Very often people associate safaris with exorbitant prices and out of reach vacations, yet this is by no means always the case! At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you’re looking for.
If you envision a safari with luxurious rooms, satellite television, air conditioning, en-suite bathrooms, divine cuisine and your own fireplace; then of course nothing is too big, too beautiful, too luxurious…and too expensive to satisfy your wants!
If however, you’re happy with just a small bungalow (or a safari tent), common ablutions, decent food and a stunning location; there’s no reason why you can’t find affordable rates to suit your needs (and at the same time your wallet).
All Inclusive Formula
The often called “all in” formula means that everything is included in your package: from air flights (if any) to park entries, accommodation and meals. Additional costs usually involve drinks and any activities around the lodge: game drives, night drives, boat trips and guided walks! But then again, sometimes they might even be part of the deal!
Prices will vary from place to place, but to give you a general idea typical activities will range from $10-30 pp.
Often lodges will have two areas: one with bungalows/rooms and another with camp sites or tents. The second formula is by far the cheapest. Costs are habitually decent, only involving a small fee (as little as $3-5 a day) to put up your tent and for the usage of the ablutions.
The advantage of camping is that you are closer to nature than ever. Especially at night, when nocturnal animals roam by your tent, or “bizarre” sounds haunt your sleep. Most common visitors are “laughing” hyenas and common bush babies. It is not unusual either to hear lion calls coming from a distance!
I myself have had interesting experiences on various occasions. This one time, there was a huge bull elephant right outside my tent window. Very intense feeling…both exciting and TERRIFYING :)!! You could hear the animal smashing branches and crunching its food while eating…I was praying he wouldn’t play around with my tent! Luckily, as I speak I’m still alive and well ;).
I can imagine you jumping up and down on your seat as I write these sentences lol! Don’t you worry! Most facilities are fenced off, and if not are guarded by armed men (quite often Maasai people in East Africa).
The only downturn of camping is that it demands a little more organisation and effort. For instance, you have to take your own camping equipment with you (some of it may be provided at the camp itself), your own groceries (a few facilities have their own shops i.e. inside Kruger National Park; Skukuza), cook your own food (or eat at the restaurant), and drive your own car in the game area.
Talking about food. VERY IMPORTANT: be on the look out for baboons and Vervet monkeys that might come steal away some of your belongings. Make sure you do not leave anything lying around! It will be gone in an instant…
Bed and Breakfast Formula
One alternative to camping inside the park is to stay on the vicinity of the reserve. While it is not necessarily as “unique” (I’d rather stay inside the park if possible), it might be worth it especially if you have money concerns. There are usually quite a few options available, ranging from hotels to hostels and guest houses. Some hotels even have an impressive view overlooking the reserve itself, which is a great bonus (at least it gives you a nice flavour of the bush)!
My recommendation is that you take a B & B (Bed and Breakfast) formula. In other words, you get a room and a breakfast (and what a breakfast indeed…mhhhh), at a local residence and for a reasonable price (from $30 upwards per person).
Residents vs Foreigner Fees
As you can imagine, tourists are charged more than locals. In most instances the price difference is somewhat important! For instance, park entrances might be as low as $5 per person per night for a resident, and as high as $25 pppn for a foreigner.
My hint: If you’re on safari with friends that are residents, it is sometimes possible to pass the entry gate as locals and thus pay resident fees. Stay in the car and let your pals do the talk! Not always successful though!
High vs Low Season
As mentioned in the previous post, summer/dry season months are peak times for tourists and tourist attractions (except in Southern Africa where it is arguably better to visit reserves or parks in winter). Make sure you have your reservations sorted out well in advance, as places are often fully booked months beforehand. In South Africa for example, some areas of the Kruger are reserved from six months to up to a year early!
If you’re looking for more advantageous fares, be ready to plan your trip during the lower season (despite cooler weather and relatively poorer game viewing opportunities).
NB: When I say “poorer” game viewing opportunities notice that everything is relative. I’ve frequently experienced incredible sightings during the rainy season/winter months. The major concern during that time of the year has to do with higher rainfall and greater food availability for the animals.
Thus the animals tend to be more dispersed in the park. Additionally, dirt roads become impassable and some of the facilities are forced to close down!
Driving your own vehicle or renting a car for the occasion might be preferable in terms of costs. In most instances park roads are well indicated, and it is possible to buy very useful maps of the area at the entrance.
Note nonetheless that driving your private vehicle is not always possible! In places such as private game reserves and certain nature reserves, you are OBLIGED to use cars from the lodges/camp sites!