7 Affordable Places to Go on an African Safari

Going on a safari in Africa can be quite expensive. Airfare alone is pricey, especially for those coming from North America. The more well known parks often charge high fees and staying at one of the exquisite lodges only adds to the costs.

Still, for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, many people consider an African safari a worthy investment, and by straying slightly off the beaten track, it is possible to see the same wildlife for less. Plus, you have the added advantage that fewer people come down these roads, allowing you to see both flora and fauna in more of its natural state. Here are seven African safari options that are less eroded by tourism, and thus also more affordable.

Masai Mara Game Reserve, Kenya

Masai Mara

Known amongst locals simply as “The Mara,” this reserve is located in the southwest of Kenya and derives its name from the Maasai tribe that still lives there. The reserve is notorious for its Big Six: lions, leopards, buffalos, rhinos, elephants, and whales. You can also spot antelopes, cheetahs, giraffes, gorillas, hippos, and zebras, amongst others. Together, they inhabit the area against a backdrop spotted with trees, scrub and savanna.

There are two main ways to making a trip to Masai Mara affordable: camping, and coming off-season. Africa Home Adventure offers reasonably priced tours with accommodation in tents, ranging from as little as three days to full two weeks. A three-day Masai Mara tour, for example, costs $360 per person, including airport pick up, transport in a customized seven-seater safari vehicle with a trained guide, entrance and camping fees, full board accommodation in a spacious tent, en-suite bathrooms with toilets, hot and cold showers, a changing room, lockers, and three meals a day. A “14 Days Best of Kenya” tour, in turn, comes out to $1830 per person, with the same services offered. Moreover, Hostelling International members receive a 10% discount.

Similarly, Responsible Travel, advertises group camping tours, including the “Masai Heartlands Safari,” which will take you to Tanzania as well. Priced at £955 (ca. $1530), this 15-day excursion includes all meals while camping, transport in an overland truck and 4×4 safari vehicle, accommodation (2 nights in a hotel, and 12 nights camping). The company advises to budget an additional $120 for meals not included. You can also pay a single supplement of €120 (ca. $170).

Some Responsible Travel tours, including this one, also include a compulsory kitty system, which is a cash contribution to a central fund overseen by the travelers and crew. For this particularl trip, the kitty is priced at $765. Furthermore, booking with Responsible Travel benefits the local community; for every week that a passenger spends in Africa, the company plants a tree in Kenya through the Woodlands 2000 Trust, a local NGO.

BootsnAll’s five day Masai Mara tour offers three days of wildlife viewing starting at $1890 per person. The price includes four nights of accommodation, most meals, and private minibus transport.

If you prefer to stay at a lodge at an affordable price, consider visiting in May. Before the Great Migration from July-September, lodge prices can decrease up to 40 percent. Be aware, however, that the weather at this time can be unpredictable. Bringing a raincoat is key.

>> Search here for airfare to Kenya

Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania

Situated in southern Tanzania, the Selous Game Reserve was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982. Neither permanent human habitation nor other permanent buildings are allowed within its limits. The animals that the park is most famous for include elephants, hippopotami, African wild dogs, cape buffalos and crocodiles.

Utalii Travel and Safaris offers a 4-day budget tour for $825 per person. The tour starts and ends in Dar es Salaam, 4-5 hours drive from the Selous Game Reserve. Thus while much of the first and last day are taken up by this drive, the other two days take full advantage of the park. Day two even includes a Boat Safari on the Rufiji River, where you can spot African skimmer, Goliath Heron, and saddle-billed stork. Dinners and nights are spent at the en-suite Selous Hippo Camp. A walking excursion on day four, – as well as a 1L water bottle on each of the safaris, – is also included.

>> Find tickets to Tanzania and learn about climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

Okavango Delta, Botswana

The Okavango Delta is the biggest inland delta that the world has to offer. Surrounded by peace and quiet, you can view the wildlife typically found in wetland as well as savannah landscapes. Animals to look out for on land include tsessebe, wildebeest, kudu, sable, and Red Lechwe. In or near the water, try to spot waterbuck, hippopotamus and crocodiles.

Eyes on Africa offers a 10-day Classic Botswana safari that includes a visit to the Okavango Delta, in addition to the Victoria Falls, Moremi Game Reserve, as well as the Savuti and Chobe National Park. For 2011, this tour is priced at $1,700 per person sharing, plus a local payment of $300 (cash). This includes 9 nights camping, all entrance fees, use of camping equipment (except sleeping bags and pillows), transport in 4WD game viewing vehicle, meals as indicated on the itinerary, and a professional guide. Those wishing to stay longer can opt for the 13-day Classic tour, which comes out to $2,130 per person sharing, plus the $300 local payment. Note that neither tour includes transportation to and from Maun airport.

>> Search airfare to Botswana and plan your trip to the Okavango Delta

Okonjima Main Camp, Namibia

Staying at a family-run establishment instead of a large lodge can greatly reduce costs. Once a family farmhouse, the Okonjima Main Camp has a total of sixteen rooms, each with en-suite bathrooms. Ten of them have bush and mountain views, while the other six overlook a lush garden.

Though Okonjima means “Place of the Baboons,” the area’s wildlife includes numerous other species, from brown and spotted hyena to ground squirrels, as well as over 250 bird species. In addition, Okonjima houses The Africat Foundation, an NGO that has run the world’s most extensive cheetah and leopard rescue-and-release initiative. If you book directly through www.okonjima.com, a night at the private camping site currently comes out to N$550 (ca. $80) per person. This includes showers with hot water, flush toilets, washing-up area, sundown viewpoint, firewood, use of the swimming pool, as well as one fixed spotlight per campsite and a plug point for charging electrical devices. One additional guided activity is also included. Moreover, children under 12 only pay N$ 275 (ca. $40).

BootsnAll’s Namibia tour costs $1350 per person for a whopping 15 days and includes all ground transport, most meals, activities and sightseeing plus 14 nights of accommodation – 11 nights of camping and three in hostels. The tour visits Swakopmund, Cape Cross Seal Colony, Outjo, a Cheetah Farm and Etosha National Park in Namibia plus locations in Botswana and Zimbabwe.

>> Search airfare to Windhoek and read our Namibia travel guide

Hlane Royal National Park, Swaziland, usually combined with Mozambique

Named by King Sobhuza III, Hlane Royal National Park extends over 30,000 hectares, where lions, elephants and white rhinoceros roam freely. The terrain is flat, with ancient hardwood as the most prevalent vegetation. Those who enjoy bird watching will enjoy Africa’s highest density of nesting vultures with white backs here.

African Budget Safaris offers a “14-Day Accommodated Budget Mozambique Safari” for R12650 (ca. $1843) plus a local payment of $350, which typically covers border payments, food/drinks, and park fees. The in-depth itinerary available online moreover details which types of accommodation and meals are included on what days. Transportation is included at all times, and there are optional activities ranging from scuba diving to horse riding to fishing.

>> Search for Swaziland flights or plan your trip to Mozambique

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

At South Luangwa National Park, antelopes graze on the bushvelds, while baboons scurry past. Buffalo, too, abound, and overall, the park boasts 60 animal species, as well as 400 different kinds of birds. You can access the park in your own vehicle, in which case, it is highly recommendable you pick up a map from the Crocodile Farm situated at the entrance.

Because of its remote location, this park is visited by fewer tourists, and thus, retains much of its original landscape. However, this inaccessibility has also made visits more expensive. Jackalberry’s Safaris prides itself on providing affordable options, such as the “Luangwa Quick and Easy,” a three-day tour that, for $395 includes all activities, meals and lodgings, transfers to and from Chipata, as well as the National Park entrance. Those who enjoy a glass of wine with dinner will be happy to know that is included as well.

>> Look for hostels in Zambia or find more Zambia adventure tours

Sabi Sand Game Reserve, South Africa

The Sabi Sand Game Reserve is part of the greater Kruger National Park. As a private reserve, it is known for having high prices. The key to finding an affordable option is the season, as well as the type of accommodation. Siyabona Africa Travel, for example, offers accommodation in thatched rondavels, which is significantly cheaper than staying in the luxury or even honeymoon suites. Moreover, if booked during low season from March 1st to August 31st, 2011, prices drop to ZAR 1580 (ca. $230). This rate is per person, per night sharing and including meals, game drives, and the bush walk. Click here for the entire list of prices. If interested, you can even book Night and/or Off-Road Game Drives here.

Whether you go during night or day, you have the possibility of sighting “The Big Five,” meaning lions, leopards, rhinos, buffalos, and elephants. Moreover, the reserve is home to two rivers, the Sand and the Sabie. Together, they nurture over two hundred species of mammals, birds, reptiles and trees.

BootsnAll’s four day Kruger wildlife tour is $1450 per person and includes four game drives. The five day Kruger National Park tour is just $770 per person.

>> Find cheap flights to South Africa or plan your trip with our South Africa travel guide

Read more about wildlife safaris around the world:

Photos by: Wajahat Mahmood, BBM Explorer, randomtruth, Jon Haylett, Manogamo, Sara&Joachim, Rob Ihn00d