The cheap South Africa holiday guide

Last updated May 2017

A cheap South Africa holiday?

When mentioning a holiday to South Africa, “cheap”, “low cost”, and “budget” aren’t exactly the words that come to mind at first!

Travelling to the southern most country in Africa. Visiting Cape Town, a city consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the world. Wine tasting on world class vineyards. Visiting a safari park which has Africa’s big 5 animals (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, & rhino).

Surely a holiday containing all this must be expensive?

Well..not really!

While a holiday to South Africa might not be as cheap as a holiday to some where like east Asia, it certainly can be made highly affordable if you know what you’re doing.

In this guide, we’ll show you some tips on how to get an unforgettable South Africa holiday at a low price! From booking cheap flights to South Africa, to low cost local transport, and even big 5 safari parks.

It’s all about timing

We can’t emphasize this enough:

The cost of your holiday will greatly depend on what time of the year you visit South Africa. To get a cheap South Africa holiday, timing is the secret!

As South Africa is in the southern hemisphere, our summer is from December to February, while our winter is from June to August. In the South African tourism industry, the year is often divided in three periods: low season, high season, and peak season.

Low season is usually from May to the end of September, while high season is usually from the October to the end of April. Low season is the least busy in terms of tourists, while high season is the “busy season”.

Peak season is from the middle of December to the middle of January. This the peak busy period during the South Africa holiday season. This is because this is the South African summer holiday times. Schools and universities are closed, and most adults take time off from work as well.

The cheapest time to visit South Africa is low season! Not only will flights to and from South Africa be cheaper, but so will accommodation and a lot of the prices of activities.

The time to avoid, if you are looking for a low cost South Africa holiday, is peak season. This is when prices increase drastically! In popular destinations such as Knysna and Cape Town, hotel prices can double from low season to peak season.

Some people might be put off the idea of visiting South Africa in the low season, mostly due to it being Autumn or Winter.

Don’t be.

A South African winter is relatively mild compared to a European or North American winter, and might even be comparable to an English summer!

Book cheap flights to South Africa

Flying “all the way” to South Africa must be expensive.

Nope, not really. Especially if you are flying from Europe, you can find some really cheap flights to South Africa.

This is the biggest and easiest way to save money and make your South Africa holiday a whole lot cheaper.

We’ve actually created an easy step by step guide to show you how to buy cheap flights to South Africa: Cheap Flights to South Africa Guide. If you need any assistance feel free to contact us and we’ll gladly help you find a low cost flight to South Africa.

The easiest way to get cheap transport and accommodation

Great you’ve made it to South Africa!

Now what?

The next part of your cheap South Africa holiday is your transport and accommodation in South Africa.

Unfortunately the South African public transport systems are dismal to say in the least. In order to travel from town to town, you will need private transport. The easiest way to turn your vacation from cheap to expensive is to start using what are know as “transfers”. These are essentially gloried and over priced taxi trips from one destination to another (often from an airport to accommodation or visa versa).

The simple solution is to hire a car.

Hiring a car is by far the cheapest way to travel, especially if you are travelling in a group of two or more! Also, hire a car that suites your needs. Some companies will try sell you a hire car bigger than you need, e.g. a Toyota Corolla instead of Volkswagen Polo for 2 people. Even worse, some companies might try sell you a SUV as your hire car, stating that it is necessary in South Africa. It’s not!

Don’t worry. Driving in South Africa is pretty easy, especially along the tourist routes. Just remember that we drive on the left hand side of the road and you should be fine!

In fact, we only recommend that our guests hire a car, as it gives you so much more freedom making your South Africa holiday that much more flexible and enjoyable.

Cheap accommodation?

Sure there is plenty of cheap accommodation. All you need to do is go onto websites such as Booking.com or AirBNB to find cheap accommodation.

But be warned!

Cheap isn’t always good. Pictures can be deceiving, great hotels / guest houses can be in awful locations, and reviews might not always reflect your standards! What we advise for a cheap South Africa holiday, is value for money!

Finding amazing guesthouses and boutique hotels which offer both a great price as well as a great location and service. That is the goal.

But how do you find such guesthouses and boutique hotels?

You don’t.

We do! South African tour operators, such as ourselves, find these guest houses and smaller hotels.

The best part?

It actually doesn’t cost you anything to book through us, as opposed to booking directly online.

Use South African tour operators!

It will generally cost you the same to book a holiday through a South African tour operator, than if you were to book all the individual hotels, guest houses, safaris, and rental car yourself.

But how is this possible?

All tour operators earn a commission from guest houses, hotels, rental car companies, and safari parks, etc. As we are based in South Africa and have relatively low operating expenses, local tour operators are able to cover their expenses from this commission alone. On the other hand, tour companies outside of South Africa, often need to add a mark up to their holiday package prices to make a profit themselves!

An added bonus?

Local tour operators such as ourselves know where to find the best value for money. This lets us create a cheap South Africa holiday for you!

Plus letting a local tour operator book your cheap South Africa holiday, will help your South Africa holiday go as smooth as possible. Booking mistakes, can end up being very expensive, especially when you need to find accommodation or transport at short notice!

Cheap food and the best worst restaurants

Right, so far we’ve got your budget South Africa holiday with flights, transport, and accommodation.

But there’s another rather vital expense, which will affect your low cost budget.

Food and drinks!

The cost of food and drinks can add up really quickly. Especially if you are spending a lot of time in popular tourist areas.

We always book our guests in hotels and guest houses which serve breakfast included in the overnight stay. These generally consist of cereals & yogurts as well as a warm English breakfast.

The easiest way to save money on food is to enjoy these delicious breakfasts which you are already paying for! Don’t be shy with your helpings either!

The cost of lunch depends greatly on where you buy it from.

You can get small meals (savory pies are extremely popular in South Africa) from small convenience stores, supermarkets and even most petrol stations. A pie and drink will normally cost you about R30 per person.

There are also plenty of fast food chains in South Africa. Here you can expect to pay about R50 per person for a decent sized meal.

The cost of eating lunch at a restaurant will depend mostly where the restaurant is located. In a non-touristy area, you can get a meal and drink for about R70 per person. If you are in a tourist area this can go over R100 per person.

If you want to save on your lunch at a tourist hot-spot, such as Table Mountain or Cape of Good Hope, we suggest buying a small meal from a convenience store and taking it with as a picnic!

Dining out in the evenings is often a highlight of being on holiday.

South Africa has a wide variety of high class restaurants with amazing food!

The prices of restaurants vary greatly, even within a particular area. Our advice on how to find the best value for money is to ask the locals. The easiest, is to ask the manager at the accommodation where you are staying what they recommend.

Beware of the TripAdvisor trap!

Sure, only great restaurants will make it to the hallowed “Top 10” listing on TripAdvisor. But that doesn’t mean that restaurants that aren’t on that list aren’t equally great too. Often restaurants which are on the “Top 10” slowly but surely become more and more expensive as their popularity increases. These are the sorts of restaurants you want to avoid if you want a cheap South Africa holiday.

“Authentic African restaurants” also end up being more expensive than you think. These are usually restaurants in townships / poorer areas where you eat more traditional food. You will be told how much these meals and drinks cost before hand. These generally aren’t cheap in the first place. However, where the additional expense comes from is gratuity or tips. These restaurants usually have local members of their communities entertaining guests with music and singing. After the meal it is then expected to tip these locals. Tourists usually end up tipping R50 to R100 per person.

That being said, we still highly recommend going to one of these “authentic African restaurants” at least once during your trip as it will be an unforgettable experience. Mzanzi’s in Cape Town is my (Noel, the author) favourite. Even though it is also rated number 1 on TripAdvisor!

Uber around instead of using cabs / metered taxis

South Africa is not a backward as some people might think!

Most bigger towns now have Uber. Uber is an app you download on your phone. You use the Uber app to essentially order an Uber vehicle to take you to your destination. It is generally a lot cheaper than using a cab or a taxi. This is really helpful if you would like to enjoy alcohol in the evening and will not be able to drive yourself.

The budget safari

When travelling to anywhere in Africa, a safari is simply a must.

But these normally aren’t cheap! Especially if you are looking online.

Luckily for you, there are ways of getting a really great safari experience at a low cost.

As this is a highly popular topic, we have created a separate guide here for how to book a cheap safari in South Africa.

South African tour operators, such as ourselves, are able to organize these safaris for you as well!

Summary of the cheap South Africa holiday

A holiday to South Africa is a must for any adventure seeking traveler!

Contrary to popular belief, a holiday to South Africa can be cheap.

To enjoy a cheap South Africa holiday we suggest you do the following:

  • Visit in May or August, as this is the low season but the weather is still nice
  • Book cheap flights to South Africa – Cheap Flights to South Africa Guide
  • Use a rental car to travel within South Africa
  • Find value for money accommodation
  • Choose cheaper restaurants that are still great
  • Organize a cheap safari – Cheap Safari South Africa Guide

Most importantly, use a South African tour operator, such as ourselves, who can do all of this for you at no extra cost to you!