Let’s be honest; the word “safari” rarely elicits thoughts of budget travel! In fact, safaris are often associated with some of the most expensive holidays you can go on! People often use phrases like “it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip” or “I will have to wait for my honeymoon to be able to justify a safari”. But what if I were to tell you that didn’t have to be the case? We’ve just returned from a budget safari in Tanzania, and it was epic! And the best bit about it is that we didn’t even compromise on where we stayed or what we did!
I want to share with you how you too can enjoy a cheap safari in Tanzania, including tips and tricks to help you get the most value for your money!
If you want to go on a budget safari in Tanzania, then book directly with the guide!
If you google ‘Tanzania Safaris,’ all of the listings that come up are international travel companies with large overheads who need to take a cut of your money to cover their expenses and staff. I’m not suggesting this is bad; they do add a lot of value. However, the in-country experience doesn’t change as they will book the services of a local guide. So if you are a budget-conscious traveller looking to go on a cheap safari, or at least a better value safari, then one of the best ways to lower the price is to book directly with the guide.
This has multiple benefits. Not only do you save money, but they also tend to make a higher profit, which is a win-win for everyone. Furthermore, by spending the money locally rather than internationally, you will have a greater impact on the local economy, and therein lies the first step towards sustainable tourism.
Tourism, although a double edged sword at times, plays an important role in many countries’ economies. For example, travel and tourism contribute over 10% of the country’s GDP in Tanzania. In addition, tourism is a significant driver of wildlife conservation. However, I won’t get into the pros and cons of tourism in this article. I think that is best left for another day. After all, you are reading this because you want to go on a budget safari in Tanzania! (or at least a cheaper one!)
How much can you save by booking direct?
I have taken the most common itinerary from some of the most popular travel companies and asked our guide Malaki, from Migration Tanzania Safari, to cost them up so you can see exactly what you would get. Incidentally, he has been the guide for these companies in the past and continues to work for them as a freelancer. So you are really not compromising on the in-country experience!
So what is one of the most popular itineraries?
Day 1 – Arrive at Kilimanjaro airport and transfer to your lodge in Arusha.
Day 2 – Drive to Karatu and visit Lake Manyara National Park. Stay the night at Ngorongoro Farmhouse
Day 3 – Explore Ngorongoro Crater National Park and then return for one last night at Ngorongoro Farmhouse
Day 4 – Drive to the Serengeti and enjoy a game drive in Africa’s last intact savannah wilderness ecosystem! Stay the night at Serengeti Kati Kati camp or similar.
Day 5 and 6 – Continue enjoying the Serengeti using Serengeti Kati Kati Camp as your base
Day 7 – One final drive before you return to the airport for your flight home
How much does the above itinerary cost?
This exact itinerary is available from Audley Travel starting at £5,460pp and from Kuoni for £4,750pp. By booking directly with Malaki, this itinerary would only cost £3,000pp! And yet you’d probably end up with him or one of his friends as a driver if you booked through either of those companies anyway!
Our itinerary included additional National Parks, a Hot Balloon Safari, meeting 3 different tribes, and 3 nights in Zanzibar relaxing at the end of our trip. Yet, it was still only £3,500pp!
If you are interested in our itinerary, you can read all about it in “My epic 10-day Tanzania Safari Itinerary” blog post.
That’s all very good, but how do I find a guide in the first place?
There is a saying we use at work when talking about the reality of cost vs. quality of products and services:
Good + fast = expensive
Good + cheap = slow
Cheap + fast = Poor quality
When it comes to finding affordable safaris, whether in Tanzania or anywhere else, you do have to compromise. The key is not to compromise on quality, as you still want the trip to be one of the best in your lifetime, so instead, it means you need to compromise on effort. Unfortunately, guides rarely appear on the first page of Google. Those spots are reserved for companies with the resources to advertise or with SEO teams working relentlessly behind the scenes.
Guides are doing what they are best at, guiding other guests. So it takes a little more effort as you need to find them. Since you are reading this article though, most of your work is done for you, because I can wholeheartedly recommend Malaki from Migration Tanzania Safari for your budget safari. But, if you want to do your own research, then Instagram and other blog posts are a great way to start.
How did I find Malaki?
I actually found Malaki on Instagram in 2020. Yes, you guessed it, while dreaming of travel when in fact I was confined to my four walls! We got chatting, and he started telling me about his beloved country. He asked for tips to help him grow his Instagram, while I asked lots of questions about safaris. He’d always finish the conversation with, “You are most welcome in Tanzania”. He’d also finish every post with “Expect extremely service when you safari with us”. Or something like that. He loves the word ‘extremely’. I suppose I should tell him that he isn’t really using it in the proper context!
Eventually, we started talking about my husband Doug and me visiting, and he shared a proposed itinerary with us. I reached out to a couple of his previous guests whom he had tagged on Instagram to get the lie of the land, and they all came back with glowing reviews, so we decided to push ahead and put our trust in a complete stranger! Needless to say, it was the best decision we could have made!
Not only was he great, but we also laughed, sang, ate, and most importantly, saw more animals up close than we could ever have imagined. And best of all, we achieved this ethically, with no animal harassment. Believe me, not all guides behaved in this way! I will talk more about whether safaris are ethical or not in another post. I will cover why it is vital to ensure you do your research!
Pros and Cons of using big travel companies vs. going direct to the guide
I’m a firm believer that every action has a reaction and that there is no pro without a con. And that applies to whether you use a large corporation or a small business. There are positives and negatives to both.
Pros of going direct:
- You pay less for the same in-country service
- You don’t have to compromise on accommodation or activities because your money goes further
- All of your money goes directly into the economy, and therefore you play a much more significant role in creating sustainable tourism.
- The guide will likely make a higher profit as companies negotiate lower rates.
- It is an adventure!
Cons of going direct:
- There isn’t a whole team at your disposal when you have a question. They are often a one-person band, and if they are on safari with another customer, it may take them a couple of days to get back to you.
- There could be a language barrier (or at least some hilarious misunderstandings). For example, the first time Malaki told me not to break his ribs, I thought I’d done something to offend him and that he thought I was telling him off. Turns out that “you are breaking my ribs” is what we would say in the UK as “you crack me up!”. Or, for further simplification, you are making me laugh!
- You might need to ask some extra questions or read some additional blog posts to ensure everything is covered (for example, the process of getting a VISA when you land). But don’t worry, I have that covered in my “Complete Guide to visiting Tanzania” post!
- They aren’t always ATOL-protected. This doesn’t mean you are not protected; it just means you need to check with your travel insurance.
Pros of using a large company:
- You will have access to an in-house sales team that will be available at your beck and call to sell you your dream safari
- Glossy information and pictures to help convince you it is the right trip for you
- No language barriers (I’d hope!)
- You can basically let them take care of everything
- ATOL protected
Cons of using a large company:
- You will pay significantly more for the same in-country experience. Remember, they will be using a freelancer like Malaki or a company within Tanzania that uses a freelancer like Malaki to take you on your tour.
- Because you are paying so many more people, your money won’t go as far. So you will either pay more for the same, or you will have to compromise and not do everything you could otherwise be doing.
- Beware that not all safaris you book are private. You will often end up with a group of strangers! For example, we met a lady who had spent £10,000 per person on their safari for what was more or less the same itinerary as ours. Yet they were sharing a safari vehicle with 4 others, which made getting good photos really challenging!
- You lose most of the sense of adventure. This might not be a con to others, but to me, it’s a huge setback!
What did we get up to on our budget safari in Tanzania?
We had a wonderful time, and I can’t believe how much we got to do for £3,500 per person! I thought I’d share our itinerary so you can see what we crammed in:
Day 1 – we landed at Kilimanjaro airport. We were transferred to Osiligilia Maasai Lodge, where we spent the evening learning about Maasai culture, throwing spears, watching the sunset over Mount Meru, dancing, and BBQing meat while listening to stories around the campfire.
Day 2 – We woke up to watch the sunrise over Kilimanjaro. We then went on a game drive in Tarangire National Park, a.k.a elephant paradise! We stayed the night at Eileen’s Tree Lodge in Karatu.
Day 3 – We started with a morning drive in Ngorongoro Crater National Park, followed by an evening drive of Central Serengeti. We stayed at Matawi Serengeti Camp. A truly magnificent luxury tented camp in the middle of the Serengeti, with our own 4-poster bed and free-standing bath!
Day 4 – We spent the day in Central Serengeti, the easiest place in Africa to spot lions! We then drove north and stayed at Heritage Mara Camp, which was the perfect comfort level for us. Not too posh, but it still had all the amenities you’d want. It also happened to be the friendliest camp of all the ones we stayed at.
Day 5 – We kicked off the day with a hot air Balloon ride in Northern Serengeti, where we saw wildebeest crossing the Mara River! We followed this up with another game drive, where we came across the wildebeest migration, once again crossing the Mara River. National Geographic stuff! We stayed the night at Central Serengeti Luxury Lodge.
Day 6 – Our final drive in Central Serengeti before heading back to Karatu, where we stayed at Peak Hotel.
Day 7 – We spent the morning hunting with the Hadzabe tribe before being dropped off at the airport to catch our flight to Zanzibar.
Day 9 and 10 – We spent them relaxing at Paradise Beach Resort in Zanzibar.
Day 11 – Time to say goodbye after one final morning relaxing on the beach.
I hope this highlights just how much more you can get for your money when you go direct! Budget safaris in Tanzania really are possible! I would hate to think just how much our itinerary would have cost with Audley or Kouni! In fact, I am sure we would not have been able to afford it!
Other ways you can create a budget safari
Maybe £3,500 is still too much for you, and you want to make your safari in Tanzania cheaper. There is plenty of scope to do that! Here are a few ways:
- Drop the hot air balloon! Yes, it was an amazing experience, but it was also expensive at $600 pp (£521).
- Consider the type of accommodation you stay in. We had a mix of lodges, luxury-tented camps, and normal-tented camps. The prices between these vary astronomically! For example, some tented camps are £150 per night while others are over £1,000 per night! A tented camp is a huge tent with all the amenities you could want. However, you can go on a camping safari (think normal tents) which increases the sense of adventure and significantly reduces the cost! In fact, you can expect to pay half the price of a safari when you choose to camp.
- Visit during the shoulder season. Prices are always lower outside of peak season.
- Consider shortening the distances or reducing the number of days you are on safari. But who wants to do that, right?
Remember, if you want a budget safari, book directly with a local guide
Regardless of your budget, if you want the most for your money when you go on safari in Tanzania, please consider booking directly. My experience is with Malaki from Migration Tanzania Safaris, so of course, that is who I would recommend. But whether it is Malaki or someone else, skipping the big companies is the best way for you to enjoy a budget safari in Tanzania.
If you are wondering why we enjoyed our time with Malaki so much, I encourage you to read our Tanzania Travel Diaries.
I love hearing from my readers, so please leave me a comment or drop me an email. I’m always happy to talk travel and answer any questions I can help with.
If you are interested in any of my other African posts then check out what I got up to in Sierra Leone!