Botswana is one of the best but most expensive safari destinations. Tourism is high-end and it has some of the most spectacular lodges. However, during the rainy “green season”, there are relative bargains to be found. For instance, African Bush Camps offers a Secret Season Special: its Linyanti Bush Camp, in Chobe National Park, costs $905pppn (£700) in high season; during the January-March rains – a great time to see baby animals and breeding birds – it costs a third of that.
From $315 pppn (£243), africanbushcamps.com
Keep costs down by flying into an airport with plenty of airline choice and then going on safari nearby, so you don’t need internal flights. Bush Baby Travel has a five-night stay at Kwa Maritane Lodge in malaria-free Pilanesburg National Park, which is a two-hour drive from Johannesburg. A stay includes one game drive every day; you can use your own hire car to explore, too. A bonus for families: two children (under-13s) can the room for free.
but it gives a lot of bang for buck. It includes a private vehicle and driver and is tailored to suit kids – no long, tiring drives. It also covers all meals, good accommodation – including a luxury stilted tent in Tarangire National Park – and time in the wildlife bowl of Ngorongoro Crater. From £1,510pp excluding flights, tanzaniaspecialists.co.uk
If you’re willing to jump in a truck with strangers, pitch your own tent and cook your own meals, you can slash the cost of seeing Africa’s greatest creatures. You don’t need six months to spare, either. Dragoman’s Zanzibar-Victoria Falls overlanding trip takes 19 days, cramming in Indian Ocean marine life, Lake Malawi snorkelling, safaris in South Luangwa and canoeing along the Lower Zambezi.
If you do want frills, Jules Verne’s eight-night Kenyan Safari might suit. Visiting some of the country’s classic parks – mountainous Aberdare, the savannah of the Maasai Mara, bird-flocked Lake Nakuru and Lake Naivasha – it encompasses varied scenery and wildlife and stays at comfortable lodges, camps and country clubs. Also, it’s all-in: flights, transport, park entry fees, food and international flights are included in the price.
Sri Lanka has the best big-game safaris outside of Africa. On the teardrop isle you can tick off leopards, sloth bears, crocodiles, langur monkeys, huge gatherings of elephants and, from November to April, blue whales. On The Go’s Wild About Sri Lanka small-group trip squeezes in Yala, Udawalawe and Bandula National Parks, whale-watching in Mirissa plus cultural highlights and even some five-star accommodation. Ten days from £1,076pp excluding flights, onthegotours.com
Check out discount sites that sell unbooked rooms at some of the top safari lodges; the best deals are usually available to those willing to wait until the last minute. For instance, at the end of August, BushBreaks was selling rooms at Makalali Private Game Lodges – an ecotourism-focused big five reserve near Kruger National Park – for R1,428pppn (£75) for stays in September, instead of the usual rate of R4,181 (£220). Bushbreaks.co.za
Based in Cape Town, African Budget Safaris has, in its own words, “tried every safari packaged under the sun”. It knows its stuff, from budget to blow-out trips – including a bargain nine-day Victoria Falls, Chobe Delta Overland Camping Safari that features mokoro canoe trips in
Namibia’s currency is tied to the South African rand rather than the US dollar (which
is making trips across the rest of Africa more expensive at the moment). And, with its good road network, the country is well set-up for affordable self-drives. Expert Africa’s 11-day Impala Self-drive Safari focuses on spotting the big five in Etosha National
G Adventure’s Kruger, Falls Zimbabwe small-group trip covers around 2,000km in eight days. A little tiring, perhaps, but this fast-paced itinerary is designed for young, energetic types who don’t mind roughing it (it’s largely camping) and who want to pack in as much as possible. It certainly does that, combining world-class safari drives in Kruger with rhino-tracking on foot in Zimbabwe’s Matobo National Park.
Travel no-frills with a small group to make good savings on a classic safari. Intrepid’s eight-day Kenya Wildlife Safari is in its Basix range – journeys are in a comfy but non-aircon vehicle and camping is participatory, sometimes in sites without showers. However, it’s worth enduring a bit of dirt to spot the big five – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo – in the Maasai Mara, meet the Maasai people in the Loita Hills and see rhinos in Lake Nakuru National Park.
A one-day permit to track Uganda’s mountain gorillas costs $600 (£460), but it’s the kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s worth it. Because Matoke Tours’ six-day Uganda Value for Money Tour includes the permits, it’s a good price overall. As well as tracking in Bwindi, it also includes game drives and boat trips to spot elephants, hippos and more in Queen Elizabeth National Park.