We’re not going to beat around the bush (excuse the pun!). Safaris are expensive, and the more remote the location, the more expensive they seem to become. Zambia lies somewhere in the middle – there’s a good spread of purse-friendly camps and lodges to choose from, but travelling around the country can still make a dent in your wallet. This article, therefore, is jam-packed full of our top tips on how to plan an affordable Zambia safari, from the best season to travel in, to how to save money on flights. We’re not promising a budget holiday – but we can definitely help you to save some pennies along the way!
Check the seasons
The main parks in Zambia have a very defined safari season (see our ‘best time to visit’ article for an in-depth guide), which means there’s also a very distinct shoulder season alongside it, usually the month before and after. And the best thing about that? Game viewing is phenomenal, the parks are quiet and the chances of finding an extremely good deal price-wise are very, very high. If you’re hoping to plan an affordable Zambia safari, this is definitely something to consider. Take, for example, Mchenja Bush Camp in the South Luangwa. The camp opens in mid-May and closes in mid-November and travelling in either of these months will save you a huge $250 per person per night.
Rent a car and drive
If we’re talking affordable safaris, it’s not uncommon for the subject of driving to come up. It’s usually much more cost-efficient and a great way to save on your adventure. Sadly, this doesn’t ring so true for Zambia, where distances between parks are enormously long and car hire companies are hard to come by. BUT! All is not lost. If you really do like the sound of driving, get yourself to Lusaka and head out to the Kafue National Park. It’s about 350 kilometres from the capital city, and the central areas and camps are easily accessible by road – have a look at Ila Safari Lodge if this interests you. On the other side of the country, Flatdogs Camp in the South Luangwa and Luambe in Luambe National Park offer an excellent, seven-day itinerary staying in both places and driving between them. You’ll have to fly to the South Luangwa (unless you’re feeling adventurous!), but it’s a great way to plan an affordable Zambia safari.
Look out for deals
Many of Zambia’s biggest safari operators run camps in multiple parks and reserves across the country and offer excellent deals for combining them – a great way to plan an affordable Zambia safari. As well as free nights and big money savings, some will even throw in free or heavily-discounted flights between the different areas. Special offers change frequently, but as a guide, Bushcamp Company, who run a string of superbly-stylish bush camps in the southern part of the South Luangwa (Chamilandu, Kuyenda and Bilimungwe to name a few), offer discounted rates when seven or more consecutive nights are booked. Time + Tide also offer discounted flights to Liuwa Plain and their lodge, King Lewanika, when you book their camps in the South Luangwa (Kakuli, Luwi, Nsolo, Mchenja or Chinzombo).
A note on flying
We talk a little about flying in Zambia in our travel tips blog, but in a nutshell, there is only one airline that operates in the country: Proflight. It certainly makes it easy to get around, but with no competition, fares can be expensive and if you’re flying to lots of different places, the costs soon rack up. It won’t work for everyone, but one of our top tips when looking to plan an affordable Zambia safari is wait until the last minute possible to book flights. Proflight release their ‘firecracker’ fares four to six weeks before travel, which are almost half the price of regular flights. You’ll have to take the risk of perhaps not getting the most suitable flight time, but if there’s a chance of saving 50%…
The lodges to know
As tends to be the case, it’s often the ritziest and glitziest lodges in Zambia that make it into international newspapers and magazines. That certainly doesn’t mean that they are the only options however, and if you know where to look, this is a great area to preserve some pennies and plan an affordable Zambia safari. In the South Luangwa, we’d head straight to an all-time favourite Flatdogs Camp if we were travelling on a budget (in fact, we’d probably still stay here, even if we were multi-millionaires!), or Nkonzi Camp in the heart of the park for a rustic, bush camp experience. Our favourites at Victoria Falls include Waterberry Lodge for an excellent, all-round experience at a good price or, just down the river, lovely Chundukwa Lodge. In Kafue, it would have to be Nanzhila Plains for its down to earth flair, and in the Lower Zambezi, we love Tusk & Mane for their unique brand of mobile camping and hospitality.