Travel in South Africa is the most affordable it’s been in recent memory. At last check, the exchange rate was hovering around 15 rand per dollar. This is the weakest the local currency has been against the U.S. dollar in nearly 20 years. In fact, the dollar is twice as strong there as it was just five years ago, which means that for visitors disembarking with U.S. currency, everything feels like it’s on sale.
With an exchange rate this favorable, travelers can afford a much longer trip—and a lot of luxury perks that might have previously been out of reach. As David Cogswell wrote last week for TravelPulse, on a recent trip to South Africa, a “bottle of Champagne cost about as much as a single cocktail would have cost in a New York bar.”
A number of factors have weakened the rand. First, the weather: South Africa is experiencing its worst drought in more than a century, which has, in turn, driven up the costs of food precipitously, adversely affecting both GDP and international trade. Second, the political turmoil: In December President Jacob Zuma unexpectedly fired two finance ministers in quick succession, and in the following months Zuma and the current Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, have fought publicly for control of the National Treasury. Zuma has accused Gordhan of spying on the government, and there have been reports of Gordhan’s imminent arrest. Gordhan says that the treasury is “under attack.”
Even before the political infighting, South Africa’s credit rating had already been downgraded, and the country is reportedly facing an additional credit ratings downgrade, which would hurt the economy even more. (A recent Reuters report in the New York Times indicated that at least two credit rating agencies currently rate the country at one notch above sub-investment grade and plan to release full reviews next month.)
Obviously, none of this is good for South Africa—a nation that has battled its fair share of dire situations over the past few decades and continues to grapple with socioeconomic inequalities. But that’s no reason for travelers to stay away. Considering the nation’s vibrant culture, amazing wildlife, local wine regions, and burgeoning food scene, it certainly remains a destination worth exploring. By traveling there, you can support the country and the local economy at a time when it needs it. And at the moment, you can do it for a lot less.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlines, and more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.