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Learning, Sharing, and Teaching => Ask a Mustachian => Topic started by: JJNL on August 22, 2015, 09:21:19 AM

Title: Mustachian travel tips for South-Africa
Post by: JJNL on August 22, 2015, 09:21:19 AM
Hi all,

I'm going to travel through South-Africa for about 5 weeks (which is in itself a very un-Mustachian thing to do, I know), leaving on 30 September. I'd like to keep my vacation budget as low as possible while still seeing a lot of the country. I've already shopped around for cheap air fare and car rental, and plan on using AirBNB / hostels or camping wherever possible. Can you guys give me some more Mustachian travel tips for S-A?

A bit more info about my plans:
- I live in a big city year round, and to make up for that I tend to avoid cities and seek out nature while on holiday. I am planning to minimise time spent in cities and maximise my time in the great outdoors.
- I don't mind discomfort or lack of standard tourist amenities (in fact, I think that's a plus), but I do have to be mindful of my safety, as I am a woman travelling alone.
- I am flying into Johannesburg and driving my rental car to Cape Town via the coast, am leaving for home from Cape Town.
Title: Re: Mustachian travel tips for South-Africa
Post by: historienne on August 22, 2015, 11:40:09 AM
If you don't mind shared rooms, backpackers (hostels) in South Africa are cheap and generally fine, although in some regions the college kid party vibe can be a bit much.  It also might be good for finding some travelling companions to split costs and give you some strength-in-numbers safety for hiking. 

What route are you taking to the coast?  Do you plan to go east of LeSotho and go via Durban, west of LeSotho and hit the coast around East London, or take the N1 and drop down closer to P.E./Tsitsikamma?  I recommend the first, but it is a significantly longer drive. 

If you take the first route, with your preferences, I would spend some time in the Drakensburg, and maybe go into LeSotho via the Sani Pass and spend some time there.  You could go up to St Lucia if, again, you don't mind the drive.  Then head to the Eastern Cape and spend some time at Bulungula (a backpackers - by far the nicest one in the area).  East London and P.E. are kind of grim cities, although both have nice bits; Grahamstown is more scenic. 

For camping, Sanparks runs quite a few multinight trails.  You need to reserve in advance, but they are generally safe since there are multiple groups hiking the same route (you might want to ask the park office if this will be true for the dates that you want - I wouldn't want to hike alone in most parts of the country).  The Otter trail is the most famous (you might be too late to get a spot for September).  The Hoerikwaggo trail near Cape Town is great, though partially closed at the moment because of the wildfires in March.  The Sanparks website is pretty good and you can reserve online for some of the trails.

In the Western Cape: Franschhoek, although not really frugal, is my favorite place in the world.  Driving north up the coast from Cape Town is stunningly beautiful.  It's also worth a day or two driving through the Karoo, although there's not much to actually *do* there. 

For hiking/camping info in general, Go! magazine is a good local resource.  I think it has a digital edition that you could subscribe to, although unfortunately no other web presence.

This is kind of rambly, but if you have more specific questions, ask away. 
Title: Re: Mustachian travel tips for South-Africa
Post by: JoJo on August 22, 2015, 07:26:40 PM
I did a month there 10 years ago but I was thinking about another trip and had started researching again.

The rand is so week now - thinks cost almost the same now as they did 10 years ago in dollars!

If you want to forgo the car, consider the "Baz Bus"... a hostel to hostel hop on hop off.  It was very safe.  I met a number of other people on public buses, and some had been robbed.  They have a website that connects to all of the hostels that they go to.  I LOVED the Wild Coast.  There's a one week coastal hike you can do around Coffee Bay to St. Johns & around there.  I stayed with a local family one night. 
Title: Re: Mustachian travel tips for South-Africa
Post by: JJNL on August 23, 2015, 05:07:10 AM
Hi historienne and JoJo,

Thanks for replying! I did check out the BazBus, but nixed it in the end. I really prefer to be able to go where I want, when I want, so I've chosen to rent a car. Since I would like to focus my visit on seeing a lot of nature and camping a lot in the national parks, the BazBus just wasn't practical. I heard good stories about the Wild Coast too, it's definitely in my plans.

I plan to go west of LeSotho - it's a longer drive indeed, but I have almost 5 weeks and I don't really mind long drives TBH. The Drakensberg was on my list, but not LeSotho - I will definitely look into that. It's good news to me that you consider the multi-day hikes from Sanparks safe for me - I was wondering about that, as my Lonely Planet warns women against hiking alone. Could you tell me a bit more about the risks? As the warnings about hiking alone I find are for women only, I assume the risk isn't animal-related. Have there been incidents with solo hikers? Are solo hikers running a risk of being robbed? Or is abduction and/or rape also a serious risk out there? The reason I am asking and having my doubts about the warnings is that in most parts of the world where I have been, long distance hiking in nature is one of the safest things you can do on your own when it comes to human-generated risks like crime. I would imagine my chances of being robbed / otherwise violated would be far higher on the streets of Johannesburg or Durban, or in rest areas along the highway, than at more than a couple of hours' hiking from any significant civilization. But I've never been to Africa before, so I'm willing to accept things work differently out there.
Title: Re: Mustachian travel tips for South-Africa
Post by: historienne on August 25, 2015, 01:25:34 PM
I think the ideal situation with the Sanparks hikes is to find a trail where there are going to be enough other hikers that you wouldn't be hiking truly alone.  Some of them are more remote than others.  Generally, yes, the wildlife is not the concern (although in a few places, it might be), it's crime.  It's going to vary trail to trail, but some of the trails actually go through/near villages, so you are not necessarily all that far from human settlement.  And one of the legacies of apartheid is a history of violence, even in rural areas (and particularly KZN/Eastern Cape). I'd browse the Sanparks website, then call up the offices of the trails you are considering and see if they have advice for you on safety and when a good time to visit might be if you want safety in numbers.  I do think it's possible to do safely, with some planning.

On safety in general - you want to take the warnings seriously.  Crime rates in South Africa are no joke.  However, they also vary a lot.  Highway rest stops are actually generally super-safe (though stick to the ones that have a gas station, not the ones that are just a bump-out with picnic tables).  You don't want to get stuck on the side of the highway if you can avoid it, but that has happened to me, and I've had flocks of kind strangers descend to help me out.  Downtown Durban and Joburg have crime, but more of the mugging variety than the abduction/rape variety.  I do walk around in the CBD of both cities, although I wouldn't take my valuables with me, and I know which areas to avoid.  Stick to places that have lots of people in them.  I would never ever go out in either of those places as a pedestrian at night, or walk down a deserted alley during the day.  South Africa is actually very different from most of the rest of the continent in this respect - crime rates, particularly for violent crime, are much much worse.  Lesotho itself is much safer - and also has cheap organized hiking/camping/pony-riding treks.  Bulungula also has organized hiking options, although maybe not multi-day.

I think you are right to avoid the Baz bus - it's expensive for what you get, and you'll be much more constrained.

Good luck planning!  South Africa is a complicated place, but super-interesting for that very reason.