I promise we’ll move continents soon, but after my “Don’t Try This At Home” post, I got a lot of comments from people lamenting that they would never be able to go on an African safari because it was just too complicated and expensive.
No, friends, it doesn’t have to be this way!
I’m going to ask you to come on a journey with me. It’s going to be a little bit rough around the edges and it’s not going to look like a full-color brochure, but if what you really really want to do is experience a safari and you are either unable or unwilling (I know I am) to afford a glossy magazine one, I can help you do that.
Destination: Kruger National Park, South Africa. Duration: 9 days. Number of people: 2.
The planning part
Step 1: let’s get there. For the moment, I am assuming a North American departure because that’s where I live, but Johannesburg’s airport is served well by tons of airlines. If you’re not coming from the States, you will find that Emirates, British Airways, Lufthansa, etc. will get you there. But I live here, and fortunately, I live near one of the airports that flies direct to Johannesburg. I’ve taken this flight 4 times now and while the plane isn’t brand new, it is reliable and on my last trip, no one was sitting next to me in either direction. Depart on either November 8 or November 15th of this year for a 9-day trip, and the plane fare is a seriously reasonable $754. You can also fly direct from Atlanta on Delta, but it’s currently about double the price of the New York flight for the same days (international friends, I can google for you too: direct flights from London are $688 on BA or Virgin; from Dubai they’re $780).
Step 2: let’s pick up a car. You can do Kruger in a regular sedan, but I suggest getting a SUV so you can elect to go off road where permitted and so that you’ll feel more at ease on non-paved surfaces. After all, if you’re not coming from a Commonwealth or former Empire country, you’re going to be driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and maybe don’t add extra stressors. I’m also going to give you an automatic car because I am assuming that you don’t regularly drive stick. I’ve gotten rid of all the car rental companies you’ve never heard of and can now tell you that you’re going to pay between $251 (for a Toyota Rav4) and $488 (for a Ford Explorer) for the entirety of your trip. Let’s split the difference and call it $370. You’ll probably fill up the car 4 times at around $65 each full fill-up.
Total so far: (754*2 airfare)+370 car + 260 fuel = $2,138
The staying part
Step 1: Research. Beg, borrow, or steal to get a copy of the out-of-print Getaway Guide to Kruger National Park (this is an Amazon link, but I am not an affiliate); if you’re a photographer, grab The Photographer’s Guide to Kruger National Park (actually, get this even if you’re not a photographer – the intel on where to go to see animals is worth it even if you don’t intend to take pictures of them). Decide on where you want to go in the park. Remember: Kruger is about the size of New Jersey. While we spent 10 days driving north to south, travelers who are less into spending all day every day in a car might want to pick a smaller area to cover. Kruger is easy to drive in, very well signed, and all of the main roads are paved.
Entrance to the Kruger will cost you (at today’s market rates) about $26/person/day. Or you could buy a Wild Card which gives you access to all of the South African National Parks for an entire year for $70…for a couple. I’m not a professional mathematician, but I know which one I’d choose.
Step 2: Sleep somewhere. The accommodations at the camps in Kruger are basic, but clean, often air-conditioned, and decently comfortable. There are no perks, but you get to stay in the park without paying luxury concession prices. If I were recreating our trip, it would look like the following:
Punda Maria Safari Tents, 2 nights – $185
Letaba Bungalow, 1 night – $100
Satara Bungalow, 3 nights – $335
Skukuza Bungalow, 2 nights – $215
Step 3: eat something. I’m not going to lie, this might be where I lose some of you. The larger camps have what they call restaurants, but what you should imagine are snack bars. Yes, they have hot food of the burgers and fries variety, but you will not love what you get. All of the camps have convenience stores where you can do one of two things: buy meat and vegetables and cook for yourself (for lunch you can buy cold cuts and bread; for breakfast you’ll find yogurt, cereal, etc. you can definitely provision at the convenience stores, but nothing fancy) or you can do what we did which is subsist on a diet of biltong (South African beef jerky), drinkable yogurt, biscuits, Haribo gummy peaches, and the occasional banana. We’re pretty disgusting. In either case, you’d be hard-pressed to drop more than $70/day ($100 if you’re very hungry or buying a lot of beer), but I like overestimating, so I’ll make it $100.
Step 4: decide if you want to pay extra for that. We paid extra for a night drive (not remotely worth it), a walking tour (absolutely worth it), and permission to do one of the 4WD courses (1,000,000% worth it). I cannot say this with absolute certainty (and the website doesn’t have prices), but I do not recall any of those things costing more than $100. Since this was 8 years ago, I’ll bump it to $150.
Total so far: 50 books + 70 Park pass + (185+100+335+215 lodging) + 800 food (which is totally ridiculous and you will never spend half this amount) + 300 activities = $2055
Now it’s time for you to add the cab to the airport, the boarding for your pet, the souvenirs you like to buy, etc. etc. But when I tell you that we could do this in 2 months for $4,193 AT MOST, I am not lying to you. And if you went with me, I’d save you $50 because I already own the books.
In no way am I saying that four thousand dollars isn’t a lot of money. It’s certainly not a check I could write without thinking (and saving for). It is, coincidentally, what it would cost for the two of us to go to Disney World that week and stay at a Disney hotel ($4,198 to be exact – and that’s at one of the mid-range Disney resorts, not one of the superluxe ones). I am also saying that it would not be difficult at all to spend that in 1.5 nights on a luxury safari – I’m giving you 8.
So if you look at that number as something you either do or would spend on a vacation and if you really do want to go on safari, I strongly urge you to consider a trip to Kruger. All of the photos accompanying this post were taken on that trip and I would go back in a heartbeat.
P.S. If you ever have questions about this, or any of my posts, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments, or on my Instagram. I’d love to chat with you about how to get started on your trip wishlist.