African safari

Why Are African Safaris So Expensive?

african safari

Hi folks, Andy here. As you know, I’m the guy behind this blog – which has been going for an incredible 12 years now. But you may not know that I am also the guy behind a kind of “sister” operation, The Grown-up Travel Company. I put together fully personalised African adventures for Grown-up Travellers like you.

I’ve been around, and there ain’t nowhere like or better than Africa. I’ve gone from backpacking in war zones to luxury safaris in stunning wildlife areas, and I have to say that these days I prefer the latter.

In this article I’m going to answer – at some length – one of the most common questions I get from my clients and readers: why are African safaris so expensive?

If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing lions, elephants, giraffes and other amazing wildlife in their natural habitat, you’ve probably also wondered how much it would cost to make that dream come true. Well, the answer is not simple. There are many factors that affect the price of an African safari, such as:

  • The destination
  • The season
  • The level of comfort
  • The type of accommodation
  • The mode of transportation
  • The activities and extras

I’m going to break down each of these factors and give you some tips on how to save money and still have an incredible safari experience. Let’s get started…

The Destination

Africa is a huge continent with over 50 countries and hundreds of national parks and reserves. Each destination has its own attractions, challenges and costs. Some of the most popular safari destinations I send clients to are:

  • Kenya – Home to the world-famous Masai Mara National Reserve, where you can witness the Great Wildebeest Migration, as well as other stunning parks like Amboseli, Samburu and Tsavo.
  • Tanzania – Another hotspot for the Great Migration, as well as the iconic Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area and the exotic Zanzibar Island.
  • South Africa – A great option for first-timers and families, with diverse parks like Kruger, Addo Elephant and Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, as well as cosmopolitan cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg.
  • Botswana – A premium destination for wildlife lovers, with exclusive and remote parks like Chobe, Moremi and the Okavango Delta, where you can explore by boat or mokoro (a traditional canoe).
  • Namibia – A land of contrasts, with spectacular landscapes like the Namib Desert, the Skeleton Coast and the Etosha Salt Pan, where you can see rare animals like black rhinos and desert elephants.
  • Zambia – A hidden gem for adventurous travelers, with wild and pristine parks like South Luangwa, Kafue and Lower Zambezi, where you can enjoy walking safaris and canoe safaris.
  • Zimbabwe – A comeback destination for safari enthusiasts, with legendary parks like Hwange, Mana Pools and Victoria Falls National Park, where you can see the world’s largest waterfall.

Of course, there are many more destinations to choose from, each with its own pros and cons. Generally speaking, the more popular and accessible a destination is, the cheaper it will be. However, this also means more crowds and less exclusivity. On the other hand, the more remote and exclusive a destination is, the more expensive it will be. However, this also means more privacy and authenticity.

This table shows a rough idea of the average cost of a safari per person per day in some of the most popular destinations, mainly to show relative prices:

Destination 4-star comfort 4-star luxury 5-star luxury
Kenya $420-$650 $650-$1050 $1100-$1750
Tanzania $500-$725 $800-$1350 $1250-$1850
South Africa $250-$400 $400-$600 $600-$1000
Botswana $600-$900 $900-$1500 $1500-$2500
Namibia $300-$500 $500-$800 $800-$1200
Zambia $450-$700 $700-$1100 $1100-$1800
Zimbabwe $350-$600 $600-$900 $900-$1500

As you can see, there is a wide range of prices depending on the destination and the level of comfort. But don’t worry, there are ways to reduce these costs without compromising on quality. I’ll share some of them later in this article.

The Season

 
Don’t rule out the “off-season” – this was filmed in Botswana in February…

Another factor that affects the price of an African safari is the season. Most safari destinations have two main seasons: high season and low season. High season is when the weather is dry and sunny, the wildlife is abundant and easy to spot, and the demand is high. Low season is when the weather is wet and cloudy, the wildlife is dispersed and harder to find, and the demand is low.

High season usually coincides with the summer months in the northern hemisphere (June to September) and the winter months in the southern hemisphere (December to March). Low season usually coincides with the opposite months. However, there are some exceptions and variations depending on the destination. For example, in Kenya and Tanzania, there is also a short high season from December to February, when the wildebeest calving season takes place. In Botswana and Namibia, there is also a shoulder season from April to May and from October to November, when the weather is mild and the wildlife is still good.

The season affects the price of an African safari in two ways: firstly, by influencing the availability and rates of accommodation and transportation; and secondly, by influencing the quality and quantity of wildlife viewing. Generally speaking, high season means higher prices, lower availability and better wildlife viewing. Low season means lower prices, higher availability and poorer wildlife viewing.

However, this doesn’t mean that you should always avoid low season. Quite the opposite. There are some big advantages to travelling in low season, such as:

  • Fewer crowds and more privacy
  • Greener scenery and more flowers
  • More birdlife and baby animals
  • Cheaper flights and special offers

So, depending on your preferences and budget, you can choose the best season for your safari. Just make sure to book well in advance if you want to travel in high season, as some places can fill up quickly.

The Level of Comfort

Another factor that affects the price of an African safari is the level of comfort. This refers to how comfortable you want to be during your safari, both in terms of accommodation and transportation. There are three main levels of comfort: budget, mid-range and luxury.

Budget safaris are for travellers who don’t mind roughing it a bit and are looking for the cheapest option. Budget safaris usually involve:

  • Staying in basic campsites or lodges with shared facilities
  • Travelling in public buses or minibuses with no air-conditioning
  • Having limited choices of activities and extras

I don’t sell budget safaris and wouldn’t recommend them. Save up for another year and enjoy a proper safari experience instead.

Mid-range safaris are for travellers who want a balance between comfort and cost. Mid-range safaris usually involve:

  • Staying in comfortable lodges or tented camps with private facilities
  • Traveling in private vehicles with air-conditioning
  • Having a tailor-made itinerary with your own guide
  • Having more choices of activities and extras

Luxury safaris are for travellers who want the best of everything and are willing to pay for it. Luxury safaris usually involve:

  • Staying in exclusive lodges or tented camps with all-inclusive services
  • Traveling in light aircrafts or 4WD vehicles with air-conditioning
  • Having a personalized itinerary with your own guide
  • Having unlimited choices of activities and extras

As you can imagine, the level of comfort affects the price of an African safari significantly. The more comfort you want, the more you will pay. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice comfort to save money. There are ways to mix and match different levels of comfort depending on your priorities. For example, you can stay in a budget lodge but splurge on a luxury game drive; or you can stay in a luxury lodge but save on transportation by driving yourself.

The Type of Accommodation

Another factor that affects the price of an African safari is the type of accommodation. This refers to where you want to stay during your safari, both in terms of location and style. There are two main types of accommodation: safari lodges and tented camps.

Safari lodges are permanent structures that offer hotel-like amenities such as rooms, bathrooms, electricity, wifi, pools, restaurants, bars etc. Safari lodges are usually located near or inside national parks or reserves, but not necessarily close to wildlife hotspots. Safari lodges are ideal for travelers who want more comfort and convenience during their safari.

Tented camps are temporary structures that offer a more authentic and immersive safari experience. Tented camps consist of large canvas tents with beds, toilets, showers, solar power etc. Tented camps are usually located in remote areas close to wildlife hotspots. Tented camps are ideal for travelers who want more adventure and intimacy during their safari.

The type of accommodation affects the price of an African safari in two ways: firstly, by influencing the cost of construction and maintenance; and secondly, by influencing the level of exclusivity and access to wildlife. Generally speaking, safari lodges are cheaper than tented camps because they are easier to build and maintain. However, safari lodges are also more crowded than tented camps because they can accommodate more guests. On the other hand, tented camps are more expensive than safari lodges because they are harder to build and maintain.

However, tented camps are also more intimate than safari lodges because they have fewer guests and more personal service. Here are some examples of safari lodges and tented camps in different destinations:

  • Kenya – Mara Serena Safari Lodge is a large and luxurious lodge overlooking the Mara River in the Masai Mara. It has 74 rooms, a swimming pool, a spa, a restaurant and a bar. It costs from $300 per person per night. Ol Seki Hemingways Mara is a small and exclusive tented camp on a private conservancy near the Masai Mara. It has 10 tents, a library, a dining area and a fire pit. It costs from $600 per person per night.
  • Tanzania – Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge is a stunning lodge built into the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater. It has 75 rooms, a swimming pool, a restaurant and a bar. It costs from $400 per person per night. Serengeti Bushtops is a lavish tented camp in the northern Serengeti. It has 12 tents, a spa, a dining area and a lounge. It costs from $1000 per person per night.
  • South Africa – Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge is a classic lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve near Kruger. It has 25 suites, two swimming pools, a spa, a restaurant and a bar. It costs from $800 per person per night. Ngala Tented Camp is a chic tented camp in the Timbavati Game Reserve near Kruger. It has nine tents, a swimming pool, a dining area and a lounge. It costs from $900 per person per night.
  • Botswana – Chobe Game Lodge is an elegant lodge on the banks of the Chobe River in Chobe National Park. It has 47 rooms, four suites, six villas, two swimming pools, a spa, a restaurant and a bar. It costs from $700 per person per night. Xaranna Okavango Delta Camp is a stylish tented camp on an island in the Okavango Delta. It has nine tents, a plunge pool, a dining area and a lounge. It costs from $1500 per person per night.
  • Namibia – Sossusvlei Lodge is an impressive lodge at the entrance of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. It has 45 rooms, two swimming pools, a restaurant and a bar. It costs from $300 per person per night. Hoanib Valley Camp is an eco-friendly tented camp in the remote Kaokoland region. It has six tents, a dining area and a lounge. It costs from $800 per person per night.
  • Zambia – Mfuwe Lodge is a comfortable lodge in the South Luangwa National Park. It has 18 rooms, two suites, a swimming pool, a spa, a restaurant and a bar. It costs from $500 per person per night. Chongwe River Camp is an adventurous tented camp on the banks of the Zambezi River in the Lower Zambezi National Park. It has nine tents, two suites, a dining area and a lounge. It costs from $700 per person per night.
  • Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is an iconic lodge overlooking a waterhole near Victoria Falls. It has 72 rooms, three suites, two swimming pools, two restaurants and two bars. It costs from $400 per person per night. Somalisa Camp is an authentic tented camp in the heart of Hwange National Park. It has seven tents, a swimming pool, a dining area and a lounge. It costs from $600 per person per night.

As you can see, there are many options to choose from when it comes to safari accommodation. The best way to decide which one suits you best is to think about your preferences and priorities: do you value comfort or adventure? Do you want to be close to wildlife or have more facilities? Do you want to mingle with other guests or have more privacy? Your answers will help you narrow down your choices and find your perfect safari stay.

The Mode of Transportation

Another factor that affects the price of an African safari is the mode of transportation. This refers to how you want to get around during your safari, both in terms of distance and terrain. There are three main modes of transportation: road transfers, light aircraft and self-drive.

Road transfers are when you travel by car or bus between different destinations or within one park or reserve. Road transfers are usually cheaper than light aircraft because they use less fuel and have lower maintenance costs. However, road transfers are also slower than light aircraft because they have to deal with traffic, road conditions and border crossings. Road transfers are ideal for travelers who want to save money and see more of the local scenery and culture.

Light aircraft are when you travel by small planes or helicopters between different destinations or within one park or reserve. Light aircraft are usually more expensive than road transfers because they use more fuel and have higher maintenance costs. However, light aircraft are also faster than road transfers because they fly over traffic, road conditions and border crossings. Light aircraft are ideal for travelers who want to save time and see more of the aerial scenery and wildlife.

Self-drive is when you rent a car and drive yourself between different destinations or within one park or reserve. Self-drive is usually cheaper than road transfers and light aircrafts because you only pay for the rental fee and the fuel. However, self-drive is also more challenging than road transfers and light aircrafts because you have to deal with driving rules, navigation, safety and breakdowns. Self-drive is ideal for travellers who want to have more freedom and flexibility during their safari.

The mode of transportation affects the price of an African safari in two ways: firstly, by influencing the cost of travel; and secondly, by influencing the quality and quantity of wildlife viewing. Generally speaking, road transfers are cheaper than light aircraft but slower and less comfortable. Light aircraft are more expensive than road transfers but faster and more comfortable. Self-drive is cheaper than both but more difficult and not for newbies.

However, this doesn’t mean that you have to stick to one mode of transportation throughout your safari. There are ways to combine different modes of transportation depending on your itinerary and budget. For example, you can fly from one destination to another but use road transfers within each park or reserve; or you can drive from one destination to another but use light aircraft to access remote areas.

The Activities and Extras

 

Another factor that affects the price of an African safari is the activities and extras. This refers to what you want to do during your safari, both in terms of wildlife viewing and other experiences. There are many activities and extras to choose from, such as:

  • Game drives – The most common and popular way to see wildlife on a safari. Game drives involve driving in a 4WD vehicle with a guide through different habitats and looking for animals. Game drives can be done in the morning, afternoon or night, depending on the park or reserve rules and the animals’ activity patterns.
  • Walking safaris – A more adventurous and immersive way to see wildlife on a safari. Walking safaris involve walking on foot with a guide through different habitats and looking for animals. Walking safaris can be done as short walks from a camp or lodge, or as longer walks from one camp or lodge to another.
  • Boat safaris – A more relaxing and scenic way to see wildlife on a safari. Boat safaris involve cruising on a boat with a guide along a river or lake and looking for animals. Boat safaris can be done as motorboat rides, canoe trips or mokoro excursions (a traditional dugout canoe).
  • Balloon safaris – A more thrilling and spectacular way to see wildlife on a safari. Balloon safaris involve flying in a hot air balloon with a pilot over a park or reserve and looking for animals. Balloon safaris can be done as sunrise flights followed by champagne breakfasts.
  • Cultural visits – A more enriching and educational way to learn about the local people on a safari. Cultural visits involve visiting a village or community with a guide and interacting with the locals. Cultural visits can be done as short stops during a game drive, or as longer stays with overnight accommodation.
  • Adventure activities – A more fun and exciting way to add some variety to your safari. Adventure activities involve doing something adventurous with a guide or instructor in or near a park or reserve. Adventure activities can be done as bungee jumping, white water rafting, zip lining, mountain biking, horse riding etc.

The activities and extras affect the price of an African safari in two ways: firstly, by influencing the cost of participation; and secondly, by influencing the level of enjoyment and satisfaction. Generally speaking, game drives are cheaper than other activities because they are included in most safari packages. Other activities are more expensive than game drives because they require additional fees, equipment, permits etc. However, other activities are also more enjoyable than game drives because they offer different perspectives, challenges and experiences.

However, this doesn’t mean that you have to limit yourself to game drives only during your safari. There are ways to include other activities and extras depending on your interests and budget. For example, you can book a balloon safari as an optional extra for one morning; or you can visit a cultural village as part of your game drive itinerary; or you can do an adventure activity before or after your safari.

How to Save Money on an African Safari

Now that you know what factors affect the price of an

African safari, here are some tips on how to save money and still have an unforgettable experience:

  • Choose your destination carefully – Some destinations are more affordable than others, depending on the exchange rate, the level of development, the availability of infrastructure and the competition among operators. For example, South Africa is generally cheaper than Botswana because it has a favorable currency, a well-developed tourism industry, good roads and many options to choose from. Do some research and compare different destinations to find the best value for your money.
  • Use an expert travel designer – Booking your safari directly with an expert travel designer (like me) can save you money and hassle, as they have access to the best deals, the most up-to-date information and the most reliable contacts on the ground. They will tailor-make your safari to suit your preferences and budget, and offer you more personalized service and support. Avoid booking your safari through a non-specialist travel agent as they will not have the same knowledge, expertise and contact network.
  • Join a group safari – Travelling with other like-minded travellers can reduce your costs significantly, as you can share the expenses of accommodation, transportation, guides and activities. Group safaris also offer you the opportunity to make new friends, learn from each other and have more fun. Make sure you choose a group safari that matches your interests, expectations and personality.
  • Opt for a self-drive safari – If you are confident and adventurous enough to drive yourself around Africa, you can save money and have more freedom and flexibility during your safari. Self-drive safaris allow you to choose your own itinerary, pace and stops, and explore off-the-beaten-track places that are not accessible by public transport or guided tours. However, self-drive safaris also require more planning, preparation and responsibility, as you have to deal with driving rules, navigation, safety and breakdowns. Make sure you rent a reliable vehicle, get adequate insurance and carry enough supplies.
  • Compromise on accommodation – Accommodation is one of the biggest expenses on an African safari, so compromising on comfort can save you a lot of money. Instead of staying in luxury lodges or tented camps, you can opt for budget campsites or lodges with shared facilities. These options may not offer you all the amenities and services that you are used to, but they will still provide you with a safe and comfortable place to sleep and rest. You can also mix and match different types of accommodation depending on your priorities: for example, you can splurge on a luxury lodge for one night but stay in a budget campsite for the rest of your safari.
  • Travel during the low season – Travelling during the low season can save you money and hassle, as you can benefit from lower rates, higher availability and fewer crowds. Low season usually coincides with the rainy season in most safari destinations (November to March), but this doesn’t mean that you will have a bad safari experience. In fact, low season can offer some advantages such as greener scenery, more birdlife, more baby animals and cheaper flights. Low season can also have some disadvantages such as wetter weather, poorer roads, harder wildlife viewing and limited activities. Make sure you talk to an expert (like me) first.
  • Focus on a single game reserve – Instead of trying to see everything in one trip, you can focus on one game reserve that offers what you are looking for in terms of wildlife diversity, scenery variety and activity options. By staying longer in one place, you can save money on transportation costs, park fees and accommodation rates. You can also enjoy a deeper and richer safari experience by getting to know the area better, seeing different aspects of wildlife behavior and forming a connection with your guide.

Conclusion

An African safari is an amazing adventure that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. However, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to make it happen. By following these tips on how to save money on an African safari, you can plan your own unforgettable trip that suits your budget.

I hope this article has given you some useful information and inspiration for your next safari adventure. If you need any help or advice on planning your safari itinerary or booking your safari package please feel free to contact me at andy.higgs@grownuptravel.co. I would love to hear from you and talk Africa.

Happy travels,

Andy

The Grown-up Travel Company/Grown-up Travel Guide

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Andy Higgs
Andy Higgs

I know what it's like to go from being a crazy backpacker without a care in the world, via being a vaguely sensible parent to being an adventurer once more. In other words, evolving into a Grown-up Traveller.

Like everyone else, I love to travel, have visited a lot of countries and all that but my big thing is Africa.

I also own and run The Grown-up Travel Company as a travel designer creating personalised African itineraries for experienced adventurers

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