Can safaris be done on a budget? After experiencing more than 30 safaris across various destinations in Africa, I believe I have the answer.
Dreaming of an unforgettable safari experience but worried about the costs? Don’t fret! Planning a trip to Africa is often associated with luxury, but I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to embark on an exhilarating safari adventure without breaking the bank. With over 30 safari trips under my belt across 10 African countries, I’ve learned a thing or two about making the most of a budget. In this article, I’ll share my firsthand tips and tricks on how to experience the beauty of Africa’s wildlife without draining your wallet. Get ready for an epic adventure that won’t break the bank!
Select the right country to visit:
Selecting the right country for your safari adventure is crucial when considering your budget. Not all safari destinations are created equal when it comes to cost. While some experiences may require a hefty investment, there are options available that won’t break the bank.
Countries like Botswana and Rwanda are known for their luxurious and expensive safari experiences. On the other hand, countries with higher tourism and more options tend to offer more affordable prices for equally fantastic safari adventures.
If you’re looking for budget-friendly safari destinations, consider exploring:
- South Africa
These countries have a well-developed safari infrastructure, offering a range of packages to suit various budgets. By choosing the right destination, you can have an incredible safari experience without stretching your finances.
Choose affordable national parks
While Masai Mara is undoubtedly the top national park in Kenya, it’s important to note that it is also one of the most expensive safari destinations in the world. Traveling for a safari in Kenya or South Africa doesn’t mean your budget will have no limits. It means you’ll need to do thorough research to save some money.
But don’t worry, these countries offer excellent safari experiences in other national parks at a fraction of the cost. While it may not be as spectacular as witnessing the wildebeest migration in Masai Mara, I can assure you that it will still be a worthwhile experience.
Here are three affordable national parks that I highly recommend for your next safari:
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania:
Located in northern Tanzania, Tarangire National Park is renowned for its large elephant herds, iconic baobab trees, and diverse birdlife. It provides more affordable safari options compared to its neighboring Serengeti. You can find camping sites and budget-friendly lodges both within and outside the park boundaries.
Etosha National Park, Namibia:
Etosha National Park is famous for its expansive salt pans and abundant wildlife. With a range of affordable accommodation options available, including campsites and self-catering lodges, you can explore the park at your own pace and enjoy incredible game viewing at the waterholes.
Amboseli National Park, Kenya:
Amboseli National Park is another fantastic option for an affordable safari experience. Known for its iconic views of Mount Kilimanjaro, Amboseli offers stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and cultural interactions with the local Maasai community. The park is particularly renowned for its large herds of elephants, as well as other wildlife species like lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, and various bird species.
Here are some budget tours from SafariBookings in Namibia:
Travel during the Shoulder Seasons:
To not only avoid the crowds but also save some money, consider traveling during the shoulder seasons. These are the months before and after the peak tourist season, and they offer unique advantages for photographers and safari enthusiasts. While perfect conditions may not be guaranteed every day, they are highly likely to occur during these periods.
During the shoulder seasons, prices can drop as much as 50% compared to the high season. In my experience, this is the best way to maximize your savings when planning a safari trip. Here are the shoulder seasons for some of the key safari destinations:
Masai Mara National Reserve:
- Shoulder Season 1: March to May
- Shoulder Season 2: October to November
Serengeti National Park:
- Shoulder Season 1: March to May
- Shoulder Season 2: November
Kruger National Park:
- Shoulder Season 1: April to May
- Shoulder Season 2: September to October
By visiting these parks during the shoulder seasons, you can enjoy lower prices, fewer crowds, and still have the opportunity to witness incredible wildlife sightings and capture stunning photographs.
Here are some budget tours from Safari Bookings in Kenya
Join a safari group (but not a safari bus)
It’s evident that traveling in a group can help you have a safari experience on a budget. This is a common realization for many travelers. However, I want to emphasize the significant difference between traveling on a tour and traveling in a small group.
Tour companies like G-Adventures or Intrepid may offer attractive deals at first glance, and they certainly do provide value. However, when I crunched the numbers and compared the costs of traveling with a larger tour group (15+ people) versus a small group of just three other travelers, the difference was minimal.
While traveling with these companies may offer the cheapest available cost, I believe that a more memorable experience can be achieved by finding two or three like-minded individuals to join you and opting for a private vehicle for your safari.
So, where can you find people to join your group? Personally, I prefer traveling in small groups and often rely on hostel meetings, Facebook groups, and travel forums to connect with new travel buddies who are interested in joining me on my adventures. For safari trips, I often reach out to friends, but I also find the Facebook Group “Backpacking East Africa” to be a valuable resource for finding potential travel companions.
Understand your fix and variable costs
When planning a safari on a budget, it’s important to consider both fixed and variable costs. While certain expenses like flight tickets, visas, and entry fees to national parks are beyond your control, there are other aspects that you can adapt to fit your budget.
Variable costs such as accommodation, vehicle type, and itinerary play a significant role in planning an affordable safari. Accommodation options can vary greatly, and there can be a substantial difference between staying inside a national park versus outside. Additionally, some national parks like Etosha National Park offer public camping sites or private hotels, providing options for different budgets.
By opting for camping, you can significantly reduce your accommodation costs, often by more than 50%. Additionally, in popular destinations like Masai Mara, choosing to stay at guesthouses located near the park entrance instead of inside the park can save you up to 100 EUR.
Being flexible with your accommodation choices and exploring alternative options can help you stretch your budget while still enjoying a rewarding safari experience. It’s all about finding the right balance between cost-saving measures and making the most of your adventure.
Where should I not be cheap: I cannot stress enough how crucial it is to travel in a dedicated safari vehicle. It is a fundamental aspect of any safari I undertake, and I can confidently tell you that opting for a small van or a vehicle not specifically designed for safaris will only result in frustration due to the lack of comfort and limited visibility.
Where should I not skimp on expenses? While it may be tempting to save money by choosing a cheaper vehicle, I strongly advise against it. The diminished comfort and compromised views will outweigh any potential savings. Investing in a quality safari vehicle will enhance your overall experience and ensure that you can fully appreciate the wonders of the wildlife and surroundings during your safari.
What about Self-Drive Safaris?
Many blogs are advocating for the cost-saving benefits of self-driving safaris, but I fail to grasp the logic behind it. While self-drive safaris can be more adventurous and enjoyable for experienced independent travelers, I believe it is one of the least favorable choices for someone who is new to safaris.
For first-time safari-goers, embarking on a self-drive safari can lead to numerous challenges and drawbacks. Without prior knowledge of animal sighting locations and timings, you may find yourself more focused on navigating the roads rather than spotting wildlife. Additionally, you may need to acquire additional insurances and pay entry fees to drive within certain areas. Overall, I see more negatives than positives when it comes to self-driving safaris for beginners.
Even in self-drive-friendly destinations like Etosha National Park, I personally prefer entering the park with my own vehicle and then hiring a driver for a more personalized experience. By dividing the cost among fellow travelers (usually a group of four), the expense becomes quite reasonable. Having a knowledgeable guide accompanying you provides valuable insights about the species you encounter, and you can fully immerse yourself in the experience without worrying about flat tires or running out of fuel.
A budget safari on a nutshell
- 30-70 EUR per night per double room
- 10-20 EUR per night for camping (camping equipment needed)
- Entry Permits: fix costs depending on the national park you want to visit
- Safari vehicle:
- 30-50 EUR per day if you rent the vehicle inside the national park.
- 100-150 EUR per day if you need a transfer longer than 2 hours.
- Food: 10-15 EUR per day
- Budget safari tour for 2 people (3D/2N) in Amboseli National Park: 500 EUR
- Budget safari tour for 2 people (3D/2N) in Etosha National Park: 400 EUR
My top 3 recommendations for a budget safari in Africa:
- Etosha National Park in Namibia
- Amboseli National Park in Kenya
- Kruger National Park in South Africa
Read more: How to plan your first safari trip
You can visit comparing platforms like SafariBookings and find the tour you need on your budget