The big question, are safaris out of bounds for independent travellers? I just got back from an extended trip to East Africa, visiting Kenya and Ethiopia. I couldn’t help but dwell on how few backpackers there are in this part of the world. If you head to south east Asia, Australia or India then you can’t miss them, in Africa however, barring the odd intrepid attempting fearless overland routes there is hardly a banana pancake to be seen.
The big problem is the pricing. Park fees are high, lodges anywhere near the parks start around $100 per person per night and head quickly Northwards. Then there is the set-up, there is always a guide and often a driver too. Budget-ish safaris are available, but who really wants to explore Masai Mara in a crowded minibus chasing the lion sightings via the driver’s radio?
How to go on a safari on a tight budget
- Choose your country well. Safaris in South Africa and Kenya tend to be cheaper than Botswana and Zambia
- Consider a self-drive. You can pick up a 4wd and camping equipment and head out for your own adventure. In Kenya and South Africa the roads are fine and all the national parks have camp-sites with KWS rangers on site. Whilst you won’t spot all the game that a guide will point out, it is always nice being on your own, being able to travel at your own pace.
- Consider camping safaris. Several safari outfitters offer budget safaris with vehicle, driver, guide and cook. You can sit back and enjoy as camp is set and meals are prepared for you out in the African bush. Not surprisingly if you are willing to get stuck-in setting camp, then the prices can get cheaper..
- Don’t spend $1000 on that new digital SLR and zoom lens before you go. Save the money and spend a portion of it on a decent set of binoculars – essential kit!
- Likewise don’t spend $ on a new safari kit. You really don’t need it, and you will look a little silly!
- Go off season. If you really want to lord it up in those luxury lodges then head out in the rainy season. Off season prices can be had for as much as 70% less than the high season rates.
Keep things simple
The key though is to remember the essence of the word safari. Yes cotton sheets and drinking an ice cold gin and tonic in fine crystal glasses whilst you watch the hippos in the lodge pool is nice, but it isn’t really what it is all about. I’ll swap all that for sleeping out under canvas, with a camp-fire and ice cold beer after a great day’s game drive.