Lonely Planet Writer

Get to the World Cup - for less

Planning a visit to South Africa for the World Cup? Read on if you want to avoid blowing your budget before you’ve even got to South Africa.

With a little over ten months to go before the world’s biggest sporting event kicks off in Soccer City, Johannesburg on June 11, eager-beaver football fans are beginning to make plans to head for Africa’s first World Cup, keeping their fingers crossed their favourites make it to the finals.

What’s already clear is that you shouldn’t expect any favours from airlines and hotels in the cost stakes. Just-released airfares are already on the high side and will get pricier once the draw is made for the tournament. The usual big-event trick of a central accommodation agency block-booking every hotel room it can get this hands on is going to cause independent travellers some issues. Remarkably, 4000 rooms in Mauritius have been block-booked by FIFA, meaning fans can stay in a tropical paradise, presumably with Sepp Blatter and his mates for company on the sun loungers, and fly in for matches. This probably isn’t what South African authorities had in mind when they were awarded the tournament. Official packages may not be a bargain at around £4000 from the UK, but with that all-important match ticket and a guaranteed roof over your head in the host city they may turn out to be a smart option.

But what about the rest of us, who’d like to come and see one of the world’s loveliest countries and take in a match – or just sample the atmosphere – next summer? Here are seven ways to experience the World Cup for less:

1. Start in Johannesburg – flights to Jozi are more frequent and cheaper than those to Cape Town, which many travellers will prefer to use as a base. Change planes in Cairo, Nairobi or the Middle East to get the best deals. Budget flights or good-value bus and train travel can take you onward.

2. Travel overland – if you’ve got the time and the gumption, the amounts of money we’re talking about will get you a long way down through Africa, even once you’ve added in an air fare home. You get a challenging, incredible road trip and to arrive in South Africa with a better understanding of the country you’re in and its place in the continent you’ve seen. Overland trucks will be running this route, too – Nairobi to Cape Town is the classic route, but there are plenty of possible permutations.

3. Visit neighbouring countries – South Africa shares a border with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. OK, so not many people are visiting Zimbabwe right now, but the rest of these countries are home to superb wildlife, incredible scenery and more manageable crowds. Air and land links to South African cities are excellent, meaning a few days at Victoria Falls, wildlife-spotting in the Okavango Delta or a few days on the Skeleton Coast and a city break to a World Cup host city makes for a fun alternative to a more conventional itinerary.

4. Wait! (1) South African authorities are expecting a tourist bonanza next June and July, but it may not materialise. At the moment the best-supported nations like Germany, Brazil, the Netherlands and England are all on course to qualify, but if one of these doesn’t make it then there could be a lot of rooms and only so many fans making the trip from Gabon or Algeria. The qualifying process comes to a close in early September.

5. Wait! (2) As the start of the tournament gets closer unsold hotel rooms should come back onto the market, sometimes at a reduced rate. And if the economic situation in those well-supported countries doesn’t get any better you might just find tour prices are cut in order to tempt fans onto planes. This may well be one tournament where holding your nerve until after the group stages pays dividends, especially if big teams go out early.

6. Eat outdoors, sleep outdoors. There’s not much you can do about airfares, which are likely to remain high, but on the ground costs can be cheap. Campsites across the country offer good facilities and superb value, especially once you get more than an hour from host cities. The Western Cape in particular will be cool at night though, so come prepared. The traditional South African braai (barbecue) laid on at many campgrounds is an economic way to feed even the hungriest fan.

7. Follow an unfancied team. Not only will you find less demand for hotel rooms and tickets, but you'll have the eye-opening experience of seeing the World Cup in a whole new way.

Anyone planning a trip?

- Tom Hall