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The Affordable South African holiday guide

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

Think about it, you are travelling to the southern most country in Africa, you will be 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 somewhere 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.

Cape

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 an affordable 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.

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.

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 known as “transfers”.

The simple solution is to hire a car. Fortunately for you Travel2Africa has a car to take you from the airport on your arrival. 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. 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!

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.

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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. 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 self-catering accommodation; we prepare all our famous South African cousins. 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.

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. South African tour operators, such as ourselves, are able to organize these safaris for you and move you around.

You can enjoy your holiday without breaking your bank and worrying about how you will cope in Africa. Luckily for you Travel2Africa will all of the above for you at no extra cost to you!

What Makes South Africa a Top Tourist Destination?

From its towns, cities, coastlines and cultures, South Africa is definitely a very diverse place to visit. But what makes it such a tourist hot-spot? For one, it has a range of unique and exciting activities that will make you want to book a flight as soon as possible.  One of the main attractions is the famous Kruger National Park, South Africa’s first national park which contains significant numbers of all the big five wildlife. There are so many more national parks and beautiful natural places to visit in South Africa. 

Kruger

There is also the Table Mountain, a beautiful natural phenomenon that you definitely want to see at least once in your lifetime. Luckily you don’t just have to admire its beauty from afar, you can book a spot on a cable car up to the mountain and admire its diverse flora up close, or you could hike up with a guide. Either option is just as amazing. Also, we have the Robben Island, also known as Seal Island, which you can enjoy as a day outing. This is the same place which kept political prisoners during the Apartheid era. 

And then, of course, there’s 
Monuments and Museums
South Africa isn’t only known for its natural monuments, it also has a very interesting and extensive history, with many places to visit that showcase that. It is more likely that you know who Nelson Mandela was, a great man who ended apartheid and became our democratically elected president. To commemorate that, South Africa has the Apartheid Museum, which tells the story of the 20th Century South Africa and the now-defunct apartheid system. There is also The Nelson Mandela House, a restored dwelling of the South African leader.

On our history menu is definitely not only Apartheid, so many historical monuments are open to visitors to learn, and see, all that was and is South Africa. There is the Castle of Good Hope, an expansive and colonial 17th century castle that is now a provincial heritage site. There is the Pilgrim's Rest, a small museum which offers the visitor a fascinating window into the past, and captures the spirit of a bygone era and its people in their quest for gold. There is also the Voortrekker Monument which commemorates the Afrikaans settlers who arrived in 1830. There are so many more museums and historical sites that tell South Africa’s story and are amazing places to visit.

A lot of tourists when they think Africa, they think wildlife and poverty. South Africa has a great urban lifestyle, and places that city lovers will never want to leave. One of the most popular international sites for tourists is the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town, the mother city.

Lesedi Village

In and Around South Africa
Once you are in South Africa, in no particular order, we will make sure that we take you to the Lion & Safari park to get intimate with lions and a few other cats. We visit with you the Lesedi Cultural Village to live and share in the South African cultural diversity. We then take you to the historically rich township, Soweto where the famous Valakazi Street is found. We are not done with you as we are still to take you to the Blyde River Canyon, one of the largest canyons on Earth, and it may be the largest 'green canyon' due to its lush subtropical foliage, offering you the Three Rondavels and God's Window. Also, on the list is Drakensberg “Ukhahlamba”, the Great Escarpment which takes a portion of the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga province and Lesotho. As if that’s not enough, there is also Knysna, the heart of the Garden Route, which is surrounded by forests, lakes, mountains and sea, and is an ever-popular tourist destination and town of legends.

Lastly is South Africa’s culture. South Africa is very rich in, and well known for, it’s many diverse cultures. After all, it’s not known as ‘The Rainbow Nation’ for nothing.  South Africa has 11 official languages and 8 other recognized languages, all of these coming from the natives and the colonizers.  

As South Africa was being developed, more labor was required and slaves from Madagascar, East Africa, East Indies, India, and China were brought in. Visit Chinatown in Johannesburg, The Grey Street Musjid in Durban's CBD, and Cape Malays in Cape Town to learn more about the different cultures that aren’t originally from South Africa.

After learning all of this it probably comes as no surprise that tourists love South Africa so much, and that you’ll probably love it too.

The Pilgrim's Rest

Pilgrim's Rest is a small museum town situated on the magnificent Panorama Route in the Kruger Lowveld region of the Mpumalanga province of South Africa.  The area is richly imbued with a diversity of natural, cultural and historic gems. The entire town of Pilgrim’s rest has been declared a national monument. Here, visitors can relive the days of the old Transvaal gold rush.

The uniqueness of this historic village is vividly evident in its museums and historic sites.  It offers the visitor a fascinating window into the past, and captures the spirit of a bygone era and its people in their quest for gold.

Bank

The entire town of Pilgrim's Rest was declared a National Monument in 1986 as a living memory of the early gold rush days in South Africa during the late 1800s / early 1900s. Since then a dedicated team of historians, architects, curators and special interest groups closely monitor all developments and refurbishments in the village to maintain its historic appearance.

The history of this quaint and delightful village dates back to 1873 when a miner, Alec "Wheelbarrow" Patterson had found gold deposits in Pilgrim's Creek, on the farm named Ponieskrantz. Though the discovery was kept as a secret, once a second prospector named William Trafford also discovered gold close by, the inevitable happened. Soon after, optimistic panners and prospectors from all over the country and the World came to the area. The Valley proved to be rich in gold and by the end of the year, there where about 1500 diggers working in the area. As a result, Pilgrim's Rest became a social center of the diggings. 

Hotel

On 22nd September 1873 Pilgrim's Rest was officially proclaimed a gold field and the scatter of tents and elementary shacks soon grew into a flourishing little village complete with sturdy brick houses, shops, churches, canteens, a newspaper and the well-known Royal Hotel. Within a year there were 21 stores, 18 canteens, 3 bakeries and all sorts of other interesting establishments. Interestingly, the diggers called it Pilgrim's Rest because here, at long last, after so many failed dreams they had truly found their home.

Mining was active until 1971 when Beta Mine was closed down. Tranvaal Gold Mining Estates opened again in 1999 and there is active gold mining in the hills around Pilgrim's Rest.

Today, Gold Panning is still supported and practiced by people from all races, genders and ages. There is plenty to do and experience here. From exciting curio and craft shops to fascinating historical sights, one can never be bored. Interesting historical sites include old church buildings, namely Sacred Heart Church, St Mary's Church, Methodist Church and Dutch Reformed Church, Dredzen Shop and House Museum, Historic Cemetery, Joubert Bridge, Digging Museum & Gold Panning and the Printing Museum.

Garage

Mining was active until 1971 when Beta Mine was closed down. Tranvaal Gold Mining Estates opened again in 1999 and there is active gold mining in the hills around Pilgrim's Rest.

There is an abundance of gorgeous arts and crafts shops where one can purchase pottery, stained glass, weaving, hot glass and even custom crockery. Other exciting activities include horse riding, bird watching, hiking, mountain biking and golfing. The Mount Sheba Nature Reserve boasts a series of outstanding walks offering spectacular scenery.

There never was a more beautiful or romantic spot to have a gold rush than Pilgrim’s Rest. This spectacular area is richly imbued with a diversity of natural, cultural and historic gems. The uniqueness of this historic village is vividly evident in its museums and historic sites. The beauty here is unsurpassed. Pilgrims Rest offers all visitors a fascinating look into the past and captures the spirit of a former era and its people in their quest for gold. It is definitely well worth a visit.

South African Birdlife

South Africa is known the all over the world for its abundance of wildlife, not least of all its many birds. In fact, there is an established avi-tourism industry that invites birding enthusiasts from all over the world to indulge in top-class bird-watching.

Vulture

The sheer variety of birdlife in South Africa is impressive; made up of typical African birds, migrants, and Endemic Birds. Visitors can join up with a formal birding tour group or can explore the country and its species on their own. Of the approximate 850 recorded bird species in the country, around 725 are resident birds (or, at least, annual visitors). An impressive 50 avian species can only be found in South Africa, giving birders a prime opportunity to spot something very special. There are many intra-African migrant birds that hail from across the globe. Some have their origins in China, Europe and even the Arctic and Antarctic. Notable endemic varieties include the Black Oystercatcher, Blue Crane, Cape Parrot, Cape Vulture, Forest Canary, Ground Woodpecker, Jackal Buzzard, Knysna Turaco, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Protea Seedeater, Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, White backed Moosebird, and the Yellow-breasted Pipit.

Crested

Avian enthusiasts are often lured to South Africa by the variety of endemics and endangered bird species. The endemic species can be found throughout the countryside and landscapes of this country; through grasslands, mountains and even dry desert regions.

Thanks to the abundance of excellent South African hotels and accommodation facilities, as well as an established transport infrastructure (including international car hire companies), South Africa is proving to be one of the world’s top birding hotspots.

Owl

South Africa boasts a multitude of nature reserves and game reserves like the Kruger National Park are home to an extraordinary array of wildlife, including many bird species. Many of these cater specifically to keen bird-watchers to make their experience as rewarding as possible. Added facilities in these parks and reserves may comprise bird hides, trails through their natural habitat, information sheets and experienced guides that are equipped to find more elusive species and point them out to visitors.

Nature loving tourists are well-rewarded when they visit this country, and are reminded to bring their binoculars and identification aids.

Best Time to Visit South Africa

When is the best time to visit South Africa, you ask? Well, how many seasons are there in a year? When it comes to pinning down the best time to visit the Rainbow Nation, you’ll find a year-round vacation destination whose varied landscapes and kaleidoscopic attractions promise a thrilling getaway no matter what time of year you visit. South Africa is a large and diverse country with a climate that varies from region to region: Cape Town and the Western Cape experiences winter rainfall (June to August) and a largely bone-dry hot summer while much of the rest of the country, including the Kruger Park area, have heavy summer thundershowers (December to March) and a dry winter period from May to October. The Garden Route and Eastern Cape on the other hand can experience rain at any time of year.

Spring, September – November
The birds are chirping and the flowers are blooming! Spring in South Africa sees visitors flock to the West Coast to see the magnificent springtime flower displays on offer. Prime destinations for this include the Namaqualand Flower Route and the West Coast National Park. Photographers and nature lovers alike are sure to be wowed by South Africa’s flower season. Meanwhile, Cape Town is warming up nicely in time for the sun-drenched summer months but is still devoid of some of the larger tourist crowds that flock to South Africa’s darling city. Up the east coast of the country, whales are spotted, making it a great time to head to towns like Hermanus on the Whale Route. Spring is also a superb time to visit South Africa if you want to go on safari, and Kruger National Park, in particular, promises excellent wildlife sightings.  KwaZulu-Natal‘s game reserves are winners at this time of the year, just before the summer months when the sub-tropical climate makes it a bit too hot and humid. Towns such as Ballito and Durban along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline are the perfect spots from which to take many a dip in the warm Indian Ocean’s waters.

Spring

Summer, December – February
Oh yes, its summer! The days are long, the holiday cheer is plentiful, and the sun shines down on the landscape day in and day out. Cape Town is undoubtedly one of the most popular destinations if you visit South Africa during the summer months, and if you don’t mind the crowds, it’s certainly the place to be.  In Kruger, the babies born a few weeks before are now more confident and playful, and the park is dotted with various antelope and their minims strutting about. That said, danger is always lurking thanks to resident big cats and the most vulnerable members of any herd are always the young. 

Summer

Autumn, March – May
The sunlight hours are becoming fewer and the evenings may require a cardigan, but the days are still filled with warmth. Cape Winelands destinations such as Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, with its cobbled streets and oak-lined avenues, are truly a sight to behold when trees turn the buttery, warm hues of autumn. KwaZulu-Natal has cooled down again, and the breezes coming off the ocean almost make you think that Mother Nature is breathing a sigh of relief, too, at the lowering humidity. This is also rutting season so safari spectacles can be quite exciting with the quest for dominance spurring many a head-on in the antelope community.

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Winter, June – August
Wildlife sightings are easier than ever in winter with safari destinations, such as Madikwe and Kruger, being hit by their dry season. The foliage thins, the river and water sources dry up, and wildlife is forced to cluster together and search a little harder for food and water – which is great news for safari-goers! Nearby, the most picturesque self-drive route in the country, the Panorama Route, is at its most appealing after the rains. The rainy season often brings mist, ruining the incredible viewpoints that dot the area, from God’s Window and the Three Rondavels to the Blyde River Canyon. This area is also a perfect add-on to any Kruger itinerary, with both areas conveniently at their best in the winter months. Countless winter specials and the city all to yourself certainly take the chill out of a Cape Town winter, so don’t discount the Mother City between June and August when you visit South Africa. In Hermanus, the Whale Season is ongoing with sightings of humpback and southern right whales all along the Western Cape coastline. 

Winter

All in all, there’s something to see whatever time of year you decide to visit South Africa, making this wonderfully diverse and intoxicatingly beautiful country an incredible year-round holiday destination. Contact your travel expert Travel2Africa today for more advice on what to do and where to go on your South African vacation.