South Africa on a shoestring

Travelling in South Africa is not as cheap as in many less-developed African countries. However, it’s less expensive than travelling in Europe or North America, and the quality of facilities and infrastructure is generally high. Among the best deals are national parks and reserves, which offer excellent and accessible wildlife-watching at significantly less cost than you would pay in parts of East Africa.

It’s quite possible to get by on about R250 (US$25) per day with a bit of effort, by camping or staying in hostels or self-catering accommodation, and using public transport (see a currency converter to find out how much that is in your currency)

  • Don’t go during school holiday season! Streams of school kids and their families hit the holiday parks—accommodation is booked out and prices peak. Spring (mid-September to November) and autumn (April and May) are ideal almost everywhere.
  • Book yourself a bargain bunk bed or B&B. Bunk beds and B&Bs still too expensive? Research the best camping and caravan grounds to save even more money. Or post a couch request to doss down in someone’s living room.
  • Self-catering is a good way to save money. In Cape Town, there are tons of great places in the city to buy provisions for a picnic or to self-cater. Stock up with specialist products at excellent delis like Giovanni’s Deli World or Melissa’s. In Jo’burg eateries in New Melville are generally easier on the pocket, and in Pretoria try Hatfield and Arcadia for streets with lots of cheap eats.
  • Save money by not losing it—rip-off scams abound in South Africa, many to do with ATMs. Choose the ATM you use carefully, and try to avoid using them at night and/or in secluded places.
  • Save your receipts to reclaim value-added tax (VAT).You’ll need to fill in a form or two at the point of departure, and make sure you have the goods checked by an inspector before you check your baggage.
  • Investigate your options for getting around. Cape Town, Jo’burg, Pretoria and several other urban areas have city bus systems. Fares are cheap and routes, which are sign boarded, are extensive. Note, though, that services usually stop running early in the evening, and there aren’t many buses on the weekend. Minibus taxis are also cheap and have the advantage of an extensive route network, but be warned! They’re not for the fainthearted. Driving and vehicle standards can be less than satisfactory.