We’ve put off discussing this particular question to the end, although in some ways it is of course the most important one of all – and an African safari is never going to be a particularly cheap option. Firstly we should warn you that most accommodation, internal flights and so on, is priced in US Dollars, and hence radical fluctuations in exchange rate can drastically affect the cost of travel if you are, for example, based in the Pound Sterling or Euro area of the world.
The factors determining cost (outside considerations such as international and internal flights, which will vary markedly according to the type of itinerary selected), depend mainly on the quality of the accommodation provided, the quality of game viewing in the area selected, whether or not it lies within a National Park or a (more expensive) private game reserve, its remoteness (influencing supply logistics), and of course the season.
Although the style of safari accommodation selected will affect the price that you pay to some extent, it will probably be much less so than it would be, for example, if comparing city centre 1-star to 5-star hotels. In the main, the luxury, air conditioned safari lodge is characteristic of South Africa, and can be really quite expensive. More generally available are high-quality permanent tented camps or rustic lodges, which remain open for the whole of the year. Then there are bush camps, which are normally regarded as seasonal, being dismantled at the start of the rainy season, and rebuilt again once this is over.
Bush camps can range in style from simple tented structures to more elaborate rustic lodge-type accommodation, but in most cases the emphasis is on small groups, living as close to nature as possible (although this doesn’t necessarily exclude flushing toilets and hot showers). As a very rough guide, in high season, expect to pay a minimum of $500-700 per person per night sharing, in South Africa, around $600 in Botswana, and around $500 in Zambia (and since we regard Zambia as the safari destination par excellence, the one giving the best value for money is immediately obvious). These prices generally include all food and drink (drinks are sometimes priced separately), laundry, park fees, ground transfer, guiding and all game viewing activities.
But nowhere are they cheap! Indeed at the top end you can easily expect to pay well in excess of $1000 per person per night.