Not many travelers to South Africa miss out the Western Cape on their trip. The south-west province is home to Cape Town, ranked the best destination in Africa and one of the world’s most beautiful cities, which is surrounded by winelands dotted with historic Cape Dutch farmhouses, the lovely fishermen’s villages of the windswept West Coast, forests and scenic beaches of the Garden Route on the east coast and the arid Cederberg mountain range to the north.
You don’t have to travel in luxury to enjoy the province’s natural wonders and great diversity though – there are plenty of ways to explore the Western Cape without spending a lot. Here’s a guide on how to experience the best of the province on a budget.
Budget Cape Town
The best thing about the Mother City for tourists is that many of its top attractions are free. Visiting Robben Island, shopping in the V&A Waterfront and going on a cruise around the peninsula all cost money, but there are loads of other things to do that don’t cost a cent.
Some of the best free things to do include hiking to the top of Lion’s Head on a full moon night in summer, strolling along the promenade in Sea Point or through the Company Gardens, surfing in the (warmer) waters of Muizenberg, hiking in Cecilia Forest, browsing the food and artisanal wares of the Neighbourgoods Market on a Saturday morning and having a sundowner on top of Signal Hill, where you can see the city bowl on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. If you’re an art fundi, don’t miss First Thursdays, where art galleries and design shops in Cape Town’s CBD stay open until 9pm or later, and host cultural events on the first Thursday of every month. The city is abuzz as people walk from venue to venue, and popular places spill onto the streets.
The Table Mountain cable car takes you on an amazing ride with panoramic aerial views to the top of Cape Town’s iconic natural landmark, and is unsurprisingly, at the top of most tourists’ itineraries, so if you want to see get the best views of the Mother City without spending the $20 cable car ticket, a great alternative is to hike up Table Mountain. There are various routes to choose from, each with varying degrees of difficult, but the easiest one is Platteklip Gorge, which should take you about two hours.
Hermanus, in the Overberg region to the east of Cape Town, is probably South Africa’s best known seaside town, and is certainly the Western Cape’s most popular. In season, during the summer months, it can be packed – and hotel rates rise accordingly. Only 20 minutes’ drive away is the quieter, less touristy but more charming town of Stanford, the Overberg’s best-kept secret. Here you’ll find country restaurants (book at least six weeks ahead for the award-winning Mariana’s), a wonderfully small Saturday morning farmers’ market, the Birkenhead Brewery (where you can do a tasting of six craft beers), the Klein River cheese farm (where you can do a free cheese tasting), hiking and mountain biking routes and river cruises. There’s also an undeveloped beach and a nearby nature reserve to explore. Stay in one of the many well-priced cottages in an around town, such as Bed Lemon Cottage, which looks like something out of a country décor magazine (stanfordcountrycottages.co.za/bed-lemon-cottage) and only costs $23 a night.
Budget road tripping
The famous road trip to do through the Western Cape is the Garden Route – it’s what many tourists opt for in between Cape Town and Kruger National Park on their trip to South Africa – but that means hotels and restaurants can be on the pricey side especially in popular spots such as Knysna. Instead head north of Cape Town to the Cederberg – a sparsely populated region of farmlands (this is where the famous rooibos tea is grown), dramatic sandstone mountains, quiet one-horse country towns and over 2500 millennia-old San rock art sites. Stay in off-the-beaten-track cottages (like Enjoy Nature Farm – which has three-sleeper cottages for $35 a night), at beautiful campsites and spend days hiking and nights star gazing – the skies here are unpolluted, so you’ll see a blanket of stars. The best time to visit the Cederberg is in spring, when carpets of wildflowers transform the arid landscape into a patchwork of color.
Going wine tasting in the beautiful Cape winelands is one of the top highlights of a visit to the Western Cape, but with masses of tourists descending on the area each year, many wine farms now charge for wine tastings. However, there are still some wineries that will let you sip their produce for free, including Klein Constantia, Steenberg Vineyards and Buitenverwacthing in Constantia, Vrede en Lust, La Bonheur and Blaauklippen in Stellenbosch, Boekenhoutskloof and Alleé Bleue in Franschhoek. Cheers!
Accommodation is always going to be your biggest travel cost, but there are a couple of great budget alternatives to hotels in the Western Cape that won’t break the bank. The province has a huge number of great campsites in spectacular locations to choose from – such as the Beach Camp, which is right on the sand at Cape Columbine Nature Reserve in Paternoster, and River Goose Campsite, on the banks of the Breede River – and many charge less than $5 a night. There are self-catering cottages which are priced from as low as $20 a night, found on idyllic farms, spread throughout the province, and which offer great value for money, especially if you’re travelling in a family or group. In Cape Town, your best option is Airbnb, where you can rent either an entire apartment or a house, or a just a room – it’s much cheaper than a hotel and you’re likely to make friends with locals!
The best way to get around the Western Cape is by hiring a car. This is definitely not a cheap option though – between the car hire costs and gas, it will take up a significant chunk of your travel budget. A more wallet-friendly way of getting around is by taking the Baz Bus, a hop-on hop-off 22-seater private bus service that goes from Cape Town and stops off in Stellenbosch in the winelands, Swellendam in the Overberg and Mossel Bay, George, Oudtshoorn, Wilderness, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay and The Crags on the Garden Route up the coast. The safe and reliable bus is aimed at backpackers, and its drop-off points are hostels along the route, but you don’t need to be a backpacker (or stay at the hostels) in order to use the service.