No matter how you travel, South Africa is cheap for a westerner at the moment. The South African Rand has gone down the long drop (Afrikaans for shitter) and currently stands at about R15 to 1USD. However, even with the exchange rate in our favor, there is a wide ranges of places to lay your head in South Africa, and a corresponding cost for accommodations. You can find European style cities such as Cape Town with five star hotels and prices to match, private game reserves in the mountains, and swanky guest houses throughout the famous Garden Route — or you can head to a backpackers (hostel), pitch a tent in the backyard and spend about $5 a night.
Top 5 reasons to bringing a tent:
If you want to go the backpackers route, bringing a tent will cut your cost of accommodation nearly in half.
Most backpackers in South Africa offer camping, and while it ranges from a dirt patch in their backyard to nice campsites, having your own tent is crucial. We brought a small two person tent which was light and could be set up easily no matter how crowded the campsite. A camping spot will usually run about R70 ($5) per person. In comparison, a bed in a dorm runs around R150 ($10) per person. Camping gives you access to all the self-catering amenities at the backpacker such as kitchen, showers and often free coffee and tea.
Bringing a tent along also opens you up to the option of staying at campgrounds, game reserves or parks that offer camping. Campsites are common within parks, conservation areas and game reservers, but they typically cost as much or more than backpackers and usually don’t come with kitchens and showers. Often you are also required to pay an additional daily fee to the conservation area or game reserve if you are camping within one of these areas. On the other hand, staying at one of these sites can be a nice break from staying at backpackers which tend to attract party crowds and have loud music playing into the night.
Bringing your own tent along also guarantees availability at most backpackers. While dorm beds and rooms often fill up at backpackers, campsites rarely do. Throughout our three months of traveling throughout South Africa we rarely booked in advanced and instead just showed up at backpackers and found space to pitch our tent. The only place where this was not possible was Cape Town. Cape Town is the most popular tourist destination in South Africa and while they have more backpackers than any other area in the country most of the backpackers don’t offer camping. Those that do have camping available are usually booked up a few days in advanced. So, for Cape Town, just call ahead.
A tent is basically a private room, except for half the price of a spot in a dorm room rather than twice as much. Dorm rooms might come with a bed, but they also come with companions who never fail to come in late at night, turn the lights on while your sleeping, snore all night and then make you feel obliged to tip toe around in the morning so you don’t wake them. A tent also gives you somewhere out of sight to keep your belongings. While they might not have a lock on them like a private room, at least you don’t have to leave your things out in the open just inviting someone to steal them. And they will.
While you can camp without a tent in some places in SA, if you want to do any camping in the bush or along the country’s many beaches and rivers, having a tent offers you some protection from the many critters that roam the country. While you probably don’t need to worry about any of the big game such as lions and zebras disturbing you, mosquitos, scorpions and spiders are giant and plentiful in South Africa. If you venture into neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia you also have malaria to worry about.
Tip about the weather:
Temperatures can be extreme in some parts of South Africa. When we first arrived in SA it was so hot at night just the light fleece sleeping bag liners we brought along were too much and we slept without the rain fly on our tent for extra air circulation. By the time we left in late March we were wearing every layer of clothing we had and huddling together to stay warm. Rain is also quite common in many regions of SA during the summer months.