(This article was recently in the New York Times…thought I would share it with you)
An African safari can be an expensive vacation proposition — many camps in prime game-viewing areas run close to four figures per person per night, and the multiple flights required to reach them ratchet up the cost even more. But a safari in Africa does not have to blow the bank, said Jenny Mikkelson, a safari specialist at Travel Beyond, a tour operator in Wayzata, Minnesota. “There are ways to drastically cut down on the cost of a safari,” she said.
Here, she shares her advice on keeping a safari getaway affordable:
• Know when to travel: Maximize your budget by traveling in so-called shoulder season, a period that is a few months before or after peak season and varies with different safari regions, including Botswana, Kenya and South Africa. In Botswana, for example, the busiest time with the highest prices is between June and October. In May and November, however, prices at many lodges drop by 30 percent or more, and the game viewing is just as rich. To save even more — up to 50 percent — consider a trip to Botswana from December through March, known as “green season” because the normally dry and brown landscape is lush with greenery.
• Stick to one brand: Most safari-goers, Mikkelson said, visit multiple camps on the same trip to experience different ecosystems, activities and animal-viewing offerings, but few know that if they stay at properties within the same portfolio, discounts may be in store. “You often get a break on accommodations (up to 30 percent), free nights, flight transfers between lodges and other perks, which amount to a big savings,” she said. Brands with multiple lodges in Africa include Andbeyond, Asilia Africa, Nomad Tanzania and Wilderness Safaris.
• For South Africa, get a quote in local currency: Almost all safari lodges and hotels in South Africa are priced in South African rand. This means that tour companies and camps in the country that quote a price for your trip in U.S. dollars have a hedge worked into their pricing because the exchange rate of the local currency may fluctuate before your final payment — a hedge that is never in the traveler’s favor. “Be sure the company you’re working with quotes you a price in South Africa rand so when you pay for your trip, you’re getting the price based on the currency that day as opposed to one that may be marked up and hedged,” Mikkelson said.
• Watch for promotions: Mikkelson says many safari camps have specials that they do not necessarily promote but that can save guests big bucks. These deals may include getting 30 percent off regular room rates for booking early, discounts for stays longer than five nights and add-ins such as a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise if you are celebrating a special occasion. And you are in luck if you are on your honeymoon: Mikkelson says some lodges give newlyweds 25 percent off the usual daily rate.