“We’ve just spent a couple of nights at a safari camp in Zambia. It was a fabulous place â€“ very luxurious, beautifully located and with an excellent guide. But it cost an arm and a leg. We would love to have gone for longer but simply couldn’t afford to. Why are safaris so costly?”
Our Africa specialist Kieron Humphrey has just spent 18 months in Zambia:
Safaris are expensive for several reasons. For starters, building in the bush requires a huge outlay because of the very limited infrastructure and the logistics of trucking or boating in materials. And even if locally available materials are used, maintaining the thatch and wooden beams on elegantly furnished rondavels is still a constant drain on finances.
Once built, the owners have to let you know about their camp or lodge. Enter the middlemen: agents take a generous slice of your safari spend â€“ in some cases as much as 30 per cent. It sounds swingeing, but operators in “new” areas see it as essential to bringing in custom. Zambia’s Luangwa Valley and Lower Zambezi, and Botswana’s Okavango Delta fall into this category, so visiting them incurs larger than usual costs.
The Zambian destinations are served by a scheduled airline (Â£340 return from Lusaka to Mfuwe and Â£200 to Lower Zambezi by Proflight), but reaching the Moremi Game Reserve in the Delta requires a private charter from Maun).
Then there’s the food. Meals may not quite be Michelin-star standard (you are in the bush, after all) but prices are still high. Feeding and watering a guest comes in at about Â£65 per head. Anything brought into camp â€“ right down to the last toothpick â€“ adds 20 per cent to the “normal” price.
The safari itself adds to the overall cost, too. Your park fee may be only Â£15 per day but the long-wheelbase safari jeep you’re riding in is Â£45,000. Road construction and upkeep, nominally the job of the wildlife authority, but usually brooked by the lodges, is about Â£80 a mile. Insurance costs Â£30,000 per year. Your portion of each sum may be small, but it soon mounts up.
Factor in, too, the cost of the guide (around Â£15,000 a year): his knowledge is the key to the success of your safari. And don’t forget the rest of the staff. At Robin Pope Safaris in Zambia, for example, the wage bill for all 150 employees is a whopping 30 per cent of turnover, or about Â£80 out of your nightly rate.
There are ways you can keep costs to a minimum. Most lodges offer reduced rates in the shoulder season, from May to June. In theory the longer grass makes game viewing more difficult at this time of year, but the pay-off is that the parks tend to be quieter. There are even bigger discounts if you travel in the green season, which runs November to December and February to April. The explosion of colour and plant life produced by the rains, and the profusion of birds, makes for a very different safari experience.
Empty beds cost lodges dearly, so look out for special deals on the internet and subscribe to safari operators’ newsletters. And consider packages that let the safari company decide your itinerary for you, something that helps them juggle bed availability.
- Tourists urged to boycott Botswana (telegraph.co.uk)
- Zambia — the land where wildlife reigns (cnn.com)