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Getting to Bulungula, a Fair Trade, eco-friendly backpackers off the Eastern Cape’s Wild Coast, is a challenge - but so, so worth it.

A 30 kilometre badly-rutted gravel road takes you just south of Coffee Bay to the backpackers lodge, a collection of traditional huts located in Nqileni, one of the poorest, most remote villages in South Africa.

Nqileni Village, Bulungula

The lodge is testament to the fact that ecotourism can be an effective poverty-fighting tool. Owning 40% of the lodge and its profits, the local Xhosa community is very much a part of Bulungula, which overflows with guests, guides and village kids.

Kid takes photo with tourists in background

Xhosa kid do gangster symbol

In fact, unlike most ‘ecotourism’ establishments, the community is actively involved in running the lodge.

Traditional Xhosa huts at Bulungula

Offering simple, rustic and unfussy accommodation, Bulungula offers dorm rooms in traditional round Xhosa huts with four to six beds in each.

Dorm accommodation Bulungula

There's also the choice of private rooms with double or twin beds, 2-sleeper safari tents under the milkwoods and camping grounds to pitch a tent.

Private huts, Bulungula

Double beds in private room, Bulungula View from hut, Bulungula

There’s a communal lounge and kitchen, offering self-catering options or serving pre-booked meals (veg options available) and an outdoor area which overlooks the river mouth.

View overlooking Xhora river mouth, Bulungula

Completely off-the-grid, Bulungula uses solar and wind power, rocket showers (a chimney-like system that heats water by drawing hot air upwards using just a tiny amount of paraffin) and natural building materials.

bricks made from clay

Bulungula Bathrooms

They’ve even obtained carbon-neutral status by offsetting any emissions by planting (and fencing off) slow-growing indigenous trees to rehabilitate the coastal forest. Founder Dave Martin claims the lodge uses the same amount of power in 24 hours as it takes to boil a kettle!

But best of all is the lodge’s setting on the edge of the Bulungula river where it meets the Indian Ocean and there’s nothing but coastal forest, rolling green hills and glittering ocean as far as the eye can see.

Girl walks towards Bulungula, traditional village homestead

There’s no city lights or noise either (the nearest town is 5 hours away) so if you don’t see a shooting star at night you get a night’s stay free!

Donkey grazes next to Xhora River Mouth

Bulungula is also very much a part of rural village life and it’s interesting to see its impact on community development.

Girl makes fire amid broken mud hut with kid sitting on walls

Tours are run by locals themselves, who often invite you into their huts for a chat. Don’t miss the women power or village tour or the chance to canoe down the river!

Carrying water in bucket on head

What makes it eco?

Fair Trade, Carbon-neutral and off-the-grid, Bulungula has won many awards for its eco initiatives. Powered by solar and wind, the lodge captures rainwater and reuses kitchen and shower water (filtered through three ponds and a banana circle) for the garden.

There’s waterless compost toilets, rocket showers (a chimney-like system that heats water by drawing hot air upwards using just a tiny amount of paraffin). Even the bread is baked in a solar oven and smoothies are made with a bicycle-powered blender.

Co-owners and founders, Dave Martin and Rejane Woodroffe are doing incredible community development work through the non-profit organisation, the Bulungula Incubator.

Dave Martin

They are involved with education (mostly early childhood development) and have established a preschool of excellence, library, rural school development programme and more, as well planting permaculture gardens in schools, offering deworming for kids and teachers and training in health and nutrition.

Little Xhosa kid sits on floor of hut

Then there’s microenterprise development (encouraging locals to start up their own small businesses such as sewing, cleaning, homestays, tours etc) and helping provide basic services (particularly looking at water needs).

Women laughing with backdrop of village behind her

So if you want to stay somewhere that really does make a difference, Bulungula is the place for you.

Bulungula Quick Facts

Accommodation type:

Backpackers lodge (private huts, dorms, camping)


Near Nkanya, a remote village in the Wild Coast (Eastern Cape, South Africa). There’s 30 kilometres of bumpy gravel road that takes you to the lodge (2-wheel drives can make it, but it is a challenge). Altenatively, take one of the four-weekly shuttles from Mtatha.

GPS Coordinates:

N/a (you'll get lost). Follow this map


Couples or families


Dorm huts (4 to 7 single beds, no bunks) at R 150 per person; Triple Room (3 single beds) from R 480 per room; Double/twin/single room (1 double or two single beds) for R 270 per room; Luxury Safari Tent (Twin or double bed with electric lights) for R 340 per tent; or Camping at R 80 per person (3-man tents or smaller only). No 4x4 self-catering camping allowed. Trans African 4x4ers get a double room at camping rates.

Green in Africa Eco-Rating





No, communal fire outside

Meals available

Yes, pre-booked only




Fishing, hikes, kayaking, birdwatching, dolphin and whale watching, massage, local traditional restaurant, forest journey with herbalist, village tours, women power tour, horse riding, beach bonfires,


+27 (0) 47 577 8900 / +27 (0) 83 391 5525

Xhosa kids acting cool

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