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Zambezi Safari and Travel Co.

Safari costs and prices

Zambezi Safari and Travel Company
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If you just want some safari prices then go here...


...if you want to understand the system then read on... 

  • How the system works in Africa's safari industry (East, central and southern)
  • Types of safari discounts and how to get them 
  • Average African safari costs
  • Why the regional differences?
  • How to keep your safari costs down
  • Card surcharges
  • Words of caution


Essential "safari primer" resources on this site
Intro  |  Destinations & Maps  |  Seasons  |  Types of safaris
migrationSafari costs and prices  |  Planning a safari  |  Good safari examples


The safari industry and how pricing works

  • Camps, lodges and safari operators set their prices based on cost plus margin or in some cases on the price that the market will bear accounting for supply and demand.  Trish and gang playing in Namibia

  • This is the rack rate (or "off the shelf" brochure price) and "usually" includes all land costs with accommodation, meals, guide fees and activities (often excludes parks fees).  Some safari operators sell directly to the consumer but they don't discount the rack rate - if they do they run the risk of alienating their trade support.

  • The rack rates are discounted to tour operators and travel wholesalers by around 20% who then package with flights, market and sell to consumers and travel agents.  In some cases the "net" rates are discounted even further based on volume or reciprocal deals.  They apply to the trade only.

  • Travel agents often purchase these packaged trips from wholesalers/tour and safari operators, and earn around 10% for distribution to consumers.


Types of discount

The price to consumers is usually based on the rack rate and sometimes gets discounted.  (In some cases tour operators run the risk of alienating safari operators if they discount rack rates without agreement.)  When applied, discounts are offered as follows:

  • Last-minute bookings: if a camp has unsold space or last minute cancellations then discounts are sometimes available (contact for last minute specials).  Some camps never discount on rack rates in which case the tour operators pass the discount to the consumer.save dollars...travel in the green season

  • Seasonal discounts: low-season and "shoulder" periods on either side of the high season are good times to look out for seasonal discounts.

  • Group discounts: some camps offer discounts on volume of 6 or more guests and in the case of activities (eg river rafting) full discounts usually apply to the 10th person in the group

  • Loss-leaders: here's one that's been available for the last 10 years!  Victoria Falls Safari Lodge at less than half price.  Still valid! The beauty of this one is that it provides first class but inexpensive accommodation and easy access to other safari options in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia.


So what are the average costs of a safari? 
(with some comparisons between 2007 and 2013)

  • Low-budget trips in Namibia can cost around $150 per person per night - set departures, fairly large groups, basic campsites.  Mahale chimpanzee
  • Overland trips in East Africa, or Victoria Falls/Botswana or South Africa/Zimbabwe/Botswana can work out at less than $100 per night.
  • We've had good value camping safaris in Tanzania's Serengeti run over 6 days cost $1700 (Dec '08) or $1900 (June 2013) including parks fees.
  • In all cases above these are well organised trips run by reputable companies in a very competitive sector of the market.  
  • They generally appeal to the younger set, are packaged and priced accordingly.

All-inclusive trips to small and remote bush camps with Professional Guides cost a fair bit more.  To illustrate, 

  • Medium budget trips in Zimbabwe's lower Zambezi valley might cost around $350 per night, a comparable trip in Botswana will cost around $550 per night.Bateleur (short tailed eagle) from the air with John Coppinger and Andy Hogg
  • Some of our best and most successful safaris which cover additional ground with a bit more exclusivity work out at $360 in Zimbabwe, $490 in Zambia, $650 in Botswana, Southern Tanzania and Kenya (2008 rates)  
  • Consider one or two of these trips with a specific Pro Guide and you may need to add 30% to the rates - and there's no question that these safaris are fair value for money.
  • Compare apples with apples as well - these "daily" rates could include
    • local charter rates getting you in and out of remote areas.....one of our best trips in Zambia's Luangwa valley over 7 nights costs exactly the same as an equivalent standard trip in Zambia's Kafue over 4 nights - the difference being the helicopter used to get you into camp from Lusaka....
    • Parks Fees - in the Serengeti rates generally exclude National Parks Fees, in Kenya's Laikipia, Conservancy Fees are included in the "rack rates".


  • Then in 2008/2009 the "credit crunch" shook the entire industry's prices.  It continues today!  Some prices have come down and we have regular "pay 5 stay 7" specials.  Even the occasional 50% discount.  (Ask about the latest)


Why the big regional differences?

  • In Botswana, we have a well established policy of "low volumes, high returns".  From a conservation point of view there's very little doubt that it's a good policy - especially since a large portion of the safari earnings go back into actual conservation.  So prices are generally higher, supply and demand is a big factor.African map
  • In the remoter parts of Zambia, southern Tanzania and Zimbabwe (the Luangwa, Kafue, lower Zambezi, Ruaha, Selous and Mana Pools) the camps are often very small (some with only 6 guests) and our safari season is relatively short (May to October at best).  Most of these safaris are a very fair deal when you start adding in logistical costs.
  • In Kenya we've seen groups of operators across the Mara, Laikipia, Amboseli and the coast standardise their charges at around $450 (excluding parks fees) - this hasn't happened to the same extent in Tanzania.
  •  In Zimbabwe we saw politics turn market forces upside down.  Volumes dropped, prices came down and whilst the rest of Africa was booming up to 2008/9, Zimbabwe was in the doldrums.  Things are looking good for Zimbabwe - value for money is excellent now in 2013!
  • In South Africa you could have access to regional rates without having to prove that you're not an "international" guest...in Zimbabwe's "old days" you could get local, regional or international rates for the same product depending on who you spoke to...not fair at all.


What variables will keep the cost of a safari down?

  • Bear in mind that all of our safaris are based on land costs and exclude international airfares.  A review of the "Airfares for Africa" site is strongly recommended for some ideas on this.  We're ATOL licensed for international flights out of the UK and are well connected to consolidators in the US (just let us know if you'd like us to take care of the international airfares with your safari)Float plane gathering Musango 1997 (courtesy Steve Edwards)
  • One of the biggest cost drivers on a trip is in fact the logistical costs of getting in and out of remoter spots.  Typically a 7 day trip covering the South and North Luangwa is going to be far more cost effective than trying to cover the Luangwa, Kafue, lower Zambezi and Victoria Falls in the same period.  Aside from costs, you'll probably be too exhausted by the series of light aircraft charters to appreciate the latter trip.
  • Be careful when planning a multi-country trip in the region.  Typically, East Africa and Southern Africa don't combine all that well because of the lost time in transit and additional costs if you can't get code-sharing connections between the destinations.
  • Think about combining a bit of luxury with "participative trips". 
    • For example a lower Zambezi canoe trail works well with a "luxury" lodge in Matusadona.  The canoe trail is a load of fun and relatively inexpensive, the lodge gives you a good walking safari and some creature comforts.
    • A simple camping trip in the Serengeti combines with a bit of lodge luxury on the coast.


  • Take a close look at our modules.  They've been packaged based on options that are well proven - the logistics work, the activities and destinations are well matched and we've discounted prices.  (Try here)


A word on card surcharges

  • Companies that accept credit and pre-paid debit cards hold merchant accounts for which they're charged transaction fees in addition to processing fees for SSL encryption systems.  These costs range between around 2-5% on every transaction.
  • Merchant agreements in the US and EU, as established by MasterCard, Visa, and American Express, generally prohibit passing on the cost of card processing (interchange fees) in the form of a "card surcharge" or "convenience fee". 
  • This is not the case in the UK or Australia where the "no-surcharge" ruling is banned.
  • So if you deal for example with a US tour operator they would generally build the cost of processing cards into their pricing and will often offer a 2-5% discount for cash or wire transfers. 
  • UK traders and tour operators are entitled to add a fee for processing cards.  Some build the cost into their pricing structures (in which case discounts should be giving for transfers and cheques), others treat the cost as an add-on. The guideline from the Office of Fair Trading covers
    • Transparency; clients should be told up-front what the relevant charges are if they apply.
    • Reasonable and practical alternatives to avoiding card charges should be made available.
    • Extra charges to clients should be consistent with processing costs incurred by merchants (they shouldn't be excessive)
    • A future ruling may restrict traders from applying any charges for pre-paid debit cards.


  • In Africa it's not uncommon to be expected to pay a 5-7% card surcharge!  (Zanzibar has to be the worst)
  • We're transparent about administration fees associated with our secure booking system, we offer no-charge alternatives, we're in the business of selling safaris so don't profit by these fees.  [read more about our payments system...]


Some words of caution?

  • We've seen "packaged holidays" out of the UK for 2 weeks including international airfares on a full board basis in Kenya for "from £579" (around $1150 - January 2007)...you get what you pay for...big resorts, minibuses, extras...."caveat emptor" - that's 2 weeks, all in, just over $1000!  Those clients never saw real Africa - guaranteed.

  • There's one spot in the Serengeti’s Western Corridor that’s on the migration path for about one week each year, usually around June, has poor resident game, has a lousy road network, is a 2 hour bone-jarring drive from the Seronera circuits but enjoys a 10 month “high season” and is practically full for 11 months of the year. The only explanation for this is that the market has been duped - there's very little chance that these visitors will ever admit to friends at home that they were disappointed especially since they would have spent $1375 per room per night (2007 rates)!  (Not far away in Grumeti area you'll find two small lodges where the comparable '07 rate was $800 pppn and of significantly better value - we continue to support the latter strongly.)

  • The Mara is an amazing place and there's capacity for several thousand people at any time - but there're only 6 camps and 2 lodges that are real value for money.  The Amboseli has capacity for just under 500 people at peak but in all honesty there's only 1 tented camp for 12 guests that's an absolute "must" and 1 other small lodge that's worth considering at all.  Don't follow the herd.

  • The Tanzanian "Grumeti" option above is in an area of 1100 square km with 57 bednights which compares with 1500 square km and 4500 bednights in Kenya's Mara -  prices are comparable but the experiences are completely different.  Don't use price to distinguish between excellent and rotten!

Don't get caught!

Savuti lions, Botswana

... take a look at some specific safari prices or take a look at special interest trips....


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