How expensive is an African safari?
Going on an African safari is a bucket list travel experience that many people dream of. And for many, dreaming never turns into planning because they think African safaris are too expensive. The most common initial question people ask is, "What will it cost to go on an African safari?" The good news is that an African safari doesn't have to be expensive. A safari can be surprisingly affordable depending on your safari destination, the time of year you travel, the number of stops on your itinerary, and your choice of accommodation.
Understanding what factors contribute to the cost of an African safari will allow you to make an informed decision about what type of African safari itinerary is best suited for your budget, interests and expectations. As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. But affordability does not always mean low quality.
How expensive is an African safari? As a rough guideline, you can realistically expect to pay anything from US$250 per person per day up to US$2,000 per person per day. It all depends on when and where you decide to go.
The cost of an East African safari
East Africa, the birthplace of traditional safari, offers some of the most spectacular open-plain game viewing opportunities in Africa, and it's the only place on the continent where you can go on an authentic gorilla and chimpanzee trekking safari. Prices are usually quoted in US dollars.
The typical price per person per night for a Kenya safari in the peak season ranges from just over US$600 for a scheduled, small-group budget safari up to US$2,550 for a private, fly-in luxury safari (2023 prices). This includes the cost of getting to your safari destination from Nairobi, national park entry fees, your game drives and perhaps a few other activities but excludes the cost of your international flights, visas and optional activities such as hot air balloon safaris over the Masai Mara and walking safaris at some camps.
The time of year you visit Kenya, your mode of transport, your choice of safari camp and the number of domestic flights between destinations will influence the cost of your safari itinerary. Another point to consider is that safaris in Kenya are priced in US dollars, making them comparatively more expensive than similar experiences in South Africa, where safaris are priced in South African rands.
Peak season in Kenya, and the busiest time of year to go on safari, is migration time — from mid-July to the end of September — when gigantic herds of wildebeest cross over from Tanzania into the Masai Mara National Reserve. If you can't afford the cost of a luxury safari camp, where a more private and exclusive game-viewing experience is guaranteed, consider travelling outside of the peak season, during the short rains from January to March and sometimes in November.
The typical price during the shoulder season ranges from around US$550 per person per night for a scheduled small-group safari to US$1,100 per person per night for a luxury fly-in safari. The parks and reserves are less crowded in the shoulder season, and the abundance of resident wildlife makes game viewing as attractive as in peak season. Here, we're looking at authentic safari experiences inside the most popular game reserves. There are cheaper options if you stay at budget-friendly camps outside the game reserves.
It's important to note that the prices we mention here are very rough guidelines based on 2023 pricing. Your destination expert at Wild Wings Safaris will talk you through how travelling outside of Kenya's peak season, choosing a private guide and personal driver over a fly-in safari and reducing the number of stops on your itinerary can help you cut costs.
As with Kenya, the cost of your safari will depend on the time of year you travel to Tanzania, how you get around (fly-in safari vs drive-in safari; private safari vs scheduled small-group safari), your choice of accommodation and the number of domestic flights you need to get from one national park or safari lodge to the next. While the park fees in Kenya are marginally lower than in Tanzania, there is not much difference in price between a Kenyan and Tanzanian safari which is also priced in US dollars.
Overall, you can expect to pay between US$450 and US$2,800 per person per night (excluding international flights), depending on the season and choice of camp.
Also, like Kenya, the wildebeest migration is a significant factor in the cost of a Tanzania safari. But unlike Kenya, where the migration peaks between July and September, the mega herds spend most of the year in Tanzania.
The wildebeest migration can be witnessed in various phases over many months, starting with the calving season from January to March in Ndutu and Southern Serengeti, rutting season from April to June in Western and Central Serengeti, followed by the dramatic river crossings from July to August in Northern Serengeti. In October and November, the herds begin moving south again.
Besides aiming for shoulder season, one way to keep costs down is the choice of accommodation. This is where the knowledge and experience of a reputable tour operator are indispensable. For some people on a tight budget, it may be worth joining a group tour and staying in some of the larger, more affordable safari lodges. Others may be willing to spend slightly more to stay at a small, more exclusive safari camp in a better location.
Another way to cut costs is to reduce the number of stops on your itinerary. Instead of rushing from one game reserve to the next, which drives up the price, linger longer in one or two places and take advantage of long stay specials or early booking discounts.
The cost of a Southern African safari
What does it cost to go on safari in Southern Africa? There are several attractive features to a Southern African safari. Excellent game-viewing opportunities aside, it's easy to combine two or three Southern African countries in one safari itinerary. Southern Africa is home to Africa's least expensive and most expensive safari destinations — South Africa and Botswana, respectively.
Overall, South Africa is the least expensive safari destination and one of the few countries in Africa where it's possible to enjoy luxury on a budget. With consistently good year-round game viewing, the time of year you go on safari in South Africa impacts less on the cost of a safari than your choice of accommodation. South African safaris are predominantly priced in the local currency (South African rand). The attractive exchange rate provides additional value for money to safari-goers who earn US Dollars, Pounds or Euros.
At the budget end of the spectrum, a scheduled, small-group safari to Kruger National Park is one of the most affordable safari options. Of course, the cost of the long-haul flight to get to South Africa has to be considered, but the attractive pricing makes up for that. For example, a typical four-day Kruger Park budget safari in 2023 costs only ZAR 15,500 per person (at the current exchange rate, that's well below US$900 for a 3-night/4-day safari). This includes return road transfers from Johannesburg, Kruger Park entrance and daily conservation fees, three nights' accommodation inside the park, breakfasts and dinners, and all game drives in an open safari vehicle with a qualified English-speaking guide.
With a safari like this, the focus is on getting the best out of the game-viewing experience and less on opulent five-star accommodation. The accommodation is somewhat basic (simple air-conditioned bungalows with two or three single beds and a small en-suite bathroom). Budget-conscious travellers can save between 5% and 10% by taking advantage of early bird specials and booking well in advance. This will keep your flight costs reasonable as well.
These budget-friendly safaris are based inside the Kruger National Park. There are even cheaper safaris available, but they are often based outside the park, which is not ideal. In the adjacent private game reserves, it's a different story. Here you will find a vast range in price, and it all boils down to the game reserve and your choice of accommodation.
The most affordable accommodation in one of the private game reserves adjacent to Kruger Park ranges from about ZAR 4,000 up to ZAR 8,000 per person per night. The price includes three meals daily, early morning and late afternoon/evening game drives, and tea and coffee. Excluded from the nightly rate at these budget-friendly lodges is transport to the safari lodge, gate entry fees, and (usually) drinks.
What does a mid-range safari cost in South Africa? Prices for mid-range safari lodges range from around ZAR 8,500 to ZAR 13,000 per person sharing per night. At the current exchange rate, that amounts to between US$500 and US$700 per person, which would be considered budget-friendly in Botswana and East Africa. This is fantastic value for money when you look at what is included in the price and how high safari lodge standards and service levels in South Africa are. Most of the lodges in this price range are luxury five-star lodges.
Of course, South Africa also boasts some of the best high-end lodges in Africa. At the higher end of the market, prices range from around ZAR 14,000 (US$750) up to ZAR 35,000 (US$2,000) per person per night. Safari goers looking for the ultimate luxury safari experience are spoilt for choice. The famous Sabi Sand Nature Reserve, renowned for its consistent leopard sightings, has an abundance of award-winning luxury safari lodges. These lodges offer opulent accommodation, fine dining, and unmatched game viewing, providing guests with the ultimate luxury safari experience.
Botswana has chosen a high revenue, low volume, low impact approach to safari tourism. There are a few affordable safari options in Botswana, but, on the whole, Botswana is known as the most expensive safari destination in Africa, with most safari camps priced between US$1,000 and US$2,500 per person per night in peak season. So if you're looking for an affordable, budget-friendly safari, South Africa is probably a better option.
In Botswana, many lodges are remote and can only be reached by light aircraft or an arduous 4x4 journey. This, of course, impacts the cost of building and running a high-end safari lodge. High running costs, high concession fees, and the need for light aircraft charter flights to get to and from many safari camps help to explain why a typical fly-in safari in Botswana costs so much.
Of course, the upshot for guests is that Botswana offers some of the most remote and exclusive African safaris without the crowds and congestion typical of the peak season in East Africa and South Africa's Kruger National Park. Other factors that affect the cost of a Botswana safari are the type of safari you book, the time of year you visit, the number of stops on your itinerary and the fact that everything is priced in US dollars.
Botswana has three seasons. Prices are at their lowest in the Green Season from December to March, when many mid-range safari camps cost between US$550 and US$600 per person sharing per night, and top-end camps cost somewhere in the region of US$850 to US$1,100 per person sharing per night. There is some heavy rainfall during this time of year, but it's also a time of beauty and abundance when most animals give birth, and the landscape transforms into a lush paradise for birdwatchers and photographers.
Shoulder Season typically runs from April to June and includes November and peak season in Botswana is from July through October. The price difference between the green season and peak season can be substantial.
If you want to safari in Botswana and you're on a budget, speak to us about how to take advantage of more competitive pricing in Botswana's green or shoulder season, how staying longer in one or two safari camps can eliminate the costly necessity of flights between destinations, and how to find out more about safari circuit special offers within one lodge group.
How expensive is a safari in Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe, like South Africa, is not purely a safari destination. Zimbabwe is perhaps best known for Victoria Falls, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the "Seven Natural Wonders of the World". Many travellers only fly in to visit Victoria Falls, as it combines well with a safari in South Africa or Botswana.
However, Zimbabwe has some of the best game reserves in Africa, and you can easily spend a week or longer on safari in Zimbabwe and see plenty of wildlife. Zimbabwe safaris are priced in US dollars.
Our 9-day best-of-Zimbabwe safari package includes two nights accommodation in Victoria Falls on a bed and breakfast basis, three nights on safari in Hwange National Park and Mana Pools, respectively, and all road and air charter transfers between destinations. The total cost is well below US$10,000 per person (not counting international flights).
Zimbabwe has many hidden gems and is one of our favourite safari destinations. The country's vast, remote wildlife regions provide an uncrowded, intimate, and unspoilt game-viewing experience. It offers some of Africa's best game-viewing and photographic opportunities on land, on foot and on water. Its people are friendly and welcoming, and it's a safe country to visit. Taking all of this into consideration, a Zimbabwe safari remains reasonably priced.
Zambia, one of Africa's most pristine safari destinations, offers some of the best walking safaris on the continent. The country's wildlife-rich game reserves are remote and uncrowded, and most safari camps in Zambia are small and exclusive. This factors into the price of a Zambia safari, making the country a relatively expensive destination.
Other factors may drive up the cost of a safari in Zambia. Domestic travel between game reserves and national parks is predominantly by air. Safaris are priced in US dollars, and as Zambia has a limited operating season (many camps close in the intense rainy season from November to May), the safari industry is not very commercial, tending to cater to discerning safari-goers looking for an intimate, off-the-grid, authentic African safari.
Four-star comfort safari camp accommodation costs around US$800 to US$900 per person per night in the low season and around US$1,000 in the high season. Accommodation in a five-star luxury safari camp costs approximately US$1,400 to US$1,500 per person sharing per night in the low season and can increase to around US$2,000 in the high season.
Our 8-Day North and South Luangwa Combo Safari offers excellent value for money at US$800 per person per night from mid-June to the end of July and US$920 in the high season from August to October (2023 rates). The price includes four nights in South Luangwa and three nights in North Luangwa, all accommodation, meals and local brand drinks, all game viewing activities (day and night game drives, bush walks and bicycle safaris), two flights (South Luangwa to North Luangwa and North Luangwa to Mfuwe Airport), passenger safety charges, landing fees, all airstrip transfers, national park fees and laundry.
If you're going on a safari in Zambia between July and September, we recommend one or two nights in Victoria Falls. A visit to Livingstone Island and a swim in Devil's Pool or Angel's Pool at the lip of the falls is a once-in-a-lifetime experience you won't forget in a hurry.
Here, the cost per person sharing per night will depend on the level of accommodation in Livingstone and optional activities such as Zambezi River cruises, helicopter flights over Victoria Falls, whitewater rafting, canoeing, bungee jumping and ziplining. Livingstone has many great accommodation options to choose from.
Other favoured game reserves in Zambia with reasonably priced safari camps (below US$1,000 per person) include the Lower Zambezi National Park and the vast Kafue National Park. But you'll need to fly in, which adds to the cost.
Namibia is huge, and the distances are vast. How expensive is a trip to Namibia? It can be an affordable Southern African safari destination depending on the time of year you travel, your mode of transport between destinations, how many stops there are on your itinerary, the level of accommodation and how remote your safari lodges are.
As is the case throughout most of Africa, when it comes to a safari, the more private, exclusive and remote your destination, the more you can expect to pay. Some remote lodges can only be reached by air, which drives up operating and maintenance expenses. These safari lodges are often involved in community upliftment and eco-tourism projects, which carry additional levies.
For those wanting to explore more of what Namibia has to offer but who don't have the budget for a private tour or fly-in safari, joining a scheduled, small-group, road-based safari that takes in the country's most iconic highlights is a great alternative. One thing to remember is that Namibia is a popular safari destination, and accommodation options are limited. Finding availability can be difficult if you don't book a year in advance.
Our 10-Day Best of Namibia Safari is a scheduled, small-group safari (maximum seven people) that includes itinerary stops at Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Damaraland and Etosha National Park. For less than US$500 per person per night, this is one of the best ways to see the highlights of Namibia on a limited budget. The tour price includes accommodation, meals, park entrance fees, excursions and game drives, transportation in a luxury air-conditioned safari vehicle, the dedicated services of a registered, experienced, English-speaking nature and safari guide and a welcome pack.
Your dream African safari start here
Wild Wings Safaris has been crafting tailor-made safaris for East and Southern Africa since 2005, and we take pride in our reputation for providing expert advice and high-quality service to our clients. Our team of travel consultants are not only destination specialists. They are also safari enthusiasts who understand what makes a safari special. They work closely with you to design a detailed itinerary that matches your interests and requirements and, of course, your budget. They will advise you on how your choice of safari destination, the time of year you want to travel, the number of stops on your itinerary, your mode of transport and your choice of accommodation all factor into the overall cost of your safari.
Of course, a higher budget gives you more options to choose from. But don't settle for only dreaming of going on an African safari because you think it's too expensive. It doesn't have to be, and with our help, we can show you how.
Quick quiz question: Which price range do you think is the most popular for African safaris: Budget-friendly, mid-range, or high-end? Let us know in the comments.
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About the author
Dianne Kokkonidis was born in Johannesburg, grew up in the Transkei and spent years exploring Europe. She returned to South Africa to live on a farm in the Outeniqua Mountains when the call of Africa got too loud to ignore. She comes from a family of storytellers, so it's no surprise she's now found her way into writing about one of the oldest stories known to mankind - the lure of Africa.