8 Great Places In Africa For Backpackers

Though Africa has its pricey parts — think luxe safari camps in Kenya, or the wine/golf routes of South Africa — it’s also one of the best places in the world to visit if you’re a backpacker on a budget. Since much of the continent is poorer and less-developed than the Western world, costs are usually lower as well.

This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com.

Getting to Africa will be your biggest expense, but from there it can be extremely cheap to stay and move around. But you have to choose your destination carefully, as not all countries and cities offer budget accommodation. For example hotels in Lagos, Nigeria average US$383 per night — and there are no hostels — so this city is definitely not on the backpacker circuit.

As far as transportation, in most parts of Africa it’s pretty easy to get around inexpensively by bus or shared taxi. Bear in mind that these dirt-cheap transit options take a LOT of time and often involve discomfort, breakdowns, bureaucracy, and ineptitude. But if you can go with the flow and focus on enjoying the journey, not just the destination, you’ll save a ton of money.

Here are eight places in Africa for backpackers that are relatively cheap and hassle-free. You can get the most bang for your buck in southern and eastern Africa, so most picks are there, but a couple of western and northern Africa options are included as well.

South Africa

baz bus

Courtesy of Baz Bus

South Africa has a well-developed backpacker scene and all the major cities (as well as medium-sized and small towns) have at least one hostel, budget hotel or campsite. In addition, the backpacker-oriented Baz Bus follows a fixed route around the country and lets you hop on or off within a pre-determined time period. With the money you save on hotels and transit in South Africa, you can afford to spend a bit on potentially pricey activities like safaris, shark-cage diving or zip-lining. However, some of the best activities in SA are free, such as hiking the Drakensberg mountains, or lounging on Durban’s golden beaches. A favorite backpacker spot is the remote, surreal Wild Coast (Eastern Cape), where you can go diving, fishing, hiking and surfing, or immerse yourself in Xhosa culture.

Lake Malawi, Malawi

kayak lake malawi

Courtesy of Robin Pope Safaris

Lake Malawi is a massive, ancient freshwater lake that dominates the northeastern part of the country. Backpackers love it because its coastline is dotted with cheap, quaint guesthouses and chill beaches. Activities like water skiing, banana-boating and scuba diving can also be done for a fraction of the price of chic beach resorts, and Malawi is the cheapest country in Africa in which to get dive certified. You can stay overnight for a song at places like Monkey Bay, Cape Maclear, Senga Bay, Likomi Island and Nkhata Bay. For example, at Mayoaka Village in Nkhata Bay, you can camp for just around $10 a night, and most camp spots are on terraced, hillside gardens that lead down to the water. Another popular spot is Mango Drift Lodge on Likomi Island, which features beach huts, dorms, and a bar and a restaurant on the beach. The lake’s location at the crossroads of Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania equals close proximity to dozens of game reserves and national parks, so you have other options if you get tired of the beach.


essaouira boats

Essaouira, Morocco (Shutterstock)

Morocco is quite inexpensive overall, with lots of cheap-and-cheerful guest houses, incredibly inexpensive street food, and the CTM bus network to get from town to town. Some backpacker favorites include the beach town of Essaouira and the mountain town of Chefchaouen. Essaouira is a surfers’ paradise with a vibrant medina and lots of funky bars and restaurants that specialize in inexpensive seafood. Essaouira also hosts the incomparable Gnaoua music festival every year. Tucked into the heart of Morocco’s Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen almost doesn’t feel real. The majority of the town’s buildings are painted various shades of brilliant blue, and you can see the mountains from almost everywhere. The main square is bursting at the seams with cute cafes, and both hostels and hashish are plentiful.

Street scene, Stone Town, Zanzibar (Yoni Lerner / Flickr)

Street scene, Stone Town, Zanzibar (Yoni Lerner / Flickr)


Although Zanzibar has mostly been taken over by upscale resorts, its heavenly beaches and intriguing Stone Town still welcome backpackers on a budget. In Stone Town, The Flamingo guesthouse and Princess Salme Inn are good budget options. Outside Stone Town, the best beach-y places to set your bags down for a few days include: Paje (on the east coast), which offers cheap, high-quality bungalows such as Kinazi Upepo; Nungwi (on the north coast) where you can get a simple, affordable beach hut at Kendwa Rocks; and Bwejuu or Jambiana (on the southeast coast), where there are quiet beaches and budget accommodation at places like Coral Rock Beach Bungalows.

Lamu and Mombasa Kenya

lamu town kenya coast


The blissful island of Lamu, on Kenya’s northeast coast, is popular with backpackers looking to kick back between safari/climbing/rafting adventures. The only way to get around the island is by donkey, or on foot. Dhows offer tours around the islands, or you can get lost in the charming narrow alleys of the old town. When you’re ready to rest your head, look up Lamu Retreats in the Shela Beach area; it has houses for rent at reasonable rates. Lamu town also provides cheap accommodations like the Pole Pole and Kipepeo guest houses. Further south in Mombasa, another gorgeous beachside resort town, you’ll find a half-dozen backpacker-oriented hostels to crash at between camel rides on the beach and exploration of the vibrant local bar scene. Hot tip: A super-cheap but mind-numbingly slow way to get from Nairobi to Mombasa is via train. Check to be sure it’s actually running before you make your plans, though.


gorge swing where to backpack in africa

Photo Courtesy of Gorge Swing (SarahDepper / Flickr)

Normally the preserve of rich safari-going tourists, Zimbabwe actually offers quite a few options for travelers on a budget. It does cost US$30 to enter Victoria Falls, but the views are breathtaking and you’ll only pay $15-$20 per night at one of the backpacker hostels . Even Hwange National Park can be affordable if you snag one of the inside-the-park sites. The largest and most accessible is the Hwange Main Camp, which is at the park entrance and offers basic budget-friendly digs in self-catering chalets, cottages and lodge rooms, plus camping options. The other two national park camps at Hwange, Sinamatella and Robbins Camp, also offer decent digs, but in more remote locales. If you don’t want to stay in the park, there is an entrance near the town of Bulawayo, which has well-priced guesthouses such as Garda Lodge and Travellers Guest House. The challenge with Zimbabwe is getting around. The cheap but run-down train, which runs from Vic Falls to Bulawayo to Harare, is the most affordable option, but if if doesn’t go where you need to be, consider renting a car and splitting the cost with at least three other people to save money.


Backpackers flock to Ghana’s primarily for its renowned beaches and national parks. Some of the most memorable beaches are around the town of Kokrobite, particularly Langma. You can access Kokrobite via a short 20-mile “tro-tro” (shared minibus taxi) ride from Accra. The area is home to the renowned Academy of African Music and Art founded by drumming legend Mustapha Tettey Addy. The academy offers accommodations to backpackers, as does the friendly and charming beachside Big Milly’s Backyard. Further up the coast at Takoradi are a number of lodges and guesthouses, including the backpacker-friendly Green Turtle. If you prefer to explore the lakes and mountains of the inland Volta region, pull your wagon up to a town like Atimpoku, where Aylos Bay Guest House lets you pitch a tent for only $10 per night. All of Ghana is readily accessible (if you don’t mind taking a creaky but cheap bush taxi), and almost all towns have some sort of budget accommodation.

Tofo, Mozambique

Recently gaining popularity among backpackers from around the world, Tofo is an excellent diving and snorkeling spot with high quality budget accommodations. Some are calling Tofo “the next Goa” (Goa is India’s smallest state and is famous for its beaches). Some of the great accommodations include Bamboozi Beach Lodge with its dorms, huts, chalets, quirky beach bar and diving center; Fatima’s Nest with tents, bungalows and dorms; and Turtle Cove, popular for its surfing equipment and knowledgeable instructors.

Karen Elowitt contributed to this article.

Want to discover the finer side of Africa? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Leave a Comment