RTW Budget Update: Africa

We’ve shared our RTW budget along with an update for Europe, but now it’s time to take a look at where our money went in Africa. Can you guess how we did? Can you guess? I bet you have your suspicions.

Part 1: Major Transportation

  • Estimated Expense: $1,000
  • Actual Expense: $1,615
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$615

Transportation in Africa is difficult to plan, sometimes dangerous, and uncomfortable. Outside our interesting train ride, we found ourselves hiring private transportation on many occasions rather than the public transportation options that the locals choose to partake in. If you’ve ever seen a dala dala in Zanzibar, you’ll understand why.

So the taxis, 1st class bus tickets, and private shuttle on our safari from Livingstone to Joburg cost quite a bit of cash. Throw in another $625 to rent a car and pay for gas all around South Africa and we’ve got one major budget issue. So next time (when we’re pricing out the cost of renting a 4×4 for our very own self-drive safari), we’ll have to keep in mind spending a little more money in the transportation department will be worth it.

A dala dala in Zanzibar

Part 2: In-Country Costs

  • Estimated Expense: $4,200 (35 days at $60 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $5,218
  • Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$1,018

But just like before, we have to account for the fact that our budget was based on a different time period spent in Africa. We spent a day less in Africa than originally planned and we should fudge the numbers to account for that.

  • Adjusted Estimated Expense: $4,080 (34 days at $60 / day / person)
  • Actual Expense: $5,218
  • Adjusted Variance (+Better / -Worse): -$1,138

We had to change our way of thinking a little bit in Africa. Across Europe, it’s easy to spend your days strolling through city streets, observing the architecture or people watching. You could do this in Africa if you’d like as well, but you’ll miss out on the whole point of traveling to Africa. Everything is activity-based. And all of those activities have western-style pricing. With some even explicitly priced in US dollars or Euros instead of the local currency. So in order for us to go on game drives, a river cruise, swim at the top of Victoria Falls, take a surf lesson, or ride an ostrich we had to spend the money to do so. So key point on money while traveling through Africa: research your must do activities long beforehand to include in your budget. Our mistake was we just showed up and figured it out as we went.

True Cost for Eastern / Southern Africa: $77 / day / person

A zebra and her foal at the Khama Rhino Sancturary
A zebra and her foal at the Khama Rhino Sancturary

Train Tracks Across Africa

Trains bring about a sense of wonder, more so than the car or the airplane. It’s the thing about the pace of travel, the sound of tons of steel heaving over the earth, the getting to see the in between that is lost on the air planes’ wings and the cars’ paved roads. It’s the freeness to move about, to stretch your legs, to succumb to the rhythm of the wheels, to be spirited away into yesteryear, to feel the wind in your hair. Trains are magical man-made caterpillars. In the case of the train, the journey is the experience. This four day train trek took us through the African bush, rural villages, and the wilds of the animal kingdom. It was wild alright.

Independent Travel in Africa: A Cost Comparison

When we arrived in Livingstone, Zambia to see the Victoria Falls, we had no definitive plans for onward travel. We had to get to South Africa, but in between was up in the air. Should we visit Botswana for Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta or should we visit Namibia for Etosha National Park, Sussovelia Dunes, and maybe Fish River Canyon.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), our decision was made for us when we discussed with our hostel manager about options for visiting Botswana. Getting to Kasane (the jumping off point for Chobe National Park) would involve a taxi to the border, a ferry crossing, and another taxi from the border into town. From Kasane to Maun (the jumping off point for the Okavanga Delta) would involve some sort of minibus, in which we would not be able to sort out until we arrived into town and started to ask around.

My point is that independent travel around Africa is sometimes not too easy. It involves lots of time, patience, and often deep pockets. So we reviewed other options for getting to South Africa and decided on an overland safari. It would take us from Livingstone, Zambia to Johannesburg, South Africa with stops through Botswana along the way. Transportation and tours all included.

We took this journey and throughout I found myself asking myself what it would have cost to do this all on our own, booking as we go, and what kind of cut the safari operator was taking for the sake of convenience. Our safari had a total up front cost of $1,065 per person, so what would this cost independently? Let’s find out.

The Itinerary

Tent Camping in Botswana
Trying out our tent the first night in Botswana

Step 1: Depart Livingstone for Kasane, crossing into Botswana at the Kazungula Ferry post.

  1. On Tour: No additional on the road costs. Included in safari price.
  2. Independent: The trip can be had by pre-booking a shuttle at a rate of around $75 per person. A cheaper option would be to take a taxi from Livingstone to the border ($50), take the vehicle ferry across the water, walk to 200m to the Botswana border post, and catch another taxi to Kasane ($5).

Step 2: Stay at Thebe River Safaris in Kasane and go on a boat cruise and game drive in Chobe National Park.

Chobe River Sunset
Sunset on the Chobe River
Elephants Bathing Themselves in Chobe National Park
Elephants giving themselves a morning bath
  1. On Tour: No additional on the road costs. Included in safari price.
  2. Independent: Camping at Thebe River Safaris will cost you $12. The boat cruise and game drive are both $34 each.

Step 3: Depart Kasane for Maun.

  1. On Tour: No additional on the road costs. Included in the safari price.
  2. Independent: There are no direct routes from Kasane to Maun, so the trip will require changing buses in Nata. Total cost for the ride is around $20.

Step 4: Enjoy “The Delta Adventurer” safari offered by Delta Rain Safaris. The safari includes 2 nights of en-suite accommodation and 2 nights in a permanent tent with shared facilities. 2 full days are spent in the Okavango Delta exploring the landscape by mokoro (a dugout canoe) and foot and day and a half at the Sitatunga Camp in Maun.

Bush Babies in Tree in Botswana
Bush babies eyeing us down from their nest
Giraffe Toes Size Comparison
Remnants of a giraffe
Grass on Okavango Delta Walking Safari
Enjoying our walking safari
Painted Reef Frog Okavango Delta Botswana
Painted reef frog found during our mokoro cruise
  1. On Tour: Requires upgrade from self camping to a permanent tent for 2 nights at a total cost of $28 additional to the safari price.
  2. Independent: The all-inclusive safari runs $485 per person.

Step 5: Drive from Maun to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary. Complete a 2 hour game drive and stay at Camp Itumela in Palapye.

Rhino in Khama Rhino Sanctuary
Rhino found in the Khama Rhino Sanctuary
  1. On Tour: Requires upgrade from self camping to a permanent tent for 1 night at a total cost of $18 additional to the safari price.
  2. Independent: Here’s where independent travel just doesn’t cut it. Public transportation on this route would require a bus from Maun to Francistown ($12) and then jumping off in Palapye from the bus to Gabarone ($8). Once in Palapye, a taxi would be needed to get to the park ($60 round trip). A visit to the Khama Rhino Sanctuary will cost $40 including park entrance fees and the game drive. A permanent tent at Camp Itumela costs $23.

Step 6: Drive from Palapye to Johannesburg.

  1. On Tour: No additional on the road costs. Included in the safari price.
  2. Independent: That same bus from Francistown to Gabarone will be on it’s way through again if you’re lucky so hop on that ($10). From Gabarone, the South African company, Intercape, runs service to Johannesburg for $31.

Running the Numbers

So let’s add all of this up.

  1. On Tour: $1,065 up front payment+ $46 in upgraded accommodation = $1,111.
  2. Independent: $844 + ~$50 in additional meals included on the overland safari = $894.

Difference: It would have been $217 less to complete this adventure on our own. This would have left us wandering around the Botswana border post trying to figure out where immigration was, on the sides of numerous roads and unmarked bus stops crossing our fingers that someone was coming to pick us up, hassling with taxis over price, and drained and exhausted from continuing to pretend that Africa operates like the westernized countries that we’re used to. This is why the $217 was worth it: door to door service, interesting facts and stories from our tour leader while on the road, the chance to try a whole slew of home-made African meals that we would have never been able to cook for ourselves (it is also worth mentioning that all camping and cooking supplies were included which we would have had to buy to feed / shelter ourselves if we were on our own), good company, and peace of mind while we were traveling.

If we would have done this independently, I’d bet we’d still be sitting on the Zambian border trying to figure out how to get over the river to Botswana without being eaten by a crocodile.