How to choose an African safari

leopard on brown trunk tree

An African safari is the epitome of bucket-list trips – yet costs vary widely and it can be so confusing for travelers to know what’s “worth it”. There are some nuances that will make your safari less or more expensive and you will have to prioritize your wishlist. Don’t get too caught up in slight cost differences between safaris before making sure you understand what it includes – it could be that one offers a much greater value than the other, based on my tips below.  Here are four key components that will help you choose an African safari.

Here are some differences to think about when choosing your safari: 

1. Choose your African safari destination 

Do you want to have a city & culture experience as well, or is your sole focus purely on animals?  If you want your experience to be 100% on the animals, then consider a destination like Tanzania or Kenya. 

If you want your trip to include cities and culture like restaurants, museums, non-animal focused touring, wine-tasting,  then consider a country like South Africa where you can spend several days in Cape Town and other areas learning about the culture & history before jetting off on an incredible safari. 

If you want to have a “relaxing” time after the upbeat pace of a safari,  then don’t forget to add on an escape to Zanzibar to enjoy the blue waters and fantastic culture on this spice island.  

2. Choose your lodging type

Are you the type of person who places great emphasis on the type of lodging during your trip?  For example, a “treehouse” style accommodation or upscale tented safari camps will generally take you into the 5-star category and the correlating increase in your budget.  By contrast, regular lodge-style safari camps are generally in the 4-star category,  and may offer buffets instead of plated meals for certain price points. (To be clear: your lodging will still be extraordinary at the 4 star level as well!)

Another item that can add to your budget is special requests.  If it’s always been your dream to have a sunrise hot air balloon over the Serengeti,  you’ll need to make sure you have room in your budget for about $500 extra per person.

3. Choose an African safari drive type


Although many of us assume safaris take place in “national parks”, there’s an incredible nuance here to be aware of.   Certain safari camps are located on private property which means they have more freedoms with safari logistics.

For instance, a safari located on a private reserve can offer safari walks with a guide on foot as well as nighttime drives to find animals by moonlight.  They can go off-road to track animals better and have more free-range.  By contrast, a safari on public land often is not allowed to go off-road and must stick to designated paths.  They also cannot have bush walks or nighttime drives.  If nighttime drives and bush walks are important to you, you should let your travel advisor know before booking so the best property can be selected for you.

Another nuance can be the size of the vehicle and whether it is “open-top” or not.  Some travelers prefer vehicles with no top so they have the ultimate freedom in photography and viewing.  Other travelers may have to use a traditional Jeep with a top, and take photos from the window only.   Finally, it’s important to find out if everyone in the vehicle will be seated by a window, or if there will be anyone “stuck” in a middle seat.

In order to see the wide range of animals and scenery on an African safari, many travelers choose to stay in multiple safari camps. Think about whether you would like to fly or drive between camps (certain distances may not even offer the choice of a drive) and bear in mind long drives can often be uncomfortable on bumpy roads.

4) Choose between “private” and “group” safaris


Many partners offer “group” departures as a way to guarantee specific dates and to bundle your costs more efficiently.  If the group departure meets your wishlist, it’s a fantastic way to get everything you want in one package.  Airfare from major US cities is often included.  This means the specific safari camps are chosen ahead of time,  and that your transportation between the camps is provided for throughout the itinerary. The package is sold to the general public with anywhere from 10 people to 20 people in the group. 

Your costs are slightly decreased because you’re not paying for private transfers on your own between camps.   Group departures are available anywhere from 4-star properties all the way up to incredibly luxe and dreamy camps!  Think of this as slightly similar to using a group tour to see Europe or Alaska – because of the bulk purchase, you may be able to stay at nicer hotels or have some curated experiences that would be above your budget on a customized trip – it’s the same concept in African safaris.  

By contrast, a “private safari” means that everything has been selected specifically for you.  Each safari lodge has been proposed based on your criteria – perhaps you have some special requests like a particular type of accommodation.   Bear in mind that while actually at the safari camp, you’ll still be sharing vehicles with other travelers during the actual day activities to see the animals, but your transfers between each location are generally private – which is why it can be slightly more expensive depending on the itinerary.  (By the way – ultra luxe camps do offer the ability to have a PRIVATE game drive every day, just you and your party.)

Of course, since this is such a bucket list trip, why not create your own group?  With as few as 6-8 people, you’d have an entire safari vehicle to yourself with private experiences during your trip and can customize your wishlist around your own departure dates.  It’s the best of both worlds – bulk pricing, but a highly specialized curated experience based on your wishlist.

Are you ready to start planning?

For your inspiration, here is a fantastic article written by one of my safari partners and published in Travel & Leisure:

You don’t have to make all these decisions on your own. Working with a trusted travel advisor provides you with a “shortcut” to the best options for your travel style, wishlist, and budget. Learn about my travel services here or contact me to start planning the safari of your dreams.