When it comes to a bucket list, many people add “go on an African safari” to their top 10. But there’s a huge elephant in the room – the high cost. It used to be safaris were only for the rich, but not necessarily anymore. Africa isn’t generally a cheap place to visit, but there are creative ways to cut costs.
To help you get started, check out our 5 tips for planning an affordable African safari. Before you know it, you’ll be packing those khaki pants and taking in the sights and sounds of magnificent landscapes and wildlife.
1. Decide Where and How Long to Safari
Choosing your African safari destination is an important first step. Eastern and Southern Africa are the two main regions offering the best wildlife. Know that choosing a safari in more remote locations will mean higher costs. Operational costs, road accessibility and being able to fly in from a major airport rather than a charter plane are things that drive prices higher. Consider fully inclusive safaris that include your accommodations, meals and activities. Even more, you can save additional money by combining destinations.
South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia are the key safari countries in Southern Africa. A short 4-hour drive from Johannesburg will get you to Kruger National Park. With 7,580 miles of area to explore, it’s filled with significant archaeological ruins and is considered a top wildlife experience in Africa. Choose to take in game drives, African sunsets and guided walks.
East Africa encompasses Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater has a large tourist draw as one of the most stunning natural features in Africa. Boasting nearly 30,000 animals, it’s one of the most densely populated animal populations in the world.
2. Decide What Time of Year to Safari
Each season in Africa has its pros and cons. The May-August dry season offers excellent conditions for viewing wildlife, primarily because of the lack of vegetation and limited water supply. Remember though, the dry season is very hot.
To save money, you could consider traveling during the off-peak “Green Season.” The October-February wet season could mean cheaper flights and package deals. For example, Botswana’s rainy season can offer lush landscapes, new blooming flowers and a chance to see newborn babies while saving on cash. However, visibility can be hampered during wet season and the state of the roads going into main safari locations degrade due to water.
For the best prices overall, consider the cusp of the dry season which is March-May. Offering the best combination of savings, you may not compromise wildlife viewings quite as much as other times of year. Shoot for the shoulder season for the best months to safari.
3. Decide How You Will Safari
Group safaris can save you a bundle, from minibus tours to backpacker excursions. They are typically cheaper than private tours because you’re essentially splitting the cost and getting group rates.
Use a Local Tour Company
Local tour guides, safari companies and their associated accommodations usually offer cheaper rates than international organizations. They are the local experts, meaning they specialize in safari trips, destination suggestions and lodging.
If you choose to rent a vehicle, you have the freedom to roam. Some even offer a rooftop tent in the vehicle for super cheap accommodations. Check out these top five self-drive safari destinations to see if this option is for you.
Mobile Camping Safari
According to some experts, this may be one of the most cost-effective ways of going on safari. If you want an experience that truly immerses you in nature, this option is the one. A safari expert can help you plan a mobile camping experience or one that combines camping with a few nights in a lodge.
4. Decide Where You Will Stay
You can save quite a bit by choosing a less luxurious place to rest at night. Also, remember the more nights you stay the more money you’ll dish out, and the more lavish the lodging the higher the cost. If you desire something between camping and luxury, consider one of the 3-star lodges located just outside of game areas.
5. Don’t Forget About Extra Expenses
From picking up safe drinking water bottles and choosing safari clothes to purchasing airline tickets and planning for tips, all the extras can add up. Always check the local embassy website of your destinations to check if you need visas and how much they cost. Check the CDC website for the best information on required vaccinations.
The more economical safari destinations are those with lots of choices for game reserves, charge fees in local currencies rather than U.S. dollars, and those that don’t require visas or vaccinations. Outside major cities, you may have trouble with credit cards, so plan to carry enough cash to get you through your trip.
It may sound daunting, but with some planning, you can experience your first African safari with budget-friendly confidence. Do your research, use that vacation time and get ready for some wild adventures! Travel on friends.
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