Why are safaris so expensive? A safari won’t be the cheapest vacation you ever take, but it will be one of the most exciting and enjoyable trips you ever take. It’s a real trip that changes your life and stirs your soul in a deep way.
Africa is a beautiful place for safaris, and people who love it go back again and again. Africa may be more expensive than other places to visit, but it’s hard to find a traveler who didn’t think it was worth every penny.
But then, why do safaris cost so much? Well, Africa is thought to be an expensive place to visit for three main reasons: there isn’t much infrastructure there, getting there is hard, and there are a lot of people working there for each visitor. Add to this a tourist policy that encourages “high price-low density” to protect fragile ecosystems from too many people, like how Botswana protects the Okavango Delta, and you have a good idea of what makes a safari expensive.
But if you still want to know why African safaris are so expensive, let’s look at this question in more depth.
- Distance & Infrastructure.
Within Europe, US, and Asia, it’s not too expensive to travel because the infrastructure is so good (airports, roads, trains, hotels) and there are so many companies fighting for your pounds, dollars, or euros. This keeps prices from going up. These places are also very popular with tourists, so economies of scale come into play.
Africa, on the other hand, is a very different story. Outside of the capital towns of many countries, there are no airports, just short strips of land that can be used by small planes. This means that only a few people can come and go at once. There aren’t big tanks of jet fuel at the airstrips so it’s easy to refill. Instead, every drop has to be brought in by truck, which costs a lot. Some roads are made of dirt and can be washed away by heavy rains or floods. Getting a grader to the Serengeti to fix the road requires a lot of planning and money.
Infrastructure isn’t as good as it is in Europe and the US. There aren’t any trains, cars, or low-cost airlines that go between places regularly. In most African countries, things like road transfers, charter flights, and day tours are done by private companies. In the same way, there aren’t many planes in Africa, so travelling within Africa can be expensive. Most African safaris are so expensive because there is often only one airline that goes on a certain path on certain days of the week.
- Remote Locations.
When you get to your safari lodge or camp, you are a long way from any towns. This means that camps have to take care of themselves. Every grain of rice you eat, every bottle of beer you drink, every drop of soap you use, every mattress you sleep on, and every fan that keeps you cool was carried on ferries across rivers and over thousands of miles of bad roads. Most of the time, it takes about two hours to fly to a camp, but it can take two days to drive there, and it costs even more to fly goods there.
You can’t just run out to the store. The closest store could be over 200 kilometres (124 miles) away on a road that few people use. Because safari lodges are so far from other places, it takes a lot of careful planning to keep them going. Because of this, their operating costs are very high, which is why African safaris cost so much.
- Staff to Guest Ratios.
The staff is another thing that can make or break your vacation. At many wildlife camps, the number of staff to guests can be 5 to 1 or higher. At high-end hotels in first-world countries, you might only see a porter, a concierge, a maid and maybe a barman or waitress. At the end of the day, they all leave to go home.
Most people who work at safari lodges in Africa live on the property. This means that all of their meals, laundry, housing, uniforms, toiletries, entertainment, transportation, and medical care must be given. Also, many camps offer extra services like butlers, babysitters, private guides, birding experts, and free cleaning, which means they need more staff. As more lodges start cooking gardens to give their chefs fresh ingredients, they need to hire gardeners as well. And that’s not even counting the people who work “behind the scenes,” like builders and repair workers who make sure the generators and solar panels keep working, as well as anti-poaching units and people who clean.
To keep a safari lodge or camp running, it takes a lot of people: managers who deal with guests, butlers or camp hosts, housekeeping, your highly trained and skilled wildlife guides, a maintenance crew that works to keep the camp in good shape (changing light bulbs, fixing boardwalks, etc.), and mechanics who take care of the specialized 4×4 vehicles to make sure they’re all in good shape for your game drive. Not to mention the people in the kitchen who make your food!
- National Park Fees & Conservation Levies.
Every day that a person stays in a national park, game reserve, or conservancy in Africa, they must pay a protection fee. This is how the large amount of work that goes into managing these protected places is paid for.
The price of your tour includes fees for conservation, which go to national parks and private or indigenous landowners. By paying these fees, you directly help protect wildlife and give people in the area a real reason to protect Africa’s beautiful ecosystems. At first glance, it might seem like these fees are what make African safaris so expensive when you get figures of how much they will cost.
Most safari lodges and camps were built to protect the land and animals, especially in private game parks and conservancies. Keeping the land and wildlife safe takes time, work, money, and people, like those who work in anti-poaching teams. Your stay helps a lot with conservation programs and community development projects that help protect forests and wildlife.
Most of the time, when you go on a tour, the money you spend at a lodge or camp helps local people get jobs they need. This makes poaching less necessary or appealing.
- All-Inclusive Accommodation Rates.
“All-inclusive” means that you pay a set price per person per day that covers your room, meals, snacks, standard drinks, and general activities like game watching. Most of the time, this is what makes African trips seem so expensive at first. In fact, all-inclusive trips are a great way to spend your money.
Most of the time, you’ll be in a remote area, so the safari camp has to take care of almost everything. There are no places nearby where you can order food. So, at first, the cost of lodging on safari can seem high, especially when compared to a stay at a hotel that only gives breakfast. But it’s important to bear in mind that this initial cost covers more elements, so you don’t spend as much during your stay at the safari lodge.
- Level of Luxury.
It goes without saying that the more luxurious a lodge or camp is, the more it costs to run and keep up, which means that guests will pay more to stay there. Many tented camps bring back the grandeur and luxury of safari’s romantic time, while others have completely redesigned the safari lodge, giving it a whole new look at African style, authenticity, and luxury.
Luxury safari lodges in Africa often have Victorian bathtubs, wood-burning fireplaces, air conditioning, top-of-the-line cars, and modern gourmet dining with views of some of the wildest and most beautiful places in the world. All of this is, of course, more expensive than the cheaper African safari choices.
- Booking direct vs with an Agent.
If you’ve ever tried to book a safari on your own instead of going through a company, you may have asked, “Why are safaris so expensive?” Well, you will get the best deal if you book your safari trip with a trusted company.
Focus East Africa Tours has been in the safari business for a long time and has made trusting relationships with Africa’s best safari operators. This means that you can get the best rates and the best value without sacrificing the quality of your itinerary.