This is a guest post by Mark Wiens.
Ever dream of seeing an elephant trumpeting its trunk, a lion licking its lips, or a cheetah sprinting through the grasslands? An African safari is a thrilling chance to see wild animals going about their daily lives within their natural habitat. East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) has a huge variety of national parks that offer adventurous opportunities to see wildlife up close. Getting a safari fully arranged, deciding what game reserve to visit, and finding transportation and accommodation, takes a lot of research, planning and organization.
The East African safari generally caters to luxury tourists who have a quick vacation and decide to pre-book a packaged all-inclusive trip without thinking too much about the cost. The industry is not normally suited for long-term travelers on a tight budget, though there are some ways to save. There are several ways to save money on an African safari, but be prepared to spend a few hundred USD at the least. Of course, it all depends on your personal choices.
There are countless companies that offer safari packages for tourists who wish to sit back and not do any planning. These safari tours are very convenient and are worth the money if you don’t have the time to research or if you want to avoid potential hassles.
High-end package deals offer one price and generally cover everything from pick up to drop off (even from the airport), including food, fees, transportation and lodging. Be prepared to spend around $200 – $400 per day for a luxury package safari. They aren’t cheap!
With a package tour company, you can either join a group with a pre-made itinerary (a great option for solo travelers) or you can customize a safari package with an itinerary to your liking. (This option works best if you are already traveling with a group.)
An excellent resource for more information on safari tours is the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, which is better known as KATO, and the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators. Both organizations aim to promote and give credibility to the safari companies that maintain a high level of service and a great value to price ratio. You can find a list of companies there.
Do It Yourself Safari
It’s possible to do a safari on your own, but it’s a lot more work to do it. Here’s how you can organize your own safari:
Rent Your Own Vehicle
Nearly all game parks allow you to drive your own vehicle. This opens up opportunities for saving some money as well as allowing for more flexibility in doing exactly what you want. You can rent a vehicle and drive yourself or rent a vehicle with a full-time driver included (usually costs an extra $20 – $30 / day).
A 5-seat SUV can be rented for $75 – $200 / day depending on the type of vehicle. The company needs to know a specific itinerary that details where you plan on going, the number of passengers, and the length of time intended to rent the vehicle. (Safety reasons)
Luxury Hotels and Tented Camps
There are many lodges, hotels, and luxury camp options to choose from depending on the park you choose. Hotel rooms need to be booked a few weeks in advance, especially during peak season. Rates start at $80 USD and go up.
Kenya - If you are an adventurous traveler that loves to be close to nature and can handle the howls of animals at night, personal camping is a great option. In Kenya, the main national parks that offer camping options are Hell’s Gate National Park, Tsavo East, Mt. Kenya National Park, Lake Nakuru, Amboseli, and Aberdare National Park.
Permits are necessary and can be arranged at the Kenya Wildlife Service office in Nairobi before heading out. The cost for camping is $25 / adult per night.
Tanzania - For Tanzania camping opportunities it’s best to take a look at this accommodation list for national parks. Campsites are available at select game parks and are best booked in advance. Camping is permitted in Selous Game Reserve at two designated areas, Beho Beho Bridge and Lake Tangalala. Personal camping costs $20 / night per person and must be arranged either in Dar Es Salaam city center before going to the park, or at either Matambwe or Mtemere entry stations at Selous reserve. Alternatively, you can email the park directly for specific instructions. Prices range from $20 – $30 / person per night camping.
Things to Know
National Park Entrance Fees
Fees for national parks are charged by the day. Some of the smaller parks like Nairobi National Park (Kenya) at $40 / day, or Mikumi (Tanzania) at $30 / day are less expensive options. Other more famous parks like Maasai Mara (Kenya), Serengeti (Tanzania), or Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania), can cost upwards of $60 / day, depending on high or low season. If you are driving your own vehicle, there are separate vehicle charges as well, often at $30 – $40 per day.
The Time of the Year Matters
Dry season, June – October, is usually the best time of the year to see wildlife, however, it is also the most expensive season of the year and the busiest period. You need to decide what works best for your schedule and your money. If time is on your hands, you might want to consider going on a safari just before high season kicks in.
Good Guides Go a Long Way
Your safari guide will attempt to show you the East African BIG 5, which includes looking for lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos. However, there are many other big-ticket animals that are always amazing to see including cheetahs, hyenas, hippos, giraffes, jackals, crocodiles, and scores of antelope and gazelle.
Usually your driver will double as your guide. It’s a bit of a toss-up to find a good guide, but search around for a driver and confirm that he has a cunning eye for spotting wildlife. To do this, find an experienced driver that has an official tour guide license. You can also search KATO and TATO (mentioned above) for recommended guides that are experienced at finding wildlife. Unofficially, people from the Maasai tribe are exclusively known for their incredible animal tracking skills.
There’s always something exciting to experience on a safari in East Africa. If you can make the most of your East African safari by doing some pre-planning, you will have the adventure of your life!