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. If you’re the kind who wants to pack in a host of adventure activities or stay in boutique camps, you will need to shell out. However, if you’re keen to travel around the country, experience its culture, wildlife, and secret towns – you’ll be surprised how affordable it is.
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 investment 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.
1) 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.