Finding budget safaris in Africa – Easy to use guide

Overview of the vast Masai Mara plains, with two safari vehicles in a distance

Budget safaris in Africa do exist. You just need to know how to find them. So don’t think safari is just for people spending $800 a night on a camp. And don’t be put off by $75 a day park fees, because there are some wonderful budget gems as well.

Finding budget safaris in Africa is the challenge, because everything online points towards the fanciest tours in the most famous destinations. Remember, Africa is enormous. Wild elephants can be found in 37 different African countries. A country like Zambia has incredible national parks packed with lions and wildebeest, yet few people know about it yet.

So if you dream of an African safari and always thought it would be unaffordable, this guide will take you through different options and possibilities.

Different Options for Sourcing a Budget Safari in Africa

Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge in Tsavo West National Park, Kenya

Unfortunately you cannot expect a luxury camp in the middle of the Serengeti for a budget price. Like anything, the price you pay for service and experience increases with quality.

The secret is to find a nice middle ground, or to find experiences that remain a little off the beaten path. Not only is that cheaper, you can connect more with your wild side.

Search for an African safari and the results will all cover standard itineraries. For example, Tanzania’s Northern Circuit including the Serengeti, the Masai Mara in Kenya, the Sabi Sands and various private one-day safari reserves in South Africa.

For a stunning budget African safari you need to think a little outside the box.

Rethink your choice of destination

Do the following statements sound familiar?

“I’m not going to visit Africa again so I need to do safari in the Masai Mara” (or other famous safari destinations).

“I’m traveling through Africa so I should do my safari in the best place” (i.e. the most famous place).

Some people get so hung up on doing their safari in the most famous place, they never save enough money to make it to Africa. And everyone who visits Africa is already planning to return, even before they have left. You will be hooked, so you will get chance to safari in other places.

Yes, the Serengeti or Okavango are simply incredible. But if you’ve never seen a zebra in the wild then all of Africa’s safari destinations will be incredible.

You can enjoy budget African safari in less popular parks. Ruaha and Selous in Tanzania offer a wildlife experience that’s almost as good as the country’s most famous places, but the quality to price ratio is so much better.

Lesser-known countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe have a stunning wealth of safari options, often at less than half the price of neighbouring Botswana and Tanzania.

In order to answer this question, it can be useful to define the two types of safaris available on the market: namely “holiday camps“, and genuine/customised safaris.

Check out the different country safari guides on Africa Freak and you will find many different options. Here’s a few of them for first-time visitors:

Why are some destinations cheaper than others?

Ruaha River Lodge in Tanzania

The authorities want to increase tourism in lesser known places, so they incentivize these destinations. Park fees are cheaper, not just the entrance price but the price to spend the night.

For example, every camp in the Serengeti pays a fee for every night a visitor stays. This fee is hundreds of dollars. But in Ruaha the “camp fee” is more than five times cheaper.

In popular destinations authorities want to profit from tourism (to support other parks) and restrict visitor numbers for conservation purposes. And the easiest way to do this is to increase the price.

What region of Africa are you most interested in? What are your plans?

Generally speaking, East African countries are relatively cheaper than Southern African destinations for everyday travel. However, this does not correlate to the price of a safari. South Africa is the most expensive safari country to travel in, but it offers some of the cheapest actual safaris.

How far into the wilderness do you want to go?

Mobile camp along the Okavango river in Botswana

The further away from civilisation you travel the more it’s going to cost to get there.

A lot of safari areas in Botswana, 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. Although the destinations are far apart and the countries are big, you can travel by public transport towards a gateway town. This makes a huge difference towards getting a budget African safari.

For example, the only way to access the heart of the Okavango (the really good bit) is to fly, because there are no roads. But in Kenya you can still visit faraway places like the Samburu on public transport.

Book locally

Hippo crossing the road while on a safari in Tanzania

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.

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 Southern African Travel Agents).

Find an operator who goes where you want to go

“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 and the quality is not very high.

On the other hand, customised 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 doing the safari your way.

Let’s go back to the Serengeti vs Ruaha example from before. Book a budget African safari to the Serengeti and almost all the money will go to unavoidable national park costs. There is very little margin so operators need to cram in tourists to make a profit, or offer something more high-end.

In Ruaha the park fees are a lot less. So the safari operator can charge the same price and realise more profit, without needing to fill a vehicle. All across Africa you can find budget customised safaris, if you visit lesser-known places.

Save money on your flights

Scenic flight over the Okavango on a small bush plane

Some people agonise over saving $50 on the price of a safari, but are oblivious to the hundreds of dollars they could save on flights. Cheaper flights means more money for your budget safari in Africa.

  • Book early. As you probably know, prices can vary from one month to the next, and the high season is more expensive than the low one. Therefore, make sure you book your flight at least three 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 primarily 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 in a specific country, local airlines will often be more advantageous if you wish to travel to neighbouring nations.

Accommodation on your budget safari

Inside or outside the park?

Vital 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 altogether. No wild game (or very little), no “bush experience”, and no real disconnection from the city buzz and civilization.

The best option for a budget African safari is to use national park camping facilities. These are located inside the park, so you can enjoy the best wildlife experience, but are obviously budget, because it’s just camping. Often a camping safari in a park is cheaper than staying in a lodge outside the park, so if you forgo comfort you get more animals!

In order of affordability:

  • Budget camping safaris (cheapest).
  • Standard lodge safaris (reasonable).
  • Luxury lodge safaris (expensive).
  • Fly-in safaris (most exclusive).

Concluding Thoughts

Plains zebra drinking from a local waterhole in Hwange, Zimbabwe

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 entries, vehicle expenses, and expenditures related 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 can still go on safari. But instead of searching for a cheap safari to a famous place, you can experience a once in a lifetime journey by connecting more deeply to your wild side.

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Safari njema! 😉

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