How to save money on an African safari

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When it comes to penning a bucket list, “go on an African safari” is usually one of the first things to make the cut. However, much like fellow bucket list stables “write a novel” or “climb Mount Everest”, booking such a holiday often ends up being little more than a pipe dream. With a reputation for rates spiralling well into the thousands, your average Joe could be mistaken for thinking the closest they’ll get to a safari is London Zoo.

Never fear, however. After all, where there’s a will, there’s a way. If spying on a lion chilling with his harem in the African wild is your idea of the perfect trip, there are ways to make it happen. You just need a bit of careful planning, a willingness to compromise, and a few expert hints and tips…

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Be location savvy

If you’re travelling on a budget, picking the right destination is key to keeping costs down. While the likes of Kruger in South Africa and Maasai Mara in Kenya are the most well-known names, they’re on the pricey side. Why not choose a lesser-known game reserve instead? Explore reserves such as Luangwa in Zambia, Ruaha in Tanzania or Balule in South Africa for a more affordable experience than those more famed across the continent. These reserves are just as impressive and, what’s more, considerably less crowded.

Photo credit: @catkiene_
Photo credit: @catkiene_

Travel during the low season

Looking to nab a really fantastic safari deal? Then go against the grain and book your trip during the low season (May to September). Flights are cheaper, and accommodation will be an absolute steal. Yep, expect prices on safari lodges to be up to around 30-40% cheaper than the norm. Do note that travelling during the low season will be a lot cooler and rainfall is to be expected. Also, animal spotting is perhaps a tad easier during the high season (dry weather equals less vegetation for them to play hide and seek behind). But opting for a low-season safari does have its benefits. During this period, many animals are with their young. Match this against a considerably lusher backdrop and with notably better sunsets, and you have got yourself many an awesome photo opportunity in store.

Photo credit: @karengautet
Photo credit: @karengautet

Choose a self-drive

For the adventurous among us, hiring your own vehicle will work out seriously cheaper than going on organised game drives. You’ll have the freedom of dictating your own itinerary, and can pursue your own individual interests and go at your own pace. Yep, if you want to check out that herd of elephants for 3 hours, you most certainly can without having to consider a fellow tourist jabbing you in the back with their camera, urging you to move on. To avoid missing out on the best spots, it might be worth initially staying a day or two at a lodge and befriending the local guide for advice. At the very least, ensure you have a guidebook to hand with a field guide specific to your location. Last thing you want to do is end up getting lost in the wilderness…

Photo credit: @cmetailor
Photo credit: @cmetailor

Shop around for the best-value lodge

Avoiding large, luxury establishments in favour of small, owner-operated camps is a wise move to save your pennies. With less over-heads than the mega-chain counterparts, family-run lodges are an excellent option. Seeking out a relatively new lodge within an established reserve is another brilliant way to save. They often tout special offers to attract guests to their doors.

Photo credit: @vvaneyck
Photo credit: @vvaneyck

Offer a helping hand

For a wholly different kind of safari experience, volunteering is a great way to get up close to African wildlife at a fraction of the usual price. Just don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Initiatives such as Africa Impact, BVOL and GVI offer 2 to 12-week placements spanning a variety of causes such as black rhino conversation work in South Africa or big cat wildlife research in Kenya. Immersing yourself in such activities are not only an utterly rewarding and informative experience, but also incredibly fun.

Photo credit: @axelprimmerphotography
Photo credit: @axelprimmerphotography

Go camping

Pitching a tent randomly in the middle of the Serengeti is definitely ill advised, unless you’d like to risk a lion casually dropping by in the middle of the night. However, sourcing an official campsite – complete with safety fence and all the necessary facilities – is a clever safari money saver. Check out African Budget Safaris, a highly recommended operator who touts a variety of camping options in South Africa’s largest game reserve, Kruger National Park. The prices are a lot more reasonable to bed down in a tent for the night, rather than in a cushy lodge. Alternatively, if bound for Kenya, look into Best Camping Tours & Safaris. This operator offers low-priced camping deals in the Masai Mara.

Photo credit: @oneweller
Photo credit: @oneweller

Opt for a flying visit

In order to revel in the safari experience, you don’t have to splash the cash on a fortnight-long break. Many operators offer more wallet-friendly short stays, such as Big Time Safaris’ 3- day package in the Maasai Mara, Kenya. Though a little rough and ready perhaps, it’s a good choice for those looking to spot the Big 5 on a Big Budget. Fancy just a taster to satisfy your safari curiosity? Then check out Bestday Safari’s 1- day tour in Arusha National Park, Tanzania. It’s worth noting that countries like South Africa and Kenya are on a similar time zone to the UK, so you can enjoy a short stay without the fear of hideous jet lag.

Photo credit: @linnhagberg

Make your African safari dream a reality by searching flights to South Africa, Kenya and beyond.

How to save money on an African safari was last modified: June 26th, 2019 by Aideen Shannon
Author: Aideen Shannon (12 posts)

An Irish born writer living in London with a penchant for burgers, music festivals and spontaneous adventures. Happiest when enjoyed all at once.