You are currently viewing My 6 days in South Africa for $687 ($115 per day): 4 safaris, accommodation, transport and food

No, an African safari doesn’t have to be expensive. Of course, buying packages and ready-made tours is almost always so much more expensive. But, unfortunately, many people mistakenly think that this is the only way to travel, or that it’s complicated to do otherwise. Like anything else in the world of travel, saving money is just a matter of taking a little time!

A safari in Africa is certainly a dream trip for many. You can stop dreaming and start planning an epic journey without emptying your bank account if you follow these simple tips I’ve used — and if you take a little time to organize it yourself, of course!

Here are the details of my trip to South Africa for much less than most people usually pay.

 

Basics of this $687 trip ($115 per day)

My trip to South Africa was certainly not a budget trip. So you can easily manage to get by there for a lot less than that if you want — and there are plenty of affordable countries where it can cost just $40 total per day.

But it’s clear that a safari is on many people’s bucket list. In December 2018, my girlfriend of the time and I did it for a lot less than the overpriced packages that cost thousands of dollars — and we loved our experience!

We also took the opportunity to stay a full month as digital nomads, to visit this incredible country.

So in this post, I want to show you only the classic safari part since it’s THE thing everyone wants to do there, even if it was the most expensive part of my entire trip.

You can do the safari part in 6 days (5 nights) and then add your personal favorite destinations for the rest of your trip. In that part of the world, you’re spoilt for choice. 

I’ll give you some ideas to complete your itinerary and more general tips for South Africa, in a separate post coming soon.

For us, 4 safaris (including some that weren’t full days) were more than enough. But you can obviously do more or less if you want. It’s not like it’s that expensive. Most restaurant meals in your super-expensive Canada cost more than a safari, literally.

That’s why booking all your trips yourself is so much more enjoyable and affordable. You can customize everything to your taste!

 

Breakdown of the $687 budget ($115 per day)

I’m focusing on the 4 main components of expenses at the destination, for which many people pay thousands of dollars:

  • Safaris (4 days out of 6): $200
  • Accommodation: $30
  • Transportation: $223
  • Food: $234

That’s a total of $687 for the 6 days, so $115 per day per person for a truly epic trip. 

Mine was actually even cheaper, but I did take into account the inflation since. To give you a realistic budget that you can easily do for real if you want to.

Here’s an overview of each aspect.

 

Safaris — $200

This is obviously a pretty expensive activity compared to what you can find in many other countries.

But a safari is unique! Especially in one of the world’s best destinations for a safari. And $50 per safari is obviously still way more affordable than buying a package.

We visited South Africa’s most famous park: Kruger National Park. It’s the most recommended. On top of that, there are plenty of nature or private reserves nearby if you want a little variety. 

View from one of the safaris in South Africa (photo credit: Kevin Gagnon/Flytrippers)

 

We did both self-drive and guided safaris. They all cost us $35 to $45 per safari, but I budgeted you $50 per safari just in case of inflation, even knowing the self-drive price hasn’t changed.

Safaris are one of the rare examples where it’s worth paying more for a guide. That’s because the information they provide is NOT easily available online, unlike information about any other place or attraction.

That’s because the information they have is the location of all the animals at that very moment. The guides all talk to each other in real time to share the best spots for you to see all the animals possible.

Guided safaris still cost a lot less when you buy them separately directly from the supplier. You save a lot of money by choosing this option rather than an overpriced package from a travel agency of course, as is the case for all activities and guided tours.

By booking guided safaris directly on-site with the hotels, we paid $35 to $45 per safari as mentioned above.

However, even a company that sells guided safaris mentions on their website: “Undoubtedly, the best way to experience Kruger Park is with your own vehicle”.

It’s true that living such an experience is a unique feeling. Especially if you have plenty of time to see all the animals.

At Kruger National Park, the current price is still $35 per day in self-drive mode. It’s easy there as everything is well designed for it, the park being the most popular. We liked that approach too.

 

Accommodation — $30

If you take advantage of the current increased deal on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card, you get 71,000 Marriott points for only $120 ($60 per person if you have a companion).

You have an option that costs few points near Kruger National Park, specifically 31,000 points for the 5 nights. Since you’ll have more than half your points left over, I’ll use $30 as the real net cost.

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The hotel in question is the Protea Hotel Nelspruit in Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit).

It’s 50 minutes from the Malelane Gate in Kruger Park. It’s a bit further, of course, but it allows you to pay in points. I’ll share some examples of cash prices right after.

The hotel looks very nice, even if it has a more classic style than others. It also has a nice pool for those who want to relax.

Protea Hotel Nelspruit (image credit: Marriott)

 

Don’t forget that instead of 71,000 points, you can easily get 142,000 Marriott points (for $120 per person) if your companion also takes advantage of the increased deal on the Marriott Bonvoy Amex Card.

There’s no minimum income requirement, so the deal is really for everyone — in fact, it’s the only card in Canada that no traveler should not have. But be warned, you have to apply before May 6, even though there’s no time limit for using the points themselves.

The extra points, if your travel buddy takes advantage of it too, will allow you to complete the rest of your trip. That’s right, South Africa is one of the best countries to get lots of free nights with your Marriott points. A detailed list is coming soon.

Speaking of other Marriott hotels, on my trip in 2018, we had stayed at a hotel much closer to the Kruger National Park, but it became an independent hotel, the Kruger Gate Hotel, and is no longer part of Marriott. It was great, but it costs $271 a night.

So if you don’t want lots of those Marriott points that are so easy to obtain, here are some well-rated accommodation options in the region:

All those options are still way cheaper than a package, of course.

 

Transportation — $223

If you get a rental car like we did, it’s definitely a lot cheaper than buying a package.

But if you’re just going on guided safaris, you should obviously compare the price of public transport with the price of a rental car, depending on what you choose: the specific hotel, the specific safaris, the specific duration, the number of people, etc.

So simple! Traveling for less isn't rocket science: it's really just a matter of taking the time to compare, compare, and compare again. It all depends on so many factors. You just have to check the options and prices, always. Everything is easily found online.

For example, the bus from Johannesburg to Phalaborwa, near Kruger Gate, costs $25.

For us, the cheapest option was to have a car so we could do the self-drive safaris and be freer.

Car rental at Johannesburg Airport (JNB) costs $34 per day ($17 per person).

Car rental at $34 per day (image credit: Booking.com)

 

Damage insurance for the rental car is free with almost all credit cards, and liability insurance is included in the price in South Africa.

Gas cost us around $200 for 6 days in December 2018 ($100 per person). Online data shows a 21% increase in gas prices since so that’s $121 per person.

Warning: as anywhere outside North America, the cheapest rental cars have manual transmissions. You’ll have to pay a little extra for an automatic. Know that driving in South Africa is on the left. However, I found it very easy to get used to.

With our rental car in South Africa (photo credit: Kevin Gagnon/Flytrippers)

 

To get the best prices for rental cars, always book in advance, then check regularly to see if the price has dropped. You can read a teaser of some of the best tips for saving on rental cars.

 

Food — $234

South Africa is definitely not one of the most affordable countries and we really didn’t aim to budget travel on this trip, as I mentioned above.

But in 2018 we could easily get away with $30 worth of food per day per person, which is $180 for 6 days. If you focus on groceries instead of restaurants, you can easily manage to save.

In case you don’t want to, I took into account the 30% inflation for food based on online data, so $234.

Food in South Africa (photo credit: Kevin Gagnon/Flytrippers)

 

Itinerary suggestion for this 6-day safari trip

Here’s what these 6 days focused on the safari aspect would look like:

  • Day 1: Travel to Kruger National Park
  • Day 2: Guided safari
  • Day 3: Guided safari
  • Day 4: Self-drive safari
  • Day 5: Guided safari
  • Day 6: Travel to your next destination

 

Flights to South Africa

All examples of daily travel budgets always exclude flights to get there, always.

Because flights are the thing that varies most in price. It can easily be double or even triple.

So it depends so much on how good you are at finding cheap flights. For example, there are people who pay $1000+ for Costa Rica, even though you can easily find tickets for $500…😬

Andrew, Flytrippers’ other co-founder, had paid $550 roundtrip with a Montréal-Johannesburg plane ticket deal. But we don’t often spot some that are that cheap.

In my case, I was flying from Europe at the time, so it’s less representative, but I paid for my flights with 60,000 Avios points roundtrip. You can get 60,000 of them with the record deal on the RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card!

Without putting in any effort for research, the cheapest flights today are $1194 roundtrip from Toronto to Johannesburg.

Prices to South Africa (image credit: Skyscanner)

 

I’ll have more to help you with flights in the follow-up post about South Africa tips soon.

If you want to save even more, I strongly encourage you to read our post on 31 tips to save money on plane tickets and then apply them. Not more complicated than that. You have to just take the time to learn the tips and to apply the tips.

It’s worth learning more about the most important subject if you want to save. Because plane tickets are always the most variable expense, and often the most expensive expense of the whole trip.

If you can’t be flexible on your dates and prices are higher than $1200, it may be worth using points of the more lucrative type.

It’s not a destination that’s a very good use for economy class in general, but with Aeroplan, it would cost 140,000 points and $136 taxes in economy class or 220,000 points and $152 taxes in business class. Reminder of the basics of Aeroplan: guaranteed fixed prices are subject to availability on partner airlines.

 

Other destinations to complete your trip to South Africa

Don’t miss my next post for suggestions of destinations to add before or after the classic Kruger Park safari to complete your trip to this awesome region.

 

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Summary

One of the most basic things you need to know about traveling for less is that it’s almost always cheaper to organize everything yourself. It can save you literally thousands of dollars on even a single trip, especially an African safari. And your trip will be just as epic — no, it’ll be even more epic!

 

What would you like to know about cheap safari in South Africa? Tell us in the comments below.

 

See the flight deals we spot: Cheap flights

Discover free travel with rewards: Travel rewards

Explore awesome destinations: Travel inspiration

Learn pro tricks: Travel tips

 

Featured image: Safari (photo credit: Kevin Gagnon/Flytrippers)

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Kevin Gagnon

Kevin is the co-founder of Flytrippers. A former structural engineer, he is now following his true passion, traveling! With the website, he also wants to share this passion with you and allow you to travel more than you would have thought possible. His goal is to visit all the countries in the world. Current count: 87/193!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Judy

    Such great information… I just wish it was for Tanzania! I’m trying to book that right now but too scared to book it on my own and not a package. Thanks for the tips for the Marriott I will look into that. Cheers!

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Hi Judy, what usually leads to fear is the unknown. By doing plenty of research and reading up, it won’t be unknown anymore and you can save a lot of money.
      Neither of us have been to Tanzania so we can’t help with hands-on experience, but it’s one of the most popular countries in Subsaharan Africa so there’s surely plenty of info available if you are willing to invest the time 🙂

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