Johannesburg and South Africa Overall

Johannesburg (October 14- 18, 2016)

Need directions? Do yourself the favor and don’t ask! This is the first lesson we learned when we arrived at the Johannesburg bus terminal. All we wanted to know is the bathroom location. The worker in the terminal, who usually puts customer’s luggage on a trolley and pushes the baggage, ended up following us all the way to the toilets, even after multiple attempts to tell him we could figure out the rest on our own and that he should go away. I guess I should be thankful he at least didn’t follow me into the stall. Why would he do this? For money, of course. We didn’t feel inclined to pay though. I got the vibe that all the workers at the station are looking for tip money or aren’t happy to help otherwise. Personally, this made me dislike Joburg (Johannesburg) right from the start.

 Johannesburg. Photo credit to nairalandnews

Johannesburg. Photo credit to nairalandnews

I thought I was used to public transportation and how to get around in South Africa, but Joburg was on a new level. This city has a high danger level and wandering off is discouraged for safety reasons. Many had warned us to take care of ourselves here. Deciding to be on the safe side, we choose to take a cab instead of a bus. Many locals at the station were asking us where we were going and I knew they would take us there in exchange for money, which I didn’t want. Not being able to find the taxis on our own, we then settled on utilizing a local anyways, who led us quite far away, down the busy street. We were getting concerned for safety and ready to head back to the station, when the cab was finally in sight. The driver quoted a rate to the hostel, double the amount then we had on us. Someone once told us a fair rate prior to arrival, so we only took that amount out of the ATM. The driver didn’t budge on the price until we turned around and walked away. I was happy to be on our way to the hostel.

At the hostel, we booked a bed in an 18-bedroom dorm. That’s the biggest dorm by bed count we’ve ever stayed in. I was worried about crowd control, but luckily there was never more than 1 additional person staying in there. We even had the room to ourselves for one night! That’s the joy of traveling off season. Also, lots of people will spend little extra money to stay in a smaller dorm room, thinking there will be less people, and in the end barely anybody is in the largest dorm and the majority is sharing the small dorm. This happened a few times! So, if you book online where they show how many beds are left, always check the bed count before booking.

From the hostel, we did a few day trips. The first was to the mall. Not particularly fond of shopping or malls, but needed to find a shop to look at my phone since the device broke in Botswana. Need to be able to take pictures for you guys! (I don’t have a camera.) I got a cheap, temporary fix. To get a permanent fix, I would have needed to leave my cell at the shop for a few days and I couldn’t do that. Happy to have been able to snap pictures of my activities in Joburg, eventhough my cell completely broke a few days later, causing me to lose most of my pictures.

 Entry to the museum. Picture found online.

Entry to the museum. Picture found online.

An activity we did was to visit the Apartheid Museum. Apartheid is the oppression of nonwhite population through rigid policy of economic and political segregation. It’s shocking to realize that Africans here only got basic rights 25 years ago; no wonder hatred towards white people is so strong (hence the bad safety rating). The museum has many cool displays, but they layout is repetitive, confusing, and harsh on the eyes. Much of the exhibition is reading. I read a couple of facts multiple times through the museum and I got the feeling that the creators couldn’t decide on how to line up the story. The last 2 rooms are better in this regard. Even though improvements can be made, the story is powerful and I would recommend going. I’m distraught to see that humanity still has much ahead to achieve equal rights and how this kind of thing only got kind of sorted few years ago. Effects of inequality are still easy to feel currently. We barely see racial mixing here and I don’t recall seeing people of different color walking together.

After having this eyeopener to reality, we swung into the Indian festival being held next door. Ate some of the food sold at the booths and watched a few performances before heading back to base. I chatted with the cab driver on our way and he told us his perspective of Joburg. Though I knew that white people are frowned upon, but he had a stronger distaste of Africans from other nations. Didn’t know that. As we drove through a neighborhood, the driver mentioned how white people used to live here and that the streets used to be clean and safe. Now there is a mainly black, non-South African population, who brought drugs with them, dirtying up the area and dragging down the safety. I made a point of striking up a conversation with all my drivers and I got some decent information. If I must pay for rides instead of walking due to safety, I might as well get more out of the experience and make them my private tour guide. Try to take Ubers since they will save you money.

I wish we would have taken an Uber instead of a cab for the next destination, the cradle of human kind. It was quite the distance away from the center and the driving cost us more than the activity was worth. We went to check out a cave where many fossils have been dug up. Very informative tour about the cave, but we were hoping to see more fossils and learn about human history, instead of listening how the caves came to existence. I wouldn’t go again mainly because the ride to the place was expensive.

 A small museum before entering the caves of a cradle of human kind.

A small museum before entering the caves of a cradle of human kind.

Before we arrived in Joburg, people from here as well as other tourists warned us that there is nothing much to do. And I would agree to that. The best thing to visit is the apartheid museum, but a good documentary should be able to replace that experience. The city becomes quite expensive as well since you shouldn’t go to places on foot. We already purchased our flight out from Joburg to New Zealand and thought to check out the city since we are already here. If you come here, I’d advise to keep the duration short and stay safe.


Cost breakdown of Johannesburg (4 days with total cost of $222.50. Average daily cost is $55.63.)

  • Hostel: $54.32 (4 nights which incl. breakfast)
  • Transportation: $105.47
    • Bus: $21.70 (initial bus to city)
    • Taxi: $83.77 ($52 to get to the caves)
  • Food: $31.06
    • Meals: $15.18 (4 meals)
    • Groceries: $14.28
    • Snacks: $1.60
  • Activities: $18.04
    • Apartheid Museum: $5.45
    • A Cradle of Human Kind: $12.59
  • Miscellaneous: $13.61 (fix my phone)

South Africa Overall

In general, the country has quite a bit to offer, from history, to scenery, to animals, to activities. My favorite experience was riding an ostrich in Oudtshoorn. Not something many people can honestly claim they have done! Also, seeing hundreds of wild penguins in Betty’s Bay, near Cape Town was fascinating.

 Only a few of the penguins at Betty's Bay.

Only a few of the penguins at Betty's Bay.

Something to keep in mind while visiting is safety and cost of transportation. When arriving in a new town, always be sure to ask at the reception about safety, which part is ok to walk and what transportation method is recommended to tourists. I wouldn’t go making assumptions. Researching transportation options, before arriving in South Africa is advised. Getting around here can easily add up in cost. Don’t forget that regular, out-of-city buses don’t usually have a station, except for major cities, and will drop you off by a gas station or a grocery store instead.

Overall, I do think that South Africa is worth to visit since there are so many different things to do. The experience here was rather different compared to South America. People speak English! That’s a plus. You don’t have to worry about language barriers. When you visit, just be sure to have all your ducks in a row before arrival.

Random facts I’ve encountered:

  • Most towns don’t usually have a main bus terminal
  • Racism issues are still strong
  • My favorite candy bars: 5Star and Crunchie
  • Traffic lights are called robots

Plettenberg Bay (September 5- 13, 2016)

Plettenberg Bay is the miniature, safe version of South Africa. It has all the African quests you are looking for with a relatively cheap price tag. What I mean with everything: animals, bungee jumping, a beach, hike, water sports, and other adventure experiences. The town even provided me with the perfect example why we don’t book our hostels in advance except if we fear sell outs.

When we rolled up in our bus (on which I forgot my special water bottle! crying a river), hunted down our previously researched hostel, and asked for the price, the receptionist answered with my favorite melody. Discount! She informed us that if we stay 3 night or more, we get a 30% discount. In the end, we spent $7 a night instead of $10. This deal was not advertised online. Not the first time we got a cheaper price than online and hopefully not the last either. This method is riskier, but also allows us to avoid crappy accommodations.

 Plunging to my death.

Plunging to my death.

The hostel helped us with the commuting arrangements to our destinations. Sometimes their offers were cheaper, but in hindsight I would recommend checking Uber (a taxi app) for a cross reverence. Our main goal was bungee jumping for the first time. I was nervous while thinking about this activity on our way there. Getting the harness on and walking over the bridge just got my butterflies flapping harder. This site is the third highest commercial bungee jumping site in the world with a 100% safety rating. On the bridge, they blast loud pop music which helps a lot with the nerves. Standing at the edge, the staff counted to 3, which was my countdown to leap. I barely got the chance to scream, before my 5 second dive left me dangling on a rope above a river. My rope was tied to hard around my ankles, causing me pain, hence I couldn’t wait for them finish pulling me up and getting the gear off. My travel buddy didn’t have this issue though. Overall I’m glad I went, but is not an experience I want to repeat for the price. I didn’t get as much adrenaline out of bungee jumping as I hoped for. Maybe if I jump from twice as high? Doesn’t exist yet, but it might one day.

Something else we have to try one day is an actual safari, even though we went on a game reserve drive. You are guaranteed to see all the animals because there is a fence around the property and therefore miss the excitement of trying to discover the animals yourself. Still super cool though. We saw lions, cheetahs, hippos, white rhinos, wild dogs, giraffes, elephants, crocodiles, zebras, springboks, and much more! My favorite were the wild dogs that were teasing the lions in the other fenced area. So, we could observe the lions charging at them, but having to halt at the barrier. Those wild dogs were cheeky. While driving around in the jeep, we also got to listen to interesting facts about the animals. Made me realize how little I know. If I were to be stuck in the wilderness, I’d be guaranteed to die.

At least while walking along the beach, the only wildlife concern was a bird pooping on me. Though grossed out, I wouldn’t die. Meandering on the sand was relaxing. Waves washing on shore. There was a potential to see whales further out in the water as well. My friend saw one, but I only caught the remaining signs of it. Bummer. The quiet town above is nice for a stroll as well, but we got stared at quite a bit. Nothing little chocolate can’t help. Just kidding. But we did buy a lot of chocolate in this town. When looking at the budget, probably up to half of the grocery bill is comprised of chocolate. We tried a lot of candy bars South Africa sells that aren’t in the America’s. 5 Star and Crunchie are my favorite. Munch on them if you get the chance.

 At the beach

At the beach

In general, I would recommend Plettenberg Bay to backpackers, especially family travelers. It’s quiet, safe, cheaper, and has most things in one place. Because we did the game drive here, we decided to save money on transportation and not go further east. Next stop is Botswana. Where we will stay with a friend and go on a real safari adventure!


Cost breakdown of Plettenberg Bay (8 days with total cost of $265.75. Average daily cost is $33.22.)

  • Hostel: $59.22 (8 nights which incl. breakfast)
  • Transportation: $66.78
    • Buses: $25.26 (initial buses to town)
    • Taxis: $41.52
  • Food: $32.89
    • Meals: $15.09 (5 meals)
    • Groceries: $17.80
  • Activities: $100.81
    • Bungee Jumping + Photos: $60.58 plus $10.21
    • Game Drive: $30.02
  • Miscellaneous: $6.05
    • Laundry: $1.36
    • Lotion: $4.69

Oudtshoorn (September 3- 5, 2016)

The one and only reason why we came to Oudtshoorn was to ride an ostrich. Though the birds do believe that what they can’t see, can’t see them, the story of them sticking their heads in sand is a myth. The town does have more attractions, like petting a cheetah, but the prices relative to our interest made us not consider the other spots.

 Standing on real, but rotten ostrich eggs. These eggs are tough.

Standing on real, but rotten ostrich eggs. These eggs are tough.

We ran into little of a pickle trying to get to Oudtshoorn to start off with. When we got to the bus ticket office, we were told that the only direct bus that week was sold out. So we bought a ticket to the closest town they had busses to, which was George. Everything seemed chipper as we stepped on the bus at 6:30 am at the main station, but when we got off at our destination, we saw people huddled under a shack with no ticket office in sight! Felt like nowhere. Luckily the bus driver took us to the second stop in George, a gas station, which also didn’t have bus tickets for sale. At least there we were able to ask trustworthy staff where to get a ticket and check that the area was safe.

From the gas station, we wandered 20 minutes to the mall, where two grocery stores sell the service we were looking for. The computer system at the first store was kaput, so we had to walk to the other mall section in hopes we were not unlucky. We purchased the ticket, but then realized that we weren’t certain if the gas station we were at was the gas station we needed to go to again to catch our bus. Lesson: Always check the business names. Directionally challenged, uncertainty of mutual understanding with the clerk, and pressed for time, we were getting antsy. That’s when the lady behind us came to our rescue and got her reluctant husband to drive us there. After learning our travel background, he warmed up to us and said he could have driven us all the way to Oudtshoorn and saved us money if he had known sooner. Unexpected kindness from strangers are the best experiences during travels. The point, though, is to remember that South Africa does not have bus stations at every town, but only in main cities (Cape Town, Johannesburg, etc.) and that the bus ticket can be purchased at grocery stores in the town center. The main stores are Checkers, Pick n Pay, and Spar. But this can again vary per town. In one town Spar sells the tickets and in another it’s Pick n Pay. Checkers will be your best bet overall.

Learning the long distance bus life in South Africa the hard way, we finally arrived in Oudtshoorn. Our hostel provided guests with free ostrich eggs for breakfast, which we had to cook ourselves. Perfect for us since eating this egg type was on our to-do list. An ostrich egg serves 12 people and is rich in fat however the bird meat is lean. This is what we learned during our tour at an ostrich farm. They taught much more, such as ostrich leather is one of the most expensive leathers, the birds choose a mate for life, incubation information, and that they are attracted to shiny things. If you plan to get close up to them, don’t wear shiny objects/jewelry. Our guide got her nose ring stolen twice. I even had to take off my glasses before I rode an ostrich, hence I was blind during my ride (I’ve got horrendously bad vision).

I was worried I was going to fall off, since many people do, but I have to disappoint; I am a master rider. The bumpy expedition lasted less than a minute, but was still a thrilling experience, that I’m glad I tried. We also fed the birds. Holding a bucket full of food, slowly and nervously backing up to the fence, the birds stretching their necks over our shoulders to eat. I had five heads flying around my own head. Forcefully pecking at the pellets, causing bunch of their food and their spit to launch into the air and often hitting my face and tumbling down my shirt. The guide called this technique the ostrich massage. Nothing relaxing about the procedure. My facial expressions clearly demonstrated this in the recording my friend took (click here for feeding video). Couldn’t look more terrified. In general, the ranch provided everything ostrich I hoped for. The guide was hilarious and we chuckled the entire time.

To get to the ranch we rented bicycles for $10 a day. The scenery and the cycling were relaxing. The local kids will greet you and if close enough, stretch out their hands for a high five. Arrival took roughly 1 hour with decent speed, not racing, but also not taking our sweet time. The ride back is shorter by 15 minutes due to the slight declining landscape. Our hostel did offer a service to drop us off further away on top of the mountain, from where gravity is on your side and the other attractions will be on your way. After deliberation we decided to skip the other places, so spending more money on this service wasn’t most financially favorable for us. If you plan to stop by more than one location, the driving service might be ideal for you because otherwise you might run out of time.

 Oudtshoorn scenery from our bike ride

Oudtshoorn scenery from our bike ride

Oudtshoorn was definitely worth the trouble. If you go to South Africa and have the opportunity to go to Oudtshoorn, go! Well, if you want to ride an ostrich, that is. For us this day ended up counting in our top most enjoyable days backpacking so far. Everything added up perfectly. Up next is Plettenberg Bay, where we went bungee jumping.


Cost breakdown of Oudtshoorn (2 days with total cost of $87.84. Average daily cost is $43.93.)

  • Hostel: $21.78 (2 nights which incl. breakfast)
  • Transportation: $38.80 (initial buses to town)
  • Food: $13.67
    • Meals: $9.53 (2 meals)
    • Groceries: $2.38
    • Snacks: $1.76
  • Activities: $13.61
    • Bicycle Rental: $10.21
    • Ostrich Ranch Tour: $3.40

Price list for activities in Oudtshoorn in Rand with the hostel discount.

Cape Town (August 31- September 3, 2016)

My first time setting foot on African soil. And I got to see wild penguins near Cape Town! Yup, that was probably my favorite thing here. We wanted to go see penguins in Chile, but because of price and the off season, we decided to be patient and wait for Africa.

The drive to Betty’s Bay, the gathering place of the Jackass Penguins at Stoney Point, goes along the beautiful coast line. On one side I saw blue, sparkling ocean and on the other hills, made up of red dirt which complemented the lush greenery and yellow flowers (I’m weird. I really like the red, complimenting dirt in South Africa). A family of baboons even crossed the street and caused a line of parked cars with desperate passengers attempting to snap a good photo. Arriving in Betty’s Bay, there are hundreds of penguins and you don’t need to pay money to see a few of them, but for a measly $1.40 you can walk on the boardwalk and see all of them and read interesting facts along the way. So many cute penguins! But we were forced to leave earlier than desired anyways. There was a light shower for a while, but then the rain poured down making further sightseeing quite disagreeable. With that constant water pressure, I could have taken a lovely shower if I had shampoo on me.

 Excited for seeing my first few wild penguin

Excited for seeing my first few wild penguin

The next day we went to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden: the biggest botanical garden I’ve ever been to. We spent multiple hours strolling around and admiring the various sections. The scent section, where we could touch the plants and discover various smell, some awfully similar to poop. The dinosaur section, where they had dinosaur facts and old species of plants. The annual flower section, which was depressing because the flowers haven’t grown yet, so I got to look at plain, brown dirt. And plenty more sections, we saw most of them, but didn’t have time for them all because the gardens’ vast size. We could have even taken a short walk through the forest. Though the gardens’ most prized possession is their bridge. On top of the bridge, we could get a splendid view of the surrounding garden and far-off Cape Town.

In general, Cape Town is an over glorified tourist place that has many visitors raving about its awesomeness. I, apparently, missed the reason why this spot is so fantastic. Though Cape Town offers great attractions (like penguins!) this city doesn’t seem any more epic than any other great city and TripAdvisor didn’t help me discover my missing link either.

 A small part of the Kirstenbosch gardens on a cloudy day

A small part of the Kirstenbosch gardens on a cloudy day

Maybe my awesome meter was stunted because of the mediocre couchsurfing match. Couchsurfing.com is a website where people can potentially find free places to stay at their destination. I did my due diligence reading the profiles of the people to whom I sent a stay request, but the end person accepting my request had a personality and interests opposite from ours. Nothing on his profile or reviews even hinted to his party personality. He (and his wife a little) was a 420 advocate and had a big mouth, over exaggerating everything. He would have scared any traveler newb out of further trips to the unknown. Not only did he stretch the truth with experiences, but also hard facts, such as all grocery stores in Cape Town being closed at 4pm. Extremely early. We found out on our second day that the grocery store closest to his home closes at 7pm.

Actually, his home was in Strands, in a premium location right at the beach front. I did enjoy the view of the sunset and promenading on the beach, but if we wanted to go anywhere, we had to take a costly Uber (cheaper version of a taxi). I’m not sure how true this is, but according to our embellishing host, public transportation is extremely dangerous in Cape Town, especially for us pale skinned. If you have taken the train or other public transportation in Cape Town, do you agree or disagree with his statement? Why? Please comment below in the comment section. We didn’t want to risk our lives in chance he wasn’t lying. Overall we did end up saving some money paying more on transportation and nothing on accommodations instead of sleeping at a hostel the entire stay.

 Sunset at Strand beach

Sunset at Strand beach

We did cut our time with him short and spent one night at the hostel in the heart of Cape Town, but mostly because our bus to the next town was departing at 6:30am. I was so excited for our next destination because I got to ride an ostrich! Read my next blog post to get all the details. People do fall off trying to ride these giant birds.


Cost breakdown of Cape Town (3 days with total cost of $77.91. Average daily cost is $25.97.)

  • Hostel: $10.21 (1 night which incl. breakfast)
  • Transportation: $45.61
    • Uber: $38.80
    • Gas Money: $6.81
  • Food: $16.65
    • Meals: $10.27 (2 meals)
    • Groceries: $4.00
    • Snacks: $2.38
  • Activities: $5.44
    • Stoney Point Penguin Colony: $1.36
    • Kirstenbosch: $4.08