Private travel &
conservation club
Members only
Established 1991
Africa Geographic Travel

Backpacking has changed a lot since the days of grotty dorms, badly maintained facilities and a focus on boozing. Today, any self-respecting backpacker lodge offers private double rooms, WiFi and excursions to explore local communities and cultures.

The modern backpacker is not just looking for the cheapest deal, although they do want value for their money. They are better informed than their predecessors about the possible impact of their travel, and many are committed to making that impact a positive one.

In the same way, the people who own and run backpacker lodges have also moved in the same direction, which is not particularly strange, given that owners and managers of backpacker’s establishments are often backpackers themselves!

These establishments are now witnessing a new era of backpacking, which is no longer confined to the student or youth market, but instead also attracts seasoned older travellers looking to experience their destinations in an altogether different and more meaningful way.

The result is that backpacking is more about total immersion in a destination, culture and environment than ever before, offering a cost-effective but, most importantly, socially relevant way to travel. It’s probably this combination of awareness and commitment to positive impact in both demand and supply that has caused the backpacker segment of the travel industry to change at unprecedented speed.

The new breed of backpackers, and the lodges that they stay in, are not just hip and happening; they are aware and have a strong commitment to making a positive impact in the destination. South Africa is ahead of the curve in this respect, with some of the most internationally lauded and globally recognised backpacking establishments on the continent.

Take ‘The Backpack’ in Cape Town for instance. This is the embodiment of backpacker chic – clean rooms, cool interior design using local (and often upcycled) material, with the impact on people and environment at its heart. Their tagline – “Making a difference: it’s the way we are, the way we work and the way we live” – says it all.

the-backpack-room community-shop-the-backpack

Then there’s Bulungula on the Wild Coast – one of the most remote places in South Africa. Its commitment to the pristine environment where it operates is evident, and ownership has gradually been transferred to the local community making it one of the few sources of income in this neglected part of the former Transkei homeland.

kayak-bulungula-lodge bulungula

Also on the Wild Coast are Mdumbi Backpackers and Coffee Shack. At Mdumbi, guests have the opportunity to completely immerse themselves in the rich and diverse culture of the local Xhosa or Pondo people. It’s 30% owned by its local employees, and it is involved in a number of pioneering community and environmental projects.

mdumbi-backpackers mdumbi

Coffee Shack is also 30% owned by the local Tshezi community. It strives to create an unforgettable travel experience for visitors, enhanced by its breathtakingly beautiful natural surroundings and the chance to interact meaningfully with local Xhosa people. Coffee Shack also procures goods such as fresh produce from local suppliers, guaranteeing a fair share for all involved with the business.


In Soweto, one of the largest townships in South Africa, Lebo’s is creating local employment and bringing visitors closer to their hosts through activities such as bicycle tours and story-telling evenings. Volunteers and guest donations are also helping to create a better place for the children of the township through a football club and a library.


High in the Drakensberg, on the border of the Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, lies Sani Lodge Backpackers. This four-star graded lodge offers cultural, hiking and pony trekking into neighbouring Lesotho, as well as organising hikes to local ancient rock art sites. It sources all of its crafts from local self-employed entrepreneurs and makes a range of home-grown organic goods, priding itself on using Fair Trade products where possible.

hiking-sani-lodge view-from-deck-sani-lodge

So next time you’re looking for a holiday with a difference, do give one of these amazing places a try! For more information on these and other Fair Trade Tourism businesses, click here.

To comment on this story please join our PRIVATE TRAVEL & CONSERVATION CLUB. See details below.


  • Join our private travel & conservation club (mobile app and desktop) to enjoy significant benefits, including the best prices at Africa’s top lodges and networking with others like you. Find out more here.
  • Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to enjoy more stories like this. Subscribe here.
  • Travel with us. Travel in Africa is about knowing when and where to go, and with whom. A few weeks too early / late and a few kilometres off course and you could miss the greatest show on Earth. And wouldn’t that be a pity? Search for your ideal safari here, or contact an Africa Geographic safari consultant to plan your dream vacation.

Fair Trade Tourism is pioneering the development of sustainable and responsible tourism in southern Africa and beyond. A non-profit organisation, it grows awareness about responsible tourism, helps tourism businesses operate more sustainably and facilitates the Fair Trade Tourism certification programme.

Africa Geographic Travel