How To Safari On A Budget in South Africa

If you’re lucky you’ll spot lions while on safari. Remember that Satara in The Kruger National Park is lion territory
If you’re lucky you’ll spot lions while on safari. Remember that Satara in The Kruger National Park is lion territory | ©Amar Yashlaha/Unsplash

A South African safari doesn’t have to blow your budget: if you visit out-of-season and keep an eye out for online deals and group booking specials, you’ll be well on your way to having the holiday of a lifetime at a reasonable price.

First things first: pick a destination

South African National Parks (SANParks) controls 19 of the country’s national parks, and they’re spread all over. From the Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth to the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park on the border with Namibia, there’s a huge variety to choose from regarding location.

SANParks rest camps are extremely affordable compared to privately operated lodges and most of them are right in the middle of reserves – you literally can’t get any closer to nature.

One of the most well-known national parks is, of course, The Kruger National Park and it’s a popular holiday destination for South Africans and tourists alike. The park has more than ten main rest camps, including self-catering and camping options at reasonable prices.

A herd of elephants at a watering hole

Accommodation options

Accommodation options in the national parks range from campsites, huts and chalets to cottages and guesthouses, all of which can be booked through the parks’ central website. All the options are extremely affordable and pricing depends on which rest camp you choose.

The waterbuck inhabits areas that are close to water

What about food?

SANParks is set up to make self-driving and self-catering holidays easy, even for rookies. To keep costs down, work out a menu for your time in the park and pack all the food you’ll need. Pack easy-to-eat meals and enjoy a traditional braai cook-out in the evenings. Nothing beats sitting around a fire at night listening to the sounds of the bush.

Leopards like to rest on tree branches, so make sure to look up every once in a while

Getting there

Flights within South Africa, especially to airports close to remote bush destinations, such as Skukuza, Hoedspruit and Hazyview, are very expensive. Picking a safari destination close to a big city airport served by local airlines will bring the cost down considerably. The Kruger Park, for example, is an approximately five-hour drive from Johannesburg, so it’s a good idea to rent a 4×4 or SUV and self-drive to the park. Car hire is also reasonably priced all over South Africa.

Game drives can be booked at most camps, but it’s often cheaper to self-drive

Travel out of high season

Rates for most lodges are significantly cheaper during off-peak season. South Africa’s dry winter (between May and September) is considered the low season, even though, in the north of the country, it is the best time to spot wildlife. This is because the bush is not as dense so animals are more visible.

No two Zebra have the same striping, as with human fingerprints the stripes of Zebra are unique to each individual

Look out for online discounts

Booking through discount sites can be extremely rewarding as unsold rooms in some of the country’s best lodges are promoted. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until quite close to your trip to book, and might not always be lucky enough to get what you’re after. Often it’s worth the gamble, so keep an eye on Bush Breaks, The Safari Company and Safari Now for cheap deals.

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