Cape Town on a Budget
With an excellent exchange rate against the Dollar, Euro and Pound, and English as a national and common language, South Africa is the obvious choice for travelers wanting to experience Africa’s big game, breathtaking scenery, and unique culture and mixed history. Cape Town and its surroundings embody these and other fantastic aspects of the country in a manageable geographic area.
Cultural and natural attractions, along with a stable political climate, well-developed infrastructure and tourism facilities, and some fantastic weather have rightly earned South Africa a place on millions of travelers’ wish list of places to see before they die. And, with a little careful planning and attention to budget, you could be enjoying Cape Town sooner than you realize.
The key to keeping South Africa affordable is avoiding higher-end luxury hotels and tour companies. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean that any sacrifices have to be made in what can potentially be seen. It just means that the accommodations and travel arrangements will need to be kept a bit more basic.
So check out these tips, take your time in planning, do plenty of research, and then get packing.
For nearly everyone who visits South Africa, Cape Town is a ‘can’t miss’ destination. It is known as the most beautiful city in the country, and possibly all of Africa. Cape Town is also a cultural, historical, and political capital of the country. Unfortunately, it is also expensive, for locals and visitors alike.
Fortunately, Cape Town is fairly small and most points of interest can be seen on foot. This means that a comfortable pair of shoes and a map or guidebook can easily replace a guided tour for most historical and tourist attractions.
A visit to Robben Island is a must for the first-timer in Cape Town. This tour is very easy to arrange personally, and tickets are available online or through the sales office at the Nelson Mandela Gateway along the V&A Waterfront. The 3- to 4-hour tour is not cheap, but students can get a discount if they present their ID and purchase in person.
As always, making like the locals will save a ton of money, so be sure to do a bit of hiking in the wilderness surrounding the city, and hit the beach for a couple of days with a picnic lunch from a deli or grocery store for some sun, sand and surf. The great weather and chilled-out pace of life in Cape Town is one of the city’s biggest perks, so be sure to enjoy it.
Excursions and Safaris
One of the most expensive things to do in Africa is go on safari, and with good reason. Firstly, most of the protected locations to see Africa’s big game are still quite remote, so providing and maintaining accommodations and facilities is expensive. Secondly, these animals and their habitat require constant protection and conservation, which costs money and can only be funded by asking visitors to pay a fee.
There are a few affordable options, however, since getting all the way to South Africa and skipping a safari would be a huge mistake.
Mo Africa Tours also has a great reputation for offering exciting tours without a lot of the unneeded luxury found in numerous, more expensive safari sites around the country.
Finally, African Budget Safaris frequently has discounts available for many of its multi-day tours which can include special fares or free additional days during low tourist seasons.
Cape Town has plenty of nice hotels, but most are pricey. To stay on budget, consider a hostel, homestay or vacation rental home. And when trekking or hiking, don’t be afraid to camp.
Pricier than a hostel, but usually including breakfast, some transit, local knowledge and possibly a new friend, numerous homestays are available in Cape Town: check out Homestay Booking or by post a request on Couchsurfing.
Take the bus! Unlike much of Africa, Cape Town and its outlying regions are well connected by comfortable, clean, and reliable buses that are more than adequate for any budget traveler. In fact, many charter bus lines already arrange tours with Cape Town’s luxury hotels, guaranteeing that these companies are timely and safe.
To get to locations outside Cape Town – such as nearby wineries, Table Mountain, national parks or other cities – make the booking through a luxury hotel’s concierge desk. Often the booking service is free, or has a very low commission, even for non-hotel guests.
Around town, the Golden Arrow Bus Company operates more than a thousand buses covering the entire metropolitan area, so plotting a route in advance is definitely the cheapest way to get around. The new MyCiTi bus lines also connect the city to the airport and a few other key destinations, though routes are more limited.
If you are wanting to bounce between locations over a series of days, Baz Bus has backpacker deals that fit the bill perfectly. They run connections between Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Johannesburg, and nearly all stops in between.
Otherwise, when traveling short distances within the city, Cape Town has some very reliable taxi companies that feature reasonable flat-rate or metered fares that visitors can use without fear of being ripped off. These companies include Rikkis Taxi, Excite Taxis and Nash Cabs.
Lastly, between tourist destinations there is the ever-popular big red hop-on, hop-off City Sightseeing bus with several cheap daily routes to choose from; this bus makes it easy to see lots of sights within a single day.
Dining in Cape Town doesn’t have to break the bank. There are plenty of local eateries, some even in tourist areas, which offer great food at good prices.Check out Cape Town Magazine for restaurant reviews and average prices, plus information about what is going on in and around the city.
And don’t forget to hit up the local fruit stands and grocery stores for very affordable for breakfasts and snacks.