Big beasts on a budget: Here’s our pick of thrilling but affordable African safaris  


Complicated logistics, remote locations and game- park charges can all make organising an African safari bewildering and expensive.

A nine-night holiday in Botswana (booked with Scott Dunn), including a stay at the renowned Jack’s Camp, could set you back £25,600 per person in high season (yes, really). And while going truly budget can be a disaster — think hordes of hot, tin-can mini-buses crowding around animals — there is a middle ground.

Try self-drive and camping, avoid charter flights, plan for park fees, avoid the most remote locations and have a clear idea of what you want. A sub-Saharan safari is a great adventure and you shouldn’t have to limit your holiday. Rather, browse our selection of trips and find the inspiration you need.

NATURAL WONDERS

The Great Rift Valley, pictured, which is one of the last remaining wild, empty spaces on the planet

The Great Rift Valley, pictured, which is one of the last remaining wild, empty spaces on the planet 

The African continent is home to some of the last remaining wild, empty spaces on the planet and perhaps nowhere will give you a better sense of this than the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia, the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti National Parks in Kenya, and Tanzania.

These names will be familiar to most, but this tour also takes in the flamingo-lined shores of Lake Nakuru, the vast Lake Victoria and dramatic slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater — seeing it all doesn’t have to mean private charter planes.

TOP TIP: Stay up late, shooting stars are guaranteed in the bush.

THE TRIP: 11 days camping visiting Kenya and Tanzania from £1,286 pp (africanbudgetsafaris.com). Kenya Airways (kenya-airways.com) London to Nairobi from £433 return.

TOTAL: £1,719 pp for 11 days.

GO IT ALONE

Malawi is perhaps the most varied country in Africa. Pictured is the country's Mount Mulanje

Malawi is perhaps the most varied country in Africa. Pictured is the country’s Mount Mulanje

Malawi is perhaps the most varied country in Africa. From Mount Mulanje and the old capital Zomba in the South, to the Scottish Highlands-like Nyika Plateau and wildlife reserves of the North, there is lots on offer. 

Not to mention the 360 miles of lake shore running the length of the country. And its relatively small size, a touch less than England, means a self-drive tour is a brilliant way to see it all.

TOP TIP: Tea, coffee, honey and chilli sauce are Malawian specialties — they don’t often reach the UK.

THE TRIP: Nine days’ self-drive including Mount Mulanje, Liwonde National Park, Cape Maclear and the Dzalanyama Forest Reserve from £1,335 pp (ventureco-worldwide.com). Kenya Airways (kenya-airways.com) London to Lilongwe from £663 return.

TOTAL: £1,998 pp for nine days.

HIGH LIFE

The Djoudj National Park in Senegal, pictured, is home to 400 different bird species

The Djoudj National Park in Senegal, pictured, is home to 400 different bird species

Talk of the Big Five dominates most safaris and it’s easy to forget about the equally impressive, albeit smaller, creatures that occupy this continent.

The Djoudj National Park in Senegal is home to 400 different bird species including flamingos, fish eagles, Egyptian geese, spoonbills and purple herons. And the hunt for these birds won’t completely divert you from the other game on offer.

This tour also takes in wetland reserves, UNESCO World heritage sites, French colonial towns and neighbouring The Gambia.

TOP TIP: Pack your binoculars.

THE TRIP: A 13-day Dakar round trip visiting St Louis, Georgetown, the Gambia River and Saloum Delta from £1,599 pp (explore.co.uk). Tap Air Portugal (flytap.com) London to Dakar from £315 return.

TOTAL: £1,914 pp for 13 days.

FAMILY AFFAIR

The Chacma Bush Camp, pictured, which is near Kruger National Park in South Africa

The Chacma Bush Camp, pictured, which is near Kruger National Park in South Africa 

In Kruger National Park, you're almost guaranteed to see everything from elephants to lions

In Kruger National Park, you’re almost guaranteed to see everything from elephants to lions

Good roads and direct flights mean South Africa is logistically easier than many of its neighbouring countries. On a trip here you’re almost guaranteed to see everything from elephants to lions, warthogs, cheetahs, buffalo and, of course, the springbok.

The Kruger Park and surrounding reserves are a good starting point for families trying a safari.

Prices can be lower and itineraries will involve less travel, but these parks can get crowded.

TOP TIP: A guided walking safari is sure to be a hit with children.

THE TRIP: Three nights full-board at the Africa on Foot Camp Klaserie and three at the Chacma Bush Camp, both near the Kruger Park, from £1,465 pp (cedarberg-travel.com). BA (ba.com) London to Johannesburg flights from £480 return.

TOTAL: £1,945 pp for six nights.

ON THE RIVER

Botswana's Chobe River, pictured, where hippos, elephants, birdlife, antelope and the big cats all come together for crossings, drinking and hunting

Botswana’s Chobe River, pictured, where hippos, elephants, birdlife, antelope and the big cats all come together for crossings, drinking and hunting

Rivers and watering holes are the great meeting places of African wildlife. Indeed, at Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Chobe River, hidden crocodiles and territorial hippos, elephants, birdlife, antelope and the big cats all come together for crossings, drinking and hunting. 

Floating down a river, as anyone well versed in cruises knows, is also the most relaxing way to see a place. Let the animals come to you.

TOP TIP: Listen out for endearing hippo chatter, which doesn’t quite match up with this creature’s deserved deadly reputation.

The TRIP: Nine days from Victoria Falls to Johannesburg via Kasane, the Chobe River, Maun and the Okavango Delta from £1,182 pp (nomadtours.co.za). Ethiopian Airlines London to Victoria Falls from £401 and Emirates (emirates.com) Johannesburg to London from £257.

TOTAL: £1,840 pp for nine days.

SURF AND TURF

Kenya’s Mombasa, pictured, is on a marine-life rich stretch of coastline dotted with dazzling beaches

Kenya’s Mombasa, pictured, is on a marine-life rich stretch of coastline dotted with dazzling beaches

This might seem a long way to go to sit on the beach, but that might be just what you crave after the early starts, long days walking and driving of a safari.

Within driving distance of the country’s legendary game parks, Kenya’s Mombasa is on a marine-life rich stretch of coastline dotted with dazzling beaches. The lack of private charter planes or boats will make things cheaper.

TOP TIP: Organise a day excursion to Wasini Island with a chance to see whales, dolphins and turtles.

THE TRIP: Four nights outside Mombasa at the Severin Sea Lodge, either side of a four-day safari at Tsavo West, Tsavo East and Amboseli National Parks from £1,999 pp (africasafari.co.uk), including flights.

TOTAL: £1,999 pp for eight days.

MEET THE TRIBE

In Namibia, you’ll spot all the usual suspects, including desert-roaming antelope and elephants

In Namibia, you’ll spot all the usual suspects, including desert-roaming antelope and elephants

Among the red sand dunes and endless coastline of Namibia you’ll spot all the usual suspects, including desert-roaming antelope, elephants, giraffes and ostriches.

But at the country’s premier national park, Etosha, you can also meet the OvaHimba people who still live a nomadic existence in the Namib Desert (which translates as vast place). On the final part of this holiday, spend a day at the Cheetah Conservation Fund on the Waterberg Plateau.

TOP TIP: Look out for Namibia’s rare desert lions who roam as far as the Skeleton Coast and have adapted to hunting seals.

THE TRIP: Eleven days visiting the Etosha National Park, Damaraland, exploring the Skeleton Coast and Swakopmund from £1,385 pp (responsibletravel.com). Virgin Atlantic (virginatlantic.com) London to Windhoek from £582 return.

TOTAL: £1,967 pp for 11 days.

MIX AND MATCH

In South Africa, you can see the Big Five as well as go on a walking tour in the Drakensberg Mountains, pictured

In South Africa, you can see the Big Five as well as go on a walking tour in the Drakensberg Mountains, pictured 

As well as game parks, South Africa is home to vineyards, mountains, magnificent coastline and cities such as Cape Town and Durban.

And it’s partly down to these cities that a south-coast road trip is so popular. On this escorted tour get the chance to see the Big Five while also going whale watching, walking in the Drakensberg Mountains and visiting the ostrich capital of the world, Oudtshoorn.

TOP TIP: Book in June to November to see southern right whales, or May to December for humpbacks.

THE TRIP: 13 days Cape Town to Durban via Lesotho from £1,327 pp (africanoverlandtours.com). BA (ba.com) London to Cape Town from £602 return.

TOTAL: £1,929 pp for 13 days. 



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