In a previous blog, we addressed our travel itinerary. But what is the best time to travel to South Africa? Is it really ‘safe’ to travel by car, on your own? And how expensive is such a trip? In this blog I share some tips to explore South Africa with a family and shed some light on the cost. Happy to read your thoughts afterwards.
Summer or winter ?
We travelled to South Africa in July. This was perfect. Although July is the South African winter, with possibly rain and bad weather, we were really lucky. We enjoyed sunny skies. Not warm enough to go for a swim but OK for wearing T-shirts and a hoodie. Winter also means less tourists and nearly no crowds. What do you want more to explore this beautiful country ?
There are huge price differences between intercontinental flights to South Africa, even up to double the price. So how pay less ?
- Decide whether you want to travel directly or via a stopover. We flew with Ethiopian Airlines for about 560 € per person, round trip. A very good price if you don’t mind the stops in Vienna and Addis Abeba. With KLM you easily pay double that amount but you fly directy. Addis Abeba is a hub for many flights from Europe, we met many Belgians travelling to South Africa or Namibia.
- Book your intercontinental flight well in advance (about 10 months), that way you will have the most advantageous prices.
- We booked our international trips through a travel agent Connections. We are very satisfied with their service. Booking through a travel agent has one big advantage: in case of a flight change or other problems, they have to find a solution.
We booked our flight from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg with SouthAfrican Airways, a local airline. When booking domestic flights, keep the following in mind: .
- Book your domestic flight together with your intercontinental flight. This may be a bit more expensive, but there are 3 big advantages: your flights are connected, you only have to check in your luggage once (it will be forwarded automatically) and in case of a change in flight times, your travel agent will find a solution for you.
- Pay close attention to the luggage allowance for domestic flights. Intercontinental flights usually allow you to take more kilos in a larger suitcase, but this is not always the case for domestic flights. Your ‘intercontinental’ luggage must also be taken on domestic flights, preferably without paying extra. Make sure you have an extra bag to repack if necessary.
People ask whether it is safe to drive around all by yourself. In general, we felt pretty safe in walking and driving around, as long as you stick to the big cities and touristic places. So no driving around after dark or near townships. This means you have to watch your GPS carefully. He sometimes suggests a shortcut, which might mean driving through townships. Don’t go there on your own – you can go on a guided tour if you want to visit. And make sure to pick your accommodation in a safe place.
Pretty weird though is the security that you see all over the country. Not in the sense of military or police, but the walled compounds, fences on your front door and private security. In Cape Town for example, our front door consisted of two doors: a normal one and an iron fence. On Leisure Island, all houses had a ‘private security’ symbol and you could not enter the island without checking in by the guard at the entrance. You even see these guards at the entrance of supermarkets.
Self-drive with a rental car
We rented a Hyundai H1 van through Europcar. The service was perfect. We like this way of travelling; it’s very comfortable and gives you a lot of freedom in planning your trip, taking into account some specifics of the South African road network
- Optimise the use of your rental car in Cape Town. Depending on where you are staying, you can explore Cape Town on foot or by taxi. You really need a car to drive to the Cape of Good Hope or the beaches though.
- Note that you drive on the left side of the road. The traffic in Cape Town is not too bad, but you have to get used to driving on the left, especially when you have to leave the city for the first time.
- The roads are very well maintained, wide and often with multiple lanes.
- Buy a good road map.
- Use a GPS but be careful: sometimes it leads you on a shorter route, through semi-townships, stay away from them.
- Do not drive when it is dark (in the morning and at night).
- Beware of people on the road. This sounds strange, but there are a lot of people walking along the side of the road, so watch out.
The national parks in South Africa are splendid. You can choose your accommodation inside or outside the park. We prefer to stay in the park; you don’t have to drive around in the dark at night. A big advantage is also that you can also explore the park at your own pace in the early morning. But the best thing: you can admire the wildlife and the natural beauty just in ‘your backyard’.
- You can book your stay in a national park directly through the park website. There often is a variety in lodging.
- Staying overnight in a national park is pricey: you not only pay for the accomodation itself, but also for your stay in the park, which can add up quickly. Take this into account when booking.
- We always stayed in the ‘main camp’ area, close to the restaurant and the shop.
- Each national park has a small restaurant. The prices are similar to those outside the park and the food is OK, with special children’s menus (read: chips and chicken nuggets).
- The bungalows in the park may have a small kitchen. Do you want to cook yourself? Then make sure to stock up before you drive into the park. The supermarket/souvenir shops in the park usually only offer a basic selection (the travel guides sometimes state otherwise) and in Tsitsikamma there is no real supermarket in the wide vicinity. Shopping in the nearest big city is the message!
The ideal way to explore the ‘big 5’ is of course: going on safari. There are lots of options. You can go on an exclusive safari ‘all inclusive’ (transport, accommodation, meals), a game drive or drive yourself. All travel guides offer information about specific parks and you can also find (additional) information online.
In Oudtshoorn we joined an organised ‘game’ drive. We saw a lot of special animals (giraffes, rhinos, meerkats, …) but this park was relatively small and did not feel as a ‘real’ safari.
We had quite a different experience in Addo Elephant National Park. Although this is also a relatively small park, you can easily drive around in your own car and admire the wildlife. Elephants, monkeys, antelopes, zebras, many special birds, …. in abundance. We drove for a whole day, leaving in the morning or in the evening to catch the sunset in the park. In Addo you can also see the elephants from very close, alone or in a herd, just wonderful !
- You need an English-language birth certificate for the children. You can request this from the municipality. Do this in time and do not forget it, without this document you cannot get on a plane in Brussels.
- The cable car to Table Mountain closes at the end of July for annual maintenance. Keep this in mind, climbing to the top seems to be quite a challenge.
- You can easily book tickets for touristic sites upfront. We did this for Table Mountain and Robben Island. Worked perfectly.
- Buy a local prepaid card. Saves a lot of money. .
- Never get used to the townships. They are part of South Africa. But it’s a very strange feeling: the extreme difference between povery and luxury. Don’t go to the townships on your own, there are organised tours.
- There are many supermarkets in South Africa with an extensive range or products. Prices are similar to these in Belgium.
- There are plenty of souvenir shops with beautiful wooden statues, usually of good quality.
- Bring warm clothes and rainwear if you are travelling in the South African winter. It can be very windy on Table Mountain.
- Keep an eye on the news of the area you are visiting. We arrived in Hermanus just after riots had broken out and we were not aware of any trouble.
Visiting South Africa with a family of 6 is pretty expensive. Meals whether in self catering (supermarket) or out eating are more or less in line with Belgian prices. Just pay attention to the national park entrance fees, they can add up, in particular if you stay overnight in the park itself. Below some indications.
Trip, accomodations (in self-catering except in Hermanus and Knysna) and car rental included (through Jambo): 4 800 €
Intercontinentall flight: adult: 585 € – child 550 € (local vlucht Port-Elizabeth – Johannesburg included)
Meals: about 2000 € ngeveer 2000 € (self-catering and eating out)
- Cable Car Tafelberg: 16-20 € (adult) (depending on return in the morning or evening) and 8-10 € (child)
- Cape of Good Hope: 19 € (adult) and 10 € (child)
- Boulders Beach (pinguins): 10 € (adult) and 4 € (child)
- Robberg Nature Reserve (Plettenberg Bay: 2 € (adult) and 1 € (child)
- Tsitsikamma National Park: 14 € (adult/day) and 7 € (child/day)
- Addo National park: 18 € (adult/day) and 10 € (child/day)