An African safari is a true “bucket list” adventure. It’s also a vacation that seems out of reach until you have gobs of money, or are willing to take out a second mortgage. But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Wannabe safari-goers can shave costs with some research, planning and flexibility in travel.
Here is some advice on how to start planning and stay within a budget:
1. Pick a Destination: Where do you want to go? South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana? Hop on the tourism board website devoted to your top picks to learn what each country offers. Tip: Factor in a country’s low season and high season, as prices may be more negotiable for months when crowds thin.
2. Talk, Talk, Talk: If your mother’s best friend just got back from a safari, talk to her. Collecting insight and recommendations from previous safari goers provides inspiration and helps narrow the focus. Tip: Also leverage information gleaned from online community forums centered on countries you’re considering.
3. Airfare Deals: Yes, scoring a flight deal to Africa is do-able -- within reason. To get a handle on costs, play with travel dates and major African safari gateways (such as Johannesburg, Nairobi and Kilimanjaro) on Fly.com. Also keep an eye out for Africa airfare sales on Travelzoo.Tip: Flights are generally cheapest from New York City. So consider purchasing a roundtrip ticket to NYC (or use miles!), then connecting to a roundtrip Africa flight.
4. Safari Tour Operators: Once you’ve settled on a destination (or combination of countries), email at least three or four safari tour operators. Make sure they are endorsed by the country’s tourism board. Articulate what you’d like to do and where you’d like to go. Tip: Provide a budget that’s slightly less that your actual budget. This way, operators can provide estimated costs for suggested itineraries.
5. Complete Vacations: Don’t have the time or patience to shop customized itineraries? Vacation packages that bundle airfare, accommodations and safari excursions are a quick-and-easy solution. Tip: In this week’s U.S. Top 20, there's a 10-night escorted tour package to South Africa, including safari and air, for US$2699 per person from Gate 1 Travel. This offer includes both a game drive through Kruger National Park as well as a cruise on the St. Lucia Estuary. Depart Sept. 15, 22 or 29.
6. Examine the Itinerary: When reviewing and comparing itineraries, know that fly-in safaris will increase the total vacation price -- due to the additional flight fees attached. (This is where travellers fly into a game park or game reserve, rather than drive there. Sometimes it may be unavoidable, depending on how remote the game park is.) Jeep transport can be long and bumpy -- but it will save you money, if you have the flexibility or time and a good sense of adventure. Also, don’t be afraid to suggest other camp or lodge accommodations if, based on your research, you find more economical alternatives. However, don’t be surprised if the tour operator cannot accommodate. Many have special relationships with specific camps and lodges -- and are able to secure competitive pricing because of this.
7. Remember the Extras: When itemizing your budget, be sure to factor in shots, malaria medication, necessary visas, guide tips and food/drink not included in the safari package.
8. Think Before You Skimp: An African safari is a once-and-a-lifetime journey, so think twice before trying to penny-pinch every last item on the agenda. After a long day of game drives in the bush, it’s nice to come back to comfortable accommodations -- you’ll be glad you paid a little extra for the added comfort.