Before going much further, I can say that I truly do not believe there is another holiday on this planet which quite matches an African safari in terms of experience, exhilaration and enjoyment. Particularly for a family, especially when taking out a group of mono-syllabic teenagers who spend more time on their screens than anything else… apart from sleeping, that is!
Naturally, I am referring to utterly customised, tailor-made vacations, which is what you want your safari to be. After all, why go on someone else’s vacation?
The experiences of a safari are the perfect antidote to the stressors of the modern world. It is an incredibly bonding holiday for families who, simply through busy lives, have become a bit disparate. So many times, people have remarked that they have never seen their children (yes, as teenagers, we still refer to them as children commensurate with their behaviour!), so tired and sated at the end of the day.
Families are noticeably closer after a safari, and this is where safaris excel. The day is jam packed with entertainment from 6.00am until 8.00pm when one sits down to dinner. But this is not just game-viewing by vehicle! Au contraire! No, it is on foot, by boat, by camel, on horseback, perhaps quad bike, mountain bike and canoe. This is what makes Africa such a hit with families. The success of any vacation (but a safari in particular), is the diversity of experience.
We haven’t even touched on the accommodation yet. You could take a luxury, private mobile camp or a safari villa just for your family, or perhaps stay at an intimate safari lodge… or even a treehouse! Whilst I mentioned teenagers, the reality is that safaris are wonderful for families of all ages. Your travel and accommodation can be tailored accordingly to the age group, the demographic and the interests and hobbies of each family and each individual.
But a safari isn’t just about where you stay; the most important part is the experience. I recommend you can add in a cultural aspect which is fascinating, illuminating and educational. You can spend time with families or tribes and learn how they have lived for generations and how they have adapted to Westernisation in the 21st century.
The piece de resistance is a philanthropic safari, whereby as part of a safari (or indeed, a whole safari if you are interested), you visit a philanthropic project as an integral part of your holiday. This can be conservation oriented, community, or humanitarian. Again, this results in a completely different, enlightened and enriched experience.
Like anything in life, of course it is possible to do things ‘on the cheap’… whereby, invariably, one gets what one pays for. I am excluding this viewpoint for the purposes of this article, as this perspective often leads to a false economy.
Now we have that out of the way, we can dive into the numbers! Safaris in Africa start at $1000.00 per person per night. That is for the accommodation (and all the activities, which are innumerable), and your meals. It may or may not include conservancy and park fees. To this, you need to add on internal charter flights and schedules to reach that particular camp, lodge or destination. This is for a base-rate, lovely safari, which is custom-made, utilises quality accommodation in private conservancies (or national parks), and excellent guides.
However, if you want to up the level of luxury, then you are looking at closer to $2000.00 per person per night. This includes your accommodation, and invariably your transport to get you there (scheduled flight) etc., all your activities whilst at the camp, all your meals including your drinks, and your transfers from the airstrip to the camp and return. It generally includes laundry.
So what other considerations are there? Okay, let’s take a camp like Mombo in Botswana. This retails (depending upon the season) from $2500 to $4000.00 per person per night. That is at the far end and covers the accommodation, activities and meal costs. But one still must add on flights to get there, whether schedule or charter.
You can be clever, and, if not dictated to by school holidays, you can travel out of season, what is commonly known as the ‘green season’ in Africa. For anyone trying to make a real saving, this is the perfect time to travel! It is certainly my favourite time to travel in Africa, providing you can put up with the heat and a chance of rain. But the game viewing is still as good as ever and, in some countries, even better!
So, the rationale. You may be asking, “why is it so expensive?” This is quite easy to answer. The average hotel has how many bedrooms? 21? 46? 120? Take the running costs and amortise them between the guests. However, the average luxury camp in Africa has just eight tents or rooms.
If going on a private mobile safari, in the style that Hemingway went on safari in the 30’s and 40’s (and the style I went on when living in Africa and going into the bush on safari at the weekends or on holiday), then you must consider the cost of the camp and crew and vehicle and guide and ancillary costs, such as fuel, food, park fees, etc. amortised between the participants. Which is why, whilst one can have a private mobile with just two people, the economics become more favourable with a family of four, six, or more.
Secondly you must consider the costs of obtaining the raw materials. Fuel and food in particular. The costs of running a camp in Africa are exorbitant. Land Cruisers cost upward of $100 000, and that’s before one customises them! That doesn’t take into consideration the regular replacement costs for those enormous tyres.
Food is expensive, and often flown in from places such as Arusha, or in some cases, Italy or South Africa and duty is high. The same goes for wine.
Then, finally, many of these camps cannot operate for 12 months of the year. In worst case scenarios, some camps operate for three months of the year, whilst others operate for six and most operate for around 10. This is because of weather and climatic conditions and the black cotton soil which pervades many areas and makes it impassable. So, this needs to be factored in, as these camps need to make sufficient revenue to operate in this timeframe.
So, my advice is to take time. Invest in your safari, not only from a financial perspective but from a time perspective. Plan carefully; you owe it to yourself to get this right. Use a specialist (such as The Explorations Company) who doesn’t own their own camps or lodges and therefore doesn’t have any bias.
Ensure you are talking to people who have stayed everywhere they are recommending to you, and preferably come from Africa. After all, there is no substitute for local knowledge! This way you can ensure that you are receiving the best advice to create a safari that is perfect for you. When you do this, no matter how much you spend, you know you are getting good value for money!
If you would like any more information about how to plan the most extraordinary safaris to Africa, Asia and Latin America, please do feel free to get in touch. Alternatively, if you would just like to dream for now, you can do so at our Video Library.
Images by kind courtesy of Great Plains Conservation, Feline Fields, Uncharted Expeditions, Lengishu House, Africa Born Safaris, Angama Mara, Jembisa, Sand Rivers, Pilatus.