not welcome at some backpacker hostels. And the dislike is in some cases warranted. Some locals have generated a reputation for being badly behaved that's made it worse for us other green passport bearers. South Africans are mostly new to backpacking and know little of the etiquette.

Here are some basic suggestions for South African backpackers, as well as those of other nationalities:

  • You share space and facilities with other paying guests. Be considerate. Don't hog the pool table, wash your dishes and clean up after yourself. Embrace Ubuntu.
  • Most backpacker lodges have licenced bars. If you're going to visit the bar, support the backpackers and buy drinks from the bar instead of bringing your own.
  • If you get aggressive or loud after a few drinks, don't drink or stay elsewhere.
  • Backpackers are social places. Try to make friends with others besides the people you came with.
  • Keep your negativity about South Africa and racist rantings to yourself.
  • Guys, don't hit on every girl in or out of a bikini. If you're going to, be suave not sleazy.
  • If you're paying budget rates, don't expect five star hotel treatment.
  • KEEP THE NOISE DOWN when other people are sleeping.

Dissatisfied customers

Backpacker hostels South AfricaAll the write-ups in Alternative Route sounds flowery because it’s paid-for advertising. But, all the establishments in this book meet with our approval. They maintain a standard we deem to be acceptable. Please remember that this is based on our criteria and perceptions of a place. If a backpacker hostel does not meet with your standards, you are not obliged to stay.
The majority of lodge owners and staff care passionately about their place. Please be a little understanding. Lodges are 24/7 living organisms, and do have bad days.

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