PRO TIP: If you’re planning to travel in South Africa, be it on a budget or on a luxury tour, I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have decent travel insurance – especially if you plan to tour by bike or scooter. I always use World Nomads, as they’re known as the best insurer for backpackers and long term travellers.
Where to next?? Ireland has some great hostels too!
Characteristics of the best hostels in South Africa;
- They’re big enough to be able to make lots of new friends and meet people but no so big that it feels like a hotel and becomes difficult to make friends.
- They all have a great atmosphere, helped along by friendly staff and a layout which encourages people to mingle rather than sitting alone. Think large tables which sit 10+ people or a bar with Table Football or a Beer Pong table, and nightly activities such as pub crawls, pool tournaments or theme parties.
- Many organize family dinners which are often very cheap and mean that everyone gets to eat at the same time and make friends while doing so.
- The hostel makes the destination. In many places in South Africa, people will drive 6 hours to stay in a hostel where there is virtually nothing to do except stay at the hostel. In South Africa, this defines a really great, and well established, hostel. People travel from far and wide simply to stay in the hostel.
- They encourage people to hang around together. A great atmosphere and vibe in a hostel in a busy town or beach will also guarantee that most people will stay in the hostel all day hanging out by the swimming pool or sipping on beers instead of venturing out.
- Location, location, location. Be it nestled under the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town, over looking one of the top surf beaches in the world or situated in a hidden bay along the Wild Coast, all of South Africa’s best backpackers hostels have being built in the most perfect locations, making exploring the local area or simply enjoying the view, that mush sweeter.
- Good WiFi!! A hostel that does not have free (or at least good) WiFi in 2015 is seriously behind the times. Most hostels on this list (but not all, sadly) have excellent internet connections and allow anyone staying there to connect for free. South Africa is definitely still behind the rest of the world in terms of good internet connection, with many hostels only having WiFi close to the bar or reception area and most requiring you to log in with annoying little codes which only last for 30 minutes.
Right, so now that you know what makes a good hostel, let me present to you my 9 favourites. I don’t normally do these lists in order, but this time I have decided to as some of these were definitely better that other. Please let me know if you stayed in some great hostels in South Africa that you believe should be added to the list…I love hearing about great hostels that I missed or never stayed in.
9. Santos Express, Mossel Bay
Santos Express Train Hostel was the first hostel we stayed in on our road trip up the East Coast of South Africa and the view we were greeted with when we woke up was enough to give it a place in this list!! The hostel is actually a train, parked up on a hill running alongside Santos Beach in Mossel Bay. The cabins are pretty much just the way the would have been when the train was still in operation and one of the carriages has been renovated and is now a bar and restaurant with a large deck area and spectacular views over the bay.
While the hostel itself was a bit quiet, and there wasn’t really that much of an atmosphere in the bar compared to the other hostels on this list, Santos Express gets extra points for uniqueness and the price of the drinks…which were the cheapest we came across on our trip! The bedrooms / cabins also had the best morning view…a view that honestly couldn’t be beaten!
8. Wild Spirit Backpackers, The Crags
Wild Spirit Backpackers in The Crags, which is in the middle of The Garden Route, is one of those special places in South Africa that everyone should try and make it to. But only a rare few do…which is actually what keeps the spirit alive. Whether you are looking to hike, swim in the ocean with bio luminescent plankton or just laze learning to master some fire poi by a camp fire…this is your place! This eco-friendly hostel is surrounded by indigenous forests, well maintained organic gardens, yellow wood trees and stunning waterfalls.
You will be delighted to be placed in their bunk free dorms (hooray, no drunken climbing up triple bunks with no ladder!!) and the spectacular view from the rooms is hard to beat. The place is run by a load of volunteers who will always go out of their way to help you out and to make you feel at home. Many backpackers I encountered said their stay in this hostel made their entire South Africa trip and they would 100% recommend to all their friends.
Other people I chatted to said they had heard about it as far away as Hawaii and couldn’t wait to spend a few weeks there. Definitely a very special place.
7. Afrovibe, Sedgefield
Despite the fact that in rained for the full 3 days we stayed at Afrovibe, I could still see what huge potential this party hostel has. Located in Sedgefield along the Garden Route (half way between Knysna and Wilderness), the hostel is situated right on the beach in between large sand dunes. While the dorm rooms were nothing to write home about (although they were en-suite which was a big bonus!) the bar was the real winner here. The hostel has a huge bar and restaurant area, and to continue the beach vibe theme the entire area is covered in sand…including the inside area! There is also a massive bonfire lit each evening, a large beer pong table and some of the best wood fire pizza I tasted in South Africa.
The staff were really friendly and could be found hanging out in the bar or around the bonfire each evening, and were always willing to help out arranging activities or accommodation for other parts of your trip. Perfect hostel for any surfers looking for some good waves or just for beach bums looking to chill out on the dunes. This hostel also has a real novel way of welcoming people after they check in…they take them down to the beach and take photos with large wooden photo frames..to ensure you’ll never forget your stay at Afrovibe!
6. Away With The Fairies, Hogsback
Away With The Fairies, located in the village of Hogsback in the Amathole mountains, is one of South Africa’s true hidden gems. While a popular place among many intrepid backpackers, the town itself is still very sleepy and not known by most South Africans. What makes this place so special is that it is unlike any other place you will visit. The hostel and gardens that surround it are often covered in this mystical mist and fog that comes in from the mountains, obscuring one of the most spectacular views in the entire region.
This town is said to have a strong link with J R R Tolkien who lived here until he was four years old and returned many times in his later years. There is a real ‘Lord of The Rings’ theme going on everywhere you look, from rooms in the hostel named after characters from the books such as Samwise, Merry and Pippin, as well as signs to a local village called The Shire. In the evenings you can sign up for the family dinners served on a long table by a bug open fire, and if you feel like a bit of pampering you can sign up for a massage from the resident masseuse and tarot card reader. The main attraction in this place, however, is their incredible outdoor bath overlooking the valley below. The staff can turn on the hot water for you and you can hop into the most extreme bath tub you will ever come across in your life.
5. Ashanti Lodge Gardens, Cape Town
Ashanti Lodge and Gardens in Cape Town totally blew me away. More of a flashpackers than a regular hostel, this is the kind of place where you will find it very difficult to find any flaws. The entire hostel is spotless and all the bathrooms are kept super clean and tidy, somewhat of an anomaly in cheap hostels! There were plenty of plug sockets in the rooms and everyone has their own light above their bed. The rooms were spacious and my dorm even had a sink so we could brush our teeth without having to walk down the corridor to the bathrooms. Facilities wise, there was a big swimming pool with deck chair all nestled at the bottom of Table Mountain which meant amazing views while you lay sunbathing, a large chill out area both inside and outside and a bar with a pool table. It is by no means a party hostel and the bar does close pretty early, but it still gives solo travelers enough time to make friends with fellow backpackers before heading out to Long Street which is only a few minutes walk away. There is also a large garden out the front for having BBQ’s and the women at the travel desk was super helpful in helping me decide what activities to do each day. When I return to Cape Town, I definitely know where I’ll be staying! Fun fact: Ashanti was one of the first 10 hostels in the world to sign up to Hostelworld.com when it first started!
4. The Coffee Shack, Coffee Bay
The Coffee Shack in beautiful Coffee Bay is somewhat of an institution in South Africa. It’s being welcoming intrepid backpackers for over 15 years, having first opened its doors in February 2000. I was lucky enough to stay in this awesome hostel way back in 2004 so I was delighted to return this year and to see how much (or in this case how little) had changed. It’s amazing how the hostel has kept the same vibe and welcoming atmosphere for over a decade. The Coffee Shack is more like a tight knit community than your typical backpackers hostel. There are lots of volunteers, the staff will do whatever to make you feel at home and there are so many freebies such as buckets full of fresh mussels and free dinner on a Sunday evening! They give back to the community through scholarship and employment programmes and give guests the opportunity to integrate with the locals through home stays and village walks.
The dorms are in traditional Rondavels, small round huts that are the norm in this part of South Africa. The whole complex is a bit like a sprawling maze, with lots of places to sit and chill out, a lively bar and a cute garden (perfect for camping) with a view over the river mouth and coffee bay. There are nightly parties, family dinners and loads of fun activities including hikes to Hole in the Wall and the cheapest surf lessons in all of South Africa…just 50 rand (about 3 euro!) for a 2 hour lesson!!
3. Curiocity Backpackers, Johannesburg
I actually dedicated a whole blog post to this amazing hostel as I was really taken by surprise and couldn’t believe how much of a hidden gem it was. It honestly 100% made my trip to Johannesburg and If I had not stayed in Curiocity Backpackers, there is no way I would have hung around Joburg for 6 days like I did. The hostel is super new and modern, but in a very historic district and building, which gives the place a very cool edge. It’s located in a really safe area of Joburg and there are tonnes of cool bars and hipster cafes nearby. Their free Wifi was the best connection I found in South Africa, the staff were beyond helpful and everyone staying there ensured there was always a great atmosphere in the bar or on the sundeck, or if it was warm enough, in and around the awesome hot tub out back.
2. Buccaneers, Chintsa
The first comment I made to the receptionist in Buccaneers Hostel in Chinsta, which slipped out of my mouth just as she showed me into their ‘cheapest’ dormitory was, “You’re got to be kidding me!”. The view was literally insane. It was the best view from a hostel dormitory that I have ever seen and remains one of my top hostels in the world. The fact that it was only costing me about 8 euro a night was the real cherry on top. Buccaneers is a bit different from all the other hostels in that it is more like an all-inclusive resort than a simple hostel. They organize daily activities for guests such as Volley Ball tournaments and Treasure Hunts and they offer free boxed wine to everyone at 4pm everyday to try and get solo travelers mingling with everyone else. They offer horse riding, game drives, surf lessons and a range of other activities to ensure your days are full of fun. There are also massages on offer, a pool-side bar and restaurant, a swimming pool, volley ball courts, canoes and surf boards you can use and even yoga sessions in the mornings.
The ‘View of Africa’ restaurant, where they serve up delicious breakfasts and family style group dinners, has one of the most incredible views you will come across and will ensure that some days, like me, you will eat your breakfast overlooking the lagoon and bay and probably stay put for the whole day.
1. Island Vibe, Jeffrey’s Bay
Ahhhh Island Vibe, my happy place. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes this hostel so special but it pretty much bears all the characteristics mentioned at the top of this post that sum up a great backpackers hostel. First of all, the location is unbeatable. Situated on a hill top on the far Eastern corner of J-bay, it over looks the beach and many excellent surf breaks. There is a 180′ panoramic view of the beach from pretty much anywhere you look, and there are also backpackers sitting around on the picnic benches, deck chairs or just lazing on the grass enjoying the sunshine and wicked views. The ‘vibe’ here really is seriously special. The staff are hilarious, super friendly and always willing to help. They seem to know everyone’s name from the minute you arrive and are always happy to grab a beer with you, bring you surfing or to just lounge around and drinks some cold beers.
This is the kind of place where many backpackers gets stuck for many days or even weeks, unable to fight off that impending hangover and thus taking the easy option of continuing to keep drinking and challenging the new arrivals to a game of beer pong. Whether it’s doing one of Goodman’s excellent Township tours, going cliff jumping at the waterfall or signing up for an early morning surf lesson with Gabriel, your days at Island Vibe will be packed with endless fun. Or filled with nothing at all except for curling up in the shade with a good book and cold beer. That’s the joy of this place.