How To Travel In South Africa On A Budget, Without Compromising Quality

South Africa may not be the mecca for budget travellers but it is a destination that can be experienced without breaking the bank or sacrificing on basic creature comforts. While indulging in a safari or partaking in an adrenaline pumping adventure will set you back a good amount, it is still entirely possible to travel around South Africa on a budget you can afford. 

We spent 23 nights in South Africa and spent a grand combined total of INR 2, 07, 000 (2880 USD), i.e INR 1,03,500 (1440 USD) per person

Average cost/ day:  9000 INR/ couple (125 USD per couple)

Was this exactly a ‘budget’ trip? Admittedly, no. It isn’t comparable to Viet Nam or Greece or Indonesia, but the return on your expenses is second to none. South Africa is sheer magic and to spend 62 USD per day for it is a STEAL

Here are a few simple and effective tips to ensure that you get to experience the wonders of South Africa on a budget.


STAY1) We spent as low as INR 1700 (USD 25) per night per room on an average in SA. By finding AirBnB options in advance and mixing up a couple of nights in hostels every week, you’ll be able to keep this cost down. Hostels are called “backpackers” in SA and there are tons of them, some with private rooms that showcase perfection. 

2) We also couchsurfed for the first time ever in Johannesburg. Free stay, yay! South African cities have a strong couchsurfing culture, so do check out that option.

3) We also got a discount of about 4000 INR (~ 62 USD) via AirBnB, thanks to its referral program. Need a discount? Click this link to sign up on AirBnB if you haven’t already.

South Africa On A Budget - A Cheap Villa In Hogsback
Our LOTR themed villa in the magical forests of Hogsback

FOOD/ GROCERY

1) Given that South Africa is an ex Dutch/ British colony predominantly, there isn’t much in the way of local food. The traditional African food like the Xhosa cuisine is quite hard to find unless you’ve access to townships. Braii, the South African version of BBQ, isn’t something you’ll see at restaurants but at homes. 

2) This means that it is quite easy to hold back from spending exorbitant amounts on food, even if you’re a major foodie. However,  we did not do a good job of keeping food budgets under control as we spent close to 2500 INR (28 USD) per day on food. Items like milk shakes, snacks (road trip survival essentials) add up fairly quickly.

3) Make breakfast at home as much as possible. Groceries at the super market are cheap and most apartments come with a usable kitchen.

The Knysna Oysters – One of the few things in SA worth splurging on

4) Make use of chains like Spur (for steaks), Ocean’s basket (for seafood), Nando’s (for chicken meals) to keep budgets in check. When going on self drive safaris, stock up food supplies to avoid eating at highly priced restaurants in the national parks. 

5) Almost all wineries in South Africa allow for wine tasting for free or for as little as 130 INR (2 USD). Use this to your advantage and hop across multiple wineries. Staying too long in one presses the guilt button and forces you into an expensive order.

6) We don’t hold back from spending on food generally but we regret having splurged on food in South Africa as it wasn’t worth spending on. Expect a lot of burgers, pastas, milkshakes in most restaurants.

When you travel in South Africa, expect a lot of wine. Yes, on a budget!
Tasted a whole array of fine wines at ‘Tokara’, all for 3 dollars!

COMMUTE

1) The single biggest expense during our trip was the internal commute. The public transport infrastructure is extremely poor in South Africa. Apart from a high-speed train service in parts of Jo’burg, there is literally no subway/ metro system anywhere else. Locals travel from one city to the other by hitch-hiking.

2) Inter-city buses and trains are also very rare with frequency of less than 3-4 times in a week. Additionally, buses/ trains don’t connect to some of the tourist destinations that you’re likely to visit as they’re aimed at inter-city connections.

3) Hence, a self-driven road trip is the only feasible choice. It gave us the freedom to have a flexible itinerary and to stop off anywhere we liked to admire the landscapes. It also helped us cover a lot more of the country than we’d have otherwise. If you’re travelling in a group, you’ll save a HUGE amount by renting a car as the costs remain flat nonetheless.

4) We rented our car with Hertz for the first 3 days and with Avis for the remaining 19 days. Both parties were very professional and gave us brand new cars. We did not have any trouble whatsoever for the entire distance. We strongly recommend you spend the extra to get the full insurance coverage that will free you from any financial liability in case something goes wrong. Best to book via EconomyBookings as they will show you the best deals in the country!

This beast was our second home in SA – a lil’ Chevy Spark

5) While in Cape Town, we occasionally gave our car some rest to avoid being stuck in traffic, and used Uber instead. It was much cheaper in Cape Town than it was in Jo’burg.

6) You will also need to catch internal flights a couple of times – from Johannesburg to PE/ East London or Cape Town to Jo’burg. Use SkyScanner to find the best deals for this. The cheapest airlines are likely to be Mango or Kulula.

7) If you are a solo traveller, use the BAZ BUS to commute across South Africa. It is a network of backpackers’ buses that goes to all popular tourist locations, from gates of one hostel to another. Once you buy a ticket for a certain period (7 days/ 14 days), you can use it to travel between any two stops at any point in time. The bus has fixed pickup / drop timings and you need to be ready at that time. It is also a wonderful way to meet fellow travellers. But, if you’re a couple or a group, it might cost you almost as much as a car rental making the latter a better option.

Having a car lets you get off at any place you like to hike or walk or admire the vistas

ACTIVITIES

1) One of the biggest expenses during your South Africa trip will be the safari. With some pre-planning and a bit of sacrifice on ultra-luxury, you can save a huge amount on it.

2) Do not book a fully inclusive safari package into Kruger with a tour company. They come at prices in the range of INR 50,000 per person (~775 USD). While it is definitely hassle-free, you could have the same experience at a much lesser price.

3) Find an accommodation outside of the park if you choose to go to Kruger or Addo. Take day trips into the park in your own vehicle and go for a couple of guided game drives that you can easily arrange at your homestay/ hotel. This will save you as much as 75% of the cost. 

Getting face to face with these giants in Africa doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive

4) If you’re sticking to Pilanesberg/ Madikwe, opt for their tented camps instead of resort lodges. The tented camps are very well maintained and come with all the basic amenities you need to survive. After all, you’re going to be out scanning for wildlife most of the time. Avoid going to private reserves like Sabi Sands or Shamwari as they’re luxury safaris (honestly, the wildlife is no different and arguably less in number)

5) We paid only INR 6500 (90 USD) per person per night for accommodation, breakfast & dinner, unlimited coffee/ snacks, and 2 scheduled game drives into the Pilanesberg National Park. Want this deal? Use this link to enquire.

6) Other activities like the bungy jump at Bloukrans Bridge or Shark-cage diving in Gansbaai or cable car to Table Mountain top are all expensive. But, if you’re an adventure junkie, might probably be worth it. We chose to skip all of it as we’ve done a bungy jump before and found shark-cage diving to be against our beliefs in responsible travel.

Our tented camp at the Pilanesberg reserve was budget-friendly and luxurious, all at once

FLIGHTS & VISA (For Indian Travellers)

1) We flew Ethiopian Air via Addis-Ababa from Mumbai. We booked it almost 7 months in advance and got it for as low as 19,000 INR per person return (~295 USD). Ethiopian is probably one of the cheapest flight options from India.We were also treated to a visa free entry into Ethiopia for a day, along with free accommodation since we had a long layover. We suggest you book with a long layover (more than 8 hours) to make use of this!

2) Fly from Mumbai as the prices from other destinations are significantly higher. Ethiopian also flies from Delhi but the prices are not the same.

3) The other decent budget options are Kenya Airways and Air Seychelles, although they are costlier than Ethiopian Airlines.

The perks of a long layover in Ethiopia: Devouring the world’s best coffee at Tomoca, Addis Ababa

AVERAGE COSTS IN SOUTH AFRICA

A coffee at a neighbourhood cafe: 80 INR (1.25 USD)

A pint of Windhoek beer: 100 INR (1.5 USD)

A sit-down meal at a good restaurant: 1500 INR (21 USD)

A full meal at a chain restaurant: 800 INR (12 USD)

A private room in an AirBnB: 2000 INR (31 USD)

A dorm room at a backpackers: 900 INR (14 USD)

One litre of unleaded petrol: 60 INR (0.9 USD)

Bungy Jumping/ Shark Cage Diving/ Seal Snorkeling: 5000 INR (~ 80 USD)


All in all, you CAN travel to South Africa on a budget with some careful planning. It is, hands down, our favourite place on the planet in spite of all the inequality and racism that is still prevalent.

Drop us a comment if you have more tips to share with our readers.

Still planning your itinerary for South Africa road trip? Click here to read our itinerary suggestions

Still wondering why you should visit South Africa? Here are 20 pictures that’ll convince you, if our words haven’t already.

14 thoughts on “How To Travel In South Africa On A Budget, Without Compromising Quality

  1. Thanks for sharing this. Your tips are very helpful. I am a travel freak and travel a lot. Next year Alaska is on my card.Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness., and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.
    People often have a theme that they base their worldly travels on, but how about a mental mantra for your travel? Out of a cheerleading event that consisted of our family shouting supportive words at our daughter who was attempting to kill a rather monstrous spider that the rest of us were too chicken to get close to, came this great quote, “If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!”

    This quote came back to haunt me when on vacation in Seattle. I thought it would be a great idea to take the kids on the Seattle Great Wheel, the ferris wheel overlooking the ocean, but as we approached it, I realized how high it went and immediately panicked! Just as I had decided to put the kids on it on their own, my daughter says, “Come on dad…If you don’t think, and you just do….then it’s done!” What could I do at that point?! She was telling me to stop thinking and creating more fear about the situation and just get on the thing!
    “If you don’t think, and you just do, then it’s done!” We all now keep this quote in our back pocket, ready to whip out at any time to push one of us forward into an adventure we know they won’t regret. No hesitations, don’t allow any time for fear to set in, and be prepared for your kids to turn your life advice back on you

  2. Did you pay a deposit with Avis car hire? I usually use them and don’t pay deposit but wondered if it’s the same in SA. I just pay fuel deposit of about $100

  3. Hi there, my husband and I are planning the same trip to SA via a longish layover in Addis Ababa ~ 10hrs and would love to step out in the city. And possibly use the same itinerary on our way back to India. Would we need the yellow fever card at any point of time in this entire journey?

    1. Hi Archana,
      You both are going to have a great time in South Africa.
      We were worried about the yellow fever scenario ourselves, but interestingly, they never stamp you in the Ethiopian airport during a free layover trip. So, technically, you’re coming directly from India and don’t need the yellow fever vaccination.
      Not sure if things have changed but we were just given a voucher by the airline and could step out without immigration and come back in normally without any entry/exit stamps – they only stamp on the boarding pass.

      1. Did you guys also have a layover in ADD on your way back to India? If yes, did they require you to show the yellow card before the flight to India?

        I have been to Ethiopia a couple of years ago, where they didn’t check upon entry into ADD, but they did check when I travelled from ADD to Nairobi and then from Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam. And then they checked it before taking my flight from Nairobi to India(by when I had misplaced it and had to miss my flight and go through an ordeal to obtain a replacement card). So what I understood was that it’s the countries like SA and India that mandate the yellow card when traveling through the yellow belt like Ethiopia but not the countries you are entering into upon immigration.

        Long story short – I lost my yellow card, again and my husband never got the shot. So I was just wondering if we might as well get the shots+cards before our trip to SA as it costs all of Rs.300 and might save us a whole lot of trouble. I do plan to take the longest layover possible in ADD if I could :).

        1. So, the logic is that if you’re traveling to a country with risk of yellow fever, you’ve to have the shot taken upon your return to a country that is yellow-fever safe as you carry the risk of transporting the virus. Hence, when you enter, no check. But, upon your return, they do check.

          I recently took a yellow fever vaccine shot for Kenya and I was told this is needed only if layover is more than 12 hours and not lesser. But, safe side, I do recommend just getting the shot none the less. If you’re doing in Bangalore, make sure you’re calling first thing on a ‘Monday’ morning for that week’s slot. You will also need the return tickets for this.

          Go have a cup of coffee at Tomoca, if you’re not thinking of it already 🙂

          ~ Divya

          1. Oh, I didn’t know that you’d have to show your flight tickets to get the shot. I got mine in Hyderabad in 2015 and don’t remember showing them anything.

            And a cuppa at Tomoca and a couple of close friends living in ADD, in no particular order ;), is precisely why I am craving that layover.

            Thanks so much for responding. Also, if you do have any information about obtaining visas from Delhi for Kazakhstan, I’d love to know at some point 🙂

          2. The ticket seems to be a new rule and place-specific. They didn’t ask for it in Delhi at the airport authority one, but did so in Bangalore.

            Jealous of you for getting to have Tomoca again!

            On the visa to Kazakhstan, you’ve to get a letter of invitation from a local agency in Kazakh and put the application in the Delhi embassy along with a form, photographs, tickets, and the letter of invitation. You can get these letters organised via caravanistan.com (We used them for Kyrgyzstan and everything was smooth!). The country also has a 72-hour transit visa for Indians for free now!

            Cheers!

  4. Hi there,

    Thank you so much for the info about Kazakh visa. I now have queries about South Africa, now that we have booked our tickets finally. Can I rent a car at the O R Tambo airport with my Indian Driving license or do I have to get an International DL? Unfortunately, we are flying out on Oct 10th and am afraid that there isnt a lot of time if I have to get the IDL.

    1. Hi Archana,

      You both are going to have a whale of a time in SA.

      Yes, you can rent a car at OR Tambo airport. All major operators like Hertz, Avis, Budget are there. We used Avis, was super smooth. Absolutely no IDL required, the driving license issued by Indian state is good enough (presuming it is in English). We rented twice over, didn’t need IDL at all. Only countries like US are usually adamant on this.

      Cheers!

      1. Well that’s a relief! Thank you for the prompt response. I’d however point out that even the USA is now lax about the IDL. Any Indian DL in English with photo suffices to rent a car and drive there. After renting one in FL, CA and WA only recently, and especially after getting a very expensive speeding ticket in CA(smh), I can confirm this info.

        Your SA guide is massively helpful in our planning. Thank you so much for that.

        1. Oh wow, that is good to know. So, most countries in the world have now become lax about IDL then, good thing!

          You’re welcome – feel free to shoot any questions you may have while planning 🙂

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