South Africa's Remarkable Value for Families

South Africa for All Ages, Many Budgets

(**Nothing was sponsored, nor was given to me for free or at any kind of discount for this article.)

Yesterday’s news feed featured press photos of the Royal Family’s tour of South Africa (I, myself, had been waiting for a glimpse of that royal baby!).

Taking a baby to South Africa is familiar territory for me (on my very non-royal budget.) Our kids, ages 11 and 14, have been visiting family and exploring this massive country with us since they were infants.

Why go

The Royal Tour gives me good reason to encourage more families to visit and spend their travel dollars in South Africa. It’s secretly affordable (true story) with wildlife, hospitality, value, food, culture and people that are unmatched.

Let me be clear: there are safe experiences and options for every budget in South Africa. Still, with headline-grabbing water shortages in Cape Town; xenophobic riots; expensive safaris and a seemingly unstable economy, families could understandably overlook South Africa.

But, as we well know in the U.S., news headlines don’t tell the whole story of any large country.

My sister and her son on safari at a Sabie River water hole in Kruger National Park. In a single vista, we watched elephant, hippos, crocs, giraffes, Cape buffalo, zebra and more.

My sister and her son on safari at a Sabie River water hole in Kruger National Park. In a single vista, we watched elephant, hippos, crocs, giraffes, Cape buffalo, zebra and more.

VALUE: It’s Just Plain Cheaper to Live in South Africa . . . Stay A WHILE 

Staying as long as we can afford (and can break away for) is always our family’s biggest travel goal. South Africa delivers on affordability. 

Aside from the cost of the flight, you will find touring and travel in South Africa is an absolute bargain. As of today, $1.00 U.S. dollar is equal to 15 South African rand. And, if you travel before your infant is age two (as we have done, and the Duke & Duchess are doing) it’s one less ticket to pay for. 

The historic Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town, formerly known as the Malay Quarter, is a historic muslim district and cultural center. The neighborhood was once the spot where slaves brought from Malaysia, India and other parts of Africa were first free to settle. It is known for its brightly colored homes, Cape Malay museum and cobbled streets.

The historic Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town, formerly known as the Malay Quarter, is a historic muslim district and cultural center. The neighborhood was once the spot where slaves brought from Malaysia, India and other parts of Africa were first free to settle. It is known for its brightly colored homes, Cape Malay museum and cobbled streets.

Hotel Costs

Hotels in South Africa are affordable for families coming from Europe, Australia or the U.S. Try pricing out your South Africa trip, online, with estimated hotel costs, and you may be surprised. Once you land, your family can’t travel to many other countries more affordably. I scanned few current price examples. Across the country, the Protea Hotel chain - owned by Marriott - is a great mid-range to high-end choice. I highly recommend the Protea Cape Town Fire & Ice Hotel for a comfortable, ultra modern city stay that won’t break the bank (I found family rooms for as low as $135/night USD). **This hotel is adjacent to the historic Bo-Kaap District where the Duke and Duchess happen to be touring, today. Request a room with a view of Table Mountain and be sure to say yes to the sumptuous breakfast buffet.

Just south of Cape Town, the famous African penguins of Boulders Beach impress kids. There also happens to be an unreal family swimming beach at the edge of the penguin colony. A wildlife encounter like no other.  Photo by @ChanceBrown

Just south of Cape Town, the famous African penguins of Boulders Beach impress kids. There also happens to be an unreal family swimming beach at the edge of the penguin colony. A wildlife encounter like no other.

Photo by @ChanceBrown

The lobby of the innovative Mojo Hotel in Cape Town. A premium hostel/hotel mash-up with stunning private suites for families.

The lobby of the innovative Mojo Hotel in Cape Town. A premium hostel/hotel mash-up with stunning private suites for families.

On our last trip, our kids loved the Mojo Hotel in Cape Town; a new hybrid of upscale “hostel meets hotel” near the sea front. Hip and adventurous parents (that’s clearly my husband and I!) can book private, two story lofted, self-catering family suites with ocean views. Global backpackers and families mingle in the common spaces and there’s an espresso shop in the lobby. We even used the complimentary bikes and rode the Cape Town waterfront. The hotel rooftop has stunning night views of Lion’s Head mountain and the adjacent Mojo Market is a mix of retails stores and food vendors. Prices for a family of four in one of the seafront self-catering rooms starts at just about $85 USD.

Whale watching from our balcony at the Mojo Hotel in Cape Town. Prices for family suites start at about $135 USD.

Whale watching from our balcony at the Mojo Hotel in Cape Town. Prices for family suites start at about $135 USD.

Family ocean-front suite with stairs to kids’ loft at innovative Mojo Hotel (and hostel) in Cape Town.

Family ocean-front suite with stairs to kids’ loft at innovative Mojo Hotel (and hostel) in Cape Town.

Food Costs

Foodies, this country is also for you. South Africa delivers the best of the region’s locally grown fresh produce, wine, cheese and coffee at an absolute bargain that seems like a typo. Food and drink are exceptional values for tourists. During our month-long trip, our family of four estimates we spent far less dining out than we would have cooking at home in the U.S.  A locally sourced steak or pasta dinner may end up costing about $5 USD or less, per person. A beautiful bottle of South African chenin blanc can be as low as $3 USD. A seasonal 3-course lunch is currently offered at one of my favorite upscale Cape Town restaurants (Kloof Street House) for about $12 USD. I’ll elaborate more on local cuisine food in an upcoming post.

Safari Costs

The porch/kitchen of our hut at Skukuza Rest Camp in Kruger National Park.

The porch/kitchen of our hut at Skukuza Rest Camp in Kruger National Park.

Continental Breakfast with your global cousins takes on a whole new meaning on safari. We traveled with some basics for easy kid-breakfasts.

Continental Breakfast with your global cousins takes on a whole new meaning on safari. We traveled with some basics for easy kid-breakfasts.

The safari is synonymous with South Africa and there are so many ways one can take a safari. We’ve hired modest safaris and we’ve been to all-inclusive, hosted and outfitted safaris. We’ve even executed self-guided safaris. We’ve stayed at both private game reserves and we’ve lodged in public national parks on our own. The bottom line, if you want to go big and glamorous and have everything overseen by a guide, it can be purchased and there are no shortage of booking agents or outfitters online to assist you. But don’t let the idea of a safari being expensive stop you from taking your family on an African adventure. There are prices everywhere in between. I can highly recommend a few options for more affordable or even mid-range safari options. 

South African National Parks has guided safari tour operators for a drive suited to your needs and budget.

South African National Parks has guided safari tour operators for a drive suited to your needs and budget.

Some of the South African National Parks safari camps include pool facilities and air conditioning.

Some of the South African National Parks safari camps include pool facilities and air conditioning.

  • The South African National Parks system has a network of public lodging or “rest camps” similar to the accommodation you’d find in a U.S. National Park like Yellowstone or Yosemite. These are bungalows or guest huts with very comfortable beds, linens and often, air conditioning. We drove ourselves to Kruger National Park from Johannesburg and did self-guided game drives between the “camps”. We utilized these amazing public lodgings and booked direct through the Parks system for this itinerary. You are literally sleeping inside the game park - an experienced that is unmatched. We felt very safe and many of the main rest camps have premium facilities with great restaurants and concessions.

  • Just outside the edges of the National Parks are often premium, expansive luxurious and well known private game reserves. They are lux in every way. But, if you look, there are also smaller, less luxurious, or mid-range, safari lodging perfect for a family budget and offering a remarkable and comfortable experience. These are typically the places local South African families on holiday frequent. We stayed at one such smaller lodge called Sabie River Bush Lodge and took the lodge’s guided game drives back into the park in the mornings and evenings. The property is literally located smack on the border of Kruger National Park with all the wildlife right out our bungalow door at the river. 

The evening wildlife viewing and pool deck from our mid-range safari bush camp just outside Kruger National Park.

The evening wildlife viewing and pool deck from our mid-range safari bush camp just outside Kruger National Park.

There truly are prices for everyone and hospitality is top-notch wherever you stay in South Africa.

Fuel Costs

One thing that is not less in South Africa, is petrol/gas. By luck, on our last visit to South Africa, we had been upgrade to a 9-passenger van that ran on diesel. This was a huge value for us over a month of crisscrossing the country - as diesel fuel efficiency helped keep costs low.

Incidental Costs

With the exception of durable goods (which are expensive), the incidental costs of a trip to South Africa are generally lower than you’d see in Australia, the U.S. or Europe. Ticket prices, snacks and tours are affordable. Wages are low here and tipping is standard in restaurants and cafes at about 10-15 percent of the bill.

Bottom line: don’t let the perceived luxury image of South Africa and safari stop your family - of any age or generation - from planning a trip of a lifetime together. With the right research, scheduling, lodging and planning for your budget, Africa is in reach. 

Continue to follow this blog over the next few weeks, as I offer tips on other parenting travel topics related to Cape Town.

Also, for more cost info, read this past post exploring the budget planning of one of our trips and sign-up for the newsletter in footer below.

About Amanda Calnan Vowels: Traveling to South Africa with babies, toddlers and kids started as soon as we had kids. My sister is an American expat married to a South African farmer living in the remote Eastern Cape with her young family. My husband, kids and I have seen nearly every corner and tried all types of family safaris (both luxury and bargain). We’ve even spent one month driving coast-to-coast, top-to-bottom. Our kids are now 11 and 14 and the sum of our trips is appreciation for this diverse nation.  

(**Nothing was sponsored, nor was given to me for free or at any kind of discount for this article.)