Backpacking on a Budget in South Africa

My goodness it has been far too long since I last posted! Work has been absolutely insanely busy and I have been busy making plans for some future travels! This will be my last post about my time in South Africa (until the next visit) and in a few short weeks I will be en route to Iceland, Greenland and Scotland. So without further ado, here is how much to budget for a backpacking trip through South Africa.

One of my favourite parts about my time in SA was how incredibly affordable everything was. Here we will be doing the sums and working out how much a backpacker should budget for each day – please note that all amounts featured are in Australian dollars.

Firstly, I am leaving the cost of flights out of the equation as this will differ greatly depending on where you are flying from! However, I scored an amazing deal on flights by using the website Adioso. Adioso is a flight search engine with a difference; if you are flexible with dates it easily finds the cheapest days and times for you to fly, and it can be set up to email you if the prices drop. When I first started planning a trip to SA, return flights were sitting at around $1950. I waited patiently for well over five weeks until one magical day the flights dropped to $1500! They didn’t stay discounted for long, but it was enough time for me to snap them up and save myself a significant sum of cash.

Step One:
Calculate days spent in SA:
49 (7 weeks)

Step Two:
Accommodation, Alcohol and Food:
A dorm bed will set you back on average around $12 per night.
A beer in SA will set you back around $1 in a hostel bar or dive bar. A bottle of wine can cost as little as $1.50. For mixed drinks expect to pay $2-$3 per drink and for cocktails allow up to $6 per drink. I drank lots of wine, beer and cider whilst in South Africa and on average, probably spent around $3 per day on alcohol. This could have been more costly, but by buying cheap bottles of wine, I was able to keep costs down.
Assuming breakfast and either lunch or dinner is self catered and one meal is in a restaurant each day, allow at least $12 per day for meals. If you are going to self cater majority of the time and only eat restaurant meals on occasion (as I did) this drops down to around $6 per day, so lets use this figure.
Accommodation: 49 days x $12 per day in a dorm = $588
Alcohol: 49 days x $3 per day = $147
Food: 49 days x $6 per day = $294
Cost Per Day = $21

Step Three:
The chosen mode of transport will play a huge role in how cheap or pricey a South African adventure is. Choosing to rent a car, while convenient, will dramatically increase your cost per day.
If you choose to use public buses and trains, minibus cabs, uber taxis and/or hitchhiking, your transport budget should be set at $2-$3 per day. It is always better to over budget and have more money than to under budget and find yourself scraping the bottom of the barrel for cash, so for arguments sake, we will use the $3 per day figure.
49 days x $3 per day transport = $147

Step Four:
The cost of tours, activities and attractions will be the biggest expense of any South African trip. There are a million and one different things you could do, but for the sake of this post, I will list every single thing that fits in this activities category and create a dollar average. Please note that activities or trips that were free will not be included in this list eg. hiking Table Mountain.
Seal Island Boat Trip $7
Boulders Beach Entrance Fee $4.50
Cape Town Hop On Hop Off 1 Day Bus $15 (Worth doing for the ease of travel within Constantia Winelands and to and from Kirstenbosch Gardens)
Kirstenbosch Gardens $5
Full Day Wine Tour in Stellenbosch $50
Walking with Lions $59
4 Hour Game Drive $42
Elephant Feeding $14
60 minute African Rungu Massage $50
Cango Ostrich Farm $8
Crocodile Cage Dive $34
Cango Caves Adventure Tour $10.50
Cheetah Encounter $18
Lemur Encounter $18
Cloudbase Paragliding $50
Half Day Kloofing Trip $30
Full Day Canoe Hire $15
Knysna Heads Boat Trip $16
Swim With Sea Lions $55
Plettenberg Bay Skydive $185
Bloukrans Bungee Jump $85
Bo Kaap Cooking Class $60
District 6 Museum $3
Monkeyland $18
Table Mountain Abseil $75
Table Mountain Cableway $23
Shark Cage Diving $95

Total Activities Cost = $1045
Average Cost Per Day: $1045 / 49 days = $21.33 per day

Step Five:
Accommodation = $12 per day
Alcohol = $3 per day
Food = $6 per day
Transport = $3 per day
Activities = $21.33 per day

Average Cost Per Day = $45.33

So there you have it, a guide to budgeting a trip to South Africa! This is of course, just an example. Trips could easily become cheaper or more pricey depending on how you choose to travel, where you choose to stay, how you choose to eat and what you choose to do. However regardless of whether you are more a bargain basement backpacker or a glamourous luxury travel enthusiast, South Africa is amazing value for everyone.

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20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

78 thoughts on “Backpacking on a Budget in South Africa

    1. If you search the South Africa section of my blog you’ll find a whole bunch of posts about all those activities. I hope you enjoy reading!

  1. Is this really all Aussie dollars? That’s incredibly cheap!! Looks like I will have to add South Africa to my list of places to visit πŸ™‚

  2. $1 beers?! This place really is heaven on earth!! πŸ™‚ South Africa has been top of my list for the longest time. Reading your stuff is making me CRY with joy and jealousy. Love it! πŸ™‚

  3. Wow, those were awesome tips. Thanks for sharing! Can’t wait to hear about your upcoming trip, too!

  4. Wow! Very informative. πŸ™‚ it’s amazing how you budget your travels. Hoping I’ll be able to travel as much as you do. Looking forward to your next adventures. πŸ™‚

    1. Glad you enjoyed reading 😊 hopefully I can help a few others budget their own trips. I look forward to sharing more adventures with you 😊

    1. Thanks for reading! I can’t wait to share! I’ve been to Scotland and Iceland before but Greenland is one that I’m so excited to be ticking off the bucket list 😊

  5. Terrific, Ellen. Super useful.
    Watch out for those Vikings in Greenland. They’re a menace.
    Safe travels,

    Nick Fox

    1. Whereabouts in SA? I totally understand though! I have lived in South Australia my entire life and haven’t seen much of my own country either

      1. I live in Gauteng, but study in the North-West… It is a shame that I haven’t seen my own country a lot but have seen many other countries! Must definitely make a plan!

    1. I hope so too! At least you wouldn’t need to save a ridiculous amount of cashola, it’s a pretty el cheapo destination 😊

  6. Wow this has to be my most favourite post anyone has done super helpful thank you so much I’ll be using this guid on my trip πŸ™‚ p.s I think I’m stealing all your activity list β˜ΊοΈπŸ˜ƒπŸ’• x x x

  7. This is incredibly useful! I will have to bookmark in case I ever make it there. I can’t wait for your posts on Iceland and Scotland, as I’m hoping to visit both places in the near future! πŸ™‚

  8. Can’t believe how cheap such a trip could be! Great tips! 😊
    I was also wondering what camera/lens you used to take the final photograph in the post?

  9. I can’t imagine taking the time to budget everything like that… but it is great that you are so methodical.Nice photo with the red flowers in the background. You have certainly made an interesting life for yourself.

  10. Reblogged this on Travels of Hope and commented:
    Someday when I am not a broke college student. This looks like the biggest expense is the flight, everything else is affordable. I would not want to stay for too long. Maybe go on a tour but oh how I want to pet a Cheetah!

      1. I really enjoyed it! Couldn’t believe how sunny it was though! Where was the Scottish rain I had expected?? 😊

    1. That is the best feedback I could possibly get πŸ™‚ I have been busy exploring Greenland and Iceland but back home for a little while now and there will be many posts to come πŸ™‚

      1. If you get a chance please hit up some of the smaller towns along the coast! Wilderness and The Crags were some of my favourites 😊

      2. Do you have any recommendations because wilderness is on the top of my list! Hopefully I can get back to climbing after my shoulder recovers from surgery.

      3. There is actually a town called Wilderness that I fell in love with! Gorgeous beaches, lots of forests, perfect for canyoning, hiking, paragliding, kayaking etc

  11. Hey Ellen, thanks for keeping such a detailed budget! I’m planning on spending March and April in South Africa, and I was a little worried that it would be harder to do on a budget than my last stops (Budapest and Cambodia), but your info gives me hope!!


    1. My pleasure Stephanie! I can’t speak for Cambodia (as I have not been there), but I have been to Budapest and I feel like SA was significantly cheaper!

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