It is usually assumed that safaris are expensive. We see glorious pictures of luxurious and exclusive lodges situated in the vast wilderness with easy access to extraordinary wildlife sightings. This is the experience we are sold as an African safari.
However, there are ways to experience an affordable safari on a limited budget. You just have to know which countries to visit, how to travel and where to stay.
Why are safaris so expensive?
“I can’t afford a safari”, “A safari is out of my budget” and “I always thought a safari would be too expensive” are common statements we hear. So why are safaris so expensive?
Safaris do have other additional extras which need to be covered when on safari. These can include park entrance fees, conservation levies, the cost of your vehicle and your guide, all of which adds a little bit more to the price of your safari. And this is just the actual safari.
When in a lodge, quite often there is a higher staff to guest ratio, which often puts the price up. Many lodges are also in remote areas. This means that the transport of goods to the lodge, such as food and water, fuel, general items needed for running a lodge, spare parts for vehicles, maintenance tools, etc., is expensive. The price therefore goes up. Some lodges are only accessible by small plane, such as in Botswana, which in our mind is the ultimate safari experience where money is no problem. This safari comes at a price.
The Cheapest Safari Destinations in Africa
We find the more affordable safaris can be found in southern Africa namely the countries of Eswatini, South Africa and Namibia. All three of these countries have their currency tied to the Rand. Over the past decade the Rand to the pound and the Rand the US dollar has been beneficial for guests.
Different African destinations also have different approaches to tourism. Many have more affordable park entrance fees and lodges to encourage more people to the destination and South Africa use this system. Other countries, in particular Botswana, go for the approach of preserving their fragile environment, namely the Okavango, and have fewer guests with a lower impact on the ecosystem and charge more for the exclusive experience.
The Most Affordable Safari Destination
In our mind we think the cheapest country to go on safari is Eswatini. Eswatini is Africa in a nutshell, it has a bit of everything. The safaris are delightful, and you are likely to see four of the big 5 if you visit both Mkhaya Game Reserve and Hlane Royal National Park. Eswatini is also one of the best places to see white rhino. Anyone who has been to Eswatini will regale their fond memories of this endearing destination.
A 14 day stay for 2 guests self-drive to Eswatini with dinner, bed and breakfast and 4 safaris is £3,700, including flights from the UK.
7 ways on How to make your Safari more Affordable
Wherever you travel there are ways to make your safari more cost effective. If you are looking for a safari on a budget here are some things to think about.
- Staying in one place for longer, rather than travelling around to different locations reduces your travel and therefore the cost of your safari. It is also a good thing to spend time at one location and this is applicable to any safari. Often people try and do too much in too little time.
- Stay for a shorter time. It is obvious that cutting your days down reduces the price and you could still go on safari for three days and do cheaper activities for the rest of your time.
- Use a local safari operator or, more importantly, use an operator who deals direct with lodges and people on the ground, therefore eliminating middle-man price hikes.
- Join a group, travelling with others keeps the costs down for vehicles, guides etc. as you share the costs. This could be an overland trip or simply a small group trip tailored for like-minded people.
- A self-drive holiday can work out more cost effective, especially if you can self-drive in national parks on your own safari. Make sure you pick your destination wisely, there are destinations where a self-drive would not be safe or not logistically possible. Recommended self-drive destinations are Eswatini, South Africa, definitely Namibia and to a lesser extent Botswana. If you do participate in a self-drive in Botswana or Zambia, there are certain areas that a 4×4 is a necessity and knowledge on how to drive a 4×4 is a prerequisite. Quite often we recommended travelling in convoy so you can help each other out. Uganda and Kenya can be crazy to drive in and Zimbabwe and Mozambique have so many police check points it can be a bit unnerving. Wherever you self-drive, keep an eye out for speed traps and potholes!
- Consider camping as this will certainly reduce your costs for accommodation. In some destinations you will have to book campsites in advance to ensure you have a campsite. It is a popular way to travel. In Namibia and Botswana campsites get booked up very quickly. It is also illegal in many countries to simply camp on the side of the road, and potentially dangerous. Make sure you do your research.
- Think about when you want to travel. If you have the flexibility then certainly consider travelling out of season, in what is called either the green season or the low season. Many destinations (Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya are notable for this) have different pricing for lodges in high and low season. In low season it will mean that looking for wildlife can be a bit more challenging as the grass may be high after the rains, but if you’re into your birds then this is also an excellent time to go. It will also be the time for young so if you want to spot carnivore cubs then this is the time for you. Again, do your research on what you want to see.
A safari can be affordable for many, it is just how you look at it and knowing where you can cut costs.
Plan ahead, save in advance and enjoy.