One thing to call out early: Africa is not a cheap place to travel. After 3 years living in Asia and being spoiled by the affordable travel available in the likes of Thailand and Indonesia, I was a bit sticker shocked by the prices of very basic accommodation in Tanzania. And even more sticker shocked by the prices of the safaris. To be fair, there is a wide range, you can go budget and sleep in tents or roll out the red carpet and stay at the Four Seasons soaking in a hot tub while staring at giraffes and elephants metres away. Choose your own adventure.
Being my first trip to Africa, I knew I wanted to fit in a few safaris, but after discussing with Alison, we realised we had slightly different priorities for the trip. Alison was happy to do a single day trip safari (she’d done safaris previously in South Africa) and wanted to spend more time getting some sun on Zanzibar. I, on the other hand, wanted to do a multi-day safari where I could stay in some cool lodges. With that difference in mind, I started looking for group safari tours that I could join solo, while Alison did her own thing for a few days. We’d regroup afterwards.
Hiring a single guide and renting a vehicle and buying entry passes to the national parks would be way too expensive (and boring to do it all by myself). There are quite a few group safari tours that pull together different travellers. I’d done many of these types of small group tours/expeditions before in other countries, and have always enjoyed them, so I set to work researching the best price/times for a group safari that I could join.
G Adventures (the Canadian adventure travel company) offered many different itineraries for the region and there was one I seriously looked at, but the start and end dates of their tours were just outside my dates. We had already booked our international inbound and outbound flights by this point, so I had set dates I needed to work with. G Adventures were also all about the camping style of lodging, and frankly I wasn’t so excited about multiple nights setting up tented camps in the middle of lions and hyenas. This will probably be on the top of some people’s bucket list, but not mine. I wanted something midrange, some nice lodges where I could get a nice bed, stay warm, and not break the bank.
Like many of these things, you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get, so reading Trip Advisor reviews and travel blogs became a bit of an obsession. I had also read that who you book with is usually not who actually operates the tours, so it’s all a bit mysterious. In the end I took the recommendation of a friend who had done a whole year of travel for her honeymoon and booked with African Budget Safaris. Their price was reasonable and they were staying in a combination of lodges and permanent tented camps.
A few things to share from my research:
The style of accommodation will be a large contributor to the costs. If you’re expected to setup your own tents and campsites are where you’ll be staying, then the costs should be a little bit lower.
If you’re a solo traveller joining a group, you might have to pay a singles supplement. Sadly, the punishment for being single never stops, and you’ll most likely have to pay a little bit more if you’re joining a group as a single person, instead of as a pair.
The people / group dynamics. You never really know who will end up being part of the group, but you can ask in advance for the typical age and nationalities of the people who’ve joined that particular tour in the past, to get a sense of the type of people you’ll likely be spending all day and night with for the duration of the tour. My experiences with these adventure travel tours have all been good in their own way, but the fellow travellers have varied greatly from a boatload of early twenty-something booze seeking Aussies in Croatia, through to an older English/Scottish couple in their sixties on this Tanzanian safari. I found out in advance that on my safari, I would be joining a German couple in their twenties, an Argentinian couple in their thirties, and the English/Scottish couple in their sixties. I could live with that!
If you’re a family or a large group, you can contact an operator and customise your safari. This will give you greater flexibility in choosing your start and end dates, which parks you’ll visit, and what sort of accommodation you’ll be staying in. Book early, especially during the peak seasons, because popular lodges can get filled up!