How to Plan a Vacation to South Africa on a Budget

South Africa is a popular travel destination for travelers all over the world. But can it be covered while a bit short on money? Here's a guide on doing just that.
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Apart from the obvious fiscal benefits, South Africa is infamous for its high crime rate, and traveling alone may not be the best idea.
Famous award-winning author and journalist Brian Jackman once said, "Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all." This quote very aptly sums up a visit to South Africa. It is, more than anything else, a land of variety. It features savannahs for the nature lover, mountains for the hiker, and stunning beaches for the casual traveler. It has 11 official languages, to accommodate the numerous people who have emigrated (or were forced to migrate) there. Due to this ethnic variety, South Africa also offers a huge range of cuisines, with influences ranging from Dutch to Indian!

It also has a fascinating history, consisting of colonial rule, racial segregation, and an influential unification movement led by the charismatic Nelson Mandela. Its eclectic past and varied geographical background gives it a truly global flavor.

Considering the numerous positives for South Africa, you would expect it to be out of reach for the budget traveler. But, of course, there are ways to circumvent the really pricey stuff and have the same amount of fun while not bleeding so much money. This write-up from Buzzle shows you just how to do that.

South Africa On a Budget

South Africa, being much more advanced and urbanized than the rest of Africa, is consequently a bit pricier than it as well. However, it is still much cheaper than Europe, and has largely comparable infrastructure. For a budget-conscious traveler or backpacker, it can be viewed and enjoyed in less than USD 30-40 per day without compromising on any vital bits.

The South African Rand is currently running a rate of 1 Rand = 0.091 US Dollar. The US Dollar and the Sterling Pound are suitable currencies to bring into South Africa, and the ATM network is extensive, especially in urban areas.

Travelers from the USA, members of the EU and the Commonwealth, and most South American countries can get a free 90-day visa at land borders or airports. Your passport needs to have one blank page in order to enter South Africa. If you are coming from other African or South American countries, you also need documentation proving you have had a yellow fever shot.

Accommodation

South Africa is famous for its backpackers, which is the perfect accommodation for those traveling on a strict budget. A 'backpacker' is actually a guesthouse that is rented out to travelers. They are furnished with everything you could need (some are actually just rented homes), and only cost about USD 15-20 per person! Most have a kitchen, a yard, and a communal area, where you can meet fellow backpackers (the feet and arms kind, not the square feet kind).

South African school vacations start around mid-December, and the popular hotspots are filled with local as well as international tourists. This period is the bumper harvest for hotels, and prices may as much as double during this period. If you want to visit South Africa during this period, you will not only have to book well in advance, but you will also have to bear throngs of visitors everywhere you go. The best way to beat the rush around New Year is to go when it is spring in the southern hemisphere: September-November.

Food and Alcohol

As said before, backpackers in South Africa almost always incorporate a kitchen. Buying groceries from supermarkets and cooking your own food can save you a lot of dough, since South African hotels tend to be on the pricier side, but groceries are usually cheaper than in North America or Europe. Though this country has an eclectic cuisine, it is, by definition, not unique, and you won't be missing out on much if you don't go out to eat. It's the same thing with alcohol; buying your own booze at the market is much cheaper than having it in a bar. Buying and preparing your own food and booze will also allow you to get to know your fellow travelers better, over a communal meal.

Transportation

This is an area where you can't really avoid spending some serious cash. South Africa has an infrequent transport network that can be really inconvenient for someone with an itinerary, and the most useful transport is a rented car. A small, plain car can be rented for as little as USD 20-25 per day (not including the cost of fuel, but including insurance). A car allows you to follow your own itinerary, and gives you complete freedom over your travel plan.

Visiting National Parks

Aah, the big one! The one dreaded by the budget traveler!

white rhino
hippos

People, understandably, assume that the entrance to national parks in a country as famous for its wildlife as South Africa would be beyond their reach, but fortunately, South Africa has a lot of options for a nature lover of the backpacking kind. In complete contrast to Kruger National Park, which gets all the attention, but is overpriced and crowded, parks such as Addo Elephant National Park and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi allow you to drive through the park yourself! You may think that this is because these parks don't compare with the wildlife viewing opportunity afforded in Kruger, but you'd be wrong! These parks are, in fact, great places to spot lions, elephants, white rhinos, crocodiles, hippos, leopards, giraffes, wildebeest, and numerous snakes!

Addo charges about USD 18, Imfolozi (which has the largest number of white rhinos in the world) about USD 12, Mlilwane National Park (which can be explored on foot) charges just USD 4-5, and driving through iSimangaliso Wetland Park (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) is completely free! Who needs Kruger?

What Else For The Wandering Miser?

view from table mountain
view from table mountain

One of the best activities for the budget traveler is climbing the table mountain; the stunning vistas are well worth the effort. It is also the perfect spot for paragliding down onto Cape Town's stunning coast, which brings us to another of South Africa's treasures than can be enjoyed with minimal expenditure―its beaches!

All in all, certain expenses are unavoidable in South Africa, but it is still an excellent destination for someone traveling on a tight budget.
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Published: February 14, 2014
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