How Much Does a Safari Cost?
Safaris are expensive. In the October-December 2015 issue of Travel Africa, the standard price of a 10-day safari in Botswana is listed at £6000-8000 (US$8,500-11,000), or $850-1100 per person per day. Major international safari companies routinely quote $700-1000 per person per day for Tanzanian or Kenyan safaris.
That’s a lot of money, especially when you’re a family of 4 or 5.
We just got back from a 15-day safari through Kenya and Tanzania. We paid $470 per person per day including several internal flights and splurges like a night at Nairobi’s Giraffe Manor. Our safari, booked through Sunworld Safaris in Nairobi, was perfectly crafted and well organized from a kid/family perspective. Nothing that they were responsible for went wrong. We stayed in amazing camps and lodges and the wildlife viewing was excellent. In short, it was everything that an African safari should be.
I mentioned “major international safari companies” above. I’m not going to name names, but everywhere we went, from lodges to game drives, we saw people who had booked through those companies. They were staying the same places we were and seeing the same animals we were, yet we paid half what they did.
Why do people book through the big companies? There are several reasons. First, the companies send out really nice catalogs. Second, they make booking easy – just call the local office and charge everything to your credit card. Third, their well-known brands offer some reassurance that your vacation is going to be stress-free. And that’s fine. If you have the money and want to book quickly and easily and not worry about a thing, go for it. I have friends who have traveled with these companies and been extremely happy with the trips.
But that’s not me. I have a backpacker mentality when it comes to spending money on travel. Well, at this point in my life I’ve moved beyond staying in hostels and camp sites, but I still hate paying more than I have to. And even though I was happy with our safari, I was constantly thinking of ways that we could have done it better and less-expensively. So based on my experience on this trip, and on previous safaris in Tanzania, Botswana and Zimbabwe, here are my tips on crafting the best possible safari at the lowest price.
1) Use Frequent Flier Miles for Plane Tickets
Safaris are expensive enough without factoring in the cost of plane tickets. If you can’t find inexpensive flights, think about using miles for free tickets. And be creative on the routing – you may find that you can get relatively inexpensive tickets, in terms of miles or cash, to non-African cities like Dubai. Then simply purchase cheap direct flights from there to your African destination.
2) Book the Safari Locally
Per my introduction above, local African companies can price safari itineraries far below the international companies. We were extremely happy with Sunworld Safaris and its Tanzanian division 4×4 Adventures, but there are numerous local companies. TripAdvisor is a good place to start:
- For TripAdvisor’s list of Tanzanian safari outfitters, click here and then click on Safaris.
- For TripAdvisor’s list of Kenyan safari outfitters, click here and then click on Safaris.
As with everything on TripAdvisor, don’t just go by the ranking, read the reviews, and take into account that some 1-star and 5-star reviews are fake.
I can personally vouch for Sunworld, but shop around and check out different itineraries and prices. And if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Look for an established company with its own fleet of vehicles and permanently-employed drivers/guides – important since smaller companies have been known to take drivers off the street. Also check to see whether it’s a member of a reputable tourism organization like the Kenya Association of Tour Operators.
3) Go During Off-Season or Shoulder Season
Most destinations in the world have peak seasons (expensive), off-seasons (less expensive) and shoulder seasons (in between). Africa’s no exception. However, you need to be aware of the trade-offs. If you find a great off-season rate at a specific place, find out why it’s the off season. It could be because it’s the rainy season. It could be because there are fewer animals around then. The trade-off may be worth it to you, or it may change the trip enough that it’s not worth going then, even at the lower rate.
Weather: Most people avoid March-May – it’s too rainy. Lodges shut down, the photography isn’t great and it can be harder to find animals since they have water everywhere and don’t need to travel to watering holes. But it’s worth looking at very early March or June when you could find good weather and shoulder season prices (of course there’s no way to predict weather).
Migration: The annual migration of 1.25 million wildebeest along with zebras and gazelles is generally in Kenya (Maasai Mara) July through October and in Tanzania (Serengeti) the rest of the year. We found the migration in and around Lake Ndutu at the end of February. Anywhere that the migration is passing through is going to be peak season – but it’s also amazing to see.
It’s difficult to generalize on peak / off-peak seasons, since every park is unique. If you know roughly when you want to visit and what animals you want to see, contact a local safari operator and ask about your best options.
4) Take the Right Number of People
The largest expenses on safaris are a dedicated car/driver and lodging.
The Land Cruisers that are used by most safari companies have room for eight passengers. Different lodges/camps throughout Kenya and Tanzania have rooms that sleep 2, 3, 4 or 5 people.
So think about joining up with friends to fill up those spaces. Having eight people in a Land Cruiser would be crowded and you would have to get along well, but you would save money. And then book the appropriate lodges based on how many people you’ll have. We traveled with five people, which dictated some of our camps – the ones with family tents or connecting tents/rooms. If you have a group of eight and find lodges with rooms for four, you’ll maximize all efficiencies and reduce your costs accordingly.
5) Stay in One Country
By combining Kenya and Tanzania we increased the cost of our safari. Not only did we need visas for both countries ($50 each in Kenya, $100 each in Tanzania), we also needed several local flights to move around. There were undoubtedly amazing things to see in each country, but we easily could have come up with either Kenya-only or Tanzania-only itineraries that would have allowed us to see almost as much at a lower cost. Sunworld sent me a 10-day Kenya-only itinerary for under $11,000 for a family of four, or $1,100 a day. I know families that spend more than that for a day at Disneyland, factoring in hotel, food and tickets. But it’s better than Disneyland, because you’re in Africa!
6) Go for the Right Length of Time
As long as we were traveling all the way from California (20+ hours each way), we did the longest safari we could fit into two weeks and three weekends. That was a mistake. Our kids were getting tired of game drives after nine days or so – they had already seen a lot of animals and spent a lot of time in the car and they would have been perfectly happy to return home at that point. So more isn’t always better. Look for a 10-day safari, but make sure it’s 10 days on the ground. Some safari companies advertise 10-day safaris, but they consider days 1 and 10 to be travel days to and from your home, so really they’re only 8-day safaris.
7) End with Beach Time
We had a dedicated car and driver for all 15 days, which added up. In retrospect it would have been better to have roughly 10 days of safaris, end with a couple of days at the beach in Mombasa (Kenya), Zanzibar (Tanzania) or elsewhere, and get home a couple of days earlier. As we wouldn’t have needed a car/driver at the beach, our only real expense would have been a beach resort/lodge – an easy way to extend the vacation for not much more money.
8) Take the Kids!
Ok, this isn’t a money-saver, but kids under 12 cost a lot less than adults so there’s no reason to leave them at home. Sunworld’s 10-day Kenya itinerary prices kids as low as $209/day. And some places we stayed, like Giraffe Manor, are free for kids (with paying parents).
Have you gone on an African safari? How did you bring down the costs? What am I leaving out?
Note: Thank you to Sunworld Safaris for patiently answering all of my questions for weeks about ways to reduce the cost of safaris! I have no connection to Sunworld at all, but it’s a great company and we enjoyed our safari with them.