In order to answer this question (if there is a way to address it…), it can be useful to define the two types of safaris available on the market: namely “holiday camps”, and genuine/customized safaris.
“Holiday camps” are safaris where you embark on the “tourist route”. In other words, expect to be jam-packed in a 4×4 (or truck) surrounded by a noisy bunch of tourists. Changing the itinerary is no option here, as the excursion has been planned for maximum profit. This is most definitely known as the “cheaper” safari solution.
On the other hand, customized safaris follow a different approach. They are not intended for the masses, but rather for YOU. Tailor-made safaris are more private, and genuine in the sense that they are unique. There are no strings attached to it, merely a tour operator that is entirely there to guide you, satisfy your requirements and match your desires. Undoubtedly, this path is more expensive, yet it gives you the best chance of creating your dream African safari vacation.
Once you have made the distinction between the two, you are now ready to plan your trip accordingly.
Some of you might say: but Michael, is it not possible to combine the best of both tactics and concoct an experience that is both unique and cost-effective at the same time? Most certainly, although you’ll need to put a lot more research into it.
The following is a list of guidelines and factors to consider before planning your “cheap” safari!
Should you book locally or abroad?
More often than none, it is more affordable to book locally although it requires additional effort and research. If you are ready to do the work nevertheless, it can eventually save you a lot of money as it cuts out the middle man.
Hint: Ask for some quotes from local travel agents, and check whether the company has got good reviews or not. Do some reading, refer to guide books and relevant info from reliable websites (such as mine 🙂 )!
One great way of sorting out the undesirable tour operators is to look at their credentials. Check for terms such as KATO (Kenya Association of Tour Operators), TATO (Tanzania Association of Tour Operators), and ASATA (Association of South African Travel Agents).
What region of Africa are you most interested in? What are your plans?
Generally speaking, East African countries end up being cheaper than Southern African destinations. Why? In Botswana for instance, a lot of safari areas (like the Okavango) are extremely remote and require additional travel costs (flight expenses, transfers, etc.). In countries like Kenya or Tanzania however, this is not necessarily the case.
– Book early. As you probably know, prices can vary from one month to the next, and high seasons are more expensive than lower ones. Therefore, make sure you book your flight at least two months in advance in order to get the best deal.
– Fly through Europe. If you’re from the US for instance, you’ll often find that it is cheaper to buy a single ticket from America to Europe, and then to add another one from Europe to your African destination than it is to combine the two in one single ticket. This is especially valid during the off-season though.
– Ex-Colonies give you more options. As an example, if you want to travel to East Africa search for flights leaving from London. For West Africa, look for flights departing from Paris, etc.
– Regional hubs are best when possible. Once you’re in a specific country, local airlines will often be more advantageous if you wish to travel to neighbouring nations.
Inside or Outside the Park?
Extremely important point!
Facilities on the vicinity of game parks and nature reserves are usually way more attractive (cost-wise) than lodges within the park boundaries. However, the setting will not be as ideal, and the experience a whole lot different all together. No wild game (or very little), no “bush experience”, and no real disconnection from the city buzz and civilization.
In order of affordability:
– Budget camping safaris (cheapest).
– Standard lodge safaris (reasonable).
– Luxury lodge safaris (expensive).
– Fly-in safaris (most exclusive).
My advice: If money is a concern, opt for either option 1 (if you enjoy camping) or option 2 if you desire a little more comfort.
This is closely linked to bookings. Choose between:
– Self-drive safaris: you drive your own vehicle inside the park. Cheapest safari option: can cost you as little as USD 70 per person per day (all included).
– Overlanding tours: a great way to visit multiple countries over a much longer time period. Trips last between 2 weeks and 6 months, and a 1 month adventure rates as little as USD 800. Extremely fun, especially if you are young at heart, don’t mind bumpy rides and dusty roads.
– Private safaris: exclusive safaris in an exclusive surrounding.
While it is possible to find “cheaper” safari options, the whole safari experience should not be seen as a cheap commodity per se as it is an “out of ordinary” activity that involves a lot of costs; park entry costs, vehicle expenses, and expenditures linked to safety and comfort.
At the end of the day it all comes down to what you’re really looking for: if you’re tight on money you may still be able to go on safari, but if I were you I’d save a little extra to turn your “cheap safari” experience into a once in a lifetime journey worth every penny!
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