After speaking with many MAX Travel Canada portal members, there is one question that seems to keep popping up. And that question is, what is the most cost-effective way for Canadians to go on an African wildlife safari?
Luckily, I’ve personally travelled to Africa several times and have gotten a chance to use some of my points and miles to go to African wildlife safari destinations. So I felt that I do have some credibility to write this thorough article. With that being said, I have not been to ALL the African wildlife safari destinations. But, I will certainly mention places where my advice is simply coming from a research stand point instead of my personal experience. Feel free to share in the comments below with your African wildlife safari experience!
The Canadian Points & Miles Guide to Going on an African Wildlife Safari (VIDEO)
African wildlife safari destinations
I’ve never been to Tanzania before but it’s certainly on my bucket list. In my opinion, Tanzania is hands down the best country to visit for African wildlife safari. This is mainly because many of the big five animals (lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard) are in abundance in this country. This is especially true for lions which is the only one of the big five I have yet to see in the wild as of writing this article.
On top of the big five, the famous wildebeest migration also happens in Tanzania which is definitely a must see! Just thinking about seeing the wildebeest migration makes me want to pack my bags right now and fly to Tanzania to see it!
Places in Tanzania to do an African wildlife safari
- Ngorongoro Crater – Big 5 animals and Wildebeest migration
- Serengeti National Park – Big 5 animals and Wildebeest migration
- Arusha – Near Mount Kilimanjaro
- Tarangire National Park – Northern Tanzania with plenty of elephant hoards
- Lake Manyara – Flamingos
- Mikumi National Park
- Lake Tanganyika – Chimp tracking
- Lake Eyasi
- Katavi National Park – Western Tanzania
- Gombre Stream National Park – Western Tanzania
- Selous – Southern Tanzania for boat safaris
- Saadani National Park – Eastern Tanzania
- Ruhua National Park – Southern Tanzania for lion safaris
From a personal stand point, when I do go to Tanzania, I will definitely check out Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. This is because I want to see the wildebeest migration, the crater, lions, and hyenas. I might also entertain the idea of visiting Arusha to see Mount Kilimanjaro on the backdrop. Lake Manyara also seems interesting with tons of pink flamingos all over the place.
Tanzania is also one of the safest countries on this list making it the best place to do safaris. Do keep in mind that because Tanzania is very popular as a safari destination and prices are quite expensive.
Before you go to Tanzania to see the Wildebeest migration, do refer to this image to get an idea on which part of Tanzania to go for best viewing.
From my brief research, it looks like you’re going to spend about:
- $1000-$2000 USD for a budget safari
- $2000-$5000 for a mid range safari
- $5000-$9000 for a luxury safari experience
Apparently, it’s cheaper if you book once you’re in the country itself because some of the tour operators don’t have a website. But, if you’re paranoid that you might get scammed, just make sure to cross reference the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators to determine if a tour company is legitimate.
Can you do your own self-driven safari? Apparently, you can, but I also read that tour operators have special discounts for accommodations and permits making it actually cheaper and more convenient to go with a tour company. Also, because Tanzania’s national park are huge, going with a guide is a lot better in terms of finding wildlife. You’ll probably end up getting lost and not seeing what you want to see if you did it yourself.
In my list of top 10 favourite countries I have ever visited, I put South Africa as my number one favourite of all time. When I went to South Africa, I got a chance to do my first ever self driven safari in Kruger National Park. To this day, it is hands down one of the best travel experience I’ve ever had.
I still remember my excitement the first time I saw a giraffe pop out of the trees and crossed the street.
In my opinion, the best part about doing a game drive in South Africa is that you can easily do it yourself without a tour or a guide. Not only is it more fun to do your own game drive, it’s also a lot cheaper. You can rent a car in Johannesburg and drive to Kruger National Park. If you have some Marriott Bonvoy points, you can stay at Protea Kruger Gate and do day trips into Kruger. This is a massive savings and you’ll enjoy seeing a ton of wildlife along the way.
Places in South Africa to do an African wildlife safari
- Kruger National Park – the best national park in South Africa to do your own game drive
- Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park – South Africa’s oldest game reserve
- Madikwe Game Reserve – another great place to see the big 5 with an emphasis on upscale lodges
- Tswalu Kalahari Reserve – a luxury private game reserve with the highest amount of endangered black rhino population
- Pilanesberg National Park
- Shamwari Private Game Reserve
- Addo Elephant National Park – plenty of elephants in South Africa’s third biggest game reserve
- Sanbona Wildlife reserve
- Aquila Safari Private Game Reserve – known for their rustic game lodges
- Buffelsfontein Game & Nature Reserve – located in western South Africa near Cape Town
When I went to South Africa, there is no doubt in my mind that I wanted to do my safari at Kruger National Park. It’s the biggest national park in South Africa with the largest wildlife population. It’s also easily accessible and you can most definitely drive yourself within the park. In my opinion, I wouldn’t even bother with the other safari destinations in South Africa.
I know many tourist are scared of travelling in South Africa and prefer to linger in the Cape Town region. This is very sad in my opinion because the eastern side of South Africa is actually very nice. Arguably, even nicer than the Cape Town area. However, if you’re one of those individuals that feel paranoid to travel in the eastern side of South Africa, then your best option then is to visit safari destinations such as Buffelsfontein Game & Nature Reserve near Cape Town in western South Africa.
How much does it cost to do safaris in South Africa?
When I travelled in South Africa, I wrote this article on my South Africa spending breakdown. Entrance fee to Kruger National Park is 400 Rand ($37 CAD) per day. Car rental in South Africa was actually pretty affordable at about $26-$27 CAD per day.
After looking at some tour company websites, for a 3-days safari trip into Kruger National Park with accommodation, you’re looking to pay 9695 Rand ($896.99 CAD). This is obviously very expensive compared to driving yourself. But it really depends on your travel style and safety tolerance when it comes to deciding if you want to do a self-driven safari or joining a tour.
Should you self drive or join a tour company?
From my perspective, it’s better to rent a car from the airport from companies like Hertz or Avis and drive yourself to Kruger National Park. Again, if you are paranoid about your safety and prefer to join a tour company, I think the African budget safaris website is your best bet. I’ve never booked with them but I heard from locals that they’re a reputable company.
As of writing this article, I have yet to visit Kenya. But I will be going there very soon and have my tickets booked already. Kenya is famous for the Maasai Mara National Reserve which is closely connected to Serengeti National Park. On top of that, the wildebeest migration also crosses over to the Maasai Mara giving you an opportunity to witness it outside Tanzania.
And one big perk I’ve heard is that prices for safaris are cheaper in Kenya than they are in Tanzania. So if you want to see the wildebeest migration and you’re travelling on a budget, then perhaps this is the better option for you.
Places in Kenya to do an African wildlife safari
- Maasai Mara National Reserve – the most popular national reserve in Kenya for doing safaris
- Nairobi National Park – a place you can go on a safari right beside Nairobi Kenya
- Amboseli National Park – has a view of Mount Kilimanjaro
- Tsavo East National Park
- Buffalo Springs National Park
- Samburu Game Reserve
- Lake Nakuru National Park – Famous for flamingoes
Personally, if I go to Kenya, the only option I would consider is the Maasai Mara National Reserve. It’s the most popular for a reason, not to mention the possibility of seeing the wildebeest migration.
Funny enough, if you only have one day in Kenya, the Nairobi National Park is right beside the city. This means if you want, you can do a full day or half a day safari trip and still see wildlife. I think this is a fantastic option if you can’t make it to the Maasai Mara National Reserve but still want to see animals.
Again, it seems that it’s cheaper to book tours once you’re in Kenya. Kenya Association of Tour Operators is a good website to cross check and make sure the tour operator that you’re dealing with is a reputable one.
When I went to Namibia, I didn’t get a chance to visit Etosha National Park. And honestly, I’m kicking myself for it. This National Park has a semi-desert climate. Because it’s really dry, vegetation starts thinning out greatly forcing animals to share water holes. If you want to see predators in action, apparently, this is a great place to go because it forces all animals have to share the water holes during dry season. And this means that the predators doesn’t have to go very far to catch their next meal.
Places in Namibia to do an African wildlife safari
- Etosha National Park – the biggest game safari in Namibia (visit during the dry season of May, June, July, August, September, and October for best viewing)
- Skeleton Coast – the coastal regions of Namibia is full of seals, hyenas, lions, and other African wildlife
Despite Namibia having a more limited amount of safari destinations, the ones I mentioned in this article are both unique in their own ways! If travelling in Namibia wasn’t so difficult, I would have definitely loved to have gone to Etosha National Park and Skeleton Coast for their very unique safari landscape.
Skeleton coast in particular seems very interesting with the coastal seals, hyenas, and lions.
How much does it cost to do safaris in Namibia?
A lot of people opt to rent a car and drive in Namibia. The average cost for car rentals is about $55 CAD per day. The entrance fee to Etosha National Park is relatively cheap at around 80 Namibian dollar or $7.50 CAD. The vehicle fee is about 10 Namibian dollar which is about $1 CAD.
This makes Namibia a fairly affordable place to do an African wildlife safari.
Tour companies are more pricey costing on average $1,150 USD for a one week camping tour.
Despite driving in Namibia being the superior option, keep in mind that driving conditions in Namibia is very difficult.
As a matter of fact, I was in a car crash nightmare in Namibia when I travelled there. So you definitely want to make sure you drive very conservatively when travelling in Namibia as their road conditions are quite awful.
During my 380 days of travel around the world, I got a chance to take a day trip into Botswana and do a safari at Chobe National Park. It’s the first time I’ve ever joined a safari tour group.
I’d say my experience was mixed because many of the wildlife I saw, I’ve already seen in Kruger National Park. Karen and myself felt all safari’d out by the time we finished our tour.
Places in Botswana to do an African wildlife safari
- Okavango Delta – the most famous national park in Botswana
- Moremi Game Reserve
- Chobe National Park – National park close to Zambia with an emphasis on boat safaris and big elephant hoards
- Savuti – located between the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park
- Central Kalahari Game Reserve
How much does it cost to do safaris in Botswana?
When I went to do a full day safari at Chobe National Park, I paid $157 USD to Jollyboys Backpackers, the hostel I was staying at in Livingstone, Zambia.
However, I’m not sure if I would personally recommend Chobe National Park. I think if you are in Botswana, you probably want to check out Okavango Delta instead which is located within Moremi Game Reserve. An all inclusive Okavango Delta tour cost around $150 USD for an all day trip.
I wanted to go gorilla trekking in Uganda to see the famous mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Park. Also called gorilla tracking, this activity takes you deep in Bwindi National Park where you can trek anywhere between 1-12 hours before you see a gorilla. My group was lucky and saw a family of gorillas after just 1 hour of trekking.
Places in Uganda to do an African wildlife safari
- Bwindi National Park – famous for doing gorilla trekking to see the endangered mountain gorillas
- Queen Elizabeth National Park – famous for Lions that climb trees
- Sipi Falls
- Murchison Falls
- Kibale Forest National Park
- Mgahinga National Park
- Lake Mburo National Park
The most popular place in Uganda for going on a safari to see the big five animals is at Queen Elizabeth National Park. And Bwindi National Park if your goal is to see gorillas in the wild.
How much does it cost to do safaris in Uganda?
Gorilla trekking is one of the most expensive activities I have ever paid for in my life. We paid $917.69 CAD for a one day trek in Bwindi National Park. Was it worth it? Since it’s a once in a lifetime activity, I’d say yes. Especially since the tourist funds have helped bolster the mountain gorilla population from a mere 300 back in 1997 to about 600 in present time.
Doing a 3-day budget safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park will set you back on average $350 USD.
When I travelled to Rwanda, I decided to do an Akagera National Park safari. My experience doing a safari in Akagera National Park was definitely mixed. I did an Akagera Game Lodge review because it was one of the worst accommodation experience I’ve ever had during a safari trip. Akagera National Park is the only place in Rwanda where you can potentially see the big 5 animals. However, they don’t have many animals to begin with so seeing much wildlife is quite a challenge here.
To make matters worst, you’re not allowed to participate in night game drives unless you stay within the park. And, the accommodation prices within the park are a rip off. Not to mention that the customer service is definitely not good because the owner of the Akagera Game Lodge is very unfriendly.
Places in Rwanda to do an African wildlife safari
- Akagera National Park – the only place to see the big 5 animals in Rwanda
- Volcanoes National Park – famous for gorilla trekking
How much does it cost to do safaris in Rwanda?
The entrance fee to Akagera National Park will cost you $50 USD or about $65 CAD. Hiring a guide within the park if you do a day time safari will cost you $40 USD for the entire car.
Night game drive
If you decide to join and do a night game drive, then that will cost you another $40 USD. Why do you need to do a night game drive in Akagera National Park? It’s because predators mainly come out at night in Akagera National Park so if you don’t do a night safari, you probably won’t see any predators.
We were extremely lucky when we joined the night game drive because we got to see a leopard in the wild. The leopard even walked around our safari vehicle which was a real treat. That itself made the night game drive worth it for us.
I personally did not join a tour when we went to Rwanda. We opted to rent a car and hired a driver. When I took a quick look online for tour prices, it seems that the average cost for a 7-day safari trip is roughly $1,460 CAD.
As far as doing gorilla trekking in Rwanda goes, it will cost you an insane $1500 USD for a permit. I heard Volcanoes National Park is awesome and I think it’s good to go there to go trekking. But maybe save your gorilla trekking money and do it in Uganda or Democratic Republic of Congo instead.
The best way to save money on flights to go to African wildlife safari destinations
As a Canadian, If you want to travel to Africa and do a safari, you’ll probably end up flying with one of these Star Alliance carriers:
- South African Airways
- Ethiopian Airlines
- Turkish Airlines
- Egypt Airlines
Or one of these One World carriers:
- Cathay Pacific
- Qatar Airways
- British Airways
I did a quick check on Skyscanner to see how much it cost to fly to Johannesburg or Tanzania nowadays. To be honest, I’m pleasantly surprised at how much the price has dropped. A few years back, you’d expect to pay between $1500-$2000 for a roundtrip flight to many African destinations. After checking Skyscanner, it looks like you can actually go to Johannesburg, South Africa for $1,259 CAD round trip.
And skyscanner says, you can fly to Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania for $1,347 CAD round trip.
It seems that the prices that you pay for flights out of pocket these days seems to have drastically improved.
With that being said, in my opinion, it’s still too expensive for my taste. Especially when you can go the points and miles route instead! For example, I was able to use my Aeroplan miles, you can fly to Africa for just $355.81!
In order to go the points and miles route, you need to first earn enough frequent flyer miles to book your flights.
Read the following articles to learn how to earn and redeem miles with these three frequent flyer programs:
From my personal experience, you’ll most likely end up redeeming your Aeroplan miles to fly on South African Airways, Ethiopian Airlines or Turkish Airlines to reach your preferred African wildlife safari destination. It will cost you roughly 100,000 Aeroplan miles on economy and 150,000 miles in business class for a round trip flight to Africa.
If you decide to use Alaska miles to fly to Africa, then you’ll probably end up redeeming it on Cathay Pacific to fly into Johannesburg, South Africa. This will cost you roughly 50,000 Alaska Miles on economy or 62,500 miles in business for a one way flight to South Africa.
Just one quick tip, you probably want to save up enough miles to fly on business class because African airports can be rough. Having that business class flight flying in and out of an African country will be a godsend, trust me.
Hotel points for African wildlife safari destinations
Why do you want to use hotel points when travelling in Africa to do safaris? The obvious answer is because it makes things cheaper for you. Getting a free hotel stay whenever there’s an opportunity will certainly lower the expenses you need to pay when travelling to Africa.
Travelling to Africa is already pricey to begin with and going on safaris just makes prices even more ridiculously expensive. Many times, when you opt to stay in cheaper accommodations in Africa, you’ll notice that their hotel ratings is not the same as here in Canada. A 2-star or 3-star hotel in Africa is nowhere the same as back home in Canada.
Marriott Bonvoy points
Redeeming points towards a Marriott hotel will at least guarantee you a nice place to stay. You might be wondering, why Marriott hotel? Well, Marriott hotel is one of the very few companies where you can earn hotel points every year as a Canadian.
There’s two credit cards in Canada that will allow you to earn Marriott Bonvoy points and they are:
- AMEX Marriott Bonvoy – 51,000 Marriott points
- AMEX Marriott Bonvoy Business – 51,000 Marriott points
After you’ve earned your hotel points, you’re ready to make a redemption. Do keep in mind that not all safari destinations in Africa will have a Marriott hotel brand where you can redeem a free night stay in a hotel. But do make a redemption whenever it is possible. At the very least, you can mitigate some of the damage done to your finances when you go on an African wildlife safari.
Below is a list of Marriott hotel properties where you can redeem your Marriott Bonvoy points to get a free night stay. I also bolded the properties that are relatively close to an African wildlife safari destinations (with the exception of South Africa which had too many hotels).
- Four Points by Sheraton Arusha (Category 2) – 10,000-15,000 points per night
- Protea Hotel Dar es Salaam Amani Beach (Category 2) – 10,000-15,000 points per night
- Protea Hotel Dar es Salaam Courtyard (Category 1) – 5,000-10,000 points per night
- Four Points by Sheraton Dar es Salaam New Africa (Category 3) – 15,000-20,000 points per night
- Protea Hotel Dar es Salaam Oyster Bay (Category 1) – 5,000-10,000 points per night
- Protea Hotel Zanzibar Mbweni Ruins (Category 2 ) 10,000-15,000 points per night
*NOTE* The points are listed as off-peak, standard, peak.
Off the top of my head, Kruger Gate is right beside Kruger National Park. In my opinion, it is one of the best places to stay in South Africa when you go on a safari at Kruger National Park. There is also tons of Marriott properties in the Cape Town area. It would be a good idea to stay in one of those Cape Town Marriotts if you plan on visiting safari destinations in western South Africa such as the Buffelsfontein Game & Nature Reserve.
There’s so many Protea hotels in South Africa in general and they tend to be lower in the category ratings for Marriott hotel points. This means you can potentially get more free nights stay while doing safaris in South Africa.
- Sankara Nairobi, Autograph Collection (Category 5) – 30,000-40,000 points per night
- Trademark Hotel (Category 4) – 20,000-30,000 points per night
- Tribe Hotel (Category 5) – 30,000-40,000 points per night
- Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Airport (Category 3) – 15,000-20,000 points per night
- Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Hurlingham (Category 4) – 20,000-30,000 points per night
- Protea Hotel Entebbe (Category 1) – 5,000-10,000 points per night
- Protea Hotel Kampala (Category 2) – 10,000-15,000 points per night
- Sheraton Kampala Hotel (Category 3) – 15,000-20,000 points per night
- Protea Hotel Kampala Skyz (Category 2) – 10,000-15,000 points per night
- Kigali Marriott Hotel (Category 3): 15,000-20,000 points per night
In my opinion, if you want to go on a budget safari trip, then I’d say, go to South Africa first and redeem your Aeroplan or Alaska miles to go there. That way, you can save thousands of dollars on flights.
Once you reach South Africa, I’d personally rent a car and drive to Kruger National Park and stay at Protea Kruger Gate using your Marriott points.
This is the single cheapest way to do an African wildlife safari.
If you have the time and want to see the wildebeest migration and the beautiful Tanzania or Kenya, then I’d personally not book anything ahead of time. I’d fly into those countries, again using Aeroplan miles, and negotiate with local tour operators to get the best price. And of course, I’d cross reference the companies with their respective tour operator association to ensure the company is legitimate.
Going on an African wildlife safari is one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life. I have no doubt that you’ll be blown away by this amazing life experience.
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