What can be more exciting than a peek into the nature’s wildest moments? No human structure is more marvelous than the nature’s composition and the reason why Safaris that let you sneak into the wilderness have gone so popular and expensive too. Never equate cost with better facilities. It isn’t necessarily so.
Guided wildlife drives, sunset cocktails, and tents in a five-star luxury safari can cost anywhere between US$5000 and US$12,000. Contrary to belief there are cheaper alternatives to the luxury packages, especially for the more adventurous travellers.
South Africa’s lodges are open year-round, and while the peak December-January season is when local people take their holidays, the weather is cooler and the animal sightings better during the quieter, cheaper, May-July winter months.
What makes a Safari costly?
A number of factors can increase the cost of safaris, and you may think some of them are worth paying for and some not. For example-
- Luxury accommodation- Stuff like massages and “a la carte dining”, swimming pools.
- Size of camp- regardless of the luxury level of each individual room, smaller camps (e.g. 6 room tented camps) are more expensive per guest to run, so will be more expensive.
- Remoteness of location- farther afield a camp in a remote location is more expensive to run. On the plus side, you might get a very exclusive experience.
- Number of guests in vehicles- some safaris (especially group tours) will pack people into vehicles but will be cheaper
- Fly in or drive- with this you just need to pick what’s appropriate for your itinerary depending on distances.
How to minimize the costs
- Go off-season
Carefully consider when to go. During the low season – from mid- November to the end of March – lodges, such as those in Botswana, cut rates by half. The ideal time is the beginning of the low season. It’s a lovely time to go. The grass hasn’t had time to grow up so it’s still easy to spot animals, there’s a splash of fresh shoots coming up, and some animals welcome their young around this time. Plus it never rains much more than thunder bursts
- Take smaller lodges
Staying in small, owner-operated lodges rather than the more opulent properties of high-end corporate safari companies can be good budget savers. Owner-run camps are less well marketed but they don’t have the high overheads of the big chains and can be more flexible
- Option of joining a group
Well-run group tours for six to eight clients can reduce costs dramatically for single people or couples
- Choose lesser-known reserves
Game reserves such as Timbavati or Madikwe in South Africa, North Luangwa in Zambia, Lake Nukuru or Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, are well-known locally but less visited by international tourists, so their lodges and camps usually offer better deals.
- Stay at new lodges in established reserves
Newly opened lodges in established reserves can be markedly cheaper since new camps still need to attract guests and establish their reputations.
- Opt for a national park
When most Africans go on safari they stay in camp sites and bungalows run by the state-funded national parks that maintain the reserves. This way you can save on a lot by staying in cottages such as the ones in Kenya.
- Go it alone
There’s no better way than to drive your-self in those woods, especially those with an adventurous heart and an eye for the road. Self-drives save on air transfers and are easy to do in Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, where roads are good, park fees low and facilities at government lodges and camp sites excellent.
- Look for weaker currencies
With its deserts, savannah and rugged coastline, Namibia is rich in natural beauty, but since it pegs its currency to the weak South African rand as opposed to the dollar, it can offer rich savings, too.
- Stick to one country. Rather you can visit other parks in that country that offer something different, like in terms of scenery. Visiting lots of parks is not essential- if all you want to see is animals, a lion in one park looks much the same as a lion in another park.
- Volunteer options
Volunteer options are an excellent alternative to experience wildlife in. African Impact ( africanimpact.com) offers 65 short-term volunteering projects in 10 destinations around Africa. Projects generally run between two and four weeks. The organisation’s animal welfare projects range from elephant conservation (Namibia) and lion rehabilitation projects (Zambia) to community based projects ( Kenya).