I recently received an email raising the following question:
Is there any standard salary for an African safari guide?
I’m not an expert on the topic or a safari guide, but I have done a little research and will try to answer this question. In Tanzania the safari guide’s salary ranges anywhere from 10,000 tsh (Tanzanian Shillings – 5 USD) to 40 USD per day. It is similar in Kenya.
In South Africa the average salary for a guide may be higher, especially for guides working at the top-end lodges. For some that could be 50 USD per day or even more.
Here’s my version of the story, and I’ve tried to include some of the key variables to take into account when looking at the standard salary for safari guides.
1. Standard of Living + Cost of Living
With the majority of African people living with barely a dollar a day (or even less), salaries are often aligned to the local economy. Practically speaking, if you apply for a job in Tanzania or South Africa, the difference in pay check can be quite drastic. $1000 a month is a very good salary, anywhere in Africa.
In countries like Kenya or Tanzania for instance, it is not unusual to find game rangers making as little as $50-60 a month.
South African game rangers earn a little more. The country recently introduced a minimum wage of ZAR 20 per hour, which is around $10 per day. That’s still not very much when you consider the minimum wage in Western Europe is more like $10 per hour.
2. How Much Money are You Worth?
Salaries for all professions always vary. So the question is: how much you think you‘re worth! Are you worth $1000 per month, $2000 per month maybe? What’s the minimum amount of money you’d be ready to work for?
Or, in other words, how much work would you be happy to put into the job for the amount of money you’d like to receive? Remember that you fix the rules, as long as they feel realistic to you (and ultimately to the potential employer).
Many game rangers and guides come from small, rural communities where $50-60 a month could go a long way. Their job usually includes food, accommodation and possibly tips. So while the standard salary for a safari guide doesn’t sound particularly high, it could be worth a lot to the guide.
How qualified are you as a safari guide?
Do you know your birds and animals?
Can you even compare cheetah vs leopard?
Do you have interesting stories to tell your guests?
How about your sense of humor?
How good is your English?
These skills are highly regarded when a potential employer is skimming through your CV.
Other aspects that may boost your overall value to safari employers:
– Driving skills. Very obvious you might say, but you’d be surprised as to how many so-called “safari guides” can successfully utilize the “4 x 4” lever.
– Mechanical skills. Imagine this: you break down right in the middle of a pride of lions. What next? 🙂
– Bush navigation (and orientation) + survival skills.
– Dangerous game/rifle handling.
– Eyesight and general abilities at animal spotting/animal tracking.
– Communication and facilitation skills.
– First aid knowledge and assistance.
– Dealing with guests.
– Photographic skills and binocular usage.
Tipping is another aspect of the deal not to be neglected. In some instances, the standard salary is pretty low ($200-500 per month), but safari guides can make a substantial amount of extra cash through tipping.
If you’re a great safari guide with lots of interesting stories and jokes to tell your clients, I’m sure you can earn a decent wage.
Be charismatic. Be yourself. And the rest should follow! 🙂
How much of a tip can you expect from your guests?
The real question to ask is rather: Did I really do my best to ensure clients had a pleasant and enjoyable time? And did I adapt my objectives to guests’ needs and interests?
If the answer is yes, then you should get rewarded and rightfully so. If not, don’t despair: you’ll sure get luckier next time! 😉
5. Overall Package/Lifestyle
Lastly, think of your wage as an overall package. What are some of the advantages that you might get with the job offer at stake?
Do you get a standard salary alone, or do you get a relatively low wage + free accommodation + free food + wonderful lifestyle, get to live in and experience beautiful scenery every day, etc.?
While an offer may seem unattractive at first, by looking at the overall package it often turns out you are definitely making the right choice.
Your Safari and Your Guide
Okay, so you may not be that interested in becoming a guide. Even with living among elephants and getting free food, the standard salary for a safari guide can be off-putting if you are used to a European or US salary.
However, it’s worth remembering the standard salary when visiting Africa on safari. The guide really makes the experience so I’d encourage you to tip liberally. The guide will make your safari and you can help improve the guide’s life by leaving a good tip.