When it comes to finding a reasonably priced vacation destination, there are places that are affordable to get to, places that are budget-friendly once you’re there, and places that tick both boxes.
Flights tend to be a big part of the cost of a good holiday. They can also be long and uncomfortable. Fortunately, we have some amazing affordable beach vacation destinations on and around our beautiful continent that can save us both time and money!
If you’re looking for something a bit more exotic, and feel like exploring a less familiar landscape, there are still some budget-friendly options further away.
This article will explore these options, and offer you a range of affordable tropical vacation spots to choose from. Whether you’re looking for something far-flung and exotic, or something a little closer to home, we’ve got you covered.
Mauritius is a beautiful island nation several hundred kilometres off the coast of Madagascar, with crisp tropical beaches wrapping its coastline. Mauritius is affordable on the whole. You can find reasonably priced accommodation at decent resorts, and eating out is cheaper than back home.
The island has a diverse multicultural history, resulting in a unique cuisine influenced by European, African, and Asian dishes. This makes for a truly diverse eating experience at a very reasonable price.
If you’re keen on water sports and activities, you’ll love Mauritius. It offers a wide array of water-based activities: from wakeboarding to parasailing to snorkelling, amongst many others.
The incredibly clear water is evidently amazing for snorkelling, but it also adds a great dimension to the other water-based activities.
Mauritius has a microclimate, which makes for an interesting experience. The weather can vary dramatically from one side of the tiny island to the other. The weather also changes very quickly: one minute you’ll have sunshine, and the next it could be raining. But the good news is that the sun is usually back out in no time!
The island is touristy, and its prime offering is relaxing on the beach and enjoying water-based activities. If you prefer something with a more adventurous feel, there are better options for you later on in this post.
We think Mauritius is a great spot for families with kids. It’s a relatively short flight, and there are many family friendly hotels across the island, most of which offer childcare facilities.
An added bonus is that South Africans can visit Mauritius for up to 90 days without a visa. This simplifies the process greatly and also saves on the associated costs.
Flights from Johannesburg to Mauritius start around R5000, with flight times ranging between roughly 4 hours and 7 hours.
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, just off the country’s coastline. If you’re looking for picture-book white, sandy beaches and crystal-blue ocean water, without having to spend too heavily or travel too far, Zanzibar is another great option.
The natural landscape is breathtaking, the food is incredible, and it offers a range of the usual coastline based activities. Zanzibar is known for its seafood, as well as its Indian and African influenced spices.
There are often good deals on flights and accommodation, and living costs once there are very reasonable.
Zanzibar is a little less organised than Mauritius when it comes to activities, but you’ll still be able to find the standard water-based activities. Zanzibar also offers some great places to explore, such as Stone Town and Jozani forest.
One small drawback is that you’ll need to get a yellow fever jab in order to visit Zanzibar. Fortunately, the process is pretty straightforward and affordable. Plus, once you have it, the yellow fever vaccination lasts for 10 years.
Zanzibar offers a more rustic vacation experience than Mauritius and might be more suited to couples or solo travellers.
Return flights to Zanzibar are generally between R5000 – R6000, and flight times from Johannesburg are around 7 hours (including stopover).
Zanzibar also allows South Africans to visit without a visa for up to 90 days.
Madagascar is an impoverished nation, where tourists are scarce due to its poor infrastructure and remote location. If you’re keen for some exploration on your tropical getaway, and you’re happy to omit some comforts, Madagascar is a great option.
An astounding 5% of all the world’s plant and animal species are found on Madagascar, many of which are endemic to the island! The natural landscapes are incredibly diverse and captivating, with plenty to explore. From dry baobab forests to deserts to dense rainforest, Madagascar has a lot to offer.
Despite its size, Madagascar is technically an island. While it’s not a stereotypical, small island, we think you get a pretty authentic island experience. It’s really rustic, and hotels often lie in remote places, so you really get a feeling of being isolated from society.
Whilst much of Madagascar’s coastline is not suitable for a relaxing tropical vacation, it does boast some places that are. Nossi-be is Madagascar’s largest island and offers some of the country’s most stunning coastline. There are many comfortable resorts on the island, at a variety of price points.
Madagascar is very large, so we suggest this as an option for travellers with a bit more time on their hands. If you’ve got the time and willingness to explore, it’ll be an incredible adventure. However, if you’re looking for a quiet week off, relaxing in the sun, Mauritius would be a better bet.
Flights from Joburg to Antananarivo start at around R6500 but can get more expensive depending on connections and time of year. Direct flights take around 3 hours.
Whilst a visa is required to enter Madagascar, they can be obtained free on arrival. Vaccinations aren’t required, but there are some recommended vaccinations.
Once your flight has been paid for, a stay in Thailand can be almost as affordable as staying at home. Food and drinks are really cheap, and the accommodation is highly affordable, especially when backpacking.
Thailand is known for its beautiful beaches and striking natural landscapes, making it ideal for a tropical vacation.
Thai food is famously delicious. It has an emphasis on spice and aroma, with beautiful flavours and textures. Thai food is varied, and as mentioned before, it is cheap ‒ especially the amazing street food.
Thailand has many islands scattered around its coast, each of which can offer a different experience. We’ll briefly discuss a couple of them, so you know where to start looking.
Phuket is the largest island in Thailand, and probably the most well-known. It’s a bustling island that has been heavily influenced by tourism. But the tourists have come for good reason: Phuket has a vibrant atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and striking natural landscapes.
Krabi is another great option. It has some of the most pristine beaches in the country and remains a lot quieter than Phuket, whilst still being very comfortable for tourists. This is a great option if you’re after a lower-energy vacation.
We think Thailand is one of the best affordable tropical destinations for couples and solo travellers alike.
Flights from Joburg are generally between R6000 and R10000, depending on where you’re flying and at what time of year. They are generally incredibly reasonable for the distance. Direct flights take about 14 hours.
Fortunately, South Africans can stay in Thailand visa-free for up to 30 days, saving you money, time, and stress.
Vietnam is a diverse and culturally complex country, filled with astonishing natural beauty ripe for exploration. Food, drinks, and accommodation are about as cheap as they are in Thailand. There is also a great coach system for getting around and travelling long distances.
Vietnamese food is a strong contender for the best cuisine in the region and is considered some of the healthiest in the world. It’s also very affordable and full of amazing flavours and complementary textures.
There are plenty of beautiful tropical beaches and resorts in Vietnam. If that’s what you’re looking for, then the island of Phú Quốc is a great option, with some of the best beaches in the country.
Flights to Vietnam from Johannesburg generally come in between R7000 and R11000 ‒ again, depending on which city you fly into and at what time of year you do so. The shortest flight is around 16 hours.
A visa is required for South Africans, but they’re relatively inexpensive and the process is pretty simple.
Cambodia is another incredibly affordable destination in Southeast Asia. Cambodia offers beautiful tropical beaches, ancient temples, dense jungles with waterfalls, and big bustling cities.
Some of the best beaches in the country are found on the Southern Islands. They are stunning, and untarnished by the large resorts that have swept across much of Southeast Asia. Here you can enjoy a more rustic resort experience.
The food in Cambodia offers diverse dining experiences. The multiple dishes per meal contrast in terms of temperature, flavour and texture. Just like in much of Southeast Asia, the food in Cambodia is very affordable.
Accommodation, drinks and transport are all very affordable too.
Flights from Johannesburg range roughly between R7000 and R11000, and take around 14 hours.
A visa is required for South Africans but can be acquired on arrival fairly inexpensively.
Basking in the sun on a tropical beach doesn’t have to break the bank. We South Africans are fortunate to have several gorgeous tropical destinations close by. In addition, whilst our Rands often don’t get us very far overseas, there are some beatiful places that are still very affordable. You just have to know where to look.