Nope, Africa is Not Cheap for Travelers

africa safari prices

If you can afford a tour like this, Africa is awesome!

I’ve always felt kind of bad that Africa is so under-represented in every edition of The World’s Cheapest Destinations, but despite the prevalent poverty, it’s not much of a deal unless you want to live like a local. Or not do anything. I had a lovely time once on a press trip to South Africa and Botswana, but if I’d had to put that trip on a credit card I’d probably still be paying it off five years later.

One of the two African countries I do include (Morocco), I’ve considered striking from the next edition in 2012.

Yesterday I had an e-mail exchange with Marie Javins, a person who wrote a book about traveling from Cape Town to Cairo called Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. She recently returned to the continent to travel through again and I asked her what she’d found price-wise. Any contenders to replace Morocco? The answer was not pretty.

Take it away Marie!

“Having just gone through Africa, I learned some hard lessons about the current value of the US dollar. The last time I was in Namibia and South Africa, prices were pretty good, and the time before that, they were an incredible bargain. This time, they were priced about the same as home. Not a bargain at all.

Zimbabwe might be a bargain, but no one wants to go there right now.

Zambia is great value but not cheap anymore either. You get nice stuff for your money, like lion walks and helicopter rides but great value isn’t cheap.

Kenya and Tanzania have some pretty good hotel bargains but the problems with those countries are that the national park fees ruin your value for money.

travel costs in Africa

That leaves Uganda and Rwanda, but then it’s hard to say Uganda is good value when the gorilla fees are $500+. But national park fees are reasonable by comparison to its neighbors.

And then there’s a bunch of places your readers don’t want to go, like Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, CAR.

On the West Coast, Angola and the Congos are just plain obscenely priced. Nigeria is lucicrously expensive. Cameroon’s not that bad. Gabon rips you off blind for the national parks and then gives you a few monkeys.

Gambia is all right but it’s UK-pound oriented. Everywhere above that is geared towards the euro.

The euro is dominating the West African market and it was a painful thing to discover. The rand used to be deliciously undervalued (and the southern countries in oen way or another all reflect the rand), in the same way Australia was. But those currencies have done well in the past few years.

I don’t know if you can seriously use Madagascar as the flights are just about impossible for people. But I was stunned at the great value there. Hotels for $10-20, shared taxis for $6, really really great value for independent travelers.”

So there you have it. Either come from a country where you’re earning lots of euros, or find a way to get yourself to Madagascar.

If anyone wants to pipe in with tales of $30 a day African travel that was actually fun, I’m all ears. Fill in a comment below!

Check out Marie Javins’ Perceptive Travel articles on Bolivia and Antarctica. See more at



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  1. JM

    A few thoughts/questions:

    “And then there’s a bunch of places your readers don’t want to go, like Sudan, Ethiopia, Chad, CAR.”

    I can understand Chad, CAR, and Sudan but why Ethiopia? They have no outstanding civil strife currently and, from the research I’ve done, would be an ideal alternate African destination for those not really into the whole safari thing and quite affordable at that.

    What about Mali, Malawi, or Mauritania?

    Or two places that would be even more affordable to visit at this time as most tourists are staying away: Tunisia and Egypt

    What is the problem with Madascar flights? Looks like you can get non-stops from Jo’burg, Bangkok, Marseille, Nairobi, and Paris. And those are just the ones that pop up on Google.

    Also, why would Morocco be kicked off the list? From a general look around about hotel/guesthouse prices, they seem to be up a little from last time I was there but not too bad, esp. since in Morocco you can expect a private room. Like Thailand, it helps to cut costs to travel in pairs there and split a room but it seems only slightly more expensive.

    • Lina

      @JM I agree with you that Ethiopia looks like a great destination. However, living in Vancouver, flights to Madagascar are OBSCENELY expensive. Flying midweek, you’re looking at an almost $3000 return flight ticket. Perhaps it’s worth it though, as Madagascar looks incredible. I would probably attempt going there if I was already visiting Africa, or perhaps had an extended stay in Europe as a massive treat to myself.

      • JM

        Ah, I thought you were meaning flights while in Africa to Madagascar, not from N America. My mistake!

    • tim

      Here’s a follow-up from Marie. Mali is set up well for travelers, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bargain.

      “These things are bargains in Africa:
      Local transport
      Local food

      These things are not bargains:
      National park admissions
      Hotels in countries that don’t have many tourists
      Visa fees
      European-style food

      I think Uganda offers the best value of the East African countries, and Mali is the most developed for independent (backpacker) tourism in West Africa. And southern Africa was a fantastic bargain when the dollar was strong but now is quite expensive.”

      She also notes that this is a tough place to be a flashpacker, with very high wi-fi fees in some places, including South Africa.

      I’ve heard mixed things on Ethiopia from readers. Some say it’s a better relative deal than other African countries, others say it’s set up for package tours. The never-ending civil war in Somalia doesn’t help the reputation and some feel uneasy there as a result. If you’ve got first-hand info JM, please share!

  2. Paul

    Sure, if you are going to take helicopter rides and enjoy drinks set out on a table nicely with your 4×4 jeep close by, then yes anywhere is expensive!

    • tim

      True Paul, but reality is this is how much of Africa is marketed and in Botswana anyway, there are far more lodges offering that kind of experience than ones set up for budget travelers.

  3. Darren

    Very much Educating Blog on African Tourism and traveling, many people have the same misconception …about cheap traveling to Africa.

  4. BHP Warszawa

    interesting blog, I invite you to Polish…;)

  5. Marie

    Hi guys. I guess since I started this, I can share firsthand info on Ethiopia.

    You won’t hear an argument from me that Ethiopia is a fascinating destination. But if anyone wants to suggest that Ethiopia is an EASY destination…well, it’s not, and that’s why you can’t blithely include it into a guide that describes values like Morocco and Thailand.

    Going local in Ethiopia is a trade-off. A very rewarding trade-off for the sort of person who appreciates a challenge and a genuinely local experience. I daresay Ethiopia is like nowhere else. But I can’t say it’s a great destination to do on the cheap without a lot of qualifiers about what the independent traveler should expect. You need to go in sensitized to the possibility of being yelled at all day (it’s not intended to be mean) and possibly having rocks thrown at you (this is more complicated but in the end, you cannot let your exhaustion stop you from smiling and waving back). There is a fantastic Bradt guidebook by writer Philip Briggs which I think does a fine job of contextualizing what the independent traveler should expect.

    And, uh, by the way, there’s a huge difference between living the high life with your own 4×4 with drinks on the table and trying to be a somewhat comfortable budget traveler with a toilet that flushes once you mess with its innards and figure out how to rig it just right. I don’t even drink or rent cars…I just take the bus…I shudder to think what my trips would have cost me if I did…

  6. Marie

    There is very little info in English about independent travel in Madagascar, and I found the available info included dire warnings about the state of the road and the exhaustion and amount of time it takes to get anywhere in Madagascar.

    To which I say nonsense! Sure, the share taxis are crowded, but how is that different than anywhere on the mainland African continent? And the roads are fine to my eyes, though I admit that my standards for roads are “Is it paved” and “Can you park a truck in the potholes or can you drive around them.” But I thought the country was easy to get around, great value, and had the best lemurs in the world.

    I mean, it has the only lemurs in the world…but they sure are cute.

  7. Marie

    Thank you! I’ve already passed Europe this go-round but I’d like to see Warsaw (I was only in Gdansk before).

  8. Ann Ngunjiri

    It also depends on the hotels you visit,and what time of the year you travel

  9. Lars from

    I’ll have tune in on some other commenters here: bull***t! I spent 4,5 months travelling in Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. I spent a total of about 4800€. If we distract one safari, a one week diving trip(on a liveboard) and gorilla visit, it sums up to 3400€ for 4,5 months. = 33$ or so.

    And that still includes rafting in Uganda, three days of diving in Egypt, two days in Kenya, Windsurfing course in Kenya and 5 days of hiking in mountains in Ethiopia. I would include all of these countries in your list, they’re great!!

    • tim

      How do you distract a safari?

      Thanks though for your info Lars. I appreciate it. That’s still more than you’re going to spend in SE Asia or Central America, but certainly affordable. I’d imagine having Egypt in there helped a lot. It IS in the book.

  10. Laura

    I actually just finished a 3-week trip to Ethiopia. On average I spent about $35 per day. It would have been less if I hadn’t bought a few internal flights. The flights individually are relatively cheap – $40-60 for each leg – and save you 2-3 day bus rides. I could usually find a place to stay for $8-12 per night. I was traveling alone so I had to spend the whole amount that could have been shared if I had a travel companion. Since it was low season I was even able to stay at some nicer places for the price of the cheaper ones after a bit of negotiating. If you’re willing to go without hot water or stay in places that double as brothels, you can probably find places for under $5 per night in most cities.

    Food is very cheap ($1-2 per meal) even with the faranji (white person) price as long as you don’t eat all your meals at nice hotels.

    Entrance fees aren’t bad in most places except for Lalibela. If you hire your own guide in every city, that would also add to the cost. I found groups to share guides with in a couple of places and otherwise just used the info from the guide book (I second Marie’s recommendation for the Bradt guide).

    I was only in the north on the historical circuit so I can’t comment on the safaris, etc. in the south. In general, though, Ethiopia was not a fun place to travel. The hassling/harassment is worse there than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Compared to SE Asia or Central America it’s not as cheap or as fun (and the weather is worse).

    • Andrew

      Laura, your story is remarkable. Do you have photographs online of your adventure? I am moving with my family soon to the Ivory Coast as they are peace workers, and i plan o hitch through as much of Africa as a few thousand dollars will allow. Your story gives me hope for the summer.

  11. Keith

    Africa is as expensive as Europe?

  12. nathan

    I traveled Ethiopia for a month. It was one of the best places I have ever Traveled Yeah the annoyance factor could be high and travel was not always pleasant terrible roads but the reward was exceptionally high. The Simien Mountains were incredible the weather was beautiful in November. I found it to be very affordable maybe spending 30 to 35 dollars a day. I traveled with a girlfriend so we were able to split the cost of rooms. Africa as expensive as Europe? where in the world did you travel in Africa? You must have stayed in 4 & 5 star resorts. In Ethiopia the typical meal cost 1 to 3 dollars and cheap hotels went for around 10 to 15 more in Addis. Where can you get 1 dollar meals in Europe? Ethiopia was a gem in the rough!

    • tim

      Thanks for your input Nathan! It’s good to get current info from someone who has been there recently.

  13. mobile_mon

    I spent a month and a half in Ethiopia this year and I would happily travel to Sudan or Chad any time (how people’s taste differs ;). As for Ethiopisa, I must say that the experience was absolutely worth it! People, food, landscapes were great, Simien Mountains jaw-droppingly stunning, Afar – stunning, Omo Valley – unforgettable. Daily expenditures amounted to about USD 35. Apart from the usual faranji!!! my and a friend didn’t have any negative experience, well perhaps with the exception of getting ameba – but at least I can say that their drugs work miracles ;)

  14. Sarah

    I am looking to go in February and my budget at the high end is $10,000. I want to volunteer for two weeks at a legitimate animal sanctuary, see Victoria falls,myths bushmen of the kalahari and climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It’s the air fares that will kill me from what I can see. Any tips? Thanks

  15. Jason

    I’ll just leave this here….it’s current for 2016:

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