By all accounts safaris are a trip of a lifetime.
They are one of the most amazing types of vacations you can take. The wildlife, culture, attentive service, once in a lifetime experiences and opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone are just a few of the reasons. Add to that no cooking, cleaning or doing laundry for your entire stay. Imagine someone to start your day with a latte exactly the way you like it, to make your favorite cocktail just as the sun is setting or to bring you a blanket or a personal fire pit just as the air begins to chill.
Additional context – safaris are typically all-inclusive. Which means all meals, sundowners, alcohol (depending on the luxury level of the camp it could include premium or it might be extra), two times/day safari drives, park fees and laundry. There are a few additional items, which you will see below.
How much does it cost to go on safari?
As with most questions I am asked….
It depends. There are a lot of variables.
What does it depend on?
- Number of people
- Most often two people fit in a room. If you have three kids or teens like I do, some lodges can accommodate a third bed in a room and some can not. It’s good to know before planning which you prefer, as a third room increases the cost.
- This can have a huge impact on pricing. Depending upon the location you are interested in, and your priorities, consider the option of high season vs shoulder season. If you want to be in the Masai Mara or Serengeti during the Migration (which also coincides with summer vacation), the rates are going to be high. The weather is also going to be driest. During what is often called “green season” there will be showers, the bush will be denser and that may impact your ability to spot animals.
- Number of days on safari
- In general, at a minimum I would recommend three nights each at two lodges plus an added stop (see suggestions below). If you love wildlife and do not have restless kids with you, I would recommend three nights at three lodges plus an added pre- or post-stop.
- Lodge level
- Just like with hotels, lodges come in all shapes and sizes from basic to 4* to 5* OTT luxury.
- Some of the differences between the types include:
- Number of tents/rooms – often the smaller more exclusive lodges have just 4-10 rooms. Compared with bigger lodges that may have 30-40 rooms.
- Expert cameras and binoculars for your use
- Culinary level, premium beverages included, number of types of gin ( up to 12+), service levels
- Individual plunge pools
- Trackers out early to scout out wildlife before you depart on your game drive
- Air conditioning (important in some seasons, not in others)
- Type of room
- Entry level vs suite vs private villa
- Adding on a night in a starbed
- Helicopter vs private flight vs scheduled commercial flight vs driving
- Consider time and distance to get from one lodge to another. Sometimes a 10 minute flight replaces a 4 hour drive. Definitely worth it!
- Re: private vs scheduled flights – not all two lodges are serviced by scheduled commercial flights. If they are and the timing works, it could be a great fit. But sometimes there may be a scheduled flight and you still choose private. Why? Because you want to leave at a specific time. Or because you want the flight to have the shortest flight time and the scheduled flight makes multiple stops.
- Private vs shared safari vehicles
- If you are a group of 4+ you may get your own guide and vehicle, but it depends on the lodge. If you are a smaller party at some lodges you would be combined with another group unless you arrange ahead of time to pay a supplement for a private vehicle (typically the 5* luxury lodges will automatically give you your own vehicle/guide). This is a tradeoff. If you are in a shared vehicle and lucky, you get paired up with similar travelers. If you are not lucky, you are no longer solely able to decide to leave a little early, stay out a little late or hang out for an hour watching the lions you don’t want to leave. Note: not all lodges have the ability to privatize a vehicle for you. If interested in the details, I will explain this more when we talk.
- One guide to accompany you throughout the whole trip
- If you are someone who wants a lot of handholding, a knowledgeable guide with you as you transfer from one lodge to another, someone who can share ahead of time with your new lodge guides what you’ve already seen – then consider this option.
- Gorilla permits – $1,500/day/person (I always suggest reserving 2 days)
- Helicopter flight seeing, hot air ballooning
- At some lodges additional activities are included and at others there are extra charges for things like fishing, horseback riding, camel trekking etc.
- Depending upon your flight arrival or departure time you may want to get a “day” room in an airport hotel
One item not listed above but a big part of what your vacation dollars support – conservation and preservation of Africa’s magnificent animals. Antipoaching efforts, relocation efforts, education of local people to reduce wildlife/human conflict. These efforts are vital and will be what creates the opportunity for your children and your children’s children to be able to see African wildlife long into the future.
On top of the above expenses there are a few other extras – visas, spa treatments (note: not all lodges have full spas and at some treatments are in your room) and dining when staying outside of safari lodges – ex: arrival day in Nairobi, Johannesburg etc. Also, gratuities are typically not included, but to make this super simple I give my clients recommendations for each type of person (guide, tracker, lodge staff etc) and provide thank you notes and envelopes for each one before they go on the trip. I also always include a VIP meet and greet on international flight arrivals and departures because it’s just nice!
Lastly strongly consider adding on an additional stop – Cape Town, Winelands, Franschhoek, Zanzibar, Seychelles, Victoria Falls etc. You are already halfway across the world – you may as well take advantage of it!
Let’s put some numbers to it.
A 4* safari for a family of four in shoulder season | 9 nights total
An “adventure” style camp like Pelo is approximately $800pppn in the shoulder season (this is the lodge rate and doesn’t include transportation to get there). Rounding that up to about $1,000pppn for six nights is about $24,000.
If you add on three nights in Cape Town at an upscale 4* property, and include fun adventures like a day trip to the Cape Peninsula, hiking Table Mountain with a cable car ride down, an historic city tour learning about the history of South Africa and Apartheid and/or a day on the water – on a speedboat, kayaking or SUPing, add about $8,000 (also consider a professional soccer game or diving with great white sharks). Internal flights between the safari and Cape Town would be additional.
Given the above, you are looking at a starting price of about $35,000 for a family of four – six nights on safari, three nights in Cape Town plus international airfare.
A couples’ 5*+ safari in high season | 11 nights total
At the other end of the spectrum, let’s look at couple wanting to take a 5*+ safari during high season (but not Christmas/New Years, which may be a higher price point).
First an example of how much a rate can vary simply by the season. These are the rates for one of the best safari lodges in Africa. Mombo in Botswana.
- $2597pppn (Jan 6-Mar 31) vs (low season)
- $4891pppn (Jun 1-Oct 31) vs (high season)
- $4016pppn Christmas/New Years
The difference between high and low season is almost 2x as much. My advice – if you are flexible and do not need to go during typical school vacation times (summer, Christmas/New Years), consider other times. However, in some destinations low season often equates to a lower likelihood of seeing wildlife and I would not compromise there. You don’t want to invest all that money and miss out on the #1 reason why you are going.
Let’s look at the high side – $5,000pppn for three nights at two lodges. It’s about $60,000 for six nights.
If you add on three nights in Cape Town at the iconic Silo hotel and also include adventures like a day trip to the Cape Peninsula, hiking Table Mountain, an historic city tour learning about the history of South Africa and Apartheid and/or a day on or under the water, add about $9,000.
Then let’s plan two nights in Froenshhoeck, perhaps at La Residence, with private wine tastings, gourmet meals, world class golf, mountain biking or simply luxuriating in the spa and reading a book outdoors on a chaise lounge. Add about $5,000.
In total about $74,000.
Internal flights between your safari and Cape Town and your international flights are additional.
A typical rule of thumb is that a safari is about $1,000pppd (per person per day) for an entry level luxury lodge experience. As you can see with Mombo’s rates above, it just goes up from there. A handful of safari lodges make their way on the list of the world’s most expensive lodging every year. Those include many Singita and Belmond lodges like Singita Grumeti Sasakwa Lodge ($2900+pppn, Tanzania), Singita Lebombo Lodge ($2500+pppn, South Africa), Belmond Eagle Island Lodge ($2775+pppn, Botswana) and Belmond Savute Elephant Lodge ($2025+pppn, Botswana).
I believe everyone should go on safari at least once in their lifetime. Clearly the numbers above are not approachable for all people. These ranges are where I have expertise, but there are truly a range of accommodations out there and if the budgets above are too high for you, I strongly encourage you to do your research and find options that work for you.
If you are thinking about planning a once in a lifetime African safari, I’m happy to have a conversation to learn about your priorities and brainstorm best options for you. Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coming up soon – How do I decide which country to go to on safari?