These few simple hacks help you save money on an African safari.
A lone elephant crosses an acacia tree on the Serengeti plain, it’s the stuff of safari dreams that you think you can’t afford. Think again. While it is true that the average 10-day safari can run into the tens of thousands of dollars there are simple hacks to bring the cost way down. Focusing on one region, spending time in urban areas, and traveling when others aren’t are great ways to fit safaris into any budget. Let go of the idea that an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and plan the one you can afford now.
Shorten your stay
Safaris are often marketed as two-week adventures to numerous parks and possibly a few countries. Three or four nights in a carefully selected park or reserve will have you spotting the Big Five in no time. Sandwich that safari with trips to coastal destinations like Durban, Lamu Island, or Zanzibar and stay a few nights in the city where you land: “The biggest mistake travelers make when planning an African safari is skipping the cities. Whether it’s the bespoke shopping experiences in Kigali, the craft drink and street food scene in Nairobi, gallery visits in Johannesburg, or checking out the nightlife in Entebbe, a stay in Africa’s urban centers is always a good idea,” says Naledi Khabo, CEO of the African Tourism Association.
Stay in just one park
The more you move around (especially by bush plane) the higher the cost. Slow down your trip and get to know one area, see what your favorite animals are doing over multiple days. It is fascinating to witness what happens to a lion kill over three days while noting the different animals that feed off it before there is nothing left. Staying in one camp longer will offer a complete experience as you can replace a game drive with a bushwalk or stay back in camp to enjoy the view and see what animals happen by.
Green season (when it’s raining) in East Africa is April and May and November through to April in Southern Africa. While that may sound like a bad time to travel there are advantages including lush landscapes, no dust, and fewer crowds. The main draw is that lodge rates are a fraction of the cost. Asilia Africa’s Oliver’s Camp goes for over $800 per person per night in high season but can be booked for just over $400 per person per night in green season.
Take the road less traveled
The Masai Mara, Kruger National Park, and Serengeti are the usual go-to for travelers, for good reason, but there are wildlife areas all over the continent to be explored: “I’d recommend Marakele National Park, a hidden gem in northern South Africa; Tarangire in Tanzania for an easy driving circuit; or Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda,” says Johhny Prince, founder of Timbuktu Travel, a travel company that allows you to build – and budget – your dream safari.
Please don’t do this by yourself on your first trip — really don’t. Not only is it unsafe, but the chances of seeing great wildlife without a trained guide are also slim. Most national parks offer self-drive options and have designated fenced campgrounds. Overland-style safaris are a great way to camp with a group or guide.
Don’t spend too much on gear
While you may think you need to look the part, you don’t have to be decked out in different shades of khaki the whole time, but do avoid black, red, and blue during the day lest you become a fly magnet. And unless you are an experienced photographer, leave pricey gear, like the massive camera lens, to the pros and try this great starter camera. Safari involves a lot of sitting so technical boots and vests with a bunch of pockets aren’t needed, try these hiking sneakers. Your guide probably has binos for you, but if you want to bring your own, bring these. It can get cold at night so a good fleece and windbreaker will be your friend. Pack as light as possible with a soft-sided duffle or backpack as the best option, especially if your trip involves a small plane.
Important to note about safari pricing:
- It’s hard to book on your own and many lodge companies will kick your query back to a travel agent so you might as well start working with one
- Safari pricing is mostly all-inclusive and will include all your meals, drinks, and most activities
- Pricing is per person and you may get an up-charge if traveling alone
- Park fees, conservation charges, etc will often be added to your rate so make sure you understand all costs before heading out
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