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Planning an African Safari on a Budget
In early February, I went on my first safari experience in Africa. I knew it had to be special but found most safaris to be quite costly. The group I was with in Cape Town searched for alternative, affordable safari experiences that were budget friendly and full of adventure and excitement. We ended up booking a 2-day, 1-night safari experience in Chobe National Park in Botswana! When planning a trip, there are so many logistics that come into play: budget, flights, accommodation, visas, immunizations… you name it! I detailed out the logistics of our trip below so you can reference it if you want to go on an affordable African safari like this in the near future.

Photo from Unsplash

Planning an African Safari on a Budget

Written by Megan Marie

In
In early February, I went on my first safari experience in Africa. I knew it had to be special but found most safaris to be quite costly. The group I was with in Cape Town searched for alternative, affordable safari experiences that were budget friendly and full of adventure and excitement. We ended up booking a 2-day, 1-night safari experience in Chobe National Park in Botswana! When planning a trip, there are so many logistics that come into play: budget, flights, accommodation, visas, immunizations… you name it! I detailed out the logistics of our trip below so you can reference it if you want to go on an affordable African safari like this in the near future.

Our Itinerary

As we started our planning, we wrote down a rough itinerary. We decided to spend a week between Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana and planned our schedule accordingly:

  • Day 1: Departure from Cape Town, arrival into Zambia (overnight in Zambia)
  • Day 2 – 3: Chobe National Park 2-day, 1-night safari (overnight in Chobe National Park, Botswana)
  • Day 4 – 7: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (overnight in Zimbabwe)
  • Day 8: Departure from Zambia back to Cape Town

The logistics I’ll be sharing with you below are in reference to visiting these three countries for tourism purposes. I say this because in the next section, we’ll discuss the required visas you need to travel there.

Visas

I am a United States citizen, so the following information pertains to those who are also U.S. citizens. If you are unfamiliar with what visa requirements are needed for your passport, please visit your government website for more details. They should have all the info you need there.

If you are a U.S. citizen, you will need to acquire a “visa on arrival” upon entering Zambia or Zimbabwe via the airport. This means you do not have to apply or pay for a visa ahead of time and can go directly to the visa and immigration counter after landing. 

If you prefer not to fly into Zambia or Zimbabwe and stay only in Botswana, you do not need a visa and are permitted to stay in Botswana for tourism purposes visa-free for up to 90 days. 

Because we landed in Zambia however, we needed to obtain a visa on arrival for around $50. Now when looking into visas for Zambia or Zimbabwe as a U.S. citizen, there are two options:

  1. Visa on arrival (*please note: your visa will become INVALID the moment you cross the border into Botswana and therefore, you will need to buy ANOTHER visa on arrival when going back into Zambia or Zimbabwe)
  2. If you do not go into Botswana at all and ONLY visit Zambia and/or Zimbabwe, you can buy a KAZA Univisa, which allows you to jump across the two country borders with one visa instead of having to buy a new one every time you leave or return. This is useful if you plan on visiting both sides of Victoria Falls, which straddle the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Understanding how this works can be a bit confusing. It took us a while to understand it, so I broke down the facts for you in a digestible way:

  • U.S. Citizens are required to obtain a visa in order to visit Zambia and/or Zimbabwe for tourism purposes. You do not need a visa if you are visiting Botswana.
  • If you are visiting one country only (Zambia OR Zimbabwe, not both), a single visa on arrival is required
  • If you are visiting both countries (Zambia AND Zimbabwe, both), a KAZA Univisa is suggested because it will save you money and time, as you will not have to keep buy a new visa each time you cross the boarder
  • If you are visiting only Botswana and NOT Zambia or Zimbabwe, you DO NOT need a visa
  • If you fly into Zambia or Zimbabwe, are staying overnight in Botswana but plan to return to Zimbabwe or Zambia in a few days, you will need to buy a new visa because the moment you leave, your visa will be invalid.
      • This means if you plan on visiting Botswana from Zambia or Zimbabwe, your visa (single entry and KAZA) will be INVALID the moment you cross Botswana’s borders. If you plan on returning to Zimbabwe or Zambia from Botswana, you will need to buy a new visa at the border.
        • There are TWO exceptions to this:
          • If you do a day trip to Botswana and return to Zimbabwe or Zambia the same day
          • If you buy the KAZA Visa and plan on only going to Zambia/Zimbabwe. That has unlimited entry/re-entry between Zambia and Zimbabwe ONLY

      Because our itinerary was to fly into Zambia, cross the border into Botswana for our overnight safari, cross the border into Zimbabwe to visit Victoria falls, and finally return to Zambia to fly back to South Africa, we bought:

      • One visa-on-arrival when landing in Zambia
      • One KAZA Univisa when crossing the border into Zimbabwe from Botswana, so we didn’t have to buy another visa when going back to the airport in Zambia

      Vaccines

      Before you leave for your trip, make sure you are up to date on your routine vaccines in accordance to the CDC

      In addition to your standard immunizations, you will need:

      • Typhoid
      • Malaria
      • Yellow Fever (if you are traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever virus transmission)

      A Heard Of Elephants

      Malaria

      In Chobe National Park, there is a risk of malaria so you will need to obtain malaria pills prior to your departure. For some individuals, malaria pills can have many side-effects. However, I took malarone and experienced no side-effects. You will need to consult your doctor to pick up a prescription and discuss which type of malaria pills are best for you and your health.

      For malaria, you are required to take one pill prior to your departure into the malaria risk zone, a pill for each day you are in the malaria risk zone, and a pill every day for one week after you leave the malaria risk zone. It is important you take these pills at the same time every day and if you experience discomfort, I found having dairy with the pill helps. 

      Please note: I am not a doctor by any means and just wanted to share what worked for me.

      Typhoid

      You will need to get either the typhoid vaccine or typhoid pills prior to departing for your trip. If you chose to get the typhoid vaccine, it will last approximately two years unlike its counterpart, typhoid pills, which last around five years. In 2017, I received the typhoid vaccine for a trip to India but in 2019, as I prepared for my trip to Africa, I switched to the pills so it would last longer. The pills are also more affordable than the vaccine.

      Photo from Unsplash

      Please consult your local travel doctor or physician on the vaccines you may need.

      Yellow Fever

      As noted above, the yellow fever vaccine is not required to enter Zambia, Zimbabwe or Botswana unless you are coming from an area where there is risk of the yellow fever transmission. These areas include countries like Peru, Brazil, Colombia and African countries like Angola, Kenya and Ethiopia. You can find a list of countries with risk of yellow fever transmission on the CDC website here. If you are traveling directly from the U.S. into Zambia, Zimbabwe or Botswana, you do not need the yellow fever vaccine.

      This is an important vaccine to have since countries can deny you entry if you do not have proof of the vaccine. If you do want to get the vaccine in the U.S., you will need to talk to your doctor since availability of the yellow fever vaccine is limited in the United States.

      In our experience, we flew in from Cape Town South Africa, which has no risk of yellow fever virus transmission, and were not required to show proof of vaccine even though we carried our papers with us.

      Flights

      We flew out of Cape Town, South Africa and into Livingstone, Zambia via Kenya Airways. Being from the states, I get so excited when my “home base” is situated in a different part of the world. It makes traveling to other countries I never dreamed of visiting, either because they were too far or too expensive to get to, so accessible! However, I didn’t realize how big Africa is, so it still took about a 3.5 hour flight to get to our neighboring country, Zambia. 

      Despite flying into Zambia, our safari was scheduled to be in Botswana at Chobe National Park. However, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia all share borders and are extremely close together. We chose to fly in and out of Livingston because it was the most affordable airport for us at the time, but you can definitely plan a multi-schedule itinerary if that suits your need best.

      Accommodation

      We stayed at a total of three different accommodations during the one week we were in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Our first accommodation was Jollyboys Backpackers in Zambia, which is where we stayed upon arrival. We landed in Livingston, Zambia in the early evening on Friday night and our safari didn’t begin until Saturday morning, so we opted to stay at budget friendly accommodation.

      Jollyboys was a fantastic choice! They offered free airport pickup and had a pool and a restaurant onsite. Our group doubled up and stayed in 2×2 huts which were cute and cozy. 

      Our second accommodation was included in our 2-day, 1-night safari accommodation. In Chobe National Park, we camped onsite and in the wild for one night! More on this intense experience next week when I share the fun details of our safari.

      Our third accommodation was a more luxurious accommodation in Zimbabwe near Victoria Falls and in the heart of town. We were twelve people total and stayed in two family lodges, which slept six individuals each, at the Lokuthula Lodge.

      Photo from Unsplash
      Our group on Kalahari Tours Safari in Botswana
      Taking photos of elephants on Safari
      Photo from Unsplash
      Stalking a Lioness
      Photo from Unsplash

      Costs

      In total, this 1-week excursion cost about $1,270 USD. Here’s the breakdown:

      • ~$320 round trip flights
      • ~$325 safari (in cash or credit card)
      • ~$500 extra cash for visas (at least $100), souvenirs, taxi cabs, food, park entries (i.e. Victoria falls), etc. 
      • $22.50 accommodation at Jollyboys for one night
      • $100 accommodation at Lokuthula Lodge ($20/night in a family unit, I opted for the most affordable bedding)

      TOTAL: $1,270 for 8 days ($159 a day, including everything)

      Other Helpful Tips

      As noted above, make sure you have cash on hand, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana all take U.S. dollar or Euros, so I highly highly recommend exchanging some money prior to departure in the states with this in mind. 

      Admiring Petra's Treasury

      Snapping photos on Safari

      Sitting at my corporate desk five months ago, I never imagined an experience like this could be possible.

      In Retrospect

      To say my first safari experience was a success would be an understatement! I was completely moved by the experience. There is just something so humbling and enticing about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat. Chobe National Park is extremely secure and well kept. The animals are very protected and free to roam the 4,517 mile park naturally. You never know what you’re going to see when going on a safari, but that’s the best part about it. This is the real thing! It isn’t a zoo where you’re guaranteed a front-row seat for the next lion feeding. It is raw and real.

      During this trip, I finally slowed down and reflected on where I was at that moment. I couldn’t have been more thankful to be experiencing something so incredible, with the most amazing people and in a beautiful country. Sitting at my corporate desk five months ago, I never imagined an experience like this could be possible.

      Tune in next week to read my full experience in Chobe National Park! I can’t wait to share it with you.

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      2 Comments

      1. Mary Wegner

        This was EXCITINGLY info for me. I found myself not only smiling but so happy. It brought back memories of our safari to Africa in 2012. We did Tanzania& Kenya. The important take home is
        How extremely SPECIAL a safari is! It’s magical, memorable and emotionally moving! It puts a smile on your face, in your heart and memory so much more than the many other places we visited. This presentation is particularly helpful because it’s recent and worth holding onto as a guide for preparatory things: time, distance,visas, lodging, & inoculations which is a huge issue in blogs, sources for info gathering & planning. It is very good info. However, I was curious to know if you had seen, heard or experienced any encounters with a honey badger!!! I truly enjoyed this blog and will recommend to family and friends! Mary from Penna!

        Reply
        • Megan Marie

          Hi Mary K! It brings me so much joy knowing this blog post brought you back to such a special safari experience you had in Tanzania & Kenya. I couldn’t agree with you more – it is a truly incredible experience that sweeps you off your feet!

          I’m glad that you also note it can be used as a helpful guide for others! I reference the CDC a lot, which is an extremely helpful resource when it comes to staying safe while traveling. I know you use them a lot too and actually told me about them when I first began my travels.

          I did not have any encounters with a honey badger, actually! I wasn’t aware they lived in Africa either! I will have to follow-up with you via email to hear more about that experience.

          Reply

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