Over the past week South Africa’s currency, the rand, has greatly weakened, as investors to lose confidence in the country amid the recent political turmoil.
This is bad news for South Africa — but great for foreign travelers, because it has translated into an exchange rate that is higher than it’s been in decades.
If you’re coming from the United States, the European Union or the United Kingdom, your incentive to visit just increased exponentially. As of December 14, 2015, the exchange rate was R15.17 to the dollar, R22.71 to the pound, and R16.60 to the Euro. To put things in further perspective, the rate was R11 to the dollar in most of 2015, and R7 to the dollar in 2011.
Travelers opting to explore South Africa will be able to live larger than they normally would on holiday, because their dollars/pounds/Euros go SO MUCH further now. Normally expensive hotels in Johannesburg like Sandton’s four-star Radisson Blu Gautrain or the ritzy Palazzo Montecasino are currently available for just US$57 a night and US$175 per night, respectively. An expensive meal at a restaurant might only cost you US$10 per plate after the exchange rate is taken into account, where the same meal in Los Angeles would cost $100, or in London 50 pounds sterling. Likewise, a night out at a bar will see the beer and wine flowing freely rather than pinching of pennies. Of course frugal travelers can stretch their money even further by foregoing restaurants and bars entirely, and purchasing food and drink directly from grocery stores like Woolworths or SPAR.
The savings extends to hiring a cars for a safari, road trip or wine trail. A spot check of current rates shows that a compact car can currently be rented from Avis in Johannesburg for around R250 per day, equivalent to just US$17. In contrast, a similar compact car from Avis in Orlando, Florida costs US$75 per day. Prices like this might just make some travelers reconsider their vacation plans.
If you don’t want to drive, air travel within South Africa is shockingly cheap as well — round-trip flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town on Mango airlines, a South African budget carrier, can be had for R1782, equivalent to just US$117.
However, one expense you can’t avoid if you’re coming from overseas — and one expense that isn’t tied to exchange rates — is long-haul airfare. For instance, if you’re a family of four coming from North America, the cost of flights alone will make South Africa a pretty tough sell (more on that below), especially when compared to the cost of piling the kids in the car and driving to Disney World. However, for the solo traveler, South Africa is a steal of a deal when compared to vacations in Europe, Australia and Asia.
But long-haul flights are actually not as pricey as you might think. Fares to South Africa from North America are actually comparable to airfares between North America and Europe. For example, we found a round-trip flight from New York to Johannesburg, for just US$867 on Air France. We also saw numerous other flights from other US cities for less than US$1000, all the way through April 2016.
The longer you stay in the country, the higher your total savings could be. If you spend three or four weeks in South Africa, the price of your plane ticket could be completely be paid for in what you save on the ground. But no matter how long you stay, now is definitely the time to go for extreme savings.
Over 10 million international visitors went to South Africa in 2014, a number that could easily be eclipsed in 2016 if the exchange rate stays as high as it stands now.
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