Safari has been giving me a perception of expensive to get there, exclusive in the middle of “nowhere”, and luxurious with private game drives. Even my coworker came back telling how she flew in this small plane and landed on the private airstrip of the lodge she paid thousands of dollars per night. After I seen photos of her safari trip, even taken by a cellphone camera, she had my travel bug biting bad. She spent like $10K on the trip and I said to myself, there must be cheaper options! Right after work, I started to research on it and surprisingly found that there are cheaper options yay!!! With limited vacation days, we only have 6 nights and my friend wanted to see the penguins at Cape Town so we split 4 nights safari and 2 nights Cape Town. Here’s our expense and how you can do it yourself too!
We are from Boston so there’s really not many cheap nor fast options to get to South Africa. We went during the “peak” season that is summer in Boston while winter in South Africa; winter provides better visibility as the grass and bushes are less dense and short. The roundtrip ticket cost over $1000 so it made sense for us to redeem our points and miles for the flight ticket. It cost 80,000 United miles roundtrip and I booked it before they changed the rule of “free one-way” so the 80,000 miles included a one-way from Jackson Hole ( to Boston with “stop” in Boston for a month then start the trip from Boston to Johannesburg. The one-way from Jackson Hole to Boston was over $500! Jason signed up for the new Chase Sapphire Reserve Credit Card when the signup bonus was 100,000 points (now 50,000 points) after $4000 spent on purchases within 3 months. If you signup from our link above, we’ll get bonus referral points but I recommend that you wait until the bonus gets more than the current offer of 50,000 points to signup. The 100,000 Chase points (Ultimate Rewards) can be transferred to United miles at a ratio of 1:1. We had some United miles and plus the 100,000 Chase transfer to cover our 2 roundtrip tickets! The tax and fee with the flight award redemption were around $80 per person. For more information on how to take advantage of credit card sign up bonus to get almost free travel, take a look at my travel tips page!
From Johannesburg to Skukuza Airport, the flight was $182 per person. Skukuza was probably the most expensive airport to fly into as it located right inside the park. Other choices are: Hoedspruit and Nelspruit. As we were tight on time, we paid more to fly directly into Skukuza.
From Hoedspruit to Cape Town, the flight was expensive at $306 per person. Unfortunately, it was more expensive for the early afternoon flight out of Hoedspruit; I bet the airline knows that people would not want to miss their last morning game drive so the early afternoon flight (right after the game drive) is more expensive than other timing of the day.
We did 2 nights self-drive and stayed right outside the Paul Kruger Gate – the Protea by Marriott Kruger Gate, it was only $357 for 2 nights for 2 people including breakfast and dinner! We chose to stay around Kruger Gate because the location is the nearest to Skukuza Airport (only airport inside Kruger National Park) so we can start our safari right away due to limited time. I looked at lodging inside the park and due to my semi-OCD, I wasn’t really like the restrooms so decided to stay outside the park at the Protea by Marriott Kruger Gate. Arathusa was a luxury lodge so it was $1612 for 2 nights for 2 people including all the meals and the game drives. The deciding factors were that I really like the modern and comfortable feel of the rooms and its animal attracting waterhole (even though it dried out due to the drought when we were there). Don’t get scared by the price, there are other cheaper options for private lodges in Sabi Sands! Also, you can just stay inside the Kruger National Park and stay from one camp to another by self-drive, for more information, visit the national park page. We barely covered a corner of Kruger on our 2 nights self-drive!
For private safari lodge, the price does not include tipping. I researched at different websites and TripAdvisor, I found this guide very useful: https://www.africanbudgetsafaris.com/blog/tips-for-tipping-the-definitive-guide-on-safari/
Other Helpful Tips:
- Bring a flashlight to walk back to your room after dinner and double check for animals.
- Bring a warm hat for the game drive, it’s open back vehicle so it gets cold fast right after the sun has set.
- Credit card is widely accepted: pay for gate fee, restaurants inside the park, gas. However, use the ATM to take out Rands for tipping.
- Lens: we found our 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens did most of the work and sometimes we wished we have a 400 mm (our friends rented one for the trip). In addition to the telephoto lens, we used a lot of our 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens as sometimes we get very close to the animals.
- Book early as the best value lodges with limited rooms sell out fast!
Our total expense:
|Johannesburg to Skukuza flight||182|
|Protea by Marriott Kurger Gate||178.43|
|Arathusa Safari Lodge||806|
|Hoedspruit to Cape Town flight||306|
|Cape Town Canal Quays||56.25|
|Avis Car Rental||78.5|
|4-Aug||Boulder Beach Entrance Fee||5.275|
|Cape Point Entrance Fee||10.175|
Food inside the park was excellent quality and value for money, you can easily have a good meal for less than $10 so I didn’t include the cost of food here and the lodges included most of the meals. Like I said, it can be done with other cheaper options! It doesn’t cost an arm and leg for a South Africa safari experience if you spend some time to do some planning. The memories from the trip will be priceless!!! We had a good balance of 2 nights self-drive and 2 nights stay at a luxury private lodge 🙂 If I have more vacation days, I’ll definitely stay a week to safari! Happy planning and hope you can get to experience the amazing safari experience! Please feel free to contact me for questions and I’ll be glad to help out 😉