South Africa has a bad reputation with its high levels of corruption and crime but the country’s rich history, natural beauty, and culture is what made me visit. It certainly did not disappoint! South Africa has it all–from vibrant cities to white sand beaches to breathtaking landscapes. As part of my budget breakdown series, I will go over my costs of solo travel in South Africa.
Currency Info: In June/July 2019, the exchange of the South African Rand to the Canadian Dollar was around 10.96 ZAR to $1 CAD.
I was quite surprised at how developed the low cost airlines were in South Africa. Flights between bigger cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban are quite cheap especially when booked in advance. There are three main budget carriers: Kulula, Mango, and the new FlySafair. Like any budget airline, checked baggage cost extra and will significantly add to your base ticket price. Here are the domestic flights I took:
- FlySafair from Johannesburg to Durban 449 ZAR ($40.97 CAD)
- FlySafair from Durban to Port Elizabeth 1498 ZAR ($136.68 CAD)
- Kulula from Cape Town to Johannesburg 467 ZAR ($42.62 CAD)
Food & Drinks
All the hostels I have stayed had fully equipped kitchens, which made it easy to cook my own meals. I did this quite often to save back on eating out. Grocery stores such as Checkers, Shoprite and SPAR are plentiful and were reasonably priced. Out of all the countries I visited, South Africa was the place I prepared my meals the most. Eating out isn’t particularly expensive, but I wanted to eat healthier and also save money as I knew my transportation costs were going to be higher than average.
Nonetheless, South African food is something that you need to try. There are many unique dishes I’ve had that I wouldn’t have come across anywhere else.
Here is what I ate and what they cost:
- A local braai (South African BBQ) for two. Pap, which is made from finely ground corn/maize, and salsa are often accompanied with a selection of meats. 173.88 ZAR ($15.87 CAD)
- Bunny Chow at House of Curries on Florida. Bunny Chows originated among Indian South Africans of Durban and consists of half a loaf of bread with the inside replaced by lamb or beef curry 92.4 ZAR ($8.43 CAD)
- Potjiekos, a meat and vegetable stew made in a cast iron pot over an open fire at a hostel 100 ZAR ($9.12 CAD)
- Chicken biryani 55 ZAR ($5.02 CAD)
- Meat pie 19 ZAR ($1.73 CAD)
- Bobotie with mango lassi. This Cape Malay dish consists of a sweet and spicy mince curry topped with an egg mixture. 165 ZAR ($15.06 CAD)
- 400g beef sirloin at Don Armado in Cape Town 275 ZAR ($25.09 CAD)
- Koeksister; a traditional Cape Malay pastry made of fried dough infused in syrup or honey 5 ZAR ($0.46 CAD)
- Biltong; South Africa’s version of jerky. The meat can range from beef to the game meats of Africa (kudu, springbok, wildebeest). A small bag cost me 41 ZAR ($3.74 CAD)
Within the cities, use of ride sharing apps such as Uber and Bolt (formerly Taxify) was quite easy and cheap. Taking an UberX from O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) to Johannesburg city centre (approx 24 km away) cost 254 ZAR ($23.18 CAD).
If you do not have either, please use my referral links below so that you would get free rides and/or discounts. I would also earn some free rides and/or discounts! Win-Win!
Renting a Car
My top destination within South Africa was the Garden Route. This stretch of country’s south-western coast is ranked one of the top drives in the world due to its wildlife, vegetation, and beautiful landscapes. Stay tuned for a separate guide to the Garden Route.
After having talked to many locals in Johannesburg and researching online, the best way to do the Garden Route was to rent a car. Even as a solo traveller, they all recommended renting a car vs. taking a bus.
For the most part, I found the roads to be in great condition; A 4WD is definitely not required unless you are planning on some off the beaten paths.
If your driver’s licence is in English and contains a photo, then it is legally acceptable as a valid driver’s licence in South Africa. Otherwise, you would have to get an International Driver’s Permit in your home country.
Renting a car is honestly the best option for travelling around South Africa. Nothing else will give you as much freedom to go where and when you like.
Costs of renting a car:
- a Nissan Sentra with Europcar for 4 days in Durban 1344 ZAR ($122.63 CAD)
- a Volkswagen Polo with Hertz for 11 days from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town (Garden Route) 4542 ZAR ($414.43 CAD)
- a Ford Fiesta with Avis for 4 days in Johannesburg 1763 ZAR ($160.90 CAD). Somehow I accepted the additional insurance which came to 860 ZAR ($78.47 CAD) which was more than the rental car itself. I tried getting a refund, but alas no luck.
- Total gas/petrol expenses in South Africa totalled to 2150 ZAR ($196.17 CAD). Here are some the prices in each region:
- Garden Route: 16.2 ZAR ($1.48 CAD) per litre
- Cape Town: 15.42 ZAR ($1.41 CAD) per litre
- Johannesburg: 15.61 ZAR ($1.42 CAD) per litre
I found that Rentalcars.com is best for finding the best prices in South Africa. I found that they show more rental companies compared to other sites like Expedia and Kayak. They have a great booking system, and was very easy for me to book.
Notes on Renting/Driving a Car in South Africa
- They drive on the left in South Africa, opposite from North America and Continental Europe. It was my first time driving on the left. It takes getting used to, but after a couple of hours, you should be able to get the gist of it.
- Unlike in Canada and the US, left (or right) turns on red at traffic lights are illegal.
- If you can drive a manual, you can save a lot of money as most rental fleets in South Africa largely have manual transmissions.
- If you are parking in the street or a parking lot in the larger South African cities, you will often be approached by a ‘car guard’. They will help you park and keep an eye on your vehicle in exchange for a tip. I would usually tip as I leave the lot and around 2 ZAR to 10 ZAR depending how long I park.
- All the gas/petrol stations are full service meaning that an attendant will fill your tank and clean your windows. I would usually tip around 2 to 5 ZAR.
- Look into your travel insurance coverage under your credit card. Most premium credit cards offer car rental insurance as one of their benefits. If you have one, do not get the additional insurance provided by the rental car companies.
- If you’re planning to drive into Lesotho and Swaziland, check that the rental car company allows it (as some won’t!)
There are cheaper alternatives to getting between cities with Greyhound and Baz Bus. The latter is specifically geared towards backpackers with hop-on hop-off passes; they pick you up and drop you off at your backpackers accommodation. However, once at the destination it can be difficult to get around. It is worth noting that the bus does not run daily.
You won’t find any “hostels” in South Africa, instead they are called “backpackers.” For the most part, the backpackers I stayed at have all been clean and have friendly staff. I visited South Africa in June and July which is considered their low season. With that I was able to get my pick of beds; I was able to walk in most times without a reservation.
Here are the accommodations I recommend in South Africa:
Curiocity Backpackers for 3 nights at 205 ZAR ($18.67 CAD) per night in Johannesburg
Due to it’s bar, Curiocity brings in locals and other travellers from other hostels, giving it a social vibe. This backpackers has a great location, being in the hip Maboneng district. There are lots of cool bars and restaurants just steps away. The rooms were clean and comfortable with all the necessary amenities. Just be wary of the tours and activities offered here, as I found them to be quite overpriced.
Wild Spirit Backpackers Lodge for 1 night at 200 ZAR ($18.25 CAD) per night in Nature Valley (Garden Route)
This backpackers was quite hyped up for me. I’ve met so many people telling me to stay here during my time in the Garden Route. The lodge is nestled in among nature. There are lots of outdoor areas to hang out (fire pits, patios, etc). The rooms are well maintained with comfortable beds (not dorms!) There is a nature and hippie vibe (not my favourite tbh) which might be a better fit to others. I think it can have a social atmosphere, but the one night I was there, it was quite dead. Could be due to the fact that I was there during the low season.
Hermanus Backpackers for 3 nights at 190 ZAR ($17.34 CAD) per night in Hermanus
This is probably my favourite backpackers in South Africa. The staff here were welcoming and friendly. It has a great location, being only a 15 minute walk to the centre of town. The rooms and beds were clean and quite comfortable. The place gives out a homey feel with its snug common spaces and chill atmosphere.
MOY Guesthouse and Backpackers for 2 nights at 142 ZAR ($12.96 CAD) per night in Cape Town
I think I booked this when it was on a promotion or something because it should not be priced this low. This boutique backpackers is on the higher end of hostels I’ve stayed at in South Africa. The beds, rooms, showers were all new and clean. The beds even have privacy screens! The price also includes a decent breakfast (toast, fruits, oatmeal). It is located in the trendy suburb of Green Point where lots of cafes and restaurants are nearby. V&A Waterfront is only a 15 minute walk away. One downside is that it lacks a social atmosphere. I was there for two nights and probably met only two other travellers.
Tented Adventures Pilanesberg for 1 night at 1095 ZAR ($99.91 CAD) which also included breakfast, dinner, and unlimited coffee/ snacks.
This is glamping in a safari! Each tent is equipped with comfortable beds, luxurious linen, camp chairs, electricity, fans and heaters. There is a tented lounge for coffee, snacks, and a fire pit. The bathroom facilities are shared with the other resorts in the area was quite basic. Meals included a full English breakfast buffet, and a braai buffet for dinner. If you are planning an overnight stay in Pilanesberg, I highly recommend them!
This is where the budget can really take off. South Africa is home to great adventure sports. Just to name a few, there are cage diving with great white sharks, paragliding, bungee jumping, and of course safaris!
Here are the things I did in each place:
- Apartheid Museum. A great museum if you want to learn about South Africa’s dark past. 100 ZAR ($9.12 CAD)
- Explore the city of Johannesburg and witness its public artworks and architecture while soaking up some history with a free walking tour with Jozi Free Walking Tours. Don’t forget to tip your guide!
- Pilanesberg National Park. Not as famous as Kruger National Park, but this is park doable as a day trip from Johannesburg. Even though it is relatively small, the park has an abundance of southern African wildlife including the Big Five! I went on two game drives with Tented Adventures and was able to see 4/5 out of the Big Five (missing the cape buffalo. 505 ZAR ($46.08 CAD)
- The Cradle of Humankind. Outside the city, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to large number of humanoid fossils. I went to the Maropeng Visitor Centre where you can see the bones and learn more about our origins. 120 ZAR ($10.95 CAD)
- Wandered down Vilakazi Street in Soweto checking out the street art, the different vendors selling souvenirs and street performances. There is also the former houses of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu that have been converted to museums.
- Gateway Theater of Shopping. Shop at one of the biggest malls in the Southern Hemisphere with 18 movie theatres, over 400 stores, an arcade, a theme park, and a water park.
- The Golden Mile. This stretch of sandy beach near the centre of the city is a great place to walk around. Lots of cafes and restaurants in the area, right by the beach. It is popular among surfers, fishers, joggers, and offers some of the best beaches in the country.
- Umhlanga Pier. Its distinctive whale bone structure makes it dubbed one of the most beautiful piers in the world.
- Tsitsikamma National Park. Walked around the park to the suspension bridge and lookout trail. The foreigner visitors fee was a whopping 235 ZAR ($21.44 CAD)!
- Robberg Nature Reserve. The reserve is home to three hiking trails that go up and down the rocky coastline. Along with the beautiful ocean view, you can see a colony of seals and run down sand dunes. Entrance is 50 ZAR ($4.56 CAD)
- St Blaize Hiking Trail. This 3.5 km (6 hour) hike along cliffs overlooking the ocean. FREE
- So many beautiful viewpoints. I’ll cover them more in my guide to the Garden Route!
- Boulders Beach. This is a popular stop due to a colony of African penguins settled there. You can get real close to the penguins roaming freely at the beach, but you are limited to the wooden walkways. The foreigners fee is 152 ZAR ($13.87 CAD)
- The Iziko South African National Gallery. This gallery features a variety of work of famous South African artists. There was a lot of renovations, so it felt pretty small for me. 30 ZAR ($2.74 CAD)
- Walk around the city with a walking tour provided by Free Walking Tours Cape Town. The tour includes visits to Company’s Garden, Parliament, Green Market Square and The Slave Lodge.
- Free Walking Tours Cape Town also offers Bo Kaap tours. This multicultural neighbourhood is famous for its rainbow array of brightly-coloured homes.
- Iziko South African Museum. Learn more about South Africa’s natural and social history at the country’s oldest museum. 30 ZAR ($2.74 CAD)
- Lion’s Head. This hike offers a breathtaking view of Cape Town, Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean. It was a bit challenging due to climbing over large rocks with uneven surfaces. It will take about one to two hours depending on your skill. FREE
Here are my other costs travelling in South Africa:
- 3 GB of data and a SIM card with Vodacom via Johannesburg airport 404 ZAR ($36.86 CAD). I was able to test the speeds using Speedtest.net and got a download speed of 97.8 Mbps and 18.7 Mbps! If you want to save money, get a SIM card outside the airport; it will be a lot cheaper (maybe even free!)
- ATM fee of 50 ZAR ($4.56 CAD). I found that credit card (VISA & Mastercard) are accepted in almost all places. Make sure you use a debit card that doesn’t charge you for any foreign transaction fees. If you are from Canada, I recommend using STACK!
The Sum of the Costs of Solo Travel in South Africa
My solo travel in South Africa lasted 24 days and in total I spent a total of 25,606 ZAR ($2,336.44 CAD), amounting to 1067 ZAR ($97.35 CAD) per day.
As you can see, transportation costs made up the biggest portion of my spend (42%). This is due to the three car rentals I booked. Even though it was quite expensive to rent a car for a solo traveller, I do not regret it one bit as it provided me with freedom and flexibility. I was able to go wherever and whenever I wanted.
My biggest advice to save money while travelling to South Africa is to go with other people. Being able to split the costs of renting a car and accommodation will save you so much money. I wanted to split a car rental with another traveller or even pick people up for gas money, but since I went in the low season (June to August), I did not meet many other backpackers.
AirBnBs are amazing value in South Africa. Especially if you are splitting it with someone else you can spend on average 132 ZAR ($12 CAD) per person for a nice private room. Click this link to sign up on AirBnB if you haven’t already.
Ways to save $$$
- Rent a car with a manual transmission if you can. Most rental cars in South Africa are manual transmissions and if you book an automatic one (aka me), it will be significantly more expensive.
- If your route and schedule permits, have the same pick up and drop off point when renting a car. This saves you from paying a one-way fee.
- Buy food at the grocery stores and cook your own meals. South Africa has an abundant of fresh and delicious produce and meats in their supermarkets.
- Find an accommodation outside of the park if you choose to go to a nature reserve. Then either take day trips into the park in your own vehicle or go for guided game drives.