A Big 5 Southern African Safari – Can It Be Done on a Budget?

Ok, so you want to go on an African Safari to see the big-five animals, to experience the fresh air of the African bush, you want to sit by the fire at night and listen to the hyenas and bush babies and then wake up to the singing of songbirds and the roaring of lions.

But this is going to cost the earth, not so? Not necessarily – an African safari can be done on a budget and here we will share some of our budget safari tips that can take you to the places you want to visit.

Book out of Season

Please note that there is a ‘low season’ in Southern Africa where rates could be reduced by about 30 to 40 percent. The low season varies from country to country so if you intend visiting a private safari lodge please inquire about their low season rates.

The Kruger Park has discounted fees for out of season, which is normally the first two weeks of December, and the Kgalagadi has seasonal discounts between 10 Jan – 15 March and between 1 November – 15 December. Please do check the SANParks website for these seasonal specials. They also have discounted rates on their wilderness trails – the discount is greater the more people you book for. (Each trail takes a maximum of eight people).

Etosha have discount rates for regular visitors, so if you are a returning visitor ask for the discounted rate when making your booking with NWR (Namibia Wildlife Resorts).

Pilanesberg will have out of season and midweek discounted rates – ask when making your booking with the different lodges.


Check the internet for cheap flights because it works out cheaper to buy your ticket online, but shop around first don’t just buy the first thing you see.

If you have frequent flyer miles use these to get to South Africa and once you arrive in South Africa you have a choice of flying locally on a few cheap airlines such as Kulula, One-Time and Mango. These airlines do not provide free food and drink on board but they do sell snacks and drinks.

Self Drive vs. Guided Safari

The expensive private lodges cater for the wealthy tourist and they drive you to animals that have been tracked. We don’t enjoy this as they will ask you what animal you want to see and if your answer is ‘lion’ they will radio the tracker to find out where one is and then drive you to it. There is little anticipation or excitement when this is done – it’s almost like going to a zoo without the cages!

We prefer to go on self-drive safaris as they are much cheaper, we have more freedom with our daily movements and there is simply no beating the thrill of driving along a road and stumbling upon a leopard stalking an impala and then staying with the leopard as long as you want to! So self drive means exactly that, you are the driver, planner and the game spotter in your very own vehicle. If you are the adventurous type and want to explore Southern Africa self drive is for you.

If you are an international visitor ‘self drive’ means hiring a vehicle but just shop around on the internet and get the best price – there are at least seven car hire companies in South Africa. You can also get advice from the SANParks forum on the most reliable car hire companies – check under ‘auto rental advice’.

In the Kruger, Kgalagadi, Pilanesberg and Etosha you need only a 2wd vehicle, which is sufficient for the tar and gravel roads but you may need a 4×4 if you plan to book a 4×4 trail in the Kruger or Botswana or want to stay at dune camps in the Kalahari like Bitterpan and Gharagab.

Conservation Fees

All the parks charge a daily conservation fee but SANParks have a Wild Card that is valid for one year and covers all entry fees to any of their parks, including the Kruger and Kgalagadi. The cost of the Wild Card is equivalent to about a week’s entrance fees so if you will be staying for more than six or seven nights in one of the SANParks in the next 12 months then buying a Wild Card is much cheaper than paying your conservation fees at the gate and it not only saves you money but time as you don’t have to spend time in the queues! (Etosha and Pilanesberg do not fall under SANParks).


Accommodation will vary from park to park but generally you can choose from camping, bungalows, chalets, rondavels, safari tents or huts. I know, you are thinking ‘tents and huts, these must be nasty because they are cheap!” In the Southern African parks ‘cheap’ does not automatically equal nasty! Most of the accommodation has en-suite bathrooms, kitchens and air-conditioners! If you choose the cheaper end then your unit will have communal bathrooms and kitchens – there is something for every budget.

All bedding and towels are provided and all units are serviced every day. If your unit has a kitchen it will then have crockery and cutlery with a hot plate. In the Kruger, Kgalagadi and Pilanesberg all the units have a braai (barbeque) but in Etosha only certain units have a braai – just confirm when you make your Etosha booking.

Eat like a King

The restaurants in Etosha and Pilanesberg have good food and service but can get expensive while the restaurants in the Kruger and Kgalagadi are simply not value for money in our opinion.

To save money shop before you get to the parks – there are supermarkets like Pick n’ Pay, Woolworths, or Spar in South Africa and Namibia that have all the food stuff you will need. We purchase most of our food and wine a few days before leaving or on the way to the parks and when we arrive we buy the bulky stuff like charcoal and water. For breakfast we normally have coffee and rusks on the game drive and then bacon and eggs at one of the picnic sites. For lunch we have a quick sandwich at the bungalow and for dinner a lovely braai with chicken kebabs or boerewors, salads and a good glass of wine.

So even though your safari may be ‘budget’ you certainly don’t have to ‘rough-it’!

Source by Mario Fazekas

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