Budget Safaris: What Makes Up the Cost of a Safari?
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When you search for safaris in Africa, you are bound to come across plenty of ‘expensive’ options. After all, the most widespread misconception about safaris is that they are pricey and above most travelers’ budgets.
That said, this is not always the truth. While there are safaris which come with a hefty price tag, it is very much possible to have an affordable safari experience in Africa without burning a hole in your pocket.
Even when it comes to accommodation and transport, which often make the bulk of the safari cost, there are options that would enable you to keep costs down and will still allow you to have an amazing safari experience.
It is important, however, to know what to expect when you choose a budget safari in Africa and know how your preferences can affect the price.
That’s why, in this post, we’ll be covering the most important factors that determine the price of a safari in Africa:
- Group safari vs private safari
- Preferred accommodation
- Transportation during game drives
- Best time to go on a budget safari
- Duration of your stay
- Access from the airport
Without further ado, let’s dive into the details:
Group vs private safari
It is well-known that going on an overland group safari is the cheapest way to enjoy an organized trip. Since this is a budget-friendly way to explore the wilderness, the downside is that you’d be spending an awful lot of time in the vehicle.
When you book a group safari, pay attention not to the total number of persons but to the maximum number of people allowed per vehicle. The smaller the number is, the better your experience during a game drive.
The alternative is to book a more expensive private safari. You can ask for a private experience in which only you and your travel companions will be in the same vehicle.
Private safaris are almost always offered by luxury lodges. The transport is typically in smaller, open vehicles. They are a great option for families or groups of friends traveling together.
Should you be traveling with a small child (under 5-6 years old), you may be allowed to take the child on game drives with the permission of the guide. Otherwise, small children aren’t allowed on drive games.
Traveling with children but not sure where to start planning? Read our article about planning a family vacation in South Africa!
Accommodation in national parks and private game reserves come in many shapes and forms. From basic to luxury tents, basic to sprawling lodges or private chalets, it’s always a matter of personal preferences and budget when you decide what to choose.
When narrowing down the accommodation options, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not the type of accommodation but the luxury level that dictates the final price.
Here is what to expect:
Most travelers think that a tent is the quintessential budget accommodation.
That is true for basic tent camps which come with shared bathroom facilities, no electrical outlets, and no fences.
On the other hand, a basic lodge is almost as affordable. It can come with a shared or private bathroom and a shared kitchen, for example.
Don’t expect meals to be included. You’ll need to plan for each meal yourself.
Mid-range accommodation refers to those options which offer more than just the minimum creature conforts but lack the extras that make it luxurious.
An en-suite room in a lodge is the perfect example of mid-range accommodation. The lodge may offer additional amenities such as a restaurant and swimming pool, too.
A tent located in a fenced camp, with access to an electric outlet, and a shared bathroom is also considered a mid-range option.
Sometimes breakfast and dinner may be included in the safari cost, but make sure to check with the safari organizer whether this is indeed the case.
Luxury accommodation comes in many forms in the African wilderness.
In general, the more remote the accommodation, the more expensive it would be.
You have a choice of luxury tents – which come with all the amenities you can find a lodge -, private or family lodges – which offer multiple bedrooms, private bathrooms, kitchen, and a living/dining area – as well as private chalets.
Luxury accommodations often offer an all-inclusive experience, as all meals are included in the safari cost.
The typical amenities include access to a swimming pool, restaurants and bars, internet access, and various activities for kids.
Transport during game drives
Choosing transport during the game drives can make or break your safari experience. From closed vans to open land rovers, here’s what to expect:
Most often, the transport of choice for game drives on a budget safari is the closed safari van or the van with a pop-up roof. It may seem safer in theory, but, in reality, it hinders your safari experience.
Moreover, many safari organizers provide large group buses or overland trucks as options for closed vehicles. They tend to cover huge distances in a short period of time.
Being in a closed vehicle makes it really hard to see the animals and surroundings. There’s almost no way you are going to take any decent photos, either, as you are not guaranteed a window seat.
The transport of choice, in this case, is typically the open safari vehicle or the open 4x4 wheel drive.
Ideally, they should accommodate as few people as possible, so you are sitting comfortably. You are guaranteed a window seat which makes it possible to spot the wildlife and take photos.
A private game reserve or a private concession organize game drives in smaller groups of people, typically using an open safari vehicle or an open land rover. You are guaranteed a window seat so that your experience of wildlife spotting is great!
You are not only accompanied by a guide but also by a spotter (who tracks the animals). They are allowed to organize off-road drives and night drives, too.
Best time to go on a budget safari
When planning your African safari, it’s important to know that seasonality plays a role both in what to expect and the total cost.
While each country has its particularities, when it comes to the best time to visit June to September is considered the best time to enjoy any type of safaris – budget safaris included.
Also, note that this applies to any African country you choose to go to. In general, this period is when the wildlife viewing is at its best thanks to the weather being drier. The animals are likely to stay close to waterholes and they are more easily spotted in the shorter, dried grass.
The high travel season, however, doesn’t always fall during those months, which is great news if you plan to book a budget safari.
July and August are always considered the high season as they fall during North Hemisphere summer vacation. Whereas December and January are busy because of the winter holidays. The high season usually means high prices and crowded parks. So even when you book a budget safari, chances are, it’ll come with a steeper price tag.
It’s highly recommended to book your safari well in advance, especially if you plan to go gorilla trekking as permits are scarce during the high season.
However, June and September are excellent choices if you want to keep your costs on the lower side. The parks are not yet crowded, and the prices are still affordable.
You would save the most money if you were to travel during the low season. But while nature is lush, the animals are harder to spot. And the rain may put a damper on your game drives and photo opportunities.
Not sure which country to choose for your safari? Read our article about the top 8 countries for safaris in Africa.
Length of the safari
In general, the shorter the safari, the less it would cost.
However, you need to take into account other factors to determine the real value of a safari.
- Distance from the airport: If the park is located far from the airport, you will lose quite a lot of time in transit. A 3-4 days safari can easily turn into only 1 or 2 days in nature.
- International flights: You don’t want to spend 18 hours on flights one way (New York to Cape Town) only to spend just 48 hours on a safari. If you are already in the area and mix a short safari with other activities, you won’t need to worry about the flights’ duration.
- Additional costs: Make sure to check with the safari operator whether the airport transfer, park fees, and meals are included in the safari cost.
With that being said, it is recommended to invest in a longer safari so that you can actually take the time to enjoy what you came to Africa for – wildlife viewing and leisurely taking photos of it all – without being jet lagged or feeling as if you’re on a race against time.
Access from the airport
One of the important things to consider when booking a safari in Africa is which park you decide to visit and how close it is to the nearest (international) airport.
The safari organizers may or may not offer the transfer option but, in general, they at least offer the transfer as an add-on. Also, make sure to check with the organizer about the airport you need to fly into before making any flight booking.
Budget to mid-range
Depending on the safari organizer, the transfer to/from the closest airport may or may not be included in the safari package. Make sure to check with the organizer and, in case it is not included, ask if they offer it as an add-on.
The transfer is always included in the price of a luxury safari. It may even be a charter flight directly into the park’s airstrip (if they exist). Most often, airport transfer by land is offered in a private vehicle.
What safari is best for me?
When it comes to choosing the ideal safari, it ultimately comes down to your preferences, needs, and budget. The more informed you are, the more chances you’ll choose a safari which will fall right within your expectations.
If you love nature and treasure your time in the great outdoors, don’t shy away from staying in a tent. From budget options without amenities to luxury tent camps, you can choose what fits your travel style.
On the other hand, if you need to stay within four stronger walls, a lodge is a great choice. Whether you book an en-suite room or a private lodge, the possibilities are endless.
The good news is that there are plenty of safari options for every budget and all types of preferences.
Excited to go on a safari in Africa? Choose one of the lodges in the splendid national parks and have the experience of a lifetime!