The Wild Coast is like no other destination in South Africa. Far from the chaos of the cities, it’s a place where backpackers mingle with Xhosa villagers, devoted surfers and new-age hippies far away from the rest of the world. You’ll know you’ve reached the Wild Coast when the highway gives-way to a rough dirt track, and you begin to see more roaming livestock than cars on the road. Psychedelic green hills, crested with quintessential mud rondavels dominate the scenery then part to reveal a vast and endless coastline framed beneath a staggering sky.
Scattered along this coastline you’ll find some of South Africa’s best backpackers. The vibes are infectious, the setting spectacular and there are enough activities on offer to keep even the most avid adventurist busy. Here are 30 reason’s why you’ll want to add the Wild Coast to your next South African itinerary, and why it might just be the best place to be a backpacker in the world!
1. Discovering your own secret beach
The wild coast offers some 300 km of uninterrupted coastline. Sheltered from view by soaring cliffs, there are endless bays, coves and secret spots ripe for discovery. And except for the grazing cattle, you’re just about guaranteed to have them all to yourself.
2. Eating the freshest seafood you have probably ever tasted
Wander the coastline and you’re sure to run into village children collecting oysters and mussels, or a local fishermen returning with his morning catch. Treat yourself to the freshest seafood picnic you’ll ever have right there on the beach.
3. Watching a perfect sunset over the ocean (from a cliff, with a free sundowner)
All along the Wild Coast you will have your choice of cliffs offering perfect 360 panoramas of the sunset What could be better? How about the free sundowners offered by the Coffee Shack as you sit on a hill overlooking the ocean, or the complementary ride up to Port St. John’s old airstrip by the Amapondo team for unparalleled view of the entire coast.
4. Learning to surf with the cheapest lessons on the coast
With wide sand beaches and surf catering to all levels, the Wild Coast is the perfect place to pick up a board. The hostels offer some incredible deals on beginner lessons, with 2 hours group lessons for as little as 50 Rand. Multi-day programs are also on offer for those wanting a more intensive experience, or simply rent a board and set out on your own.
5. Canoeing down the Wild Coast’s pristine rivers
The Wild Coast is blessed with a bounty of rivers ending in beautiful coastal lagoons. Hire a canoe and head up anyone of these waterways passing through deep ravines, and taking in the colorful villages where the local kids will greet you with a smile.
6. Free, yes FREE seafood!
Free sundowner sounded pretty awesome? Well how about free seafood? The Coffee Shack loves their freebies. From welcome drinks, to free nights’ accommodation they have a long list of incredible incentives that will have backpackers staying longer than planned. My favourite? The piping hot bowls of fresh mussels served free at the bar each night before dinner. Yum!
7. Cliff jumping
Adrenaline junkies will love the opportunity to throw themselves off the Mpuzi cliffs into the breaking waves into the azar blue waves below. Located between Coffee Bay and Mdumbi the cliffs offer spectacular views. It’s a nice day hike, so even if you’re not inclined to take the plunge, it’s the perfect place to pull up with a picnic and chill by the sea.
8. Skinny dipping on Chintsa beach
Chintsa has one of most amazing beaches I’ve ever visited. Soft fine sand stretches around a cove so big that when the sea breeze starts coming in you can’t even see the other side. It’s the perfect place for a long stroll, a romantic picnic or to get a bit cheeky and take that nudie dip.
9. Experiencing a local taxi
We’ve all seen the crazy mini bus taxi’s blaring music and swerving dangerously around Jo’burg and Capetown. In the Wild Coast the local taxis are a whole different experience and a wonderful way to get a sense of real community life. Flag down a converted bakkie as it rambles down a dusty road, and join the school kids, chickens and chattering ladies jostling for space on their way to the market. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but will likely provide the most lasting impression from your entire trip.
10. Joining in on an impromptu game of beach soccer
Everywhere on the Wild Coast you’ll be greeted by smiling school kids fishing, swimming or making their way to and from school. As evening sets in impromptu games of soccer break out every where. The village kids will be more willing to take you on and demonstrate their very impressive skills.
11. Riding a horse down miles of untouched beach
Just when you thought you couldn’t find a more romantic kind of place, Bulangula lodge offers sunset horse rides along their beautiful stretch of untouched beach. What a great way to end a perfect day!
12. Reducing your footprint
The Wild Coast is just that: wild, rugged, undiscovered, pristine. Preserving this paradise is the ethos of most hostel owners here and can be seen in every aspect of their operations. Built using sustainable methodologies and running partially or totally off the grid, these places use solar power, rocket shows and locally grown produce to provide you with all your comforts while preserving the paradise that surrounds them. Visit the Wild Lubanzi to learn about their creative and funky eco-friendly renovations, and sleep under the stars.
13. Learning to play the drums
Evenings are an opportunity to listen to some incredible local music as talented young villagers pull-up around the campfire and fill the night air with local rhythms. Grab a drum and see if you can keep up. Or sign-up for one of the drum making workshop in the village and learn to play your custom made drum.
14. Listening to the sounds of the ocean from your tent
Camping is a great budget option for backpackers and the Wild Coast has some of the best sites I’ve come across on my travels. The wide open spaces mean you won’t have to worry about that noisy drunk backpacker lumbering through, looking for the loos, so the only noise you’ll need to worry about is the lapping of the waves.
15. Attending a full moon party at the legendary Coffee Shack
An evening on the Wild Coast is normally spent star gazing or around the fire listening to the rhythms of local drummers. But once every month things are taken up a notch as travelers come from near and fare to experience the Coffee Shack’s legendary full moon parties. Don’t expect to get much sleep!
16. Getting lost hiking
The wild coast offers an incredible network of coastal trails stretching all the way from Port Saint John’s to Bulangula. From day hikes to week long adventures, there is something for everyone and it is sure to take your breath away. Trails pass through local villages, green pastures and undulating coastline. Be prepared to cross rivers, discover untouched beaches and ask directions from friendly villagers when you get a little lost.
17. Eating Umbako (traditional Xhosa bread)
There is seriously nothing better than the piping hot Xhosa bread found all offer the wild coast. Baked in a poitjie over the fire, this mealie bread is dense and delicious. With a dob of butter it is simply divine.
18. Spending an evening around the campfire
I can’t think of a better way to finish a day than pulling up to a roaring fire under the stars. Weather permitting, you’re just about guaranteed to find a fire pit crackling at each and every backpackers. What better place to unwind, crack a beer and swap stories about the days events.
19. Digging into communal dinners
A big part of being a backpacker is socializing with like-minded travelers as you pick up the best tips on where to head next. The communal dinners offered at most Wild Coast hostels create the perfect setting. Food is locally grown and simply delicious. Think big portions, fresh produce, and traditional Xhosa recipes. Be sure to join one at Bulangula or the Wild Lubanzi.
20. Knowing that you are giving back
Most of the backpackers on the wild coast are partially or entirely community owned, and all work closely with their local villages to protect cultural integrity and improve education and services. This means you can spend your dollars guilt free knowing it’s going to the people who need it most in a region with some of the lowest education and employment rates in South Africa.
21. Experiencing Bulangula’s rocket showers
Being off the grid doesn’t mean you have to sacrificing on comfort, and no place demonstrates this better than Bulangula! Their piping hot outdoor showers run off a locally designed propane rocket chimney. Sounds amazing? It is!
22. Visiting the Hole in the Wall
The Hole is the Wall is one of those places where nature really shows off. Here, where the Mpako river meets the coast, the Indian Ocean’s awesome power is revealed in the remarkable tunnels and caverns carved into the rock. Hole in the Wall can be visited on a nice day hike from Coffee Bay or Wild Lubanzi, but also hosts a backpackers, a resort and a stunning strip of beach if you decide to stay. The river offers great swimming for those wanting a break from the surf, and its shady banks are the perfect place to park for a lazy afternoon braai.
23. Treating yourself to a Massage
Just in case you weren’t relaxed enough. Treat those muscles after a day of hiking, cliff-jumping or battling the waves. At Bulangula massages can be booked with trained masseuse through one of their village initiatives. At Mdumbi backpackers, not only can you book a massage, but also a spa session in their Jacuzzi. With the money going straight back to the community who can argue with a bit of pampering?
24. Spending a day in a hammock
The wild coast offers a plethora of outdoor activities, but some days are meant to do nothing at all. With spectacular views and chilled out vibes, this is the place to lie back, chill-out and contemplate life.
25. Experiencing Chintsa’s backpacker village
The famous Buccaneers is really more like a mini-resort than a typical backpackers. Nestled on a hill overlooking the lagoon it’s a massive sprawling place that includes cabins, cottages, dorms, camping areas, swimming pools, volley ball and seemingly endless bars and chill out areas. There is always something on including communal dinners, comedy nights and so much more. The vibe is great and the setting is perfect. With so much to do you’re sure to end up staying more days than you’ve planned.
26. Realizing the Wild Coast Caters to all budgets and comfort levels
One thing I love about the backpackers in South Africa is that they’ve expanded beyond the dorm room offering a range of accommodation to suit all needs. The Wild Coast is no exception. If you’re over the dorm experience you can opt for simple double, rent an awesome safari tent or go-in on a family rondavel with a bunch of friends. Most backpackers will also let you pitch a tent for super reasonable fees. Its a great option for those looking to save while still optimizing their privacy!
27. Realizing there is no age limit to backpacking
The first time I visited the Wild Coast I was 10 years younger, and I was pleased to see that I fit back into the groove just as easily this time. It’s one of those incredible places where age really doesn’t matter. Students on gap years mix with families on holiday, and aging hippies who came long ago and never left. The Wild Coast truly embodies the spirit of what travel is all about, bringing together people from all over Africa and the world.
28. Catching a thunderstorm over the ocean
The sheer grandeur of the skies over the Wild Coast is awe inspiring at the best of times, but if you’re really lucky nature may just treat you to special performance. Summer storms are quite common here, especially in the evenings and there is nothing quite like watching one roll in from the ocean and light up the ski around you. It helps if you’re perched in a cozy enclove at Wild Lubanzi with the smells of home cooked bread in the air and a 360 panorama of nothing but ski, hills and ocean around you.
29. Delving deeper into the Xhoza culture
Community is big in the Wild Coast and the villagers are incredible happy to share their culture and traditions with you. From village tours, to homestays, to volunteers opportunities, to local dinners; there are a plenty of ways to learn a bit more about the people that reside in this amazing region.
30. Leaving the transport to somebody else
The Wild Coast may be isolated, but with the awesome services provide by the backpackers getting around is still a breeze. Hop on the Baz bus or book a shuttle from one Wild Coast hostel to the next. If you choose to hike you can even arrange to have your bags shuttled from one destination to the next.