This is a guest post by Mark Wiens of Migrationology.
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. A lot of research and planning goes into getting a safari fully arranged, deciding what game reserve to visit, and finding transportation and accommodation.
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 well-suited to long-term travelers on a tight budget. There are several ways, though, to save money on an African safari. Just be prepared to spend at least a few hundred USD. 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 pickup 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.)
Two excellent resources for more information on safari tours are 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. 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 (this usually costs an extra $20–$30 / day).
A five-seat SUV can be rented for $75–$200 per day, depending on the type of vehicle. The company, for safety reasons, needs a specific itinerary that details where you plan on going, the number of passengers, and the length of time intended to rent the vehicle.
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 from there.
Kenya - If you’re an adventurous traveler who 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 per 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 per night per person and must be arranged either in Dar Es Salaam city center before going to the park, or at Matambwe or Mtemere entry stations at Selous reserve. Alternatively, you can email the park directly for specific instructions. Prices range from $20–$30 per person per night.
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 per day, or Mikumi (Tanzania) at $30 per day, are less expensive options. Other more famous parks like Maasai Mara (Kenya), Serengeti (Tanzania), or Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania), can cost upwards of $60 per day, depending on whether it’s high or low season. If you’re driving your own vehicle, there are separate vehicle charges as well, often at $30–$40 per day.
The Time of Year Matters
Dry season, June–October, is usually the best time of the year to see wildlife, but it’s also the most expensive and busiest time of year. You need to decide what works best for your schedule and your money. If you can, 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 — lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, and rhinos. However, there are many other big-ticket animals that are 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 can be hard 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 with 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 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’ll have the adventure of your life!