How I got a cheap safari
How I got a cheap safari Reviews
How I got a cheap safari May 29, 2016
If you're interested only in the tip read the last 3 paragraphs.
I went from Brussels to Nairobi early December 2012 to start my first African journey. Nairobi was chosen clearly for price reasons. Although there are some nice places to visit, high criminality -especially after dark- was always a big turn-off for me.
A day after arrival I took a bus to Arusha, Tanzania -I think Riverside shuttles. I left border controls with beads from Masai and a couple of ciggies bought from two kind guys in a souvenirs shop on the Kenyan side. Upon arrival in Arusha the shuttle was encircled (I don't like the word 'surrounded' in this context) by local men trying to offer a ride or sell a hat. I picked one who offered a dollar ride anywhere in the town. A guy in his late 50s in suit jumped up for a lift and we left for the Backpackers hostel. I had googled for lodging in the area and some Backpackers' lodge appeared as a name.
The man with the suit asked if I had booked and I was honest - I had not. He then implied he had a better deal maybe. It turned out he was a hotel owner (Singa Court Hotel) who would give me a private room with shower for the same money and I instantly agreed. It soon turned out that he was also organising safaris. He said that he was a bit empty those days. The rush would start after December 15.
In the beginning, I ignored him because I had a couple of friends/colleagues in Arusha, so I would have time to ask them. Arusha is the institutional capital of Eastern African Community and the base of the International Criminal Court for Rwanda and a plethora of other regional institutions.
The second day of my stay the owner came to me again telling me that there was a group about to leave the next morning but I kindly denied and went away.
After spending another 2 days of visiting different bars and nightlife with my colleagues, the owner showed up again telling me that he had a couple of French ladies and 3 others booked for the next day - he could make a good price! I was not too keen to safari and I was already planning for a night in Moshi and a bus trip to Voi, Mombasa and Nyali in Kenya before heading back to Nairobi to fly off. He first offered US$600 for 3 nights in Ngorongoro and Serengeti. I must had kind of sighed with disbelief so he went down to $540 indicating that it was an exceptional price. I explained that my budget is much lower. I then excused myself and went off.
I visited a couple of other safari planners and got some exorbitant prices. A well known company started with $920 for two nights - but claimed to be offering somewhat better services- and the other one asked for $740. I didn't bargain much, the company was quite inflexible eitherway.
I went back to the hotel and found the guy in suit. I am terrible with names and I don't remember his. Back at that time I didn't want to spend money in a safari - safari was for little kids in my mind (how stupid of me!). If there was anything cheap I would consider it. I didn't tell him all this but anyway, I clarified that my budget was about $300.
He said his lowest would be $360 but in the following mode. I would pay him $460 for 2 nights safari but I would not pay any of my 4 nights in the hotel ($20 per night) plus he would buy me the shuttle bus ticket to Mombasa (another $20 he said). I agreed. My friends told me that it was a good bargain even by local standards.
Taking money from an ATM was tricky because it had an extremely low daily withdrawal limit. One bank gave me only the equivalent of 200 euros in shillings and refused all other transactions. Another would give me another 100 euros every time I put my card in - so there were some losses on multiple transaction fees. Don't be lazy like me and do call your bank for easier use of your cards abroad. However, I didn't really face an extreme situation with banks in Africa.
The safari was indescribable - I actually became the little kid I mentioned.
Never book online. The safari system in Tanzania works like this. To enter national parks and conservatories a vehicle pays $200 and a person $60 per night. Prices might vary from park to park. So, the more there are in one car, the cheaper (it could be) for all. I think maximum is 7 persons. The group sleeps in camping sites so add another $20 there, plus the gear and food provided. The driver and the cook that come with you are paid about $4 or $6 per day from the agency. They are good-hearted, hard working and the driver is well educated. they know virtually everything about animals. There's training and certification for this. Give them some good tips - it's a shame their labour and skills are not appreciated as much as they should. They leave families back for days every week - a good income might make their job a decent one.
Depending on the period you go for safari, the safari agencies might have some clients or not. There is almost no cheap safari in high season - I've been told. Make sure that there is a small group of people booked before you. If your booking is last minute (not literally) you have a better chance that your bargain works. Make the mathematics as described above and estimate what you cost in the current setting (for example 6 seats car, already booked 3, for 2 nights). Then you can estimate their real negotiating margins.
What I would do if I was in Tanzania again? I would go to the Panorama camping (close to Karatu) where I stayed for a night. I would stay there 2-3 more nights to have local tours with the guides of the Panorama. Every 9th of the month for example, there is an open market at Karatu and probably many other interesting things to do around. The market visit we had was some of my best experiences of ethnographic interest. Take pens and pads with you: best gift to kids.
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