Giraffes doing the splits at Chobe National Park in Botswana

African Safari Cost: 10 Factors + How We Saved $6,800+!

Last updated Jan 13, 2023 | South Africa, Travel Hacking

For many, a trip to Africa and experiencing an African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And, it is not cheap if you want a little luxury and modern comfort! How do you make that dollar stretch and drive down that overall African safari cost? What is worth splurging on? What is not? Here are the 10 cost factors to consider and a personal real-life example of how we saved over $6,800 on our Africa trip. Dream trips can be turned into reality!

* Links in this post contain Amazon and CJ affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. All recommendations are on items I love and feel will deliver value to you! Thank you for your support.

FOLLOW & SHARE WITH A FRIEND!

Number 1 Icon

Safari Location

Map of Top African Safari Destinations

Map of top African safari destinations

Where you choose your safari location will dictate the cost. For example, Botswana is one of the most expensive safari destinations whereas South Africa and Zimbabwe offer more affordable options.

For more comparisons between all the top 7 safari destinations, check out my article below. 

Number 2 Icon

Quality of the Safari Lodge

Lion Sands River Lodge Fire Pit

Lion Sands River Lodge fire pit

There are typically 3 price points for safari lodges: moderate, premier, and luxury.

For example, in South Africa, a moderately priced safari lodge in Sabi Sands will cost you around $300-$700 USD per person, a premier lodge will cost around $800-$1200 USD per person, and an ultra-luxury lodge will cost about $2000+ USD per person.

Quite the range. Impeccable service and food and a smaller number of rooms (and thus guests) come at a premium.

We stayed at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sands, South Africa for one of our safari experiences. It was incredibly luxurious without being pretentious and had some of the best staff we have encountered.

We also had another amazing safari experience at Chobe National Park in Botswana. We used the Stanley & Livingstone Boutique Hotel in Zimbabwe as our base, which was absolutely stunning. The hotel also offered its own safari drives right on its property.

Stanley & Livingstone Boutique Hotel Guest Lounge Area

Stanley & Livingstone Boutique Hotel guest lounge area

To give you a sense of the price points, I constructed a chart comparing the cost of the safari lodges we had researched in the Sabi Sands and Timbavati private game reserves in South Africa. 

Motswari (Timbavati/Umbabat): from ZAR 4,959 ($279 USD)

Arathusa (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 7,729 ($435 USD)

Kambaku River Sands (Timbavati): from ZAR 9,834 ($553 USD)

&Beyond Ngala Safari Lodge (Timbavati):  from ZAR 10,199 ($573 USD)

Inyati (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 11,305 ($636 USD)

&Beyond Kirkman’s Kamp (Sabi Sand) from ZAR 11,434 ($643 USD)

* Timbavati properties, in general, will be cheaper than Sabi Sand 

* Exchange rates are accurate as of 10/5/22. These rates are starting rates and will vary depending on the season. 

Lion Sands (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 15,114 ($850 USD)

Londolozi Varty Camp (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 18,645 ($1049 USD)

Savanna (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 12,947 ($728 USD) 

Dulini (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 19,129 ($1076 USD)

MalaMala (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 15,730 ($885 USD)

Silvan (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 19,614 ($1104 USD)

* Exchange rates are accurate as of 10/5/22. These rates are starting rates and will vary depending on the season. 

Singita (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 32,959 ($1855 USD)

Londolozi Pioneer Camp (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 31,625 ($1780 USD) or the Private Granite Suites (Sabi Sand): from ZAR 33,495 ($1885 USD)

* Exchange rates are accurate as of 10/5/22. These rates are starting rates and will vary depending on the season. 

If this is your first time planning a safari, don’t miss my article on how to choose a safari lodge. 

Number 3 Icon

Low Season vs. High Season

We stayed at Lion Sands River Lodge in Sabi Sand, South Africa during the month of September. If we had stayed at the end of December, we would have paid $250 USD more per person per night. Staying during the peak season will drive the price up dramatically.

For me, the ideal time is picking the shoulder season that still coincides with the dry season.

Number 4 Icon

Cost of Internal Flights

Small propellor plane in the African bush

Courtesy of Shutterstock: small propellor plane in the African bush

Some safari destinations can be quite remote, and others are near well-established airports. The location of the safari lodge will dictate the cost of transfers via plane or car.

We stayed at Lion Sands River Lodge, which is about a 25-minute drive from the local airport, Skukuza Airport. Because of the lodge’s close proximity, transfers were included in our lodge rate.

Plus, Skukuza Airport had direct flights to/from major airport hubs like Cape Town and Johannesburg, which made the internal flights more affordable. The cost per passenger when we went was $480 USD through SA Airlink.

If you are trying to reach more inaccessible lodges, the African safari cost is going to be much higher because you are relying on light charter flights.

Number 5 Icon

Other Destinations in the Itinerary

2 week South Africa Itinerary

2-week South Africa itinerary

If you fly to a destination where the safari experience is the only activity, your cost is going to be higher than if you combine it with more affordable destinations.

The safari will be the most expensive part of your trip. One reason why South Africa is such a desirable safari location is that it can be combined with places such as Cape Town and the Cape Winelands for a fraction of the cost.

PRO TIP: We offset our African safari cost in Sabi Sands by staying at much more affordable accommodations while in Cape Town and the Cape Winelands. Splurge on the safari experience and then pick more budget-friendly hotels in the other destinations.

You can get incredible value for your money while staying in Cape Town and the Cape Winelands. We stayed at the highly-rated Derwent House Boutique Hotel while in Cape Town and the adorable bed & breakfast Cape Vue Country House while in Cape Winelands. Both properties offered incredible value for the money, which drove the overall cost of our trip down.
Derwent House Boutique Hotel in Cape Town South Africa

Derwent House Boutique Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa

Number 6 Icon

Number of Days Spent on Safari

Obviously, the more days you spend, the higher the African safari cost.

However, some safari lodges like Singita Kruger National Park will offer a nice package deal such as “Stay 4 Days/Pay for 3.” Always be on the lookout for these special deals to reduce your African safari cost.

Number 7 Icon

National Park vs. Private Reserve

Two lionesses eating a giraffe while on a safari drive at Lion Sands River Lodge

Two lionesses consuming a giraffe in Sabi Snds Private Game Reserve 

National parks tend to be much more affordable than private game reserves. 

For example, if you stay in Kruger National Park in South Africa, which is owned and managed by the government, the cost is going to be substantially cheaper but much more crowded.

In contrast, if you stay in a private reserve in Sabi Sands in South Africa, the cost will be higher but fewer people and jeeps and more close-up wildlife encounters.

If you want to know more differences between Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands, check out my article below. 

Number 8 Icon

The Extras

Our safari ranger and tracker at Lion Sands River Lodge

Our safari ranger and tracker at Lion Sands River Lodge

What do I mean by “the extras”? Think tipping, airport transfers, laundry, park fees & permits, premium drinks, etc.

It is important to factor in all fees because they can certainly add up quickly. For example, if you are going to Rwanda to see gorillas, the gorilla trekking permit alone costs $1500 USD per person!

Also, it is imperative to know what is included in your all-inclusive safari lodge rate. For example, some lodges charge for premium drinks.

Laundry service is another factor to consider. You cannot carry much weight in your luggage on those little planes. Packing light is important, which will likely require you to do laundry while at the lodge. Some lodges will include it, and some will not.

That is why I’m a big fan of the incredibly lightweight Anatomie travel clothing, specifically the Kate Skinny Cargo pants. They take up very little room in the suitcase.

An Africa safari is one of the most expensive vacations you will probably take. The staff at these safari lodges go above and beyond to take great care of you. The safari guides are spending at least 6+ hours with you daily to deliver an exclusive experience.

I know this is a touchy subject because every country has a different tipping culture, but please consider showing your appreciation for good service by leaving a tip. Budget accordingly. It is customary in Africa to tip the staff (but not mandatory).

Number 9 Icon

Self-Drive vs. Guided Drive

Safari jeeps watching a lion

Courtesy of Shutterstock: Safari jeeps watching a lion

If you want more flexibility and are looking to cut costs, you can do a self-drive safari in certain countries such as South Africa. For example, in Kruger National Park, many opt to rent a car and drive independently around the park looking for the animals.

Although you have the freedom of when and how long you want to stay in each location, you do not have the expertise and knowledge of a guide who can greatly add to your experience.

Number 10 Icon

Currency Exchange Rates

Most African countries will quote and charge you in USD. There are a few countries, however, like South Africa and Namibia, that only quote the cost in their own currency.

Because the currency exchange rate is volatile, your US dollar could stretch further if the rate is favorable. The opposite, of course, would be true as well.

How We Saved Over $6,800 for Our Africa Trip

Airline and Credit Card Points Used for Africa Trip

Breakdown of how we saved over $6800 USD on our 2-week Africa trip

I am NOT a travel agent who gets discounts on properties.

I am NOT an influencer who gets sponsored free trips.

I work full-time, have limited PTO hours, and take 3-4 vacations a year.

So, how am I bringing my African safari cost down?

Airline and credit card points!

An African safari is usually just one component (and the most expensive!) of most travelers’ Africa itinerary. The key to making this epic trip affordable is knowing where to spend and where not to spend and utilizing airline and credit card points to erase some or all of the cost.

A premier safari experience in Sabi Sands, South Africa for 2 people for 3 nights/4 days costs around $5,400 USD. So, how did we save over $6,800 for our entire 2-week Africa trip? 2 ways. Let’s break it down.

=

#1 AIRLINE POINTS

Airplane flying in the air

Courtesy of Shutterstock: airplane

We used 2 different strategies for the major international legs of our Africa trip:

UNITED POINTS: For this Africa trip, we used 40,000 United points per person (+ nominal $11 USD per person for taxes) to pay for our flight from the United States to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The cash price per person for the flight would have been $1,121 USD. Our total savings for two people was $2,220. The redemption value was 2.8 cents per mile.

By the way, one strategy for getting a bulk amount of points is to sign up for a travel credit card during a big sign-up bonus promotion, where you have to meet x amount of minimum spend within x amount of months.

VIRGIN ATLANTIC POINTS: For our return flight from Johannesburg, South Africa back to the United States, we used 22,500 Virgin Atlantic points per person (+ $350 USD per person for taxes). The cash price per person for the flight would have been $888 USD. Our total savings for two people was $1,076. The redemption value was 2.4 cents per mile.

How did we get Virgin Atlantic points? From my Amex Membership Reward (MR) Points.

If you want to know more about travel hacking tricks and how to know if you are getting a good redemption value, don’t miss my travel hacking 101 guide. 

=

#2 CREDIT CARD POINTS

Chase Trifecta Travel Credit Cards

Chase Trifecta Travel Credit Cards

What credit cards we used and how we used them:

AMERICAN EXPRESS PLATINUM

We used Amex Membership Reward (MR) points to pay for our international flight home from Johannesburg to the United States. We transferred 22,500 MR points to Virgin Atlantic at a 1:1 transfer rate. Our total cost was 22,500 points + $350 USD for taxes/fees per person for a flight that would have cost $888 per person. Our total savings for two people was $1076.

CHASE SAPPHIRE RESERVE

We used 239,138 Chase Ultimate Reward (UR) points to pay for the majority of our hotels on our Africa trip. That saved us a whopping $3,587.07!

When you redeem your UR points through the Chase travel portal for hotels (or flights if you choose), you redeem at 1.5x the rate.

What does that mean? Pretend you have 200,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points, which is equal to $2,000 USD. If you redeem those same 200,000 points through the travel portal, they are now worth $3,000 USD. Incredible value! THIS IS THE ULTIMATE TRAVEL CREDIT CARD.

Final Thoughts

An African safari was one of the most memorable travel experiences we’ve had. It can be quite expensive depending on the location and quality of the safari lodge.

You can make it quite budget-friendly by picking cheaper safari locations, going during low season, doing a self-drive safari, and picking a more affordable safari lodge.

Since this was a trip of a lifetime for us and we were celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary, we wanted a little more luxury.

When we started planning our African safari and adding up the costs, it was clear the price for our dream vacation was much higher than our travel budget would allow. Luckily, because we had started to accumulate airline and credit card points years ago, we were able to cash in those points to erase much of the African safari cost. Those airline and credit card points made this epic trip a reality.

REACH OUT, FOLLOW, OR SHARE THIS POST WITH A FRIEND!

Questions about how to reduce your African safari cost?

Let me know in the comments below!

2 Comments

  1. Lindsey Slaby

    Hi there! I was about to book Lion Sands on Chase but cant find it anymore as their booking look up has gotten more complex. What did you use to find it? An airport code?

    Reply
    • Nichole

      Thanks for reaching out. I booked 3 out of the 4 Africa hotels we stayed at (Derwent in Cape Town, Cape Vue in the Cape Winelands, and Stanley & Livingstone in Zimbabwe) through the Chase travel portal. Lion Sands was the only one I didn’t book through Chase. I went through booking.com: https://www.booking.com/hotel/za/lion-sands-private-game-reserve.en-gb.html.

      I just checked to see if Lion Sands was on the Chase travel portal, and I could not find it either (even with using the airport code, SZK). I’m surprised though because it’s a MORE property, and their other property (Stanley & Livingstone in Zimbabwe) is on there. You could always call Chase just to make sure.

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *