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A quick search for “Budget African Safari” will yield you more results than you’ll have the time or sanity to read. I’ll do you a favor and sum them all up right here – they all let you see animals and they’re all still pretty expensive. For our family of 6, the cheapest that we could find for a day game drive was $1000 and that didn’t include food or any accommodation.
Well, what if you found out that you could do this all on your own, and literally save THOUSANDS!! Yes, we’ve done it twice in fact (once in Kenya and once in South Africa). What most people don’t tell you is that the parks where most of these game drives are held are national parks, just like most countries have and are open to the public. All the locals are paying the gate fee, and driving their own car in, so why shouldn’t you do it too?
Last year, we took our 4 kids to South Africa to explore and go on safari. We visited Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe – Imfolozi Park, Blyde River Canyon Reserve, Royal Natal Park, and Cape Point Reserve all in our 2+ week trip.
In short, it was the coolest trip our kids had ever been on!
They saw the big 5, held baby crocodiles, had whales cruise by them, saw penguins playing right in front of them, and even saw an angry elephant chase a whole pride of about 25 lions away right in front of our car!! Amazing actually doesn’t do the trip justice!
Here’s the quick rundown:
Initially, we spent a few days down in Cape Town exploring down there and seeing penguins, whales, and ostriches. Cape Town is beautiful and has a very European feel to it.
It wasn’t until we got to Johannesburg that we felt like we had arrived in the REAL AFRICA. We finally started seeing more black people (not in a racist way, but Cape Town is very white), had crazier roads to deal with and had chances to get out more into the wild.
We rented a van, loaded up the kids and they were good to go. Every place where we stayed had a kitchen and since we were in the car a lot out on our own game drives, breakfast and lunch were had on the go, and dinner was made back at our cabin/hotel/apartment. Every place was equipped with a brai (BBQ) and exotic game meat was a regular find at the grocery store (gazelle steaks and gemsbok jerky anyone?)
Basically, we saved A TON of money on food this way as well!
Truthfully, we didn’t feel like we missed out on anything by just doing our own thing – in fact we feel like it was a much better fit for families.
Here are some reasons why:
- Start and end when suits you. If your kids want to be up at sunrise or stay out till sunset, the only schedule you have to keep to is your own. Also if they need a mid-day break for a nap or to get out and play, it’s easy to make it happen.
- Go where you want to go and stay as long as you want. If you want to stare at a rhino for 30 minutes, no big deal. Seen too many giraffes? Just pass on by this one. When you go on safari alone, you have the flexibility to see what you want, for as long as you want without having to adhere to a guides schedule.
- You’ll be on the same roads as everyone else anyway. Yes, it’s true. The big name safaris are usually going to be on the same roads that you are, seeing the same animals as you. Take advantage of this and if you see a guided tour stopped for no apparent reason, pull over too – they are probably looking at something that you just can’t see.
Make sure that you do your homework about the best parks to go to. Many parks have high concentrations of a few animals with almost no chance of seeing others. Pick the park that has what you want to see. Also, some parks charge as much as $75 US per day for entrance, whereas some countries (like South Africa) have the option to buy an annual parks pass to save a significant amount of money. We saved a ton of money by purchasing a SAN Park pass that ended up costing us less that $100!