What's Your Budget?
When setting a budget, consider how much you want to spend and keep in mind three things: your flight, the actual safari costs, and extras. You can have a low-budget self-catering trip in one of South Africa's national parks or spend a great deal of money in one of the small, pampering, exclusive camps in Botswana. Almost every market has high-priced options as well as some economical ones.
The most popular option is to book with a tour operator and stay in private lodges, which are owned and run by an individual or company rather than a government or country. Prices at these lodges include all meals and, in many cases, alcoholic beverages, as well as two three- to five-hour-long game-viewing expeditions a day. Occasionally high-end lodges offer extra services such as spa treatments, boat trips, or special-occasion meals served alfresco in the bush. Prices range from US$350 to US$1,600 per person per night sharing a double room. If you travel alone, expect to pay a single supplement because all safari-lodge rooms are doubles.
Safaris on a Shoestring
Don't let a tight budget deter you. There are many opportunities for big-game experiences outside the luxury lodges. Your least expensive option is to choose one of the public game parks—Kruger National Park, for example—where you drive yourself and shop for and prepare all meals yourself. The price of this type of trip is approximately one-tenth of that for private, fully inclusive lodges.
Mobile safaris are another option. Travel is by 4x4 (often something that looks like a bus) and you sleep in tents at public or private campsites. You need to be self-sufficient and bush-savvy to travel this way.
Rates for national park camps, called rest camps, start at about $34 a day for a two-bed rondavel (a round hut modeled after traditional African dwellings) and go up to $85 for a four-bed bungalow. Budget about $6 for breakfast, $8 for lunch, and $12 for dinner per person for each day on the trip. You also need to factor in park entry fees (usually a onetime fee of approximately $20 per person).
Booking a private lodge in the off-season also saves a bundle of money. Many lodges—South Africa's Sabi Sands area, for example—cost about US$800 per person per night during the high season but can drop to about US$500 a night during the slower months of July and August.
Besides airfare and safari costs, make sure you budget for tips, medications, film, and other sundries. Plan to stay at a city hotel on your first and last nights in Africa—it'll help you adjust to jet lag and make things altogether easier. Expect to pay from US$50 for basic accommodations to a maximum US$750 a night in the most luxurious hotels.
Not digital yet? Stock up on film before you head out into the bush; a roll costs about US$20 in a safari camp. And don't forget to save some money for souvenirs.
Safari Planning Time Line
Six Months Ahead
Research destinations and options. Make a list of sights you want to see.
Start a safari file to keep track of information.
Set a budget.
Contact a travel agent to start firming up details.
Choose your destination and make your reservations.
Buy travel insurance.
Three to Six Months Ahead
Find out which travel documents you need.
Apply for a passport or renew yours if it's due to expire within six months of travel time.
Confirm whether your destination requires visas and certified health documents.
Arrange vaccinations or medical clearances.
Research malaria precautions.
Book tours, side trips, etc.
One to Three Months Ahead
Create a packing checklist.
Fill prescriptions for antimalarial and regular medications. Buy mosquito repellent.
Shop for safari clothing and equipment.
Arrange for a house and pet sitter.
One Month Ahead
Get copies of prescriptions. Make sure you have enough medicine to last you a few days longer than your trip.
Confirm international flights, transfers, and lodging reservations directly with your travel agent.
Three Weeks Ahead
Using your packing list, start buying articles you don't have. Update the list as you go.
Two Weeks Ahead
Collect small denominations of U.S. currency ($1 and $5) for tips.
Prepare to pack; remember bag size and weight restrictions.
One Week Ahead
Suspend newspaper and mail delivery.
List contact numbers and other details for your house sitter.
Check antimalarial prescriptions to see whether you need to start taking medication now.
Arrange airport transportation.
Make two copies of your passport data. Leave one copy, and a copy of your itinerary, with someone at home; pack the other separately from your passport. Make a PDF of these pages that can be accessed via e-mail.
A Few Days Ahead
Get pets situated.
One Day Ahead
Check destination weather reports.
Make a last check of your house and go through your travel checklist one final time.
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