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How to Plan a Trip to South Africa on a Budget

Explore awe-inspiring landscapes and world-class cities without breaking the bank.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Plan a Trip to South Africa on a Budget

Panoramic view of Cape Town, South Africa with Signal Hill and Table Mountain seen from Lion's Head at full moon.

With a little research, you can organize a once-in-a-lifetime trip at an affordable price.(Getty Images)

Iconic Hollywood films, from the 1985 classic "Out of Africa" to the 1951 drama "The African Queen" inspire us to pack our bags and explore South Africa's natural and urban splendors. Located at the southernmost part of the continent, South Africa offers thriving cultures, flourishing arts, food and wine scenes and a wealth of can't-miss attractions to experience beyond unforgettable safaris. Even better, South Africa is accessible to visitors with high and low budgets and caters to versatile traveler tastes and interests. So, if you're ready to embark on a vacation to remember, use these tactics to trim costs without compromising on experience.

Find Low-Cost Flights

One of the highest costs of any trip to Cape Town is flights. Always consider traveling during the off-season to get the cheapest fare. That said, during the off-season (currently, it's winter in South Africa), the cheapest flights cost around $700, about a $100 price difference than the high season. Consider booking directly through South African Airways, the official airline of the country, to get the best prices. And while, most travelers pick Johannesburg as their initial entry into the country, comparing prices with major hubs in popular cities such as Cape Town or even Durban is another great way to scale back costs.

Visit Little-Known Destinations and World-Class Cities

South Africa offers a diverse range of places to explore. While Johannesburg and Cape Town remain the two most popular cities to visit – and they are certainly worth visiting – consider making the pilgrimage to the adorable town of Stellenbosch. Just a quick 40-minute drive from Cape Town, Stellenbosch has a longstanding Dutch heritage and a vibrant town square filled with charming boutiques, as well as excellent food and wine. Keep your wallet happy by eating breakfast at Schoon, a bakery with delicious coffee. And don't skip dining at Oude Werf Hotel's dining room, where you can delight in delectable and cheap eats. Also consider staying at this unique hotel for a high-end experience at a low price tag.

Seek Out Affordable Hotel Options

Across South Africa, you'll find a mix of eclectic boutiques and high-end properties offering affordable nightly rates. Take the Marriott-owned property, The Maslow Hotel, in Johannesburg, which charges $200 a night. Boutique hotel operators also offer economical rates. The Protea Hotel chain, which is fairly ubiquitous across the area with outposts in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other areas, maximizes comfort with upscale amenities and offers nightly rates starting at around $100.

Cut Meal Costs

Cape Town offers a diverse selection of high-quality, globally inspired cuisine at a low price. The Kitchen, which is located in the heart of Cape Town's art district, for example, offers a variety of flavorful salad variations all under $10. Affordable and memorable meal options abound in Jo'burg as well. In the Maboneng Arts District, you'll find plenty of pop-up food vendors, where for $5 dollars, you can sample a variety of authentic eats. Other top places for quality meals include Sandton, Greenside and Melrose Arch.

Visit Amazingly Affordable Attractions

Believe it or not, it's possible to plan a trip to South Africa without draining your wallet. Thanks to a wealth of free and cost-effective attractions in lesser-known places as well as cosmopolitan destinations like Cape Town, there is plenty to experience on a shoestring budget. For instance, Table Mountain, one of Cape Town's most legendary sites, only requires a small fee to ride on the Aerial Cableway. Plus, if you're feeling adventurous, you can hike to the top of the mountain along scenic trails to discover unparalleled city views free of charge. What's more, there are plenty of other free natural allures to explore in Cape Town, such as Clifton Beach, Greenmarket Square and Camps Bay, enabling you to efficiently trim vacation costs without missing out on must-see attractions and experiences.

And if you're itching to go on a safari, you can enjoy spending time at a rustic camp or safari lodge in South Africa without bursting your budget. For instance, at Tangala Safari Camp, which borders Kruger National Park, you can see the game at Thornybush Big 5 Game Reserve and enjoy all meals and lodging for around $300 nightly.

Corrected on Oct. 13, 2016: A previous version of this story misstated where Stellenbosch is located.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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