An African Safari is something that nearly everyone dreams of doing someday- it’s the ultimate bucket list item. However, there seems to be a misconception that you have to be wealthy to be able to afford this once-in-a-lifetime experience, which isn’t the case.
I had planned a trip to South Africa to volunteer and cage dive with Great White Sharks, but I knew I couldn’t step foot on the African continent without including a safari in my itinerary.
I didn’t have the budget for a luxury experience, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I would be able to find affordable safari options. I searched for information for budget safaris in South Africa and ultimately ended up using one website- African Budget Safaris– which contains numerous safari options from various tour operators and companies for every budget. It’s very easy to navigate and has helpful staff who promptly answered my questions and assisted me in the booking process.
There are so many options on this site, from accommodations in tents, lodges, or even a tree-house- with an accompanying range of prices. You can also choose your preferred location from a fairly extensive list of countries including, South Africa, Kenya, Namibia, and Tanzania- to name a few.
I chose one of the least expensive options which was $552 for a 4 day Kruger and Private Reserve Camping Safari with Viva Safaris. This included transportation to and from Johannesburg, accommodations (one night in a chalet-style bungalow and two nights in a permanent tent in the bush), all meals, 4 game drives, and 2 bush walks.
The accommodations were basic, but comfortable. The lodge we stayed in the first night was a lovely property with lush vegetation, an outdoor dining area, and a pool. In-between game drives we were able to lounge by the pool or in one of the many quiet areas facing Balule Game Reserve.
The second and third nights were spent in a tent which was in a remote area, surrounded by trees and wildlife. From the main lodge, it was a 5 minute walk down a poorly lit dirt path which was covered in animal tracks. We would frequently run into impala, kudu, and oryx on our way to and from the tent. Luckily, we never came face to face with the potentially dangerous water buffalo- even though their tracks were all over the path.
At the time that we stayed, there was only one other tent occupied, so it was almost eerily quiet. We really felt like we were alone in the middle of the African bush as the sound of crickets and wildlife in the distance lulled us to sleep at night. We saw an abundance of wildlife, but unfortunately didn’t see the Big 5 as the leopards and lions somehow eluded us. Our guide was very persistent and tried everything he could to find lions in Kruger National Park, including trying to follow the sight-line of several giraffes which were standing completely still and staring in the same direction. (Pictured below)
I was disappointed that we weren’t able to see any big cats, but I was truly in awe of the amount of wildlife we did see.
Nothing else compares to the experiences you will have on a Safari- like watching in silence as a herd of elephants play and cover themselves in dirt from a mere twenty feet away, or seeing large and powerful rhinos grazing peacefully nearby, or accidentally running almost directly into a hippo while walking through the bush.
My budget safari was an awe-inspiring experience and an unforgettable trip. I have memories of watching as monkeys tried to steal our food while eating breakfast, nearly running into kudu while walking to our tent, and meeting a great group of people and chatting over dinner by the fire- all of which may not have happened had I booked a luxury resort and felt obligated to stay in my expensive room for the duration of the trip.
Don’t postpone an African Safari just because you can’t afford to stay at a luxury property. There are so many options for every budget and you can still observe African wildlife in some of the most renowned parks and reserves without spending a small fortune. Additional Tips:
- Botswana is one of the most expensive countries for a safari, so choose Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa for less expensive options
- Take advantage of the good exchange rate with the South African Rand and choose South Africa for a budget safari
- Travel during the off season. You may have to deal with cooler and rainier weather, but travelling off season will save you a great deal. (The low season in South Africa is between April and September, but these months are actually considered to be some of the best for game viewing.)
- Choose a less-popular reserve- like Timbavati Private Game Reserve- which shares an unfenced border with Kruger- but will be less crowded and less expensive
- Safari Bookings is a great source of information and has a “best time to visit” section with summaries, tips, and pros/cons for each month of the year