A Gap Year in South Africa

Why go backpacking in South Africa?

Backpacking in South Africa is amazing. That’s all you need to know.

You want more? Alright, fine. South Africa is a diverse, multi-cultural, and generally multi-awesome gap year destination. There’s been a backpacking trail there for ages, but there still remains plenty to discover. It caters for both traditional gap years and more ambitious itineraries. So you can take your pick of seeing Africa’s Big Five of elephants, lions, buffaloes, rhinos, and leopards; visiting lush green coastline as a beachbum or surfer; quality nightlife in Cape Town and Durban; barbeques and beers wherever you are in the country; oh, and let’s not forget that South Africa is fanatical about sport.

It doesn’t matter whether you are going to South Africa for a holiday or as a backpacking destination; it caters for both.

Things to do in South Africa

Check out our current top picks


Volunteer with Children in South Africa

from £945.00

14 days

Assist with childcare & educational activities in a township educare centre while exploring South Africa

Coach Sport to Township Children

from £995.00

35 - 84 days

Make a huge impact on our sports community coaching project and take away with you life-long friendships.

Kruger Conservation in South Africa

from £995.00

14 - 84 days

Experience amazing Big 5 encounters, contribute to important wildlife conservation research in the beautiful Kruger National Park.

Africa Explorer with Gapforce

from £2,200.00

28 - 56 days

Combine wildlife and community volunteering with culture and adventure in the Rainbow nation, South Africa!

Sports and Surfing in South Africa

from £1,095.00

14 days

Visit amazing Cape Town in South Africa when you volunteer alongside an international team teaching underprivileged children from townships to...

Big 5 Conservation Experience in South Africa

from £935.00

14 - 84 days

Witness South Africa's fabulous 'Big 5' whilst helping to protect flora and fauna on this beautiful game reserve. Work alongside...

Wildlife and Travel Photojournalism and Filming Program

from £2,120.00

30 days

To get ahead in the media industry, it is all about experience experience experience, and finally versatility. This program gives...

Psychology Internships in Cape Town

from £920.00

28 - 168 days

Cape Town is a fantastic destination for an international internship - a vibrant and bustling city with business, educational and...

Volcano Surfing & Southern Skiing

from £1,945.00

14 - 360 days

A real flight deal for the intrepid gappers out there. Start off in Nicaragua for some volcano surfing, before heading...

Wildlife Veterinary Assistance

from £2,415.00

21 days

A 3-week course run by professional wildlife veterinarians and game capture experts that gives hands-on experience in all facets of...

Latest advice and inspiration for South Africa

Check out what our writers have been up to in South Africa


More about South Africa

Table Mountain automatically takes you to South Africa and is one of the world’s most iconic landmarks; the Drakensberg mountains delight hikers from all over the world and is a beautiful place to explore; the ‘Elephant Coast’ provides pristine, golden beaches that would make any Australian jealous. And if you want national parks, well, South Africa has a few of those too. Test your eye-sight on a safari in Kgalagadi National Park or Kruger National Park and see if you can spot cheetahs, elephants, lions, and a whole host of other animals.

South Africa flag waving

It is the people that make South Africa so vibrant. The nightlife in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg is a real highlight, and the café culture is booming. There is a big emphasis on healthy living – South Africans work hard and play hard.

Despite a lot of the hardships that South Africans face they are still incredibly up-beat, with a fantastic sense of humour and a smile upon their face. It’s hard to hide the fact that large parts of the country lives in poverty, and the rising problem of HIV/AIDS still hasn’t be solved, and there is still racial inequality and past prejudices, but these aren’t reasons to overlook South Africa.

South Africa is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world, and it is really starting to open up to backpackers.

Like many countries the South Africans love their sport. The most popular sports are cricket, rugby and soccer. They currently have the best one-day cricket team in the world and are the Rugby World Champions, well, at least until September anyway.

The 2010 Football World Cup was hosted by South Africa and it really opened up the country to the world. What better way to advertise what your country has to offer than showing-off all of the beautiful sights to millions of viewers? No-one will forget the party atmospheres that the stadiums created, even if jabulani’s and vuvuzela’s were the hot topic for debate.

Millions, if not billions of people watched the world’s biggest sporting event, and at one point or another they all said the same thing, “I want to go to South Africa.”

The cities

The most popular starting points for a gap year in South Africa are Cape Town or Durban. The former sits in the shadow of iconic Table Mountain, and is well-known for beaches, surfing, vibrant nightlife, and its proximity to numerous natural parks and wonders. Durban has much of the above, coupling it with a toasty subtropical climate and adding theme parks, casinos, and sports stadiums galore.

Cape Town aerial view

Johannesburg is steeped in culture, boasting plentiful museums and galleries, and serves as a great waypoint on a trip to Kruger National Park. You can also visit picturesque Pretoria, or stop at Port Elizabeth on a trip along the Garden Route.

The scenery

One of the main reasons that travelling to South Africa is so popular is the opportunity to go on safari and see the Big Five. Kruger National Park is a huge game reserve that offers a massive range of opportunities to see wild animals, including elephants, lions, rhinos, zebra, and a ridiculous amount more. It’s truly a visit you’ll never forget.

Zebras Namibia sunset

Elsewhere there’s Tsitsikamma National Park, a coastal reserve with deep forests and dramatic coastline that also offers extreme activities like bungee jumping, the otherworldly Paarl Mountain, the breathtaking Blyde River Canyon, or the barren desert mountainland of Richtersveld. South Africa really does have an embarrassment of natural riches.

South Africa basically has everything you could want of a backpacking destination, so frankly we don’t know what you’re still doing here.

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