A Student’s Guide to Stellenbosch

Welcome to Stellies

After 29 hours of travel, I was greeted in Cape Town by a friendly face holding a Stellenbosch sign. We piled into a yellow van and South African music blared from the radio as we rushed down the N1 towards Stellenbosch.

Everything was green, a Coca-Cola truck passed with 30 people standing in the back of it waving. The trees were tall and the mountains reminded me of those from Jurassic Park, South Africa was unlike anything I’d ever seen.

I’m going to make two guesses, my first guess is if you’re reading this you’re interested in studying abroad and my second is that you’ve probably never been to South Africa. Well congratulations for making the decision to consider this incredible opportunity, it was the best decision I have made in college this far.

This post is to give you a better idea of what life is like in Stellenbosch! I’m currently writing from my apartment inside of Academia student living and what a better way to start then to tell you a little bit about where you’ll be living if you study abroad here!


Academia, or to locals Aca, is a large student living complex nearly on campus. It’s volleyball court, the small store that prepares home cooked meals every day, and view of Coetzenburg Mountain make it an incredibly welcoming environment to live in. Academia is completely gated with friendly guards working 24 hours a day and I feel extremely safe living here!

The duplex you’ll be living in has three floors, a common area that you’ll share with eight other people, and a kitchen that you’ll share with one flatmate. This might sound like a lot of people to live with, but I loved it. I made friends immediately and the majority of nights I have dinner and friends waiting for me at home!

Photo by: Janessa Holman

You’ll be living with international students which has been one of the highlights of my time here. I have friends from Germany, Italy, Sweden, Lesotho, Libya and so many other places. I’ve learned how to cook international cuisine and I have new and different perspectives on life that I’ll remember forever.

Weather and Style

Fall or Spring semester, the South African sun will always be out!

Weather in South Africa is pretty consistent and sunny even when you visit during the cooler months. The World Weather and Climate website helped me put it simply: from October to April the temperature is almost always over 70 degrees and hot! The cooler months of June through August will average in the 60s dipping into the 50s occasionally.

I had a lot of concerns when it came to packing. I didn’t know if I should dress more conservatively, but to put it simply YOU CAN WEAR WHATEVER YOU WANT! The style in South Africa is modern, fun and diverse because there is a large international community! Dress how you’re comfortable and bring your own style.

One tip for guys, bring flip flops!! It is extremely popular for men to wear sandals, I rarely see closed toed shoes. Don’t forget your sneakers for the colder months, but you’ll thank me for the sandals suggestion.

Hidden Gems

Stellenbosch has so many small businesses which make it an incredible place to live and explore. Local restaurants, ice cream shops, bookstores, art galleries, coffee shops, jewelry stores, boutiques, and so many other hidden gems line the downtown streets and there is always something new to do or experience.

I’m a coffee shop lover and Stellenbosch has some of the best coffee shops I’ve seen.

The Blue Crane and its partner shop The Blue Crane and The Butterfly are two of my favorites. TBC is known for its coffee and small pastries, it’s local business people love it’s quick take away window. TBCB is its partner shop, right down the street. They have a much bigger space perfect for studying or mingling with friends and if your hungry for breakfast or lunch their food is amazing. Not to mention they have about six different cakes at all times. Both have wifi and are open til 6pm so they’re the perfect places to study and call home!

Dinner time is my favorite time and Stellenbosch is always alive at this hour. If you are looking for more of a casual vibe head to Java, Trumpet Tree, or Hudsons. They have everything you’ll ever want; just trust me. If your celebrating a birthday or just crushed an exam and want a nice dinner out, head to Hussar Grill or my personal favorite: Fat Butcher. Both are known for their meat and both have vegetarian and vegan options!

Day Trips

Photo by: Paul Froehlich

A day in the water:

If you have the day off and want to explore outside of Stellenbosch here are some favorite day trips to make. Strand is perfect for surfing, whether you’re a pro or have never touched a board in your life, Son Surf School or Natural Energy will hook you up with a board and wetsuit rentals. It’s a cheap and perfect day trip.

Photo by: Paul Froehlich

Get lost in the mountains:

Jonkershoek is an incredible nature reserve located right outside of Stellenbosch. It has multiple hiking trails and beautiful sights. You can hike to the waterfalls for a swim or picnic and do a day hike that lasts for about eight hours. Jonkershoek is home to my favorite hikes!

If you’re hungry:

South Africa is known for its food markets and I promise they’re unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. They’re not like your average farmers market, different cultural restaurants set up booths and make their favorite dishes such as stir fry, Belgium waffles, burritos, fresh curry, smoothies, coffee, cakes and just about anything you can think of. The closest food market is Route 44. It’s 15 minutes from Stellenbosch and it has lots of vendors, live music, picnic benches to enjoy your food, and other shops with local artists and craftsmen. This is where I bought most of my gifts to take home.

Stellenbosch is a beautiful city to live in and I’ve felt at home since the day I arrived. This is only a small portion of what life looks like. To learn more check out the program details on USAC’s website. And if you have questions or want to learn more about my time in South Africa email studyabroad@usac.edu!

Mary Haas is a University of Nevada, Reno student. She studied abroad in Stellenbosch, South Africa and served as a digital communications intern for USAC during her time abroad.