Africa Travel Guide |
Home Destinations in Africa

A Poor Backpackers Guides to Cheap Safaris

In many parts of Africa, safaris can be pretty expensive. Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana are all countries that charge a lot of money to go searching for animals. In Tanzania, a typical safari will run about $100 per day per person – and that’s pretty average to low end. That safari can end up biting a huge portion of your already slim budget. Are these costs justified? Sure! Huge portions of the fees go back to the government to maintain the roads, stop poaching, and help fund other education projects in the area.

But for a traveler with little money, it can sometimes be too expensive. But how often to you make it to Africa? How many times can you see actual animals in the wild? Probably not too often! You still want to take advantage of witnessing an elephant rolling in water, right? Or, better yet, watching a lion and her cubs share a fresh meal? When I was a broke backpacker living in Tanzania, I discovered some local strategies for minimizing the cost of going on a safari. I wouldn’t recommend this for someone who really needs to see animals or doesn’t know what they are doing. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend this for 95 percent of the people who go to Africa on safari. These strategies are only for confident, intrepid adventure seekers. The chance however of you seeing an animal could be close to nil. These are only strategies for the poor bums whom like myself, have no money but wouldn’t mind seeing a giraffe, or even a lion, in the wild. If you have a limited time, it’s best you pay company!

Rent Your Own Vehicle
In some countries (and you might want to check the laws before you arrive), you can bypass using a guide and rent a safari vehicle on your own. This can sometimes save you the cost of using a guide and will give you more autonomy on where you go, what you do, how long you spend looking at an animal. It’s more of a true adventure but can also be more of a pain in the ass – if the vehicle breaks down or you get lost. Also, don’t guides know how to, well, guide? Of course, they probably know many of the best spots, good camping spots, and how to make food in the bush, but lots of safaris are based on pure luck and a little preparation. That’s the great thing about it. While you’re driving around in areas known for animals, stop and ask other safari vehicles if they have seen anything. Ask them if you can follow their lead for a bit. That’s the way people communicate in the bush. Before you rent a vehicle, check out to make sure it’s well maintained. Get a good map, extra fuel, water and food.

Drive Along the Border Of A National Park
Again, with a good map, and a safari vehicle, you drive around the borders of the national parks and avoid having to pay the typical fees to drive around on the inside. Is this cheating? Hell no. It’s public land and, if there are animals, why shouldn’t you be allowed to see them? The fees to go on the inside many parks are sometimes very high, and therefore usually have the highest concentrations of animals. On the outskirts, though, many animals roam too. I have known groups that intentionally choose to do their safaris on the perimeters of the parks. It works. Sometimes they can still find huge heards of animals and have a wonderful safari experience. Other times, they drive around for hours, or days and don’t see one thing, not even a bird. It’s a gamble, sort of like a lottery ticket, you win some and you loose some, but it can be loads of fun.

Ask Locals
If you are in an area that is known to have animals and you see villages or settlements, this is where you should stop. Locals are the always the best source of information for finding animals. Although sometimes it can be difficult communicating with them, simple animals signs can make them understand, and more often than not, someone will know English or French. If not, crawl around on the ground pretending you are a lion and see what they do. Usually, they are often more than happy to show you the direction, and sometimes you can all walk their together by foot. Just be careful you don’t wander into a herd of Water Buffalo or anyplace where loads of hippos roam.

Ride A Bus or Train Through The National Parks
In some countries, local buses and trains travel through wilderness parks. Make sure you do some research in advance and grab a window seat on the bus. Better yet, sit on top of the bus, if it’s slow speed. There are some great trains in East Africa that go through parts of many wildlife parks. More often than not, this is a difficult way to have a good safari, but for some, it has been known to work.

Resident Rates
Sometimes “volunteers” in certain parts of Africa can get resident rates, if they are helping or working around the country. Usually this takes filling out a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork and proving that you actually do work there, other times it takes slipping the guy an extra 5 bucks as a “present” on the side. I have known quasi-volunteers, basically those hanging around too long in one place, to somehow manage to get resident rates. Sometimes you can get a discount if you take a local school on safari and you can qualify as a teacher.

Off Season
In the off season, when all the tourists are back home, and the massive torrential rains begin, some of the wildlife parks give major discounts for those brave souls that are willing to tackle the vicious African mud. Yes, you might get stuck and it might rain, rain, and rain some more, but then again, you might be the only person within 100 mile radius. Often the rains in Africa only last for a short time each day. Or you might get lucky and have no rain, a great experience, and only paid half the price.

Use the 24-Hour Rule

If you absolutely have to go inside a national park, check to see how long you are allowed inside. Often times there is a 24-hour rule; meaning you have 24 hours from the time you entered until the next day. Often this is a great way to do more than one safari and not have to pay the entrances fees again. Arrive at the crack of dawn the next day, and enjoy a morning safari before you must depart. Then, like I mentioned above, cruise around the outskirts of the park.