Why are African Safaris Expensive?

August 19, 2014

I lived in Kenya for a few years and I was privileged enough to go on more safaris than I can count - no two safaris have ever felt the same to me, every one was a unique and amazing experience! When I moved to England from Kenya and whenever I spoke with my friends about the safaris, they all seemed very excited about the idea of them however, a question that came up a lot was ‘but, why are they so expensive?’. Thanks to my new job I got the chance to talk with the lodge owners about where the money is going, and receive information I could have never known only through my experiences.

Lack of Infrastructures

African countries may have their big metropolitan cities and major airports that connect them to the world, but a lot of these structures are concentrated in one area. Your safari will usually take place far from the big cities, in the middle of nowhere. The lack of major roads and only a few small airstrips scattered around makes transport very difficult. For you to get there, it would either require a chartered flight, or, if the roads are accessible, the drive requires the use of a good 4x4 or a heavy duty van to handle the dusty rough roads. These cars consume fuel like they have a hole in the tank.

For a Safari Trip is better to drive with a good sturdy vehicles as 4x4. Photo by Mopane.

Transportation Cost

The same mode of transport used to get you to your destination is used for all the building materials, food, drinks and any other necessary amenities for a functioning lodge or camp. Feeding a customer may not cost that much, but hauling food products from the cities into the middle of nowhere increases the price tremendously, and some hotel owners dish out an average of about $110 per head per day.

Availability of Amenities

When you go on safari you expect the luxuries you would have at home. Running water and electricity may seem like a basic necessity to you, but a hefty price is paid to connect the remote lodges to electricity and supply water. Another reason for high energy costs, is the fact that many lodges run on petrol powered generators, in order to power an entire lodge, lots of petrol is required - however due to the conditions of the roads, the petrol is transported in small amounts adding to the costs.

Lodges offer you accommodation with all the comforts of a typical Safari Hotel. Photos by Banoka Bush Camp.

High Maintenance Cost

Once the lodges are up and running, constant maintenance is required. A lot of safari destinations experience a range of extreme weather conditions, from hot, arid conditions to heavy rain and unbearable humidity. These conditions lead to the quick degradation of the wooden structures and thatched roofs and are almost unforgiving on the appearance of the lodges - leading to premature aging of buildings. In order to maintain a good image, restoration and touch ups must be done regularly.

Park and Conservation Fees

Another thing hotel owners and tour operators must factor into their costs is legislation. Many African countries have laws to conserve and protect the natural environment. This is done in several ways, mainly through high taxation of hotel owners and the use of park fees. Although park fees may not cost much (ranging from an average of $10 - $110 per day), the accumulative cost can be quite steep. Imagine going to a 10 day safari, with an average fee of $60, that is already $600 of your safari trip cost.

In order to make up for the high taxes several lodge owners face, they must charge more, and also must take into consideration that although they being highly taxed for the conservation of the park, the government may still not have enough resources for things such as the restoration or maintenance of roads in and around the parks, a cost many lodge owners have to deal with themselves, which can cost an average of $80 per kilometre.

The Parks fees supose a chunk of the trip budget. Etosha National Park Gate, Namibia. Photo by Wikipedia.

Empty Beds

Another factor that leads to the high prices is empty beds. To get the best out of a safari, timing is of the essence. Many lodges remain open throughout the year, but tourists only visit at particular times - for example July is the busiest time of the year in the Masai Mara due to the wildebeest migration, but during the wet, boggy seasons from March to June, the park is almost empty. In order for a business to be successful, they need to compensate for the loss made during these times.

Conclusion

Do not let the prices put you off! There is nothing in this world I would trade my experience of the African bush for. Africa is a beautiful continent, and travellers who fall in love with its beauty will most definitely find themselves returning. The beauty is all the different ways you can experience a safari - including the different types of places you can stay and the different ways to see the park, and no one experience would be the same. Safaris don’t have to cost you an arm and leg, if you know the difference between the high and low seasons and the differences in the safari rates - you can plan a perfectly affordable one! So go on, and plan an African safari and get ready for the experience of a lifetime.

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