Cape Town, South Africa, is a popular holiday destination for many. Whether it’s the spectacular views of Table Mountain, the high-end wine farms, or the vibey culture- it attracts people from all around the world and all walks of life.
Is Cape Town cheap to travel to? No, it is not. Can Cape Town be travelled on a budget? Yes, absolutely! It can be expensive, but if you are smart about it, it doesn’t have to be.
There are so many things to do in Cape Town that don’t cost an arm and a leg. All it takes is a little bit of planning and being strategic about what you spend on and what you don’t.
When I embarked on my one-week Cape Town experience, my trip budget was small (all expenses were spared, well, most of them), but I didn’t miss a single thing.
From visiting the wine farms to enjoying movies at the open-air theatres to (of course) climbing Table Mountain and Lion’s head, I enjoyed the Mother City to the fullest, on a student’s budget!
In this article, we will look into everything from where to stay, what to do, how much spending money to bring with you, and whether Cape Town is safe to visit.
So let’s get straight into it!
Where to stay in Cape Town on a budget?
The most budget-friendly accommodation in Cape Town is, without a doubt, the backpackers dotted throughout the city.
At the time of writing the South African Rand (ZAR) is roughly at a rate of 1$:R15
From trendy-urban classic to homey but sophisticated to quirky and colourful, the backpackers in and around Cape Town offer something for most tastes.
The average price per night is around $15 (R200) per night, sometimes lower. The top three are Urban Hive backpackers, Big Blue backpackers (who both charge closer to $10 (R160), and Long street Backpackers, with ratings of 7.9 out of 10 and generally good reviews for each category.
Best backpackers in Cape Town on a budget
Looking for backpackers in the mother city? Here are some links to budget-friendly backpackers on booking.com:
- Long Street Backpackers
- A Sunflower Stop Backpackers
- Urban Hive Backpackers
- Big Blue Backpackers
- Never at Home Green Point
- Green Elephant Backpackers
If you prefer something a little more private, there are several options between $20 and $25 (R300-R400) where you can get the whole place to yourself. These are mainly small holiday homes or guest lodges that give a modest but comfortable feel.
Best budget–friendly private accommodation in Cape Town
Looking for budget-friendly private accommodation options in Cape Town? Here are some links to booking.com for options between $20 and $25 (R300-R400)
If your budget extends the bare minimum, there are several options from $40- $70 (R600-R1000) per night where you can enjoy city centre convenience combined with the warm glow of elegance.
Best budget hotels in Cape Town
Looking for budget-friendly hotels in Cape Town CBD? Here are some links to highly rated options on booking.com:
- BlackBrick Cape Town
- HOTEL SKY Cape Town
- Urban Oasis Aparthotel and Spa
- Villa Viva Cape Town
- Signature Lux Hotel by ONOMO
- The Rockefeller Hotel
- Cresta Grande Cape Town
- InnsCape on Castle Hotel
- StayEasy Cape Town City Bowl
Budget–friendly things to do in Cape Town
You’ll be pleased to know that not everything in Cape Town will break the bank and if you know where to look you can find some extremely affordable and exciting things to do.
From visiting the wine estates to hiking up the world-famous Table Mountain and even strawberry picking here are my budget-friendly recommendations.
Visit some wine farms
The estates that I’ve chosen are Babylonstoren, Vergenoegd Löw and the old classic JC Le Roux.
Babylonstoren is a beautiful old Cape Dutch farm that offers quite a few affordable and fun prospects. Situated in the Franschhoek wine valley at the base of Simonsberg, it boasts a magnificent view.
A wine tasting starts at R80 (roughly $6) per person. You’ll be treated well in their (sit down) elegant tasting room with massive glass walls and admire the view while sipping on the vintage (although technically, you are not supposed to swallow it).
If wine is not your thing, you can experience the olive oil and balsamic vinegar tour, which includes a tasting for R200 (roughly $14) per person.
They also have a giant cactus garden where you can wander around or explore their grand fruit and vegetable garden, inspired by the Company Gardens. The entry fee to the farm is R20 (just over 1 USD), and the walks around the gardens are free of charge.
Vergenoegd Löw is a wine estate well-known for its duck parade. More than 1600 Indian runner ducks come charging through white wooden gates at specific times each day. It’s quite a spectacle.
Here, you will find lovely mown grass with trees for shade and picnic blankets and pillows for a nice relaxing afternoon on the spacious lawns.
It is entirely free to enter the estate and view the duck parade. Picnic baskets can be purchased but are slightly pricier- from R300-R500 ($20-$35) per basket.
JC Le Roux
JC Le Roux offers an array of tastings. A tasting of five basic sparkling wines costs R70. Depending on which option you go for, you can pair them with five different kinds of cheese, pizza, or nougat- in which case the price increases a little bit. The package price ranges from R70- R155 ($5-$10) per person.
Get some Fresh Air
Hike Lion‘s Head and Table mountain
Both of these mountains are signature to Cape Town, and you simply cannot leave without making it to the top of at least one of them.
The greatest rewards are the feeling of accomplishment when you reach the peaks and the unobstructed 360˚ views that you get to enjoy.
The good news? They are both free! The even better news? You can take a cable car up to the top of Table Mountain if you don’t want to hike. However, this will cost you R300-R380 ($20-$26). In contrast, the only way up Lion’s Head is to hike it.
Walk up Signal hill
Signal Hill is another scenic walk that costs nothing and gives you a gorgeous view of the coast and city below. You can also get great sunset photos in the big yellow frame at the top.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
There are so many things that one can do at Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. Some I would recommend are:
- Take a long meandering stroll through the nature reserve admiring all the fauna and flora.
- Have a picnic somewhere secluded beneath the trees.
- Take a memorable photo on the big stairs with the stunning background of the mountains.
You can also pop into one of the cafés or restaurants for a drink or a bite to eat. Kirstenbosch Tea Room has the best tea and scones I have ever tasted. I am still thinking about the jam that came with my scones, and it has been three years!
Entry to the gardens costs R75 ($5) for an adult, but there are many discounts for students, pensioners and learners. You can also watch a movie with Galileo Open Air Theatre at the gardens, costing around R100 ($7) for a standard screening or up to R250 ($17) for a special day screening.
Go to the beach
Sprinkled with its signature colourful tiny cabins, pristine water with a fabulous tidal pool to swim in, and some interesting oceanic street art.
They also hold the moonlight meander every Saturday evening- an event where people take a stroll along the beach to appreciate its beauty at night.
Boulders beach lives up to its name with massive boulders dotted in the water and on the sand. However, the main attraction of the beach is the native penguins who live there. Penguins on the African continent? You better believe it!
Seeing the African penguins is 100% recommended if you are planning on traveling Cape Town. The entry fee for South Africans is R39 ($3) and R152 ($10) for international visitors.
Kommetjie (translated to cup or small basin in English) is another little hidden gem. A quiet town with few crowds. You can do part of the Chapman’s peak drive after Hout Bay on the way to Kommetjie.
A breathtaking view of the towering cliffs, misty mountains, and crashing waves down below can be seen on the drive.
Once you get there, you should visit the Kommetjie lighthouse by walking along the wooden walkway that hugs the beach.
Have a picnic
There are so many idyllic spots to have a picnic in Cape Town that I have already mentioned (see Kirstenbosch), but one or two more are worth mentioning.
Silvermine nature reserve has an extensive reservoir that is great for swimming and relaxing nearby. It is not usually crowded, but the fee is relatively high for a nature reserve (R122/$8 for international visitors).
More budget-friendly options are Green Point nature reserve, a well-manicured park with free entry. Or the beautiful, slightly wilder, Rondevlei nature reserve that charges a R10 (under $1) entry fee. Here you can see hippos, African fish, eagles, and many other birds!
There are a few strawberry farms in the area where you can go strawberry picking from September to January! I’ve picked out the top three most worthwhile spots for you.
Polkadraai Farm charges R45 ($3) for the smallest bucket and R200 ($14) for the largest bucket, with a few sizes in between.
Heldeberg Farm charges R20 ($1) entrance fee and R40 ($3) picking fee for a 300g punnet.
The best value for money is Redberry Farm, which charges R25 ($2) for a small container and R40 ($3) for a large container.
The Spice Route
The Spice Route is a whole area packed with a wide variety of outdoor stores to explore all in one picturesque place:
- Wine tastings
- A brewery
- Biltong (South African delicacy) stalls
- Tea makers and coffee roasteries
- An art gallery
- Paarl Adventure Trails,
- And artisanal chocolatiers
Most of these offer tastings, tours, and samples. The Spice Route is an experience just on its own, even without buying anything.
The V&A Waterfront is an inseparable part of Cape Town, much like Table Mountain. There are so many fun things to do here, but I’m just going to stick to a few must-sees.
Get frozen yoghurt or ice cream for your stroll- there are so many weird and wonderful flavours to choose from at the different stalls.
- Take a photo in the big yellow frame with Table Mountain in the background.
- Explore the Waterfront Food Market– this is an indoor market with an aesthetic, offering artisanal street food.
- Go on a thirty-minute harbour cruise for R110 ($7) per person with Wild Horizons Adventures. (There are also sunset cruises which are R400+/$28 per person) or visit Two Oceans aquarium for roughly R200 ($14) per person.
Arts and Culture
Cape Town is teeming with artisans of many varieties, and the creatively inclined. This city has an appreciation for the finer things in life.
On the first Thursday of every month, art galleries and exhibitions open up on Long Street and further late into the night so that the public can view and appreciate all they have to offer.
Along the V&A Waterfront is the Urban Jungle Southern African Artists Exhibition– sculptures and artworks dotted along the waterfront for anyone to enjoy. Lastly, you can also visit the South African National Art Gallery for R60 ($4) per person.
Cafes and Food Markets
Honest Chocolate is a gorgeous quaint little café. They produce handmade chocolate, and the menu is extremely affordable.
Oranjezicht City Farmers Market:
Translated into Orange View City Farmers Market in English. It is an outdoor farmers market where you will find healthy smoothies, cheesecake, artisanal cheese, bread of all kinds, nuts, crafts, flowers, fresh fruit and veggies, tea, and much more. This is a down-to-earth place to spend a whole morning or afternoon.
An interesting café where you can get your creative juices flowing by painting pottery. There’s a R40 charge for the paints and the activity and an additional charge for the item’s price that you choose to paint R55-R380 ($40- $26) depending on what you desire.
A steampunk-themed coffee roastery where you can either enjoy some delicious coffee in the vintage-looking interior. Or, if you want to do something a little different, you can book a one-hour Introduction to Coffee course. Which includes a tour of the roastery and ‘professional cuppings of four single unique origins.’ (R150/$10 per person)
How much spending money do you need in Cape Town?
The amount of spending money that you need depends on you. So the saying – different strokes for different folks – applies.
If you are going for a budget holiday you can survive off of about R5500 ($380) spending money if you are not eating out at all and you are doing some light vintage & thrifting on your trip. That’s a daily budget of $55.
Doing every single thing on the list, I have provided, using the lower limit of each activity will cost you about R2600/$180 (excluding travel expenses, food/drinks, and of course accommodation). Which works out to a daily budget of $25 for activities.
Cape Town’s living costs are pretty high compared to the rest of the country, so plan to spend a lot on transport, parking and meals.
Book your flight on a day when the flights are cheaper (avoid booking on weekends and during holidays seasons) and stick with affordable accommodation options.
On a side note, Cape Town International Airport is generally more expensive to fly to/from. So it’s worth looking into using Johannesburg as a hub.
How safe is Cape Town?
Research shows that Cape Town (Western Cape) has a high level of crime. However, these statistics include the whole Cape Town metropolitan area.
Over 90% of the crime occurs in lower economic areas. The city’s CBD is widely considered the safest CBD in the country by the South African Police Service.
That being said, one should always employ universal safety measures when visiting any country.
Never walk alone at night, be vigilant during the day, lock your doors, keep alert, and always be observant of what is happening around you.
It’s also worth noting that taking out travel insurance is a must for a visit to any foreign country. World Nomads has some extremely affordable travel insurance options for those on a strict travel budget.
Try to avoid the urge to save money on travel insurance just for the sake of it. Always ready your policy and if you need more coverage then don’t second guess the spend.
Cape Town can be visited on a budget, provided you plan well! There are loads of affordable activities and accommodation options, and you can stay safe by sticking to the higher economic areas and keeping a watchful eye on your surroundings.
Cape Town is an eclectic city of contradictions that offers:
- Adventure activities for expeditioners.
- Scenic wonders for the photographers.
- Cultural and artistic experiences for the creatives.
- Exciting cafes and restaurants for foodies.
And an overarching once-in-a-lifetime experience for anyone who visits. So, when are you booking your ticket?