For animal lovers, the idea of travelling to South Africa and going on safari is always the dream. Being able to experience completely different cultures, seeing wild animals in their natural habitat, and viewing landscapes that are a part of some of the world’s oldest rock formations. This was the dream for me, too. I grew up watching animal planet; thinking David Attenborough may, in fact, be God, and dreaming of being one of those safari vets that can dart zebras from planes…
Unfortunately, however, I was terrible at chemistry, so this dream of being some sort of life-saving-flying-vet never came true. BUT, my desire to see animals on safari never went away. I was always scouring the internet for a safari holiday that wouldn’t cost the donation of my kidney, or the equivalent of my entire university education, alas, no luck. That was until I decided to not go through an agency and bring it back to basics. Start with one thing, and just build it up, I thought. This year, I went on my 10-day-trip of a lifetime, a South Africa safari for under £1000 (USD 1280). Here’s how I did it…
Flights (£390 [USD 500] for a return ticket)
Probably the most important aspect of this trip was getting to Africa. We (my boyfriend and I) decided that as it was our first safari, we didn’t mind where in Africa we went, so we started by looking at where we could go for the least amount of money. You have to be prepared to do your research on this, as flights can depend on the airline, time of year, which country you’re travelling from etc.
My favourite thing to do in my spare time is to see which month is the cheapest to fly to a country. For South Africa, it was September, which turns out to be one of the best times to go because it is not too hot, barely rains, and the animals are all more visible due to the bush dying back over winter. A win-win. We flew with Emirates and went via Dubai, but British Airways also do direct flights from London to Johannesburg. For us, we went with the cheapest (but it did take 18 hours – so keep that in mind).
Accommodation (£115 [USD 148] per person)
Okay so you’ve sorted your flights; now the next most important thing is where you are going to stay. This is one of the aspects of your trip that can vary massively when it comes to cost. There are so many options it is hard to pick where to go and what type of accommodation you want. On the cheaper end of the spectrum, you have hostels and camping, which in Africa are just spectacular.
My boyfriend and I decided to opt for a hostel that offered private rooms, so actually we didn’t even go for the cheapest option, and we paid £10 [USD 13] per person, per night. The room was fantastic, it had a double bed and an ensuite, and a little fridge to keep your beers. The communal kitchen was fully equipped, and the location was just fantastic. I’ll go into more detail about this later, but the name of the place is African Bush Backpackers, in Marloth Park.
Food (£12 [USD 15] per day)
Now onto the daily necessity stuff, food! We all need to eat, and so this is a necessary cost which crops up in most holidays and is often the element of travel that people forget to budget for. In South Africa, food is incredibly cheap. £12 [USD 15] per day is an average I worked out from our whole trip; and do you want to know the coolest part, my friends? We only went to the supermarket twice for food, every other time we ate out at a restaurant. The average meal (with drinks) came out to be around £2 [USD 2.50] each. WHAT. Yes, I am serious, and you could make this even cheaper by meal planning and sharing with big groups etc. Also, the food is SO TASTY (more on this later).
Activities (average £15 [USD 19] per day)
Okay, this one is a little vague – because it really depends on what you want to do. But, if you are like me and the most important thing is safaris, do not worry this doesn’t break the bank. To go on a guided safari, you are looking at around £50 [USD 64] per person, which of course with our budget we couldn’t do every day. So, we did that once, then we went into the Kruger national park twice more on our trip, but we went in our hire car! We did a self-drive safari, and all you do is pay entry to the park – which is £20 [USD 25] per person – less than a trip to the zoo!
The great thing is that you can be in the park from 6 am until 6 pm, and trust me, staying in the park searching for animals for 12 hours is way easier than you think (we always had to rush to the exit so to not get locked in!). Other activities such as sightseeing in the mountains etc are completely free, they only cost fuel or public transport costs. The other activities we did included the elephant sanctuary and the cultural village, which were also less than £20 [USD 25] each.
Car Hire (£125 [USD 160] per person)
On most trips, I would consider hiring a car a luxury; but for this trip, we used it so much it felt necessary. Not only for the 5-hour drive from Johannesburg to Kruger but also being able to self-drive around the park, in this way we figured that we saved ourselves money. But, if you are worried about driving in a foreign country, don’t! There are buses that will get you to where you need to go, you just need to plan and be smart about it. With a car, you can wing it a bit more. And the cost of petrol? Less than 90p [USD 1] per litre in most places.
So that’s how you do it! After I had paid for my malaria tablets (very important-but always check with your doctor if they are necessary for where you are going), the total cost of my trip came to £940 [USD 1205]! A South Africa safari doesn’t need to cost thousands to have your trip of a lifetime! I am already saving up to go again!