You can afford to go abroad: 5 rand-friendly overseas holidays

Yes, there are corners of the globe where the rand still holds muscle. Here is a list of destinations beyond the border which you can visit without breaking the bank

11 February 2018 - 00:00 By Richard Holmes
Travelling by train in Myanmar.
Travelling by train in Myanmar.
Image: Richard Holmes

The rand is at its strongest level in nearly three years, but the prospect of a holiday abroad can still make your credit card break out in a cold sweat. Travelling off-peak, using public transport and opting for self-catering apartments will save you precious pounds and greenbacks, but a week or two overseas certainly won't come cheap.

Happily, there are corners of the globe where the rand can still flex its muscles. If you have a holiday beyond our borders on your bucket list, these exotic destinations will quickly take care of your wanderlust ... without breaking the bank.

1. EXOTIC ASIA: MYANMAR

After decades in the political wilderness, Myanmar has become the hottest destination in Southeast Asia. It's warm, it's cheap, the food is superb and, happily, the backpacker crowds that taint much of the region have yet to descend.

Start your travels in the colourful and chaotic capital of Yangon, where gleaming temples sit cheek-by-jowl with frenetic pavement markets.

Certainly don't miss Shwedagon Pagoda, the most revered temple in the country, which dates back to 588.

Pansodan Street is as famous for its pavement booksellers as it is for its well-preserved colonial-era architecture. The most impressive example is a few blocks east, at the imposing Ministers' Building, a neo-classical pile where Burma famously declared independence from Britain in 1948.

But there's more to Myanmar than Yangon. Your first stop in the north should be Bagan, where dusty plains along the Irrawaddy River are studded with more than 2,000 pagodas and temples dating back 1,000 years.

From here, luxury riverboats and cheap local ferries carry visitors north to the culture-packed city of Mandalay, or hop on a short flight to the scenic hills around Inle Lake.

Wherever you go, a hearty bowl of noodles in a local restaurant won't set you back more than R20. Cut-price culture and cuisine, without the crowds. What's not to love? Get there before it changes.

2. BEAUTIFUL BARGAIN: SRI LANKA

Dubbed "India-Lite" for its laid-back charms, Sri Lanka offers all the culture, colour and cuisine of its larger neighbour, all crammed into an island 1/50th the size.

While Colombo is worth a day to jostle your way through the crowded Pettah Market or promenade with the locals along Galle Face Green, most travellers jet in and head straight out again.

Begin with an unforgettable, if rickety, train ride up into the highlands, where towns such as Ella and Kandy enchant with misty views of tea plantations and tumbling waterfalls. The heart of the island is also home to the Cultural Triangle, with a handful of Unesco World Heritage Sites. Tick off the ancient capitals of Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, and the ancient rock citadel of Sigiriya, all forming the cradle of early Sinhalese civilisation.

Like India, Sri Lanka also boasts a surprising range of national parks: go leopard-spotting in Yala National Park, twitching in the lush Sinharaja Forest Reserve, or search for wild elephants in Udawalawe National Park.

But you'll also want some beach time. Head east for the famed surf breaks of Arugam Bay, or south to the bright lights of Hikkaduwa and the quieter seaside towns of Tangalle and Weligama. On the way, plan for at least a day in the charming colonial city of Galle, where the ramparts of the historic Dutch fort still gaze out over the Indian Ocean. Don't be surprised if the locals rope you in for an impromptu cricket match.

Best of all, this colourful, enchanting island is a travel bargain. Tuk-tuks and public trains make getting around cheap-as-chips, with a wide selection of well-priced guesthouses and family-run hotels.

3. SNOW FOR LESS: BULGARIA

Are you dreaming of a European ski escape, but don't have the funds for Verbier, Switzerland, or Chamonix in the French Alps - those celebrated skiing destinations which also happen to be the most expensive on the continent? Rather, look east. Bulgaria is fast making a name for itself thanks to its unbeatable combo of European-quality pistes and decidedly un-European prices.

Bulgaria is fast making a name for itself thanks to its unbeatable combo of European-quality pistes and decidedly un-European prices

Vitosha Mountain, on the outskirts of the capital Sofia, is ideal for a quick day-trip to the slopes, while Pamporovo, the southernmost ski resort in Europe, has a well-deserved reputation for both its quality slopes and a vibrant aprés-ski scene. Nearby, the resort of Chepelare is smaller and quieter, with the prices to match.

But the snowy jewel in Bulgaria's winter sports crown is Bansko. At the foot of the Pirin Mountains, 150km from Sofia, the Bansko Ski resort has become one of the most popular ski destinations in Eastern Europe thanks to its array of hotels, lifts and well-marked runs. Little surprise it has collected the gong for Best Ski Resort in Bulgaria at the World Ski Awards for four years running.

4. CENTS & THE CITY: ISTANBUL

For a city break that won't break the bank, Istanbul should be top of your list. Political turmoil and security concerns have dented demand for the city, making it an affordable option for adventurous travellers.

With direct flights from both Cape Town and Joburg, even a long weekend in the Turkish capital is an option, though you'll want to spend longer exploring the layered history of this ancient metropolis.

Straddling two continents and anchoring one end of the legendary Silk Road, the city's history includes Greek, Roman and Ottoman influences; a cultural tapestry evident in the colourful halls of the Topkapi Palace, the stirring mosaics of the ancient Hagia Sophia, and the soaring minarets of the Blue Mosque. For views of the city, hop on the affordable public ferries plying the Bosphorus, which separates the European and Asian sides of the city.

The city's collision of cultures also comes to life in the rambling stalls of the Grand Bazaar, a rabbit-warren of alleyways and shops where you'll need razor-sharp bargaining skills to bag a deal. Take your time, accept the proffered glass of sweet tea, and haggle with a sense of humour.

4. HELLO NEIGHBOURS: NAMIBIA

If your budget won't stretch to long-haul flights, you can still bag a stamp in your passport staying closer to home. While many of Southern Africa's tourist hotspots are priced (often exorbitantly) in US dollars, Namibia still offers excellent value for self-drive adventures with a range of rand-friendly activities and accommodation.

Forget about museums and fine dining. Put Namibia on your list for an endless succession of jaw-dropping landscapes: the vast expanse of the Fish River Canyon, the windswept coastline surrounding Lüderitz and the lonely desert roads that lead to the dunes of Sossusvlei.

Namibia's Skeleton Coast has lots to offer the budget-conscious traveller.
Namibia's Skeleton Coast has lots to offer the budget-conscious traveller.
Image: Richard Holmes

Swakopmund is a quirky slice of Bavaria in the desert. From here, swing east to Windhoek or hit the road north for the Skeleton Coast and beyond. There's rock art to discover at Twyfelfontein, and the majestic Waterberg Mountains east of Otjiwarongo to explore. These are long roads, but if you're time-rich and cash-poor, Namibia is an excellent choice.

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