I came to Africa excited for the culture, the wildlife, and the landscapes. Now, I’m just trying not go broke. Don’t get me wrong I’m still excited about traveling the continent, but Africa is far from a cheap holiday destination. For a continent filled with developing nations, one would think the cost of traveling Africa would be relatively cheap.
My god that couldn’t be further from the truth. Self-driving Africa has single handily been our most expensive endeavor yet and that is including our trip around Western Europe and Australia. However, it’s always been a dream of mine so I knew that it had to be done. Here is where all our money is going and why we are finding Africa so expensive.
The Basic Costs of Traveling Africa
To and From Africa
As with most destinations, the cost of the flight to Africa is going to be a big expense. Some of the main transport hubs are Johannesburg and Cape Town for southern Africa, Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam for east Africa, Dakar and Lagos for West Africa, and Casablanca and Cairo for Northern Africa. No matter which country you will be traveling to your international flight will most likely be into one of those major cities.
We were lucky and were already in Europe when we found a flight from Istanbul to Johannesburg (with a layover in the Seychelles) for $450. If had we been somewhere not so central like the United States or Australia the cost could have been much more. Unfortunately, unless you want to haul it on a cargo ferry the flight getting into Africa is unavoidable.
Visas for Africa
Most countries in Africa require visitors to obtain a visa before entering – and an expensive one at that. The visa fee for Mozambique and Tanzania is $50 ($100 for Americans), $75 for a Malawian visa, and for Zambia it is a whopping $80 fee for a double entry for Americans. If you are going to just one country, a one-time visa fee may not seem so bad, but when you are overlanding all the visa fees really add up. Most of these visas also take up an entire page in your passport too…The one silver lining is that depending on your nationality most of Southern Africa does not require a visa to enter. We never opened our wallet for a visa in South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Swaziland, and Botswana.
Vaccines for Africa
Depending on where you are going in Africa you will need some jabs to stay healthy. Getting up to date on your tetanus, hepatitis, and typhoid is recommended before landing in Africa. Depending on where you are coming from you may even be required to have certain shots. If you’re from the US getting all of these shots are not a cheap trip to the doctors (especially for yellow fever). My advice would be to wait until you get to Africa to get your shots and malaria meds.
We ended up going to a South African clinic the day after we landed and got a round of booster shots, yellow fever shot, and a years supply of malaria medicine for $50 USD. I know the prices are similar for many other African countries as well. The people of Africa deal with these life-threatening diseases on a daily basis so the healthcare has to be affordable. Do your research for clinics before landing, but waiting until you get out of your home country could save you big.
Insider Tip: Do your research thoroughly on the country you are going to and what time of year you are going. I met people who were visiting Cape Town and their American doctors convinced them they needed malaria medicines (no malaria in Cape Town). We also met an Australian family whose doctor had suggested they buy $1000 worth of Malaria medicine to visit Kruger in the dry season. Just because it is Africa doesn’t mean that malaria is a risk everywhere. Most of South Africa and Namibia are malaria free, and everything depends on if you are traveling during the rainy season or not. We personally didn’t take pills in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, and in Southern Mozambique (in the dry season).
Getting Around Africa
So you’ve landed somewhere in Africa, but now you have to actually get around. Public transport in Africa is less than mediocre and unless you are really looking for adventure it isn’t ideal. The minibusses in each country will get you to certain points, but not the tourist hotspots of Africa and certainly not to a doorstep of a hostel or hotel.
Besides public transport your options are to fly from point to point in Africa, this is easily the most expensive option. Next, you can rent a car, take an overland safari, or buy a car (like us!). Most people take the overland option as it is the easiest and most hassle-free option there is. Overlanders don’t have to think about much in terms of navigation, driving, or planning. Overlanding trips aren’t cheap, though. There are basic camping overland trips and companies like Absolute Africa and Dragoman offer these. If your budget is a bit more then there are overland safaris like that are a bit more luxurious and don’t require camping.
We rented a car through Mozambique, Lesotho, and Swaziland but after two months we knew that anywhere north of South Africa would require a 4×4. Four-wheel drive vehicles cost at least $100 a day to rent – OUCH. We ended up getting a great deal on a Land Cruiser in Cape Town to get us around the continent. This option took a huge hit on the bank, but we are hoping to sell it and get some money back at the end of this trip. Read the full story here.
The good news is that fuel is relatively inexpensive in southern Africa and gradually creeps its way up in price around Zimbabwe and Zambia. Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi nearly killed us on fuel prices. At $1.30/liter it has me wondering how anyone local can reasonably afford this. Apparently about six months ago there was a massive fuel price hike, but naturally, incomes in these countries stayed the same.
Most of Africa is lacking proper infrastructure like what you get in many western cities. Outside of the big cities, we are usually happy to just be driving on a paved road and see a gas station.
The prices of accommodation across Africa are some of the highest we’ve ever seen…in the world! This goes back to the lack of infrastructure. To run a proper hotel, guesthouse, or lodge there must be basic things like access to water and electricity. Not so easy in Africa outside the capital cities. Five star Afri-chic lodges can run up in the range of $1400 a night. This is crazy expensive, but when I think what it took to build a self-sufficient lodge in the middle of nowhere Africa, maintain it, staff it, and do all the other things necessary for a lodge to run I can start to see where the money goes. Plus these fancy lodges include your safari and activities.
But forget about just the lodges. Even a basic shabby hotel in a capital city like Maputo will run you about $100/night. Camping isn’t the cheapest either. We pay anywhere between $10-$30 per person per night to CAMP in Africa (and some of these campsites don’t even have a toilet). When I get my wallet out to pay for these campsites I cringe thinking about the nice guesthouses with fast WiFi we pay for in Eastern Europe for $25 total a night. It all comes down to options and lack of them. If you don’t want to pay $30 for the campsite then good luck finding a cheaper one elsewhere.
From 5-star in Zambia…
To camping in Zimbabwe…
The Cost of Fun in Africa
Game drives, bush walks, boat cruises…all the activities that you have come to Africa for come at a price…and a steep one at that. Most activities involving wildlife come with an experienced and trained guide; you didn’t think those would be cheap, did you? If you are staying at lodges then chances are your guide fees will be included in the price, but if you are traveling on your own and want a guide one will have to be paid for separately.
Even if you don’t want a guide to go on safari some of the park fees just to enter a national park in Africa are jaw dropping. For instance, a day in the infamous Serengeti will cost you $74 per person per day, for camping $30 per tent per day and $150 per vehicle per day. If you want to go to Ngorongoro Crater yourself that’s $300. Those gorillas that are seen in Virunga National Park, well I hope you have $1500 to pay for a daily permit in Rwanda (and only for an hour of gorilla time).
Insider Tip: We found great value for national parks in Namibia. Entrance to Etosha National Park is only 80 NAD per day and you can see the big five there! Out of all the countries, we have visited in Africa so far South Africa and Namibia are the most affordable places to travel. If you want to go gorilla trekking go in Uganda or the DRC where it is cheaper.
Low Density/High Cost
Countries like Botswana and Zambia operate on a high-cost low-density model. If you want to see the Okavango Delta and the fabulous wildlife there then be prepared to pay a pretty penny to do it properly. The governments enforce the high costs so that fewer people come and their beautiful country doesn’t end up like Disney Land. I can’t hate on them for this, but it certainly doesn’t make traveling on a budget any easier.
The Cost of Food in Africa
In Thailand, the local food is a delicious plate of $1 Pad Thai or some spicy Tom Yum Soup. In Africa, the local foods are much much… well, let’s just say uninspiring. A staggering amount of Africans rely on maize for their breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Maize is a corn meal that is great for keeping people full for hours and is cheap to produce and buy. I’ve talked to many Africans and absolutely love maize. I actually think that sadza, nshima, and ugali are quite good…every once in awhile.
To many foreigners, the standard African fare may not be the tastiest in the world. Western food is going to cost a bit more to get since it is a specialized cuisine. Outside of South Africa and parts of Namibia, we pay more to have the food that we are used to. The exception we found to this was in Mozambique; the local seafood there is excellent and cheap!
Traveling Africa has many challenges and dealing with the high cost is definitely one of them. However, despite talking about the high costs of food, gas, or always saying to each other “we just paid how much for that piece of shit campsite?” We still realize all the beauty we have seen here that we can’t get anywhere else in the world. It’s going to be difficult to ever leave.