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Why are Safari Holidays so Expensive?

by Lara Behrens
15th April 2015 Safari
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Exotic wildlife, untouched wilderness, and captivating cultures… it’s safe to assume that going on an African safari holiday is on pretty much everyone’s bucket list! However for many of our Australian clients who are used to relatively cheap but luxurious holidays in Asia, it comes as a shock to learn how expensive a safari holiday can be. For those of you unfamiliar with the pricing, one night on safari can range from roughly AUD 300pp all the way up to AUD 3,500pp depending on the location and level of luxury. There is simply no avoiding the fact that a safari holiday will be among the most expensive trips you take, but we can guarantee it will also be among the most amazing.

This blog post explains the reasons safari camps have higher rates and gives our tips to get the best value for money.

The biggest reason that safari camps have high rates is precisely the reason why people want to go on safari – being in the middle of pristine bush. In general, safari areas in Africa have little to no infrastructure in place so it is expensive to build and operate a camp with even the most basic requirements such as electricity, food preparation, running water, and waste management. Once you leave the capital cities of many countries, airports become dirt airstrips only suitable for light aircraft flights and roads are often poorly maintained so getting building materials, supplies and staff to safari camps can be difficult and costly. Everything guests use and consume while at a safari camp has had to be brought in – there is no nipping down to the shop to pick up some milk if you run out! Keeping a lodge running properly takes careful logistical planning because they are so isolated and even basic food may be difficult to obtain. And let’s not forget the maintenance and fuel costs of powerful 4x4 safari vehicles used all day, every day.

Another vital but expensive aspect of the safari experience is the high numbers of staff in the camp. Safari camps have several times the number of staff as guests, and generally all of the staff live at the camp due to their remote locations so accommodation, meals, uniforms, transport, and toiletries have to be provided in addition to their salaries. Many guests many not realise that aside from the managers, guides, and waiters/barmen which they see every day, there are also many people behind the scenes taking care of the kitchen, housekeeping, laundry, building & vehicle maintenance, gardening, security, and anti-poaching patrols.

And lastly, the price of your safari includes park and conservation fees which are critical in the protection of these beautiful natural areas and their often endangered wildlife. Many camps also donate large portion of their profit to the local communities, supporting local schools, hospitals, and community projects that would not be there otherwise. As part of their conservation efforts most safari camps practice “high quality-low density” tourism, so rather than lots of guests paying lower rates they prefer to have a few guests pay higher rates which protects fragile ecosystems from mass human traffic.

So yes Africa may be expensive compared to other destinations in the world, but we know you would be hard pressed to find a traveller who didn’t believe the price of their safari was worth every penny.

There are certainly ways to keep down costs as well – below are our tips for getting a good deal on a safari holiday:

1. Look out for the Value Destinations in Africa 

 Budget conscious travellers should stick to South Africa where rates are priced in ZAR (South African Rand) as opposed to USD like most other countries. At the time of writing this post, 1 AUD equals 9 ZAR and 0.75 USD. Also South Africa has much better infrastructure so getting to safari camps is easier and cheaper, and rates are lower because most camps have access to established power grids, water systems etc. Lastly, South Africa has many other types of experiences to enjoy so you can incorporate a few expensive nights on safari into a broader holiday where you are paying normal prices to visit cities, wine regions, coastal towns, mountain ranges, and beaches.

2. Take Advantage of the Green Season 

Travel in “Green Season” when camps offer significantly discounted rates and your safari experience will be more exclusive due to lower tourist numbers. While this is the rainy season, this simply means that most days you are likely to have an afternoon thunderstorm that comes and goes. In theory, the downside of this time of year (aside from some rain) is that the grass is longer which makes finding wildlife more tricky, but the rain brings an explosion of colour, plant life, babies being born, and migrant birds which makes for a truly special safari and amazing photographs.

3. Travel with Friends

 In East Africa (Kenya & Tanzania) you generally have one driver/guide and a 4x4 safari vehicle that stays with you the entire time, so the more people in your group the less each person pays for transport, guiding, and game drives (which makes up a huge chunk of the overall safari cost). Most vehicles can fit 7 people, so convince some friends to join you on your safari holiday so you can all have a much cheaper price than if only a couple of you were travelling at one time.

4. Self Drive

In South Africa and Namibia you have the option of self driving. This is a safe option, and as well as keeping down costs you can travel at your own pace, stopping to take in the wonders whenever the mood takes you!

4. Ask the Africa Experts

Speak to our Africa experts who know of all the special offers available and will be able to recommend an itinerary which offers excellent value for money thanks to free night offers, discounted rates, or other value-adds that we have negotiated for our clients.

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