6 insider secrets for safaris that won’t break the bank
Seeing the Big 5 doesn’t have to cost five figures.
The average cost of an African safari is $800 to $1,000 a night — a price that’s far out of reach for more travelers. But with a little planning and some knowledge of the industry, you can find incredible deals.
Travel with a group
There are fantastic lodges and private homes that offer lower rates if you book for six or more adults, says Tessa van der Walt, a senior consultant at Jacada Travel. It also pays to book a safari through a dedicated tour company, which can save anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. “Tour operators have significant purchasing power with airlines, hotels and restaurants, and by going in a group, you spread lots of costs across a group of people instead of absorbing all the costs yourself,” says Greg Geronemus, the co-CEO of smarTours.
Or try one of the low priced tour options like Geckos Adventures, which offers three safari packages for travelers between the ages of 18 – 29. The East Africa safari, which includes luxury amenities such as a chef, takes travelers through East Africa’s most iconic game reserves, and costs $2,250 per person for 12 days — or $187.50 a night. The downside: You’ll travel on a truck with 21 other people.
Know where to go
“Focus on Safari destinations that are not necessarily in vogue,” says Darren Humphreys, the owner of TravelSommelier and a member of Safari Professionals. He notes that lodges in the eastern cape of South Africa, such as the Kwandwe Private Game Reserve, offer the same wildlife experiences at $680 a night during the low season, as opposed to Singita Sabi Sands’ year-round rate of $1,700 per night.
That rate too high? Van der Walt adds that in DR Congo, gorilla permits are $400, as opposed to $600 in Uganda and $1500 in Rwanda — leading to lower prices for travelers. Two days trekking in the Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda costs an average of $6,000 per couple, as opposed to $1600 per couple in the DR Congo’s Virunga National Park. That’s $400 a night per person.
Time it right
If you travel during the low season, you can get rates 25 – 40% below peak prices. In southern Africa, the low seasons are summer and fall, which run from November through June. “The months between November and March can be very hot and humid, but May and June are quite pleasant and not as wet,” says van der Walt. “Traveling during the first part of the year also gives visitors the opportunity to see many newborn animals, particularly in January and February.” Van der Walt recommends planning your trip at least a year in advance because the more affordable lodges get booked first.
Look for bundled packages
Many safari lodges are owned by larger parent companies that will sweeten your itinerary by including free nights and transfers if you stay at more than one of their properties, says Humphreys. And if you’re a honeymooner, you can find lodges that offer a 50% bridal discount (or spouse discount for same sex couples), says Van der Wert. These include the Dulini and Chitwa Chitwa private game reserves.
Stay in tents
One way to avoid paying for service you don’t need at a five star lodge is by staying in tents on a mobile camping safari, says Humphreys. Operators like Wilderness Safaris offer trips with comfortable tented accommodations, and for millennials, Geckos Adventures, which has overland treks through Botswana, Victoria Falls and Kruger National Park, is a budget bet with some accommodations under $200 a night.
Stay for a long time
“Camps, from the most affordable to the most luxurious, will reward guests who spend more time,” van der Walt notes. Many lodges, she notes, will offer 10% off per person for periods of six nights or more.
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