Why even tented camps safaris are so expensive ?

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Dec 25th, 2012, 12:01 PM
  #1
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Why even tented camps safaris are so expensive ?

I looked at Safari options from a few companies (Thomson Safaris, Africa Adventure Company, etc), and they all are very expensive, $600-$900 / day per person if you exclude 2 days for arrival and 2 days for departure. And these are tented camps safaris. Why such a high price ? Would I be able to make substantial savings by organizing it myself, with the same quality of lodging ?
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Dec 25th, 2012, 10:54 PM
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Does it need to be one of these countries? You can have a quality safari experience in Zimbabwe and Zambia too.
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Dec 25th, 2012, 11:24 PM
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I was talking about safaris in all countries, including Zimbabwe and Zambia, with lodging in tented camps. Actually, I was not mentioning any country specifically, just mentioned the tour operators (Thomson Safaris, Africa Adventure Company) that offered these prices.
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Dec 26th, 2012, 02:23 AM
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It has nothing to do with canvas vs stone walls. You need to look a bit deeper, itvlr.

The lodges branded towards EU/US with the biggest marketing budget are the ones that pop up first, on any www search request.

It also depends on what you're looking for. If you go for a "regular" safari, then typically you will get one or more of these aspects;
- a vehicle that's not very well adapted to it's environment, nor to the needs of the people in it (certainly in terms of photography).
- a vehicle that is shared with a lot of people. I've even seen people on wooden benches in the back of a truck.
- a lodge that's outside the national parks.
- a lodge that's on a small plot, that cannot host any (or very few) animals.
- a lodge with a huge number of rooms
- a guide with sub-par qualifications.
- an itinerary that does not allow any off-roading or night drives.

Now, if you go for one of those safaris, then it might (typically) look something like this; you drive by bus with a group of about 40 people from one hotel to the next. These hotels are outside park borders, and have a lot of rooms. There's a lawn around the hotel, but apart for some peacocks with cliped ings, you won't see many big animals, and certainly no dangerous animals, let alone one of the big 5. For game drives you get split up in smaller groups. Each group then gets a 4x4 or a minibus with a driver. You enter the park after breakfast (9AM) and need to be out before sundown (6PM). You are thus only a "day tourist" in the park.

I assume you're not looking for a trip like that, as you found places costing 600$+. It's worth pointing out the differences of what these kind of places offer, compared to the above itinerary. Let me give you a typical example: you stay in a lodge with 5 tents or cabins, so 10 people is the maximum (but it is rarely fully booked). These places offer a very personal service. They are located in their own concessions, often right next to a national park, with no fences between them (or even IN such park). All types of animals move freely through the concession, including the big 5. No one can drive on these concessions, except the vehicle(s) of your lodge. Except when lodges share their plots, but then there's still rules as to avoid crowds at any particular sighting. You are out at dawn, and return at 10AM for breakfast. Then you are out again after lunch (3PM) until sunset (6PM). At that time you'll have a sundowner drink in the bush. And after that a night drive, where they look for nocturnal animals with a spotlight. Spot an animal? Then you can go off road, and get close.

Now , I hope it's clear from the above two examples that the latter safari can never be offered at the prices of the first. If you are looking for that, I suggest you stop looking and opt for something else

Having said that; a safari in a lodge of a private reserve, and all benefits that come with it, does not need to cost 600-900$ per day per person. It depends a bit on where you want to go. The Okavango is expensive. So is Zambia (as the lodges need to make their money in a short time frame: it's a seasonal thing). And so are some parks in Tanzania and Kenya. But lots of other places are OK.

The Kruger area has the least expensive options imho. Go for the less known private reserves like Klaserie, Timbavati and Manyeleti (so; NOT Sabi Sands - althought there's one or two options there as well)), and you can find lodges between 250$ and 400$ pppn. I'm thinking of Africa On Foot, Shindzela, Gomo Gomo, Simbavati River Lodge, nThambo, Elephant Plains, etc)

Namibia's got expensive and more affordable places that are often right next door. In Sossusvlei, check Hoodia Desert Lodge. In Damaraland check Grootberg Lodge. And in Etosha; go for the state-owned lodges in the park (all the private concessions around Etosha go to the park anyway, for their game drives).

In Botswana, for okavango: do a self-drive or do a private tented safari with guides like Ewan Masson, instead of choosing the expensive lodges in the delta. You might want to add a boat trip; check nGwesi; 625$ for the whole boat! (4 rooms) For Kalahari; check Haina Lodge. For Chobe, pick a lodge right outside it's borders (the game is found near the river anyway).

I'll leave it up to the others to give more examples of Zim, Tanzania, Zambia, Kenya.

Just one more last bit of advice from me; go for an African based TA. They're cheaper and knowtheir stuff better.

Ciao,

J.
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Dec 26th, 2012, 04:39 AM
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Most probably, the tented camps that the companies are proposing to you are the luxury tented camps - the likes of Kichwa Tembo, Sarova Mara Camp, Little Governors, etc in the Masai Mara for example. The name "tented camp" is a bit misleading when applied to such properties, when in every sense they are very high-end properties, much more expensive than "proper" lodges like the Sopa, or Keekorok, etc.

Otherwise, even $350 per person per day is possible in Kenya even in high season if staying in the likes of Simba lodges, Sopa lodges, etc or even in such tented camps as Ol Moran or Mara Nubian. It's even cheaper if you stay in basic tented camps, but the experience is obviously not the same.
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Dec 26th, 2012, 05:09 AM
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Lots of good information has been provided by pp above.
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Dec 26th, 2012, 07:15 AM
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"tented" camp can come in all varieties/budgets. These are not what you might think of if comparing to a basic canvas tent with only a tiny narrow twin sized bed, simple bedding and often the loo located outside or being shared by others. These are not what we might remember when kis at summer camp. Many of these 'tents' are as luxurious as a lux hotel in a major city somewhere.

I can only hope my apartment was a large as some of the tents I've stayed... certainly the bathroom (I can dream can't I? )

Most of those in that price category have maximum of 10-15/tents, often less, as 5-8, though a few more, but rarely even 20/tents; many located on private concessions, unfenced so game can move freely; plenty of privacy between each. With ensuite bathrooms, many with two (2) washbasins, shower and more and more I've been seeing bathrubs; the finest linens and towels, along with plush bathrobes. You'll have outstanding meals, beverages/alcholic. All kinds of personal attention to visitor needs and set schedule to guest wishes.

Though many are unseen and if some might actually be on vacation, even a tented camps with only 6/tents can have a staff of 75+ - including: guides/vehicles, mechanics, porters, housekeeping, laundry, pool caretakers (if they have one), bar/bartenders, waiters and in the kitchen (the dessert person, the salad guy, fish or meat preparer, etc.)... all to assure you have the best of the best to justify what you pay. And as most of these 'tented' camps are at quite a distance from a major supplier of all of the above, the cost of transport to ship supplies to camp by small plane from a major city.

Depending on the country, the cost of your daily park fees are likely to be included in that daily number and even the flight/s to/from/between locations... distances are great and often the best way to get from here to there.

That said, there are still options to meet all budgets. You just have to do your research.

Daily tent rates in East Africa can range from $150/pp/nt to in excess of $2K/pp/nt.

Do you care to mention the names of the camps that some of these outfitters are offering? We'd be glad to comment.
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Dec 26th, 2012, 11:54 AM
  #8
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Thanks guys, especially pixelpower ! But, please, explain how can I use your information ? Just as an example, you say: "For Kalahari; check Haina Lodge". Do you mean that I should book the lodge myself, and then rent a car to drive between parks / lodges ? Does a guide come with a lodge reservation ? Or there are some tour operators that would take advantage of these, less expensive, lodges ?

In response to sandi's question. Here are samples of lodges offered by Thomson Safaris (East Africa): Thomson Tarangire Nyumba, Gibb's farm, Thomson Serengeti Nyumba, Arusha Lodge. And by Africa Adventure Company (Southern Africa): Zimbabwe - Hwange Camp, Little Vundu Tented Camp, Elephant Camp; South Africa - Kwandwe Ecca Lodge, Cape Grace Hotel, Grootbos garden Lodge.
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Dec 26th, 2012, 01:28 PM
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Can't advise on the Southern African camps.

On those in East Africa, Tanzania - two of these = Nyumba = are Thomson's own, so they price as they wish and as I've never stayed at either, can't comment. Gibb's Farm is lovely, and probably one of the more expensive in the small town of Karatu which isn't in a game park, rather midway between Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro and good for some 'out-of-vehicle' time for walks, bike or horseback riding, school/orphanage visits, etc. Arusha Lodge, sounds like Arusha Coffee Lodge... again lovely and set in a coffee plantation is rather expensive. But as you'd probably be in Arusha 1/nt (on arrival) there are many more great choices at more competitive prices.

If you'd like an idea of what some lodges/camps cost, check out the site of African Travel Resources (located in the UK) who list and grade (their grades, not necessarily what others might consider them to be) many. Then when you see some of interest, ATR either provides a link to their websites, or you can Google for the URL to read the details. ATR, if I recall, covers mostly Tanzania (maybe some in Kenya) properties... not sure if they do so for Southern African countries - SA, BOTZ, ZIM, ZA, NAM.

I remind you again, though some might disagree... when contacting an outfitter do advise your estimated budget (a range and be willing to be somewhat flexible) so they don't over recommend accommodations you simply couldn't/wouldn't be able to afford. You'll only find yourself being frustrated. And do know you can mix a bit of luxe with mid-priced properties. Safaris can be expensive, but they don't have to be.

Good luck!
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Dec 28th, 2012, 03:02 AM
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I agree mix with luxury & mid range. The SA part is very high end, Shamwari is probably the top private reserve in the Eastern Cape & then Kwandwe, the Mount Nelson is probably the top hotel in Cape Town & then the Cape Grace, Grootbos is very expensive & out of whale season I see no point going here, if it's whale season you could do De Hoop NR instead, better value for money. There is so much to do around Cape Town you should hardly find time to stay & enjoy luxury hotels.
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Dec 28th, 2012, 04:15 AM
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They have an excellent safari going here that is not expensive at all - http://tinyurl.com/cqcsxrq
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Dec 28th, 2012, 09:07 AM
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I'm sure the OP would consider $7880 rather expensive. For experienced safari-goers, though, this looks good!
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Dec 28th, 2012, 09:48 AM
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Have another look. It's an atypical safari. They get 3 top guides in 2 of Africa's top parks. These are small, intimate camps exclusive to the group(8)- not 20-24 people as with most of those big companies, and known to have lots of predators(and prey) that can be seen daily. They do bush walks at each camp,and they do see and often get close to wildlife on foot, which many people consider adds value to the safari. And close to $500/day.
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Dec 28th, 2012, 02:39 PM
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Luangwablondes, I like it!
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Dec 30th, 2012, 02:27 AM
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@itrvlr;

I recommend getting a good African-based TA, giving them your budget range (best in terms of "max X$ per person per night"), and tell them not to go over it. Not 100$, not 10, not 1$.

At first, I used a European-based TA and paid a lot. Then, in order to get the price down, I started doing it all by myself. I wrote to a huge number of lodges. But it was a lot of work fitting them all together. And especially the transfer prices can be surprisingly high. Still, the end balance was better.

And then I was organizing a trip to South-Africa's private reserves, and noticed my reservations at some camps were all handled by the same African-based TA, who apparently co-owned some of the lodges I booked. I started talking to them directly, and they told me; "next time let us handle the total trip and we guarantee it will be cheaper than doing it yourself". And they were right. That TA is Sun Safaris. I'm sure that there are similar TA's in Africa. But I've been very pleased with them so I can only recommend this specific TA.

Ciao,

J.
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Dec 30th, 2012, 04:35 PM
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It shouldn't be just price. Look for camps that are small, like 6-8 beds, where you can get a more personalized safari. The food tends to be better. I liked the Zambia and Zimbabwe safari that I mentioned before because they are located in the midst of game rich areas. They do bush walks with armed game scouts and with well trained guides. If you have some wildlife to see that is on your list, that should come into play also. So check out the sightings reports that they get at the camp, ON A REGULAR BASIS! At the same time of year you will be there.
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Dec 31st, 2012, 06:15 PM
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I just checked @pixelpower recommendation of the local operator SunSafari, and definitely a couple of excellent and affordable (mid-range) camps in South Africa, particularly I was looking into Kruger Park. I started my research in Tanzania, using African Travel Resources. I am not sure if they're local operator, but they gave wonderful tips. They'd put something together and give you very detailed cost breakdown... Then I realize I would really enjoy visiting an African city like Cape Town with less a safari, and perhaps this way budget wise will work out.
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Jan 1st, 2013, 03:25 PM
  #18
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Thanks again, guys, and happy New Year !

luangwablondes' link seems like a very good one. But this trip is a bit off-season (mid November), so, overall, it does look pricey. It features some famous guides, of course, but from what I heard, season and luck matter more than the guide when it comes to finding animals

pixelpower, thanks for recommending the TA, I already contacted them. From what you are saying, I gather that it does not make sense to attempt a self-guided safari even from the cost point of view, let alone other considerations.
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Jan 2nd, 2013, 01:00 AM
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Good points by luangwablondes! It's for the same reasons I like some (but not all! haha) Kruger camps as well; small, intimate, great food, in the middle of game-rich areas, and they do foot safaris. But 1st timers must know that on average you see less while on foot, due to the smaller distance covered. But what you see will have a much bigger impact on you. So it all depends what you want to get out of it. If you want to return with a maximum of good pics, foot safaris are not the best option. Can't have it all.

@daisyznite; I like the ATR site as well, particularly their maps system, to get to know particular areas. But you need to take their scoring system with a grain of salt. For some reason they always push the more expensive choice, for reasons that are not clear at all. Or rather; some lodges that I know by now, that would score a perfect 10 in my book, and that I know are up to par with the best and most expensive lodges in the area, only get a 6/10 or so, while the more expensive lodge gets a 9. Caveat emptor, if you decide by their scoring system.

itvlr; happy NY 2U2! Note that it DOES still make sense to go DIY, but then only if you're not going for (just) the private reserves. For example; a self drive in Botswana or through Kruger, using camp sites or rest camps operated by the parks. In that case, a TA cannot help much.

Ciao,

J.
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Jan 3rd, 2013, 01:12 AM
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Pixel, good to read your commens about ATR. I also take their ratings with a grain of salt for e Masai Mara lodgings. And for one place, their pix look as if the photographer was drunk!!
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