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The boom in tourism to Southern Africa has led to increasing numbers of visitors from overseas looking for budget safaris in South Africa, Namibia and the neighbouring countries. At the same time more and more budget safaris becoming available, and this has now brought wildlife viewing in Africa within the budgets of many more visitors to the region.
In order to get the most from your safari budget there are a number of number of key points to keep in mind.
Go In The Low Season
Go in the low season if you are looking to get the best game viewing at a budget rate in South Africa – prices at most safari lodges are up to 30%-40% cheaper over this period and this is also arguably the best time of year for game viewing in the Kruger area (animals are more reliant on rivers and waterholes as it is the dry season, and therefore easier to find...they are also easier to see as the vegetation is not as thick).
Low season is May to September, however you should keep in mind that whilst this is the best time for animals and weather in the northern regions, it is the cooler / wetter winter period in Cape Town and along the Garden Route.
Find A Good Inexpensive Safari Lodge
Staying at a lodge will give you a better chance of seeing big game at close quarters than you will have on a self-drive safari, therefore it is recommended that you stay a night or two at an inexpensive safari lodge if you can afford it.
If you stay a couple of nights at a safari lodge, you will be taken out by an experienced guide and tracker who will be able to identify and explain the animals and can drive off the road network to get closer to some animals than is usually possible on a self-drive safari. The guides are also in radio contact with other vehicles to help find elusive species such as leopard which are very difficult to track down independently.
The quality of food, lodges, guides, and wildlife can vary greatly amongst less expensive lodges, and you should always take care to get independent advice from a good safari specialist or a travel forum.
Nothing is guaranteed, but with some lodges in the Kruger area coming in at around £80/$150 per person per day in the low season (including accommodation, and 3 meals, 2 games drives, and a guided walk each day) it is a very attractive option for the serious wildlife enthusiast on a budget.
Low Season Special Offers At Safari Lodge
For people looking for a serious bargain on a safari lodge and Cape Town holiday, keep an eye out for special offers where a discounted stay at a safari lodge also entitles guests to free accommodation at a Cape Town hotel or elsewhere. These are generally only available from the more expensive lodges in the low season (May - September) but do offer exceptional value.
Be Careful About Very Small Private Game Reserves
There are a number of places with only 1,000 - 2,000 hectares of land that position themselves as private game reserves - be aware that this is not enough land for them to have a decent amount of wildlife living in a natural environment, and unless they do their game drives on a much larger property visitors may well feel disappointed in the experience.
Generally speaking visitors should look for a minimum of around 5,000-7,000 hectares, but the larger the better (Kruger is 2.2 million hectares!)
Drive Yourself In A National Or Regional Park
This is definitely the least expensive option and the freedom of driving yourself around one of Africa’s great reserves such as Kruger, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi, or Etosha is intoxicating and highly recommended if you have the time.
Having said this, it is important to be realistic about what you might see on a self drive safari - you will be restricted to the road network, have to find the animals yourself, and also have to identify the species and their behaviours for yourself - if animals are 200 meters away from the road and you are not sure what they are because you cannot see them clearly this can be very frustrating!
Self-drive can be great fun, and is certainly less expensive than staying at a lodge, however many budget-conscious travellers will spend a night or two in a relatively inexpensive lodge before venturing out on their own.
Finally, remember the golden rule: if something looks too good to be true it probably is! If a safari lodge or self-drive camp looks very inexpensive compared to the competition try and find out why this is. It may be that it is new and they are aiming to attract business, they may be running a fabulous special offer, or they may have simply done away with some of the luxuries offered by more expensive lodges, but it is also possible that they may be in a poor area for game viewing, have access to too little land, have run-down rooms or a poor reputation for food and service.You can research these facts online, and any reputable specialist safari company should also be able to give you honest, impartial advice.
Enjoy your safari!