18 Nov African Safaris That Won’t Break the Bank
African safaris aren’t known for being a budget-friendly vacation, but there are ways to lessen the strain on your pocketbook.
If you’re seeking out the luxury experience some camps provide, going during the off season is a great way to get a competitive rate. Many camps close up during the rainy season but some will offer spectacular deals that you can take advantage of.
Another option is to stay in smaller lodges, many of which are owner-operated, because they lack the high overhead of the larger chains.
Luangwa Valley in Zambia has ample options for smaller lodges, and because my husband and I were around Mfuwe for work we decided to stay in the area.
We started looking for accommodations about three weeks out and everything was booked (tip: book early). But, we were able to take advantage of great last-minute rates at a few lodges and ended up choosing Flatdogs Camp which is situated right on the Luangwa River.
Our last minute booking meant that we had a change tents half way through, but our second location was much … quieter.
The first tent overlooked a watering hole that is frequented by elephants, giraffe, hippo, puku, and bushbuck. And that’s the absolute coolest…until you hear the hippos brushing up against your tent at 2AM and you think you might die. Also, there were several run-ins with baboons and elephants keeping us out of or in our tent. “Picky, picky,” you say, until you are three days into a safari and you can’t get into your tent because a baboon has dislodged the power and defecated on the roof of your tent. Yeah, that happened.
That being said, there is nothing like dozing off in the afternoon after an early morning safari ride, and waking up to find an elephant family spraying themselves off almost close enough to reach out and touch.
All of the tents have the same amenities, but the pricier tents have nicer appointments like a larger/comfier bed, better bathroom, and just generally more space.
The food at Flatdogs Camp is nothing to write home about, but it’s not bad either. Your package will determine the amount of meals you get in a day. You can negotiate for a cheaper package by only signing up for two meals instead of three like we did.
Tip: Don’t bring any snacks because you’re not allowed to have any food item in your tent (including items like gum) because it attracts the elephants.
We knew the safari drill when we got there because we’d been on one for our honeymoon in South Africa a few years back.
Flatdogs is a smidge different than the one we went on previously. Because it’s open (read…no electric fence keeping out the animals that want to eat you) you are required to have escorts to and from your tent whenever it is dusky or dark. In the mornings before game drives, you lean out of your tent and wave around your flashlight (or “torch” as they call it) and a guy with a pretty solid weapon comes to take you to breakfast to eat your Weetabix and tea. Similarly at night, as soon as you’re ready to retire to bed, an escort takes you back to your tent where you’ll be the rest of the night.
Retiring after dinner (about 9pm) can seem confining when you’re in the smaller tent because there is no space other than the bed or the bathroom. But morning game drives come early, so there are worse things than getting to bed early.
Your morning and afternoon game drives will depend on when the sun rises and sets. At Flatdogs they are also dependent on when the South Luangwa National Park opens, which is a little later than you really want to get started to see animals getting their days started. Our previous camp, Jackalberry Lodge outside of Kruger in South Africa, was private – with its own land – so you could head out whenever was best.
The temperature on drives can vary a lot, especially at certain times of year, so bring layers, and many vehicles will offer blankets. Each drive lasts about 3-4 hours and you’ll stop half way through for bio breaks, beverages, and snacks.
Tip: Don’t forget to bring lots of sunscreen and bug repellent.
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