When it comes to the African safari, there has to be buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros. Rates for a five-night luxury safari – including guided wildlife drives, sunset cocktails, and tents with more puffy pillows than London’s Ritz Hotel can cost anywhere between US$5000 and US$12,000. But here is the trick- you can see all of the African species of animals that too on a nice budget. How? Here is the African safari cheap alternative.
Heading out on your own is the cheapest way to have the safari. In South Africa, it’s possible to access some parks, such as Kruger National Park, in a standard 2WD hire car thanks to well-maintained networks of roads plus a decent, if modest, array of accommodation. Real penny-pinchers can take their own food, too. While South Africa and Namibia have decent roads, road conditions in Botswana and Zambia are generally poor. This rules out regular cars, so you need to be able to handle a 4WD. In Zambia, a fully equipped 4WD with pop-up roof tent costs around $250 per day. Sadly, the major drawback of going solo is that you will not be having any guide. Experienced guides spot everything from miniature chameleons to leopard prints. There’s also the safety aspect to consider. Predicting how wild animals behave and the ‘rules’ of driving are crucial; blocking an elephant from its path, for example, will make it agitated and extremely aggressive.
The best part of flying solo is that you can keep up your speed. You don’t have to wait for anybody. You can go at your own speed, there’s no one else sharing the vehicle, and you are free to do what you want, whether it be searching for buffalo or sitting by a waterhole watching animals coming to drink. For the easiest self-drives, Namibia’s parks are recommended. The flat roads mean you can see which animals are around, and the lack of forest means fewer surprises popping out from behind bushes.
Carefully consider when to go – this is especially important for those eager to find cheaper deals. During the low (wet) season – from mid-November to the end of March – lodges, such as those in Botswana, cut rates by half. The ideal time is the beginning of the low season. It’s a lovely time to go. The grass hasn’t had time to grow up so it’s still easy to spot animals, there’s a smattering of fresh shoots coming up, and some animals drop their young around this time. Plus it never rains much more than thunder bursts. It also means lower air fares, fewer crowds and no ‘car parks’, where over 40 vehicles crowd around a lion or a herd of impala, a frequent criticism of Kruger National Park during the school holidays.