South Africa – with its dramatic coastline, wildlife-filled parks, vibrant cultures and cosmopolitan cities – can be within reach for travelers of all budgets.

The country has long had a reputation for being affordable. Accommodations and food are particularly good value, especially in the upper ranges of the market, with prices at luxury hotels and restaurants considerably less than those at their European and North American counterparts.

At the budget end of the spectrum, expect good quality and standards at very reasonable prices. At all levels, your most significant outlays are likely to be for organized safaris and guided tours. But even here, with a bit of planning, it’s possible to find ways to keep costs manageable while still experiencing everything you hope to.

Plan your spending with this guide to daily costs along with top tips to help you save.

A bartender pours a beer from a tap into a glass
A beer at the bar in South Africa will set you back at least ZAR30 © Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Daily costs in South Africa

  • Hostel room: ZAR200–300 (per dorm bed)
  • Basic room for two: from ZAR600
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): from ZAR550
  • Bus ticket Johannesburg–Cape Town (1400km/870 miles): from ZAR650 one-way
  • Flight Johannesburg–Cape Town: from ZAR1200 one-way
  • Coffee: ZAR30
  • Bunny chow (sandwich): ZAR70
  • Dinner for two: from ZAR450, excluding drinks
  • Bottle of South African wine: from ZAR90
  • Daily entry fee for Kruger National Park: ZAR460/230 per adult/child
  • Daily entry fee for Mountain Zebra National Park: ZAR252/126 per adult/child
  • Beer/pint at the bar: ZAR30–60 

Average daily cost for three meals a day plus accommodations and activities: from ZAR800 at the budget level up to ZAR3500 or more for top-end travel.

1. Johannesburg is the cheapest gateway airport for regional flights

Johannesburg is an ideal port of entry if you’re planning to include Kruger National Park or the Drakensberg area (both an easy half-day’s drive away) in your travels, or if you'll be combining your South Africa itinerary with visits to Lesotho, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), Botswana or other neighboring countries. For international flights, Cape Town is catching up with Johannesburg, and fares are now roughly comparable between the two hubs, so choose an entry point based on geographics and where you want to focus your explorations.

A tourist stands by his car taking a photograph of the coastline near Cape Town
Hire a car with unlimited kilometers for the best deal © Alistair Berg / Getty Images

2. Renting a car is the most cost-effective way to explore the country

Car hire is the best budget option for traveling around South Africa, especially if you’re traveling as a family or in a small group. International and local rental agencies have branches at major South African hubs, and many offer unlimited kilometers at reasonable rates – essential for keeping costs down while covering the country's large distances.

Solo travelers or those who don’t want to rent a vehicle should check out private shuttle services. One popular company is BazBus, which connects Cape Town with both Johannesburg and Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) via the scenic Garden Route, with both direct and hop-on-hop-off options. Bus is another possibility, but suited mainly for point-to-point transfers between major towns. 

3. Use ridesharing apps to get around urban areas

Uber is generally regarded as safe and is less expensive than taxis. It’s also a good choice for affordable transport between the airport and your hotel – look out for the signposted ridesharing app pick-up zones.

4. Visit during the shoulder season to get the best deals

Throughout South Africa, prices are highest during the December to January summer holiday period, and accommodations – including those within national parks – are often booked out well in advance. February to May and September to November tend to be good months to visit in most provinces, with fine weather, lower prices and many areas to yourself. Exceptions to this are the Easter holidays, and big-ticket events like Cape Town’s Two Oceans Marathon in April. In spring, treat yourself to a profusion of jacarandas in Pretoria in October, and an abundance of blue skies and sunshine almost everywhere, while paying off-season rates. 

A driver sits at the wheel of a vehicle gazing out at a giraffe on a self-drive safari
A self-drive safari is cheaper than joining an organized tour © Visual Outdoor Content / Shutterstock

5. Plan a do-it-yourself park visit instead of an organized safari

South Africa offers some of southern Africa’s best-value wildlife-watching and all major parks are geared towards independent travelers. Self-drive itineraries are easy, and for those days when you do want a wildlife guide, this can be easily arranged at park reception areas. You can also save by camping or staying in park-run accommodations (all parks offer low-season accommodation discounts), and by self-catering.

If you’re traveling as a family, or if you’re planning on spending more than a week inside the major parks, consider purchasing a SANParks Wild Card. To trim costs even more, remember that smaller or lesser-known parks often have lower entry fees than their more famous counterparts.

6. Save by staying at hostels or backpacker accommodations

Take advantage of cheap dorm beds, kitchens for self-catering, bulletin boards with posts from those looking to find a group, and plenty of links to reasonably-priced local excursions. Almost all hostels and hotels have discounts for children under 12 and many hostels and backpacker establishments are also well-suited for families, with private rooms in addition to dorm beds. Private rentals, such as those arranged through Lekkeslaap, Airbnb or similar engines, can also bring significant savings, especially for longer stays.

7. Visit South Africa’s free and almost-free attractions

Small towns and off-beat destinations will be lower-priced than cities and tourism hot spots, but, it’s possible to save even in major hubs. In Cape Town, for example, Table Mountain can be visited less expensively if you hike up and down rather than taking the cable car. You can then relax afterwards with a swim at the Camp’s Bay tidal pool, or do some seal-spotting from the Seapoint promenade. In Durban, soak up local vibes on a stroll along the boardwalk. And, in Johannesburg, explore the city's many free museums, finishing with a visit to the famous Apartheid Museum, with its reasonable ZAR150 entry fee.

A group of friends chatting around a barbecue
 Almost anywhere you stay in South Africa will give you access to a braai (barbecue) pit © shapecharge / Getty Images

8. Braai (barbecue), buy local produce and bring a refillable bottle

The braai (barbecue) is a great South African tradition – one that spans cultures and provincial borders and all walks of life. It’s rare to find a guesthouse, apartment or homestay that doesn’t have a braai pit in the backyard. 

You could also picnic South African-style by stocking up on provisions in the nearest town, filling a cool box (available for a few dollars at Checkers and other supermarket chains) and heading out for a self-catered holiday along the coast or at the national parks. As you go, don’t forget to seek out South Africa’s abundance of locally made products, especially cheeses and wine, which are often available at great prices.

Local tap water is generally safe to drink, and carrying a refillable flask will help you save while avoiding contributing to the plastic bottle problem. If you don’t want to cook for yourself, watch where locals go to eat to get the best deals. Sidewalk food vendors are good, when you can find them, as are small, local-style restaurants selling traditional food. Ask staff at your accommodation for tips about their favorite places to eat.

9. Claim back tax when you leave

Save your receipts for souvenirs and other items to claim back South Africa’s 15% Value Added Tax when leaving the country. Check out the details at the government's Vat Refund Agency page.

10. South Africa is a good place to splurge, if you can

While upmarket hotels can cost upwards of ZAR3000 per night, rates are generally well-below those at equivalent establishments elsewhere in the world. You'll experience similar levels of service, often complemented by unbeatable views over the ocean or mountains. Once you’ve taken in the views, make time to enjoy South Africa's world-class cuisine. The Cape Winelands and Johannesburg are just two locations known for their excellent dining options. Throughout the country, mains generally don’t exceed ZAR200, while a multi-course set menu at an elite-level restaurant might run to about ZAR1500. 

This article was first published Apr 22, 2023 and updated Sep 11, 2023.

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