It sounds incredibly luxurious and ultra expensive.  But it turns out a private safari doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive — especially if you’re thinking of going with friends (which we were).  Here’s what we considered, in deciding whether to book a private safari:

Did we want to go with other people, or on “our own”?

We pretty quickly decided it would be more fun to go with other people.  We even more quickly decided  to go with a group of friends, than with a group of strangers.  This left us with a couple options — i) book all our friends onto a “pre-planned” safari (such as with GapAdventures, National Geographic – expensive!, Intrepid Travel, etc) or ii) arrange for a “private safari”.

How much more does it cost?

In fact, a “private safari” may cost less than a pre-planned safari.  Our eleven-day safari was priced at $2485 for six people.  On GapAdventures, a similar 7-day itinerary which visited most of the same locations (minus two nights in the Serengeti, minus one night in Arusha, and skipping Arusha National Park) was priced starting from $3300 — an extra $815 / person!

Here’s how we managed costs…

  • We booked directly with local agencies, which helped trim costs.   (See my article on booking with a local agency.)
  • We coordinated a group of six to go together.  This is optimal — as a group, you rent a jeep, and since six people perfectly fills up one jeep, everyone gets one window, and you share your costs across the most people.  You can actually fit seven in a jeep (and everyone still gets a window seat), but when it comes to sharing rooms, not all places have triples, so if someone is looking to share a room and cut costs, it starts to get more expensive (though not impossibly so – the single supplement is approximately an additional $500.)
  • We chose lodging that fit within our budget.  With a private safari, you have control over every aspect of travel – not just the route, but the specific lodging options, etc.

What’s the downside?

There’s not much downside, in my opinion.  You can go crazy with your research…which we did.  When looking at lodging options, for example, we read reviews and looked at images.  But equally, you can simply book the itinerary recommended by your agent.  For us, because we went with a Tanzanian travel agency, we had to coordinate payments on our own (which was somewhat, but not terribly, painful).

Once we put the word out, quite a few friends expressed interest in joining.  It turns out a lot of folks have thought about going on safari at some point — they just never got around to going!