The Cheap Safari Guide: South Africa

Last updated May 2017

A cheap safari?

Safaris are dream holidays on most people’s bucket list. And rightly so!

Who wouldn’t want to experience lions in the wild beneath the African sunset? Or a herd of elephants relaxing at a waterhole on a hot summer’s day?

But unfortunately for most people, this African safari dream never becomes reality!

An African safari must cost a fortune. Visiting safari parks which have Africa’s Big 5 animals. Staying in a private safari lodge. Plus the flight to Africa! All these surely have to make this an expense item to kick off the bucket list?

Well here’s the deal:

Sure an African safari can cost an arm and a leg, but it doesn’t have to!

In this guide I’ll show you how to get yourself a cheap safari.

From finding cheap flights to South Africa, getting around, choosing your safari lodge, to selecting the best travel dates for your budget safari experience, this easy guide will show you how.

Where to find the cheap safari?

One of the most important things to consider when planning a cheap safari, is where you do the safari! The title of this guide may give you a slight guess as to where that might be…

Yup, you guessed it! South Africa it is.

There are many reasons which make South Africa home of the cheap safaris.

South Africa is a highly popular tourist destination to start off with, not just for safaris. Because of this there are a lot more flights to and from South Africa, often resulting in better prices (see below).

South Africa also has a lot (and a high standard) of accommodation for international tourists. Again, this results in lower prices for tourists.

You might think that this means that a cheap safari in South Africa won’t be as exotic as a safari else.

Don’t.

While South Africa, might have more safari parks than other African countries, they are still nothing short of incredible! The difference is often only the price.

Flying into the safari – cheap flights to South Africa

One of the quickest and easiest ways to reduce the cost of your Africa safari is to find cheap flights.

This is one of the reasons why we recommend South Africa as your destination for a cheap safari. There are more cheap flights to and from South Africa than a more remote African country!

As this is such a critical part of your cheap safari, we’ve created a separate simple-to-follow guide for it: Cheap Flights to South Africa Guide.

To summarize: you are going to need to use a cheap flight booking tool like in our guide and usually take a flight with an additional stopover to get a cheap flight to South Africa.

That time of the year, when the jeeps are empty and the safaris are cheapest

The time of year you choose to do your safari will determine how much the safari costs.

Safaris during the South African summer holidays, December to January, are the most expensive! This is known as Peak Season.

On top of that, this also the time of year when the safari parks are the busiest. There will be a lot more guests in the safari parks, with most game viewing vehicles being full!

The more people, the less intimate the safari experience will be. With too many people the animals may be frightened! Your viewing of the animals can also often be obstructed by other guests.

South African summer is also “rather” hot. In fact for a lot of foreigners, it’s very hot!

Many tourists might find the heat uncomfortable, which is another reason why not to book your safari for summer.

High season, which consists of the hotter months of the year, is from October to April (excluding the peak season period).

Low season, which is generally from May to the end of September, is the best time to book your cheap safari!

Not only will it be cheaper during low season, but there will be far fewer people! The less people the better. After all, you want to see more animals, not more tourists.

Below is an example of the cost of an overnight stay at 3 different safari lodges during the different periods of the year:

During low season, some private safari parks often offer specials in addition to their lower rates. An example of this is a “pay 2 nights, stay 3 nights” special. This can drastically reduce the cost of your cheap South Africa safari.

To find these specials, it’s best to make use of a local tour operator (we’ll get to this further in the article, don’t worry).

Which is better for the budget safari: National Parks or Private Safari parks?

If you’ve already done some research on your safari adventure you would have realized at some point that there are two types of safari parks:

  1. State-owned parks, often called National Parks
  2. Private safari parks

I’ll get to the point right away:

National parks are going to be cheaper than private safari parks.

However, private safari parks are not always as expensive as one might think either. I’ll get to this soon.

First I’ll explain how the National Parks works:

Each day that you spend in a National Park you will need to pay a “Daily Conservation fee”. You can pretty much think of this as your entrance fee per day. This fee varies between parks, but an average would be R250 for adults and R125 for children per day.

Once you are in the National Park you are able to drive yourself around the park in your own vehicle to view the animals.

This is by far the cheapest way to experience a safari! This is especially true if you are a family or a large group.

You don’t need a 4×4 or jeep either. The road systems in the National parks are designed to be used by normal passenger vehicles such as a VW polo.

The roads are also planned to expose guests to as much of the animals as possible. There are lookout points, such as waterholes, as well as picnic spots where it is safe to leave your vehicle.

What is important to note is that you have to stick to these main roads! If you see a pride of lions go behind a bush, you are not allowed to take your rental car on a quick 4×4 mission to get a better view.

But the good news is that at all National Parks, you can also book game drives. Game drives are guided drives in an open game viewing vehicle such as a jeep or a land rover. These provide a better game viewing experience as you have a better view.

What’s more, is that these vehicles are also allowed to go off the main roads. So your driver could make sure you get to see that pride of lions which went behind the bush!

The price of these game drives depend on the National Park and what time of day you go on the game drive. Morning and sunset drives are normally slightly more expensive, but usually worth it in my opinion! At Addo National Elephant Park these currently range from R280 to R470 per person.

As National Parks are cheaper (they are even cheaper for locals who get a reduced rate), they are also a lot busier than Private Safari Parks.

As guests in National Parks have to stick to the roads, this can lead to problems when animals are spotted. This might cause a mini traffic jam. While this might not be a problem for the guests close to the animals, those at the back might not get to see the animals at all! However, hopefully the guests in front have some common courtesy and do not stay too long, allowing all visitors to get a view of the animals.

There are a lot of reasons why private safari parks are better than National Parks. The main two reasons are the number of guests and the size of the safari park itself.

As you know by now, less guests means a better game viewing experience! The intimacy you feel with nature on a private safari park cannot be matched.

Bigger isn’t always better.

A smaller safari park means more chance of seeing all the animals. Not only is the animal population denser, but the game rangers also have a better idea of where the animals might be. It would be a shame if you paid for a safari but didn’t see most of the animals you wanted to.

Please note that you don’t always see all the animals on private safari parks. They are still safari parks, and not zoos!

Now as I previously stated, private safari parks ARE more expensive than National Parks. However they are not always as expensive as one might think.

You can often include a private safari experience as part of your cheap South Africa safari.

First of all, you do not need to spend the night at a private safari park to experience a private safari. A lot of private safari parks also offer day packages where you might do one or two game drives and enjoy a meal in between. You could stay at a cheaper guest house in the area of the private safari park and then simply do one of these day excursions.

Secondly, if you are visiting in low season the prices are drastically lower! Many private safari parks also offer specials during certain parts of the low season. A popular special is 3 nights for the price of 2.

Some of the bigger private safari parks have varying levels of lodges to stay in. These range from 3 star to 5 star. What’s great for the cheap safari seeker is that all guests do the same game drives. So you can pay for cheaper 3 star accommodation, but still experience the same awesome game drives that a 5 star guest would!

The majority of private safari parks have all-inclusive rates. That means your overnight stay includes game drives, all meals, as well as drinks (this usually includes local alcoholic beverages too!).

What a lot of people do not factor in when planning a cheap safari is the cost of food and drinks.

Food and drinks at National Parks and the surrounding areas will not be cheap!

Guests who to visit National Parks often stay in guest houses in the vicinity of the National Park. These are rural areas. As there are not always a not a lot of restaurants in these areas, visitors often end up ordering dinner at their guest houses. These dinners are generally rather expensive too!

If you add up the costs of meals and drinks, you will find that visiting a private safari park in low season and making use of a “3 for the price of 2” special will come close to the cost of visiting a National Park!

My advice if you are looking for a cheap African safari:

Visit a private safari farm in low season which offers 3 star accommodation as well as special rates.

Health costs? What are you talking about?

Safari parks in Africa are either classified as “malaria free” or “malaria risk” areas.

If you are visiting a safari park which is in a malaria risk area, you will need to take malaria medication.

Don’t forget to include all the costs associated with this when planning your low cost safari.

These costs could be for doctor’s consultation fees, medication, increased travel insurance, etc.

Of course there is a simple solution:

Visit a safari park in a “malaria free” region. A very popular malaria free region in South Africa is the Eastern Cape which has multiple private safari parks as well as National Parks.

The best cheap South Africa safari tip: use local tour operators to book your safari!

South African tour operators (holiday planners / bookers), such as ourselves know where to find these great deals, especially for the private safari parks.

The best part:

It won’t cost you anything extra.

Most local tour operators earn their income from commission alone. As they are based in South Africa their expenses are relatively low and can operate off these commission levels.

International tour operators / travel agents will generally need to add a mark up to their safari packages to ensure that they are able to make a profit!

So by using a South African tour operator, you have nothing to lose, but a lot to gain!

The simplest and quickest way to find a cheap South Africa safari is to use a local tour operator.

The cheap safari guide summary

If you scrolled down here without reading the full article, shame on you!

The keys to an unforgettable cheap African safari are:

  • Do your safari in South Africa
  • Book cheap flights – Cheap Flights to South Africa Guide
  • Do a safari in low season (May to September)
  • Make use of private safari parks with specials
  • Most importantly: use South African tour operators

I hope this guide has helped you. If you have any questions feel free to contact me at info@holiday-sa.com