Budget Safaris in Uganda: What You Can Expect
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Without a doubt, gorilla trekking in Uganda is a unique and life-changing experience. But a common misconception about this activity among travelers is that it can only be done on a high budget.
While obtaining a gorilla trekking permit is not cheap, there are ways to experience this activity at a moderate price.
Plus, there is more to safaris in Uganda than just gorilla trekking. For example, you have the opportunity to spot the Big Five animals or you can opt for chimps (or other primates) trekking.
Aside from the permits, the price of the safari is also influenced by the accommodation and the transport during the trip. Rest assured, there are ways to help keep the costs affordable while still ensuring an amazing time.
However, it is important to be informed on what you should expect when choosing an affordable safari in Uganda.
That’s why, in this article, we’ve detailed the factors that will help you understand the differences between a budget safari and other types of safaris in Uganda. This will hopefully help you decide which best suits your preferences, needs, and budget.
But first, should I go gorilla trekking if I want to keep my budget low?
Photo credit: Rumara Safaris (SMC) Ltd.
Until the end of 2017, Uganda offered cheaper gorilla trekking permits during the low season (April, May, and November), but they’ve since been abolished.
That means the cost of a gorilla trekking permit is 600 USD for one encounter regardless of when you visit.
The only way to keep the cost down if you do opt for a gorilla trekking in Uganda is to travel during the low season (March to May and September to November). Do note that in cases of downpours, there’s no way to exchange your permit for an alternative date. The departure date is fixed in advance.
The shorter your stay, the cheaper your safari will cost. So, if your only goal is to see the gorillas, a 3-days safari is enough. Do make sure to check the airport you need to fly into and whether the airport transfer is included. But sure to also check in advance about which fees are already accounted for in the safari package.
A 3-day safari will set you back from 880 USD per person, including the airport transfer from Entebbe, but excluding the gorilla trekking permit and the flights to get to Uganda.
Alternatively, you can opt for chimpanzee trekking in Uganda. The permit only costs 150 USD (until June 2020, and 200 USD from June 2020) if you go to Kibale National Park. The chimp trekking permits are cheaper in Budongo Forest (75 USD during the low season and 85 USD during the rest of the year), in Kalinzu Forest NR (40 USD) and Kyambura Gorge (50 USD).
However, you need to consider that the chance to spot chimps in Kibale is 95%, whereas in all the other parks it’s only 50%. If you visit a park with a low chance of spotting the chimps, at the very least, you’ll be spotting other animals and enjoy a hike in nature if you aren’t lucky to see the primates.
Expect to pay from 890 USD per person for a 3-day chimp trekking safari in Kibale. The price includes the chimp trekking permit and park fees but excludes the flights to Kampala (Uganda).
What’s included in your safari package?
While planning a safari in Uganda on your own may allow you to choose cheaper types of accommodation and transportation, opting for a safari package usually means that most expenses, including accommodation, meals, airport transfers, and game drives, are covered.
That said, it’s always important to clearly understand what the package includes. Depending on what type of safari you choose, certain items you may assume are included might not be.
Also, there are differences between primate trekking (be it gorillas, chimps, or other primates) and wildlife safaris. It is important to reach out to your organizer before setting off on your safari and make sure you confirm what the packages include and what needs to be paid separately.
Below is a general guideline as to what you can expect from different safaris in Uganda, based on their price bracket.
The park access fees, at least one game drive, accommodation, transport during the safari, guide fees, and some meals are typically included in a budget safari package.
The pick-up / drop off from either a city or an airport may or may not be included.
If the package also includes chimp trekking, the permit may or may not be included. Gorilla trekking permits are typically not included in budget safari packages.
The accommodation, some meals, guide fees, park fees, and at least one game drive are included in the safari package. The transfer to /from the airport may or not may be included. This is also the case for any trekking permits you might need.
The airport transfer, accommodation, transport during the safari, guide fees, game drives, and meals are always included. Many operators also offer complimentary bottled water. The experience is high end, but, certain fees may still need to be paid on top of the package price.
The trekking permits (gorilla and/ or chimps) may or may not be included.
However, should you be tracking other animals – for example, rhinos in Murchison Falls National Park – the fees will likely be included.
Photo credit: Kawira Safaris Ltd
The great news is that accommodation in Uganda is plentiful and it ranges from affordable to luxury.
The overall cost of the accommodation, however, depends on a lot of factors, which we are detailing below:
Staying outside of the national parks is typically more affordable than staying within the parks.
A tent with access to a shared bathroom/shower is the cheapest option within the national parks. But do note that while you can find really cheap accommodation in tents in places like Lake Bunyonyi, the prices are much higher when it comes to staying in Bwindi.
The same is valid for lodges. Basic rooms are cheap in places that are not Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Kibale National Park.
The accommodation’s price changes according to the season. And although some parks aren’t that crowded even during the height of the travel season, the accommodation prices will still be higher than during the rest of the year.
Thus, traveling during the low season means that you will be saving money on accommodation.
Kindly note that the high season in Uganda is from June to September, which also coincides with the best time to visit the parks (except for Kibale, which you may want to avoid in September).
It is recommended to visit Kibale and Bwindi during the dry season – June to August and December to February, the latter months falling outside of the high season and hence the prices are more affordable.
Accommodation comfort level
Not all tents and not all lodges are created the same. You can choose from a variety of comfort levels, which will determine the total price of your safari.
When deciding on the comfort level to choose, make sure to check on the following amenities that may or may not be included:
- Shared/private bathroom
- Hot/cold water
- Fenced/un-fenced camp (for security purposes)
- Availability of electricity
- Other amenities (i.e. pool)
Generally speaking, a tent is cheaper than a room in a lodge. But the prices do depend on the comfort level of the accommodation.
You can stay in a luxury tent – with private bathroom facilities and other amenities – and will pay more than if you were to choose a basic room, with shared bathroom, in a lodge.
Photo credit: Kubwa Five Safaris
The type of transport that takes you to/from the airport and for game drives will influence the total price of your safari.
Choosing a vehicle that could lower the overall cost but provides an underwhelming experience may likely put a damper on your trip.
What is generally described as “private safari car” is, in most cases, a van with a pop-up roof. And it’s the most used safari vehicle for game drives in Uganda if you want to stick to a lower budget.
Game viewing is not excellent in this vehicle, though. A window seat is not guaranteed, and you’d have to scramble to pop your head out through the pop-up roof.
Sometimes converted minibuses (without the pop-up roof) are also used. You may only spot the animals from the window, but the window seats are not guaranteed.
Mid-range to Luxury
Most often, the transport of choice is the 4x4 vehicle, be it an open safari vehicle or a converted land rover, but sometimes the vans with the pop-up roof (or minibus) may still make an appearance.
The fewer people there are in a car, the best the game viewing experience will likely be. Plus, you’ll also be able to take great photos!
Getting between the parks is often done via the airplane. But the transport for the game drives is in a 4x4 vehicle, which is often open safari vehicle or open land rover.
Game viewing is great from these vehicles and because there are fewer people in the car, you won’t have to worry about being in the right seat. Most often, luxury safaris accommodate small groups of people.
Photo credit: Diani Travel Centre
It is well-known that group safaris are the most affordable way to go on a safari in any African country.
Thus, the most budget-friendly way to explore Uganda is on an overland group tour. The downside, however, is that you’ll be spending a lot of time on the road.
The difference between a group and a private safari comes down to whether you are in control of the safari.
On a group safari, you are part of a group of people who are booked on the same set itinerary. You have very little or no control over anything, but you will have the chance to meet other travelers
Do note that any primate trekking experience is done in a small group, though (max 7 people), even if you are part of a large group. When it comes to game drives, different van layouts may be used so there may be up to 10 people in a car.
On a private safari, you have control over everything: from the itinerary to the activities you want to do, when you want to do them, and where to stay. They are tailored to your needs. The safari operator will give you recommendations, but the choices are yours. Private safaris are perfect for couples (especially those on their honeymoon or celebrate an anniversary), families, and groups of friends.
In general, private safaris offer a higher level of comfort. Since you are able to make the call, it will likely deliver a comfortable and pleasant experience. Plus, the vehicles are roomy, and you won’t be competing for that perfect seat or to snap that gorgeous photo.
In general, you can expect to pay more for a private safari experience than a group safari.
Which safari is best for me?
When it comes to choosing the ideal safari in Uganda, the answer depends on your preferences, needs, and budget.
As shared above, there are plenty of options to accommodate all budgets and needs.
From tents to luxury lodges, game drives to hikes in the jungle, Uganda can cater to everyone’s wishes and guarantees an experience you won’t soon forget.
Even if you are on a tight budget, you can still have an amazing experience in Uganda by choosing to stay in a tent and visiting affordable national parks.
If your dream has always been to see gorillas in the wild, opt for a short safari (2-3 days) in Bwindi. If you want to see any primate, opt for one of the parks where chimp trekking permits are more affordable.
Nevertheless, it really is important to get a clear understanding of what each package includes as well as what expenses need to be paid separately before you decide to book.
Excited to go on a safari in Uganda? Then choose one of these walking safaris in Uganda and enjoy the trip of a lifetime!