South Africa On A Budget – Key Tips To Save Costs On A Road Trip in SA

This is the second part of our South Africa series. In the first part, we’ve shared itinerary details along with accommodation options.


South Africa may not be the mecca for budget travellers but it is a destination that can be experienced without breaking the bank or sacrificing on basic creature comforts. While indulging in a safari or partaking in an adrenaline pumping adventure will set you back a good amount, it isn’t all that hard to balance it out.

We spent 23 nights in South Africa and spent a grand combined total of INR 2, 49, 000 (3864 USD), i.e INR 1,24,500 (1932 USD) per person

Was this exactly a budget trip? Admittedly, no. We lost our way with food as well as transport (we took out the costliest insurance, just in case!). 

Average cost/ day:  9000 INR/ couple (135 USD per couple)

But, if you follow some of the budget advice here, you should be able to bring this down to at least 7500 INR (120 USD) per couple per day.


FLIGHTS & VISA

1) We flew Ethiopian Air via Addis-Ababa from Mumbai. We booked it almost 7 months in advance and got it for as low as 19,000 INR per person return (~295 USD). Ethiopian is probably one of the cheapest flight options from India.We were also treated to a visa free entry into Ethiopia for a day, along with free accommodation since we had a long layover. We suggest you book with a long layover (more than 8 hours) to make use of this!

2) Fly from Mumbai as the prices from other destinations are significantly higher. Ethiopian also flies from Delhi but the prices are not the same.

3) The other decent budget options are Kenya Airways and Air Seychelles, although they are costlier than Ethiopian Airlines.

The perks of a long layover in Ethiopia: Devouring the world’s best coffee at Tomoca, Addis Ababa

STAY

1) We spent as low as INR 1700 per night per room on an average in SA. By finding AirBnB options in advance and mixing up a couple of nights in hostels every week, you’ll be able to keep this cost down.

2) We also couchsurfed for the first time ever in Johannesburg. Free stay, yay! South African cities have a strong couchsurfing culture, so do check out that option.

3) We also got a discount of about 4000 INR (~ 62 USD) via AirBnB, thanks to its referral program. Need a discount? Click this link to sign up on AirBnB if you haven’t already.

Our LOTR themed villa in the magical forests of Hogsback

FOOD/ GROCERY

1) Given that South Africa is an ex Dutch/ British colony predominantly, there isn’t much in the way of local food. The traditional African food like the Xhosa cuisine is quite hard to find unless you’ve access to townships.

2) This means that it is quite easy to hold back from spending exorbitant amounts on food, even if you’re a major foodie. However, as the charts show, we did not do a good job of keeping food budgets under control as we spent close to 2500 INR (28 USD) per day on food.

3) Make breakfast at home as much as possible. Groceries are fairly cheap and most apartments come with a usable kitchen.

The Knysna Oysters – One of the few things in SA worth splurging on

4) Make use of chains like Spur (for steaks), Ocean’s basket (for seafood), Nando’s (for chicken meals) to keep budgets in check. When going on self drive safaris, stock up food supplies to avoid eating at highly priced restaurants.

5) Almost all wineries in South Africa allow for wine tasting for free or for as little as 130 INR (2 USD). Use this to your advantage.

6) We don’t hold back from spending on food generally but we regret having splurged on food in South Africa as it wasn’t worth spending on. Expect a lot of burgers, pastas, milkshakes in most restaurants.

Tasted a whole array of fine wines at ‘Tokara’, all for 3 dollars!

COMMUTE

1) The single biggest expense during our trip was the internal commute. The public transport infrastructure is extremely poor in South Africa. Apart from a high-speed train service in parts of Jo’burg, there is literally no subway/ metro system anywhere else. Locals travel from one city to the other by hitch-hiking.

2) Inter-city buses and trains are also very rare with frequency of less than 3-4 times in a week. Additionally, buses/ trains don’t connect to some of the tourist destinations that you’re likely to visit as they’re aimed at inter-city connections.

3) Hence, a self-driven road trip is the only feasible choice. It gave us the freedom to have a flexible itinerary and to stop off anywhere we liked to admire the landscapes. It also helped us cover a lot more of the country than we’d have otherwise. If you’re travelling in a group, you’ll save a HUGE amount by renting a car as the costs remain flat nonetheless.

4) We rented our car with Hertz for the first 3 days and with Avis for the remaining 19 days. Both parties were very professional and gave us brand new cars. We did not have any trouble whatsoever for the entire distance. We strongly recommend you spend the extra to get the full insurance coverage that will free you from any financial liability in case something goes wrong. Best to book via EconomyBookings as they will show you the best deals in the country!

This beast was our second home in SA – a lil’ Chevy Spark

5) While in Cape Town, we occasionally gave our car some rest to avoid being stuck in traffic, and used Uber instead. It was much cheaper in Cape Town than it was in Jo’burg.

6) You will also need to catch internal flights a couple of times – from Johannesburg to PE/ East London or Cape Town to Jo’burg. Use SkyScanner to find the best deals for this. The cheapest airlines are likely to be Mango or Kulula.

7) If you are a solo traveller, use the BAZ BUS to commute across South Africa. It is a network of backpackers’ buses that goes to all popular tourist locations, from gates of one hostel to another. Once you buy a ticket for a certain period (7 days/ 14 days), you can use it to travel between any two stops at any point in time. The bus has fixed pickup / drop timings and you need to be ready at that time. It is also a wonderful way to meet fellow travellers. But, if you’re a couple or a group, it might cost you almost as much as a car rental making the latter a better option.

Having a car lets you get off at any place you like to hike or walk or admire the vistas

ACTIVITIES

1) One of the biggest expenses during your South Africa trip will be the safari. With some pre-planning and a bit of sacrifice on ultra-luxury, you can save a huge amount on it.

2) Do not book a fully inclusive safari package into Kruger with a tour company. They come at prices in the range of INR 50,000 per person (~775 USD). While it is definitely hassle-free, you could have the same experience at a much lesser price.

3) Find an accommodation outside of the park if you choose to go to Kruger or Addo. Take day trips into the park in your own vehicle and go for a couple of guided game drives that you can easily arrange at your homestay/ hotel. This will save you as much as 75% of the cost. 

Getting face to face with these giants in Africa doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive

4) If you’re sticking to Pilanesberg/ Madikwe, opt for their tented camps instead of resort lodges. The tented camps are very well maintained and come with all the basic amenities you need to survive. After all, you’re going to be out scanning for wildlife most of the time. Avoid going to private reserves like Sabi Sands or Shamwari as they’re luxury safaris (honestly, the wildlife is no different!)

5) We paid only INR 6500 per person per night for accommodation, breakfast & dinner, unlimited coffee/ snacks, and 2 scheduled game drives into the Pilanesberg National Park. Want this deal? Use this link to enquire.

6) Other activities like the bungy jump at Bloukrans Bridge or Shark-cage diving in Gansbaai or cable car to Table Mountain top are all expensive. But, if you’re an adventure junkie, might probably be worth it. We chose to skip all of it as we’ve done a bungy jump before and found shark-cage diving to be a bit cruel.

Our tented camp at the Pilanesberg reserve was budget-friendly and luxurious, all at once

AVERAGE COSTS IN SOUTH AFRICA

A coffee at a neighbourhood cafe: 80 INR (1.25 USD)

A pint of Windhoek beer: 100 INR (1.5 USD)

A sit-down meal at a good restaurant: 1500 INR (23 USD)

A full meal at a chain restaurant: 800 INR (12 USD)

A private room in an AirBnB: 2000 INR (31 USD)

A dorm room at a backpackers: 900 INR (14 USD)

One litre of unleaded petrol: 60 INR (0.9 USD)

Bungy Jumping/ Shark Cage Diving/ Seal Snorkeling: 5000 INR (~ 80 USD)


All in all, South Africa can be experienced on a low budget with some careful planning. Whether you’re a solo backpacker or a couple or a group, it is quite possible to keep budgets in check.

Still planning your itinerary for South Africa road trip? Click here to read our itinerary suggestions

Still wondering why you should visit South Africa? Here are 20 pictures that’ll convince you, if our words haven’t already.

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