East Africa affordable Safaris
Top 10 affordable safaris in East Africa
Affordable is a relative term when it comes to African safaris but here are 10 – across Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya – that offer great game-viewing without the super-high price tag.
These safari options do not include flights to the region, but rather suggest a range of trips that are possible once you get to east Africa. Most start from the Kenyan capital Nairobi but also from Kampala in Uganda, Kigali in Rwanda and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
Operators in the region generally quote prices in US dollars, although some will accept other currencies. Many do not list details and prices of all possible itineraries on their websites but the options below have been carefully selected to maximise experience and minimise cost. Prices quoted are generally the lowest that the operator offers for that particular trip but they – and the itineraries – have been confirmed with each operator directly.
Three days super budget safari in the Maasai Mara, Kenya
With park fees, transport and accommodation, Maasai Mara safaris can quickly add up to US $350 a day. Many of the budget options are very rough and ready, but this safari sacrifices some comfort – getting there means up to five hours on the road from Nairobi in a safari-style van as opposed to a 40-minute flight.
But you still get nearly two full days in the reserve and the chance to observe wildlife including lions, elephants, cheetah, wildebeest, antelope and many other species. During the great migration (expected between July and October this year) wildebeest herds cross from the Serengeti into the Mara and make several high-risk river crossings.
The simple camp with platform tents is near one of the gates to the Mara, the food – such as sausage and beans – is no-nonsense but included in the price and plentiful, and Kenya’s famous Tusker beer can be purchased separately. Add on a night’s stay at a guesthouse in Nakuru town and a game drive in the beautiful Lake Nakuru national park, famous for its flamingos but where many other animals can be seen, for an extra $130.
Track gorillas in Uganda
Normally it’s painfully expensive to go on a gorilla safari due to the high cost of permits (usually $1,500) but during the low season (April-May and November), the Ugandan Wildlife Authority discounts the price and a local tour company has capitalised on this to offer a three-day gorilla tracking safari with a permit for a third of the usual price.
Guests stay at a lodge – owned and recently renovated by Matoke Tours – overlooking the spectacular Lake Mutanda and the volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains, where they enjoy good quality food and en suite accommodation. With the safari including two travel days, travellers will track through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest until the mountain gorillas are located, after which the group will spend one hour with the gorillas.
Ten day camping adventure in Kenya’s dramatic north
Get off the beaten track with this 10-day camping safari that takes in a wide range of Kenya’s impressive wildlife and breathtaking landscapes, including Africa’s second highest mountain (Mount Kenya) and the world’s largest desert lake (Turkana).
After travelling overland to the Ol Pejeta conservancy in the foothills of Mount Kenya, the safari stops at the semi-arid Samburu national reserve, which plays host to all three big cats – lion, leopard and cheetah –as well as elephants, buffalo and hippos. Crossing volcanic terrain and the baked earth of the Chalbi desert, travellers spend two nights at Lake Turkana – a world heritage site that featured memorably in the film.
Heading south once more, an afternoon camel safari in the foothills of Mount Nyiro is followed by a stop at Lake Baringo, renowned for its birdlife, as well as hippos and crocodiles. Accommodation is basic, in dome tents, and much of the driving is off-tarmac: which means it’s not for the faint-hearted, but this safari takes in some of Kenya’s most unforgettable regions.
Explore the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania
A safari in the Serengeti is a bucket-list aspiration for many, which means that most tour packages to this game park push the definition of “affordable”. Nevertheless, the expansive savannahs and woodlands here are home to incredible wildlife spectacles, especially during the famous wildebeest migration, when up to two million animals are on the move (it is expected to take place from July onwards this year).
All of the “big five” are here, acting out their impulses with National Geographic-style theatricality, as safari van passengers stare agog. This four-day camping safari includes multiple game drives and a visit to Ngorongoro crater, the three-million-year-old extinct volcano that herds of tourists descend into to see herds of wildlife on the crater floor.
Track chimpanzees in Rwanda
The mountain gorillas in the Virungas range get all the attention but Rwanda is home to numerous rare primates, most of which can be found in the staggeringly beautiful Nyungwe Forest national park in the south-west of the country.
The forest is best known for its large troops of chimpanzees but is also prime swinging grounds for L’Hoest’s monkeys, Angola colobus, vervet monkeys, and a range of others, along with around 300 bird species. Best of all, the cost for this whole package, which includes a day of tracking chimpanzees through the mountains, a nature walk, and two nights in a comfortable forest lodge with full board, still costs less than a single ($750) gorilla tracking permit up north.
A city safari and luxurious tented camp, Nairobi, Kenya
Many travellers pass through east Africa’s bustling regional hub en route to other destinations but Nairobi national park – just a short drive from the airport – offers wildlife enthusiasts short on time a fast-track safari experience.
Thanks to the, which opened in 2011, visitors can now sleep in the park – and tucked into a tree-lined valley, it’s hard to imagine that the capital’s traffic jams lie only a few miles away. The camp replicates a luxury camp deep in the bush, with spacious en suite accommodation in safari tents and evening campfires.
The park’s small area means that wildlife sightings are almost guaranteed: visitors might see zebras, giraffes, lions and leopard on a game drive. It is also an acclaimed rhino sanctuary, home to both black and white rhino. While full-board accommodation is not the cheapest on our list, a two-night excursion into the park can be affordable way to see impressive wildlife if you only can spare time for a short stay in the region or want a brief taste of luxury.
Track wolves in Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains
The rusty-hued Ethiopian wolf is the world’s rarest canid, and more than half of the remaining population of this critically endangered carnivore lives in the rugged, otherworldly landscape of Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains, a prime trekking destination in the south-east of the country.
Visitors hike through the stark Afro-alpine moorland of the Sanetti plateau, home to mountain nyala and spotted hyenas as well as wolves, and explore the Harenna cloud forest, where lions and leopards are occasionally seen. As you’ll be getting out of the Landcruiser to track on foot on this three-day tour, it’s best to avoid the rainy season and go between November and February or from May to July.
The drive from Addis Ababa stops at the bird and hippo watching spot, Lake Ziway, before proceeding for lunch in Shashemene, a vibrant market town that is the Rasta capital of Ethiopia.
Murchison Falls wildlife, Rhino tracking and Nile boat cruises, Uganda
Operating out of the Red Chilli Hideaway – a popular backpacker stop-off in Kampala – this safari heads to Murchison Falls national park, the country’s largest.
After a picnic overlooking the falls and a night in basic camp on the banks of the Upper Nile, the safari then takes in a morning game drive in the park’s Nile delta at Lake Albert – where you might see lion, leopard, giraffe and elephant – followed by a boat trip on the river.
The camp is simple and facilities are communal but it is one of the few budget alternatives to Murchison’s luxury getaways. After a second night at the camp, the safari moves on to the Ziwa Rhino sanctuary, where guests learn to track rhinos with one of the rangers. Meals are excluded on this trip but can be purchased at the camp, which also has a fully stocked bar.
From the forests to the shore in Zanzibar, Tanzania
Doors in the island capital of Stone Town still boast brass studs for repelling war elephants – by merchants who sought to protect themselves from “combat” elephants that were historically deployed in India and Persia – but large mammals no longer dwell on the Spice Islands.
What the archipelago does have, however, is astonishing marine life, with dolphins and technicolour sea creatures galore. There’s also a healthy population of endangered red colobus monkeys and giant Aldabra tortoises. This highly affordable four-day tour package zips between land and sea, with snorkelling trips to the magnificent coral reefs of uninhabited Chumbe Island and walks through two forest reserves, one primate-laden and the other home to rare antelopes. There’s also a trip to Prison Island, where land tortoises creep along the beach, and a stop to watch bottlenose and humpback dolphins frolicking in the waves.
Elephant herds with Mount Kilimanjaro views, Kenya
If the idea of a roving herd of nearly 100 elephants appeals to you, then Amboseli national park in southern Kenya is the game park for you. The photo-ready peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, just across the border in Tanzania, looms over this small and manageable Rift valley park, where the roads are reasonable and the herbivore viewing is dramatic.
In addition to the impressive – and highly visible – packs of elephants, Cape buffalo, hippos, and giraffes can also be seen in abundance, although the big cats are less common. This three-day package includes van transport from Nairobi (it’s about a four-hour drive each way), and full-board accommodation in a nice tented camp with a pool, just outside the Kimana Gate, where many animals congregate during the dry season.