Going on a safari in Africa is often on many travellers’ bucket lists, whether young or not. Indeed, the idea of an African Safari is always attractive, but we usually perceive this kind of holiday as “expensive” and a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Therefore, picking the right park for your safari in Africa is crucial and the best time to go.
What about the price tag? Is it that expensive of a trip? Well, yes and no. It depends on your travel style and if you can optimize points to cover the cost! From my own experience, I’ve done several safaris in Africa, and yes, they can be very affordable when you aim to reduce the costs with points.
Safari in Africa - How to choose your park and destination?
On the African continent, there are many places where you can go on a safari. The first question to ask yourself is what kind of animals you would like to see on that safari in Africa trip; we usually go on such a trip to spot wildlife, so the first thing to do is to make sure you’re at the correct location.
Indeed, if you’ve been dreaming of watching gorillas forever, you don’t want to end up in the Okavango Delta! Similarly, someone who would love an encounter with lemurs should travel to Madagascar because those mammals can’t be found on the typical safari in Africa.
Also, is there a specific landscape you would prefer to gaze upon? The famous Big Five animals (elephant, lion, rhinoceros, water buffalo and leopard) can be spotted in many different parks on the continent.
However, the scenery changes a lot from one place to another. If that aspect is crucial to you, it is advised to take your time to pick the perfect destination for your safari in Africa.
Safari in Africa - How to choose the best time to go?
Once you are set on what you want to see and where to go, making sure you are visiting during the right window is important. A safari in Africa trip is very dependent on the rainy and dry seasons as animals migrate.
The general rule of thumb is that the dry season between June and October is more proper for a safari in Africa; the waterholes are scarcer and wildlife will converge on them. When there is a lot of rain, they are more scattered since water is easily found everywhere and they are more challenging to spot as the vegetation is also thicker.
It is also important to note that the Great Wildebeest Migration takes place all year. Therefore, you can see the great wildebeests’ herd anytime; all you must do is to be at the right place; better not be in the Serengeti when they just reached the Masai Mara!
Safari in Africa - The main national parks for a great experience
Here is a brief description of the main national parks to help you choose the one that fits you most and the best time to go on that safari in Africa.
This list is only about the major places and the most populars; there are loads of other exciting areas for your African safari experience.
Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Reserve in Tanzania
If you like savannah or have The Lion King movie in mind when thinking about a safari in Africa, the vastness of the Serengeti will impress you.
As the park is vast, I recommend at least four days to explore it as there will be a lot of driving time. While that might not appeal to some, I enjoyed driving around the fantastic landscape. The most memorable experience was finding that dreaded leopard and its cubs, one of the most challenging Big Five to spot as they hunt primarily at night and rest hide camouflaged in the trees during the day.
As for the Ngorongoro Reserve, it is located in a volcanic caldera. The ecosystem is specific as animals here are pretty much confined in the crater; you can easily encounter the usual fauna except for giraffes as it’s a steep descent. It is also a bit wetter than the Serengeti and you can see the vegetation is different than the savannah.
Masai Mara National Park in Kenya
The Masai Mara National Park is relatively small and dense, making it usually easier to spot the Big Five quickly. Also, it’s an excellent destination to go on a safari in Africa anytime in the year, while the best time is from June to late October.
One of the best spectacles on Earth takes place yearly in East Africa with the Wildebeest Great Migration. The 2 million wildebeest herd follows the rainfall in a circular pattern around Tanzania and Kenya; they must go where the grass is greener and where the waterholes are to survive.
The climax of that staggering wildlife event is the crossing of the Mara River, which runs through Kenya and Tanzania. On their journey, the herd face incredible danger as hungry crocodiles patiently wait for them to take the plunge. Being devoured if you cross or starving to death if you don’t, the wildebeest’s life seems very hard. But that is one of nature’s beautiful “circle of life” events that you should witness once in your life.
If seeing this wonder is important to you, choosing the location of your accommodation is crucial; the further it is, the more time it will eat from your game drive. Some safari in Africa tour companies offers camping trips, so you’re closer to the Mara River.
Okavango Delta in Botswana
A delta is a landform located at the mouth of a river; the phenomenon in Botswana is specific as a delta river usually reaches the sea but here, it continues through the sands of the Kalahari Desert, where it evaporates.
That setting is perfect for wildlife as the area is very rich in nutrients for animals and birds compared to the adjacent desert; it’s a permanent wetland and a year-round safari destination.
There are many bird species (over 400), and it’s majestic when they fly out in front of you. In addition, all the Big Five can be found here.
The best way to experience a safari in the Okavango Delta is either by mokoro (a type of canoe), where animals can pass by you or by bush camping and flying over at low altitude. Having done all three, I have fond memories of the night we went bush camping as an elephant ventured as close as our tents. Both frightening and astounding, we still laugh about how amazing it is to this day.
Kruger National Park in South Africa
Kruger National Park is a huge game reserve located in northeastern South Africa, with access from Johannesburg, a major hub, in 4 or 5 hours. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including the Big Five.
The park was established to protect the area’s wildlife, but it has since become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country and one of the main reasons people desire to visit South Africa.
Where it stands out is that it’s much more accessible for an independent safari in Africa trips as roads to reach the park are better.
Etosha National Park in Namibia
Etosha National Park is great for a safari in Africa because it has a healthy population of black rhinoceros, and they can be harder to find in other parks while possible. However, if you are looking to see the Big Five, the buffalo has been absent from the area since the 1950s.
The park is also known for its extensive salt pan, attracting various bird species. Additionally, the park is home to many ancient archaeological sites.
Many camps are conveniently located near the waterholes where the animals gather. Also, as Namibia has a lot to offer, Etosha fits nicely in a road-trip loop starting and ending in Windhoek.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda
If you would like to witness gorillas in their natural habitat, you will have to trek in Uganda’s rainforests, home to over 500 mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. It’s a different kind of safari in Africa, but one, nonetheless.
This is a fantastic experience as you get to see those shy and gentle gorillas, but the hike can be very strenuous and challenging as it involves going through thick vegetation, rugged terrain, water sources, etc.
Safari in Africa - How to save on the cost of the trip?
When you plan a safari in Africa trip, there are three aspects to the budget:
- Game drives
- Getting there
Safari in Africa - Saving on the game drives
No matter where you go for your safari in Africa, you will be looking at game drives to spot animals. There are some exceptions, like in Uganda where you will be trekking and some places where you can go on a walking safari. I’ve done the walking safari in Zimbabwe, and we were accompanied by armed park rangers; we did it that way in order to get closer to the rhinoceros.
The most economical method to do this is to hire a car and drive around yourself. Indeed, most parks allow this provided you have a specific type of vehicles, such as a Land Cruiser or a 4 × 4.
So, to use points to reduce the cost on this aspect, we must resort to reward points you can apply to travel expenses. For example, TD Rewards are easy to get with the generous TD First Class Travel® Visa Infinite* Card signup bonus. Then, you can rent a car on the Expedia for TD website for your safari in Africa.
If you are considering this avenue, I would advise you to do it from Johannesburg or Windhoek since there are many other things to see on a road trip in those areas.
The best parks for self-drive safaris are:
- Kruger National Park
- Pilanesberg National Park
- Kgalagadi National Park
- Addo Elephant National Park
- Etosha National Park
- Namib-Naukluft National Park
Besides the main parks mentioned in the previous sections, there are several other places to experience a safari in Africa at a lower cost and without driving.
Having done a few small excursions in South Africa with Viator, I know they offer really great safari tours on a budget. While they can be short, ranging from two hours to multi-day tours, you are still being driven around in a jeep to spot animals!
Whether it is a gorilla trekking tour or a Viator game drive excursion, I would advise you to pay with a credit card without foreign exchange fees, such as the HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®; in order to save 2.5% on the transaction.
Furthermore, you can use your HSBC Rewards for a statement credit on your safari in Africa activities!
Safari in Africa - Saving on accommodation
This aspect of the budget can be highly variable; it is possible to stay in hostels or camping up to luxury hotels costing thousands of dollars per night! Accommodation is often the most expensive component of a safari in Africa trip.
While they are not located in the national parks themselves and while this is not feasible everywhere, it is nevertheless an excellent compromise to cut back on your safari in Africa budget.
Marriott Bonvoy points can add up quickly, thanks to the generous welcome bonuses.
Indeed, for a family, both parents could subscribe to a Marriott BonvoyMD Business American ExpressMD* Card and a Marriott BonvoyMD Business American ExpressMD* Card car and quickly accumulate over 200,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.
In addition, each of those cards will give you a free night’s award certificate.
That’s a lot of points and free nights in a country such as South Africa, where you can explore one of the biggest and most impressive parks, Kruger National Park.
You’ll even have enough points to discover the country in-depth in addition to your safari in Africa!
Safari in Africa - Saving with Organized Tours
Another option for a dreamy safari in Africa is to book an organized tour where they will take care of all activities (game drives), food, accommodation and transport from one park to park. Obviously, it will be more costly when compared to doing it yourself, but it’s understandable if you are not comfortable venturing into Africa on your own.
I also went with this avenue the first time I was backpacking alone in Africa and it was a great way to get at ease; I planned the tour at the beginning of my stay in Africa and ended the trip independently.
G Adventures is an excellent company to book a safari in Africa as they offer all kinds of circuits on the continent and for all budgets. Indeed, you can go camping in the Serengeti, or you can travel in luxury with their “National Geographic Journeys.” It’s up to you and your wallet.
All G Adventures safari in Africa circuits covers the land portion but excludes flights. To employ points to absorb some of the cost of the tour, you will have to turn to rewards that can be applied to a travel purchase. I have personally used NBC Rewards Points for a safari in Africa with G Adventures.
The National Bank’s World Elite Mastercard® offers an exciting bonus, but the card’s travel insurance is one of the best. When planning this kind of “once in a lifetime” trip, you want to ensure all corners are covered.
As for flights that are not included in most safari in Africa tours, we’ll go in-depth in the next section.
Safari in Africa - Saving on flights
Depending on your destination choice for your safari in Africa, you can go with many different programs.
Therefore, the best type of points to aim for are American Express Membership Rewards points, as they can be transferred.
While with Aeroplan, a one-way fare to Kenya is priced at 55,000 Aeroplan points in economy class for the same date.
The sweet spot with Air France Flying Blue’s program is that children between the age of 2 to 11 get a 25% discount on points redemptions. Therefore, it can be cheaper to go with Flying Blue if you are travelling with little ones.
This program also trumps Aeroplan as you can add a free stopover but all flights have to be operated with either Air France or KLM. For a safari in Africa trip, the odds are that it will be as Paris and Amsterdam are well connected to the African continent.
The comparison above is for a safari in Africa with Nairobi as the entry point; you can visit the Masai Mara, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro from there.
How to find out the best points program for flights elsewhere in Africa? It’s a matter of points costs and your ability to accumulate them.
First, look for routes on Flight Connections; if your destination is only served by one airline, you will have your answer quickly by finding out what alliance they are part of.
If the place has flights from all three major airline groups, you have to research for both cost and availability, then analyze. All programs have some dynamic pricing, so the answer is not always the same depending on the destination and dates.
That is why American Express Membership Rewards points are so valuable; not only are they incredibly easy to obtain with daily purchases, but you can also decide which program to use for your safari in Africa when you are ready to book.
If you wish to fly in business class, you can follow the same steps.
A safari in Africa can be done on a budget or in luxury; you can do it all independently (self-drive) and camp or stay in a 5-star resort. Whatever you choose, you can reduce the cost with points. Africa is also very well connected with airlines from all three alliances, so you can have your pick.
What to wear for a safari in Africa?
The best thing to wear on a safari in Africa is ample clothes that will keep you covered against mosquitoes. Also, try to dress in beige and khaki tones to blend in with your surroundings.
Nights can be chilly so it’s better to pack warm layers especially if you are camping.
Do you need a visa for a safari in Africa?
It will depend on the country where the safari takes place. For Canadians, a visa is required to visit Tanzania but not for South Africa, so it’s best to check for your specific situation. Some visas can also be obtained on arrival.
What is the best safari in Africa Park?
It will depend on your interests; generally speaking, the most popular ones to see the ‘’Big Five“ are the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Reserve and Kruger National Park.
When is the best time to go on a safari in Africa?
The best time to go on a safari in Africa is during the dry season (from June to October) as water bodies are rarer; consequently, animals will converge to them.
How much does it cost to go on a safari in Africa?
Safari in Africa can be expensive when considering game drives, accommodation and flights, but you can use reward points to help lower the costs. The cheapest way to go on a safari in Africa is to book a local excursion; you can go on a 2-hour game drive for as low as $35 (activity only).