MEI Test Article

Contrary to what many believe, you don't need to remortgage your house to tackle an African safari.

African Safari Alternatives that Don’t Cost a Fortune

The Big Five (buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant and rhinoceros) sometimes elude safari goers in more ways than one. 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 contrary to what many believe, you don’t have to remortgage your house to tackle an African safari; there are cheaper alternatives to the luxury packages, especially for the more adventurous traveller.

Go It Alone

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 you may save your pennies, there are pitfalls to going solo - the state of the roads, for one. 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.

Another downside of going independently is not having a guide. Experienced guides spot everything from miniature chameleons to leopard prints (mere ‘blobs’ to the average person). Stirling says: ‘Without a guide, you are always going to miss things, so self-drive trips tend to suit people who’ve been on safari before and have guide books and [a better awareness of] animals and birds.’

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. A good compromise is to arrange wildlife drives through public campsites The upsides of going alone? 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 more experienced travellers who want ‘deeper and darker Africa’, Stirling recommends the desertscapes of Moremi Reserve in Botswana for great value campsites. These are good, well-equipped camping spaces, with ablution blocks and firewood. (The same goes for South African campsites.)

Go in Low Season

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,’ says Stirling.

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.


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