I’ve always dreamt about going on a safari ever since my mother told me stories of her visit to Africa many years ago. She didn’t have any photographs from her trip, so I had to paint pictures in my mind from her descriptions of the animals and scenery. It was stories like those that got me hooked on travel. But safaris can get really expensive, and it’s not hard to spend $4,000 $6,000 even $10,000. But as I recently discovered, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get an amazing safari experience. You’ll find out today how I managed to go on an incredible and super cheap safari, and I’ve got the pictures to prove it!
Africa Is SO Far Away!
The older I get, the more I try to limit my travel time from point A to point B. I’m happier paying $100 extra to get a direct flight vs taking 1-2 stopovers, and will pay a premium to take an express bus over the local. Flight times that are less than 6 hours are now ideal itineraries for me because once they start creeping into the teens, I start to feel a bit tired just thinking about how long it’s going to take before I get to my hotel.
So when I started doing some digging on African safaris, I immediately got discouraged when I looked at the flight times. A friend of mine suggested I go to Kruger National Park in South Africa, so I did some research on it. The flight times from San Francisco to Johannesburg range between 26 to 33 hours. Oh man that is SO far away! Flights aren’t cheap either, averaging around $1,300 per person and go up to $2,000 in the summer.
The flight cost I could probably swallow as it’d be a once in a lifetime trip and going to Europe easily costs $1,200-$1,400, but the fact that 26 hours is the fastest route to get there really put a wrinkle in my plans.
Searching For A Cheap Safari Is Tricky
There is a pretty large price range however in accomodations and tours when it comes to safaris. If you’re willing to rough it a bit, you can find options around $200-300/night. And if you want to live really large, a luxury lodge like Singita runs about $1800/night. Phew! Normally I like to pay around $100-150/night when I travel, but I wouldn’t want to take any chances with bad accommodations 11,000 miles away from home out in the bushes.
Who would want to go all the way across the world and risk ending up in a flimsy tent with pochers nearby, or get stranded in the middle of nowhere with no cell signal, dirty water, and unsanitary conditions? And with 30 hours of flight time, going on a short 3 night safari vs 7-14 to save on cost just doesn’t seem worth the trip either.
So, before you know it you’ve either scrapped a safari trip all together or find yourself spending thousands of dollars for a week long stay at a nice lodge.
How I Went On An Incredible And Super Cheap Safari The Untemplate Way
Feeling a bit discouraged about the distance, time, and cost of going all the way to South Africa, I decided to scrap the traditional safari all together. Turns out there is an incredible wildlife preserve, Safari West, right in my back door in Santa Rosa, CA. Now you’re probably smirking, thinking there’s no way that can be anything like the real thing. But hang on a sec, I beg to differ!
Safari West is situated on 400 gorgeous, lush acres with over 400 exotic birds and animals. They have many endangered species and the majority of their birds and animals are species found in Africa. And get this, for only $68.00 (yes that is sixty-eight dollars and not a typo for $680) I got an entrance ticket to the safari, a 30 minute walking tour, and a 2.5 hour safari vehicle tour. I didn’t need to take a week off of work, get a bunch of shots, or a travel visa. I just got in a car and drove there!
We literally got up close and personal with the animals, drove through large open areas, and had a true off-roading experience in the safari truck. I even got to sit on top!
Pictures From My Walking Tour At Safari West
Here are some of my best pics from the tour. I think they prove how incredibly amazing Safari West is, and a really neat, practical, and untemplate way to go on a cheap safari. For those of you who don’t live within driving distance, there is a large cottage, as well as plenty of cozy safari tent loding available for a fun weekend getaway vacation (see the pic of the tents above). Prices vary depending on the season, ex. I got my ticket for $68 vs $80 because I went off-peak.
Seeing cheetahs up close was the highlight of the walking tour. This is the first time I’ve ever seen cheetahs before so I was super excited. I got to see a total of 3 of these amazing cats. This female cheetah woke up from her nap in the sun to say hello as we walked by. Her sister is asleep next to her. Cheetahs clock up to 70-75 mph in short bursts, and can go from 0 to 62 mph in about five seconds!
There are constantly lots of baby animals at Safari West, and it was a treat to see these 2 little ones walking around. I forget what species they are, so I’m guessing a type of antelope. They were still a bit shaky on their legs.
This is a Blue Duiker. They’re really tiny! Only about 14 inches in height. They live in the forest in Central and Southern Africa. It’s hard to see here, but their fur has a faint blue tinge to it which is how they got their name. Notice the itty bitty horns on her head? Cute!
I thought this brown Hammerkop was really neat looking. Her head is shaped like a triangle. This species is found in Africa and Madagascar in wetland areas. They make huge nests that can span 1.5 meters across, made from ~10,000 twigs and sticks with a mud base. That’s quite a bird mansion considering they’re only about 22 inches long.
This is a Malayan Great Argus Pheasant. His feathers extend beyond the frame of this picture. Super long! I really liked his beautiful spotted feathers. As you might have guessed from their name, they are found in the Malay Peninsula and Sumatracan (not Africa) but are worth noting.
This bird made my jaw drop. He is a male Lady Amherst’s Pheasant. I’ve never seen a bird with this type of coloring before. Like the above bird, this species is also not found in Africa, but is totally safari worthy imo. They are native to China and Myanmar. Way to impress the lady birds (who are only brown in color). Incredible!
Ha, I got this Ring-Tailed lemur with his tongue sticking out! These guys are so cool to watch as they jump from branch to branch. They are found on Madagascar and live in large groups of 20-30. They like to sunbathe their white bellies and can live up to 27 years in captivity, 16-19 in the wild.
These rather ugly and shockingly fluorescent birds are Scarlet Ibis’. Why in the world are they that color? Well they turn pink from all the shrimp that they eat! That’s neat, but also a bit gross don’t you think?
Talk about one fancy pigeon! This large bird (imagine roughly about 2-2.5 times the size of a normal city pigeon) is a Victoria Crowned Pigeon. Imagine if these were walking around downtown!
Oh man, these little ducks were SO cute. I think they are called Ruddy ducks, but I’m not entirely sure. They were lounging on the path in one of the aviaries where we were touring. They didn’t budge, so we had to carefully walk around them. You could hold one in the palm of your hand, they’re that tiny. Their bodies are also pretty wide and their legs are super short so they don’t walk very well. Put them in the water though and they swim like champs.
This bird was posing for me as we exited the aviary. It’s a Cape Thick-knee aka Spotted Thick-knee. Very large eyes for the size of it’s head! They are found in sub-Saharan Africa and can get up to 18 inches in height.
Pictures From My Safari Vehicle Tour At Safari West
After finishing the walking tour, we piled into one of the “safari vehicles” which are these old military trucks that are perfect for off-roading. They are open air, and the tour guides still make frequent stops so it’s easy to take pictures and get up close.
This big guy is Pumba. He’s an African Red River Hog. He lives next to a pond with a couple of Sarus Cranes. They like to run along the fence when the safari trucks drive by. Red River Hogs are found in the rainforests of Africa and can weigh up to 250 pounds!
These Addax, aka screwhorn antelope, were napping in the sun when we passed by. Their spiraled horns are quite impressive and can reach up to 33 inches long. They can be found in the Sahara desert and their coats change color depending on the season from white to a grey-brown. What’s neat is their groups are lead by the oldest female.
There were 2 White Rhinos on the grounds when I visited. The female here was super sleepy when we stopped to visit. I was hoping she’d stand up, but she was content just rolling over from one side to the other after peeking out at us. She promptly went back to her nap. White rhinos are found in central and southern Africa and weigh between 3000-8000 pounds. No wonder she didn’t want to stand up!
This stunning bird is an East African Crowned Crane. Pretty neat to see one up close. They are known for dancing when they are courting. And get this, their wingspan is about 6.5 feet wide!
This is the first time I’d seen a Gemsbok. They are native to South Africa and their horns average 33 inches in length! I like their white “socks” and the black “masks” they have on their faces. I wouldn’t want to get in a fight with one of these guys!
This is a pretty Greater Kudu, which are found in eastern and southern Africa and are one of the larges species of antelope. They have vertical stripes on their bodies and a white “chevron” (aka inverted V) between their eyes. It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but it’s there. She was searching for food as we drove by. Look, she has eyelashes! 🙂
This Roan Antelope looked like she was pregnant, or perhaps she just ate a huge breakfast. Both the female and males have short horns that tilt backwards, and they get their name “roan” from their reddish brown coloring.
Talk about getting up close and personal with the animals! The giraffes like to get right up next to the trucks as they go for a stroll. This guy here is a Masai Giraffe who is probably about 6 meters tall (~20 feet). The Safari West trucks will stop and let you get a lot of great pictures and it’s really exciting being so close to the animals.
This is one of my favorite shots of the day that I took. 🙂 This is another Masai Giraffe who was eating near our truck. I love his fuzzy ossicones (“horns”). Masai giraffes are found in southeastern Africa and have jagged spots that look like puzzle pieces. Reticulated giraffes (which are also at Safari West) on the other hand have larger polygonal spots that are much more defined, and are found in several regions in Africa.
This is an Ellipsen Waterbuck, which is a type of Antelope found in sub-Saharan Africa. Their noses are shaped like hearts and they have a white “follow me” circle on their rump. That marking helps the babies in particular follow the moms, especially if they are running away from danger.
This is a mother and baby Eland, which are found in eastern and southern Africa. They typically live in very large herds of up to 5o0 and eat mostly grasses and leaves. Both females and males have horns which grow into spirals. They can also jump up to 8 feet in the air if they get spooked!
Oh my gosh, haha. There are a couple ostriches on the property, but this gal here was so funny! She literally followed us around half of the park. We’d see her disappear to take a shortcut, and then all of sudden there she was again! She had a thing for our tour guide. Ostriches live in central, eastern, and southern Africa. They are the largest bird on the planet, and even though they can’t fly they can reach speeds up to 43 mph on foot. Their huge eyes give them great eye sight, but sadly they are pretty dumb.
The Cape Buffalo at Safari West were really impressive. You do not want to mess with these guys. They are some of the most dangerous animals in Africa and will attack as a herd. They can get up to 11 feet long in length and 2,000 pounds in weight. This big guy below is the boss and he makes sure you know it.
One of the highlights towards the end of my safari tour was the zebras! These are Damara zebras which have lighter shadow stripes in between the black ones. They are social animals and make good pals with one another, as you see one casually resting her head on her buddy’s back. Super cute. Zebra stripes are believed to confuse predators and make their eyes tired. Try staring intently at a zebra for more than a minute, and you’ll see what I mean!
And Even More Safari Animals!
I saw and photographed even more animals than I could fit into this post including Kenyan Impalas, Reticulated Giraffes, Blue Wildebeests, African Spoonbills, De Brazza’s Guenon Monkeys, a Fennec fox, a Serval cat, an Indian Crested Porcupine, Bongos, Bonteboks, Scimitar-Horned Oryx, 4 tortoises etc.
So now you can see that it’s totally possible to go on an incredible and super cheap safari without leaving the U.S.! I would still like to visit Africa someday, but I got the safari experience I wanted. And I’m thrilled I didn’t have to spend $10,000 to do it!
Untemplaters, have you ever been to Africa or gone on a safari? What’s the farthest away you’re willing to travel? What price range would you consider to be a cheap safari? What’s the coolest animal you’ve ever seen?
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