Three of my most frequently asked questions are:
“Is it expensive to travel in Africa?”
“How much does it cost to go backpacking in Africa?”
“How much money for will I need for travelling in Africa?”.
My honest answer. It depends!
You can travel Africa on a shoestring, absolutely – if you take local transport, self-drive (although this comes with a whole other set of costs and issues), camp or stay in dorms and eat local foods. It’s when you start adding in safaris and activities that the costs start rising – quickly.
So your Africa travel budget will really depend on what you do and how you do it. I’ve known backpackers who travelled Africa on a shoestring and they kept costs low by not doing many safaris or activities. But that’s not for me. I love going on safari!
My first trip to the continent in 2009 lasted 6 months and my itinerary included 2 different volunteering placements in Zambia and Tanzania, an epic 3-day train ride, a trek up Kilimanjaro a 2-and-a-half month overland safari through (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) and a 2 week road trip along South Africa’s Garden Route.
It’s going to vary for everyone, but I can tell you what I spent, and then hopefully, it will give you a good idea of what you might spend. Bear in mind that I am not an extreme budget traveller, but I was also travelling for a long time so I didn’t go crazy either.
The 2 things that I did spend a lot of money on was a) climbing Kilimanjaro, which is unavoidable if you want to do this and b) one of my volunteering placements, which I don’t regret at all, but there are much cheaper ways to volunteer.
Please note: Prices have been updated to reflect prices up to date as of July 2016.
I won’t include these costs in my overall budget at the bottom, as these costs have lots of variables, but here they are.
Flights really depend on where you fly to/from. Flying through London, Amsterdam, Singapore or Dubai are usually good options.
The last time I flew to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from Manchester, UK, the flight cost me £525 return and with Emirates. I just did a flight comparison from the US and Australia and it wasn’t a lot extra to fly from there. But the key is to book early to get the cheapest flights!
TOP TIP: I almost always use Skyscanner to find the best deals. They have a multi-destination option, which is useful if you are starting and ending in different countries.
This will depend on what you’ve had already, and what you can get for free from your doctor. I managed to get Hep B, Hepatitis A/Typhoid, Diptheria/Tetanus/Polio all free from the doctors. I then got a prescription for Meningitis (£12), and the doctor gave me the jab for free. I paid for Rabies (£50), Yellow Fever (£58).
This was my first ever long-term travel, so I spent quite a lot on buying new stuff. If I could do it again, I wouldn’t have spent so much. Invest in a few essentials – good shoes, good bag, good camera (doesn’t have to be a fancy one, a camera with a good zoom is all I ask) and the rest you can probably borrow, hire or do without! Just remember, the less you buy the more you can do!
I reckon I spent around £500 on everything I bought especially for the trip.
READ MORE: What to Pack for Backpacking in Africa
I cannot stress how important it is to have travel insurance in place for your trip to Africa!
Some bank accounts include travel insurance, so check if you’re covered first. At the time, mine didn’t so I paid around £70 (pro rated down to 6 months from 9 months). Depends what cover you get – but don’t forget you may be doing a lot of adventurous activities.
TOP TIP: World Nomads has a great insurance policy for travellers.
There weren’t that many travel blogs when I first went to Africa, so I relied on guidebooks for the information!
My Africa Travel Budget
This section includes everything that I paid for whilst I was there – food, transport, accommodation, visas etc. This includes any pre-paid tours and excursions too.
Visas – £165
Visas vary in prices, depending on where your passport is from. I visited some countries twice, so I sometimes got double entry visas which were a little bit extra. Some double or multi entry visas must be applied for before you arrive at the border. If you are travelling to Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya you can apply in advance for an East African tourist visa, which is $100. This allows you to move freely between the countries over a 90-day period. My visas came to $255 (£165).
You should budget between $230 – $275 if you are travelling to all the countries I mention above.
All visas are paid in US dollars (dated after 2004 and in good condition).
TOP TIP: Project Visa is a great resource to get information. If in doubt, contact your local embassy before you go.
The Book Bus, Zambia – £1,850
I volunteered with the Book Bus in Livingstone Zambia for 4 weeks. It isn’t cheap, but it is a great project which I love.
Livingstone is also one of the best places for adventure in Africa and there are loads of great things to do there, so you’ll want to have a bit of spending money!
- Volunteering: £1600 for 4 weeks approx – includes in-country support, airport transfers, food, accommodation (in tents) and project costs.
- Food/Drink: £200 – food is included on week days and not included at weekends but there are quite a few nice places to eat and drink in and around town. Olga’s pizza is my favourite.
- Activities: You can do all sorts from white-water rafting, jet-boating, sunset cruises, cycle tour, high tea at the Royal Livingstone, bungee jumping and even a weekend trip to Chobe. I’ll include the prices of the things I did in the activities section below. You get a few discounts as a Book Bus volunteer.
- Other: £50 – I had some clothes made, bought souvenirs and a local SIM etc and you may need a bit of money for taxis to and from restaurants or going to watch the football at the theatre in town.
READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide to Livingstone, Zambia
The Tazara Train, Zambia to Tanzania – £369
This is the train between Zambia and Tanzania, a wonderful, epic journey if ever there was one. I probably could have flown for a similar price… but where would the fun in that be?
- Bus from Livingstone to Lusaka: £13
- Accommodation in Lusaka x 2 nights: £16
- Bus from Lusaka to Kapiri Mposhi: £7
- Tazara Train from Zambia – Tanzania: £33
- Food/Drink: £20 – food and water is available on board and from the people outside the train, but I would take a stash with you! Things like jam, bread and peanut butter are good!
The Baobab Home, Tanzania – £369
I did a volunteering placement at the Baobab Home in Bagamoyo, for just over 4 weeks, running a summer club for the local kids who live in or around the home. We did things like arts and crafts, trips to the beach and sports whilst they were on their school holidays. Bagamoyo is a great place if you want to experience the non-touristy side of Africa.
This was by far the cheapest month I spent in Africa, but I didn’t do any touristy activities.
- Mini Bus from Dar es Salaam to Bagamoyo: £2 (a taxi one way is £45).
- Volunteering: £0 – there is no fee to volunteer but they appreciate donations. I raised money at a charity night and split it between the Baobab Home and the Book Bus.
- Accommodation: £150 – I shared a house with 6 other volunteers.
- Food/Drink: £150 – we ate rice and beans at a local container most nights, or cooked for ourselves. In the daytime I just ate chapati, samosa and bananas. These days there are a few more restaurants, and last time I went I would say I spent a little more than the first time, but it’s still really cheap.
- Transport: £15 – I took a dala dala into Dar es Salaam a couple of times, and got the odd piki piki (motorbike taxi) or bajaji (tuk tuk) around town but that was about it. I just walked most of the time.
- Other: £50 – there aren’t loads of things to do in Bagamoyo, not that cost a lot of money anyway – most of our free time was spent down at the beach. A tour of Bagamoyo is approx $20. Or occasionally they have cool events on at the Bagamoyo College of Arts. There is sometimes a charge for internet, in the rare places you can find it.
- Mini Bus from Bagamoyo to Dar es Salaam: £2.
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – £1,348
Now this is a big money drainer for such a short time period, but it’s kind of amazing!
- Coach to Dar es Salaam to Arusha: £10 (30,000 TSH).
- Kilimanjaro Climb: £1050 – includes park entry, guide, porters, all food, water and accommodation 1 night prior to and 2 nights after the climb.
- Tips: £162 – the split is in my Kilimanjaro Packing List & Top Tips for Success post.
- Additional Accommodation: £50 – I’d a arrive a day or two prior, and stay on after to recover. Some people fly straight to Zanzibar – that would be very cool to do.
- Shuttle Bus to Nairobi from Arusha: £13 ($20).
- Food/Drink: £30 – Moshi has a few nice places to eat, and believe me, you’ll deserve a pizza or a big piece of cake!
- Equipment Hire: £13 ($20) I just hired some walking poles and some waterproof pants.
- Other: I think I spent about £20 on cans of coke and chocolate bars on the mountain – they charge a fortune for it but I was very sick and that’s all I wanted to eat, so it was money well spent I say. I got up that mountain fuelled by a mixture of sheer determination, Coco-Cola and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.
Absolute Africa Overland Safari, Nairobi to Cape Town – £3,780
One of my favourite ever trips was a 2-and-a-half overland safari with Absolute Africa, who are one of the most reasonably priced overlanding companies and one of the most economical ways to get around Africa, whilst still doing loads of sightseeing and activities.
Overlanding isn’t a ‘holiday’ as such, usually you have to muck in – cooking dinners, cleaning the truck, putting up your tents – but it is an adventure. It takes out all of the hassle out of figuring out how to get from A to B, plus you get lots of built in friends.
Over 73 days, I visited Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. The trip also goes through Zimbabwe too now.
- Trip Cost: £1645 + £1260 (local payment) – includes 57 breakfasts, 57 dinners, transport on the truck, 65 nights accommodation (mostly tents, some dorms – options to upgrade). The breakfasts/dinners not included are those when the truck is not with you and accommodation where you choose not to take part in any of the overnight excursions i.e) Okavango Delta, Zanzibar, Lake Kariba Houseboats… but trust me, do not opt out – you’ll regret it as everyone goes! When I went the trip actually cost £990, rather than £1645, so you can see how prices have risen.
- Accommodation: £100 – prior to tour at Heron Hotel (private room), Nairobi and after the tour at Ashanti Lodge, Cape Town (dorm). There are cheaper places to stay in Nairobi, like the dorm tent at Wildebeest Eco Camp or Milimani Backpackers.
- Visas: Covered above.
- Activities Included: Things like…
- Kenya: Masai Mara inc Maasai Village Tour, Matopos National Park Rhino Trekking, Nakuru National Park, Giraffe Centre, Lake Naivasha.
- Tanzania: The Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Mikumi National Park.
- Namibia: Etosha National Park, Fish River Canyon, Namib Naukluft National Park, The Cheetah Park, Sossusvlei Dunes, Cape Cross Seal Colony, Spitzkoppe Rock Formations.
- Spending Money: Absolute Africa recommend between £80 – £100 per week. I’d agree with that. I spent around £850 broken down as follows.
- Food/Drink: £500 – it’s only really lunches and a few meals out that aren’t included. Save by buying local foods, or food from the supermarket that will last a few days. Water, soft drinks and alcohol are pretty cheap, but can add up! I like a beer or two, so I probably spent quite a lot. The expensive party hot spots tend to be Nairobi, Jinja, Kendwa, Swakopmund, Vic Falls, Stellenbosch and Cape Town in my experience. You could do it for less. One of the girls on our truck never had lunch.
- Transport: £30 – I spent small amounts on various types of transport getting to and from restaurants etc.
- Souvenirs: £150- I’m not much of a shopper, but I bought all kinds from a chair (?!?!), paintings, t-shirts and tons of bracelets/earrings and got my hair braided. You can barter for stuff too – if you have stuff to swap, swap! I swapped an old pair of sunglasses for a t-shirt. And you can get some stuff for a pen!
- Phone: £15 – I bought a local SIM for a couple of bucks everywhere I went and just texted home every few days to say I was safe.
- Internet: £30 – If you want to use the internet a lot, consider getting a SIM card with data. I used internet cafes and they added up over time.
- Tips: £50 – tipping is not compulsory, but is kind of expected for guides and in restaurants etc.
Activities – £1,394
There are sooo many touristy activities on offer in Africa, you’ll have a hard time fitting them all in. Which might be a good thing because even if you had the time, you might not have the money! So you have to pick and choose! Absolute Africa say you should budget between £420 and £950, but I spent quite a bit more and I thought I was quite reserved… some people did more than me!
But, sometimes it’s just nice to chill at the campsite with a beer, do your washing, or just walk into town, explore, hang out in a local bar – whatever! Often the best travel memories are the ones you make when you are least expecting them.
There are too many activities for me to mention here, so this is a list of just the things I did, in the time I was on the truck and on the Book Bus. If you need more info, Absolute Africa have a really good trip dossier that has pretty much every cost on. Please note, this is just a guide – prices fluctuate often.
- David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (Elephant Sancturary): £6
- Nairobi Night Out: £35
- White Water Rafting on the White Nile (full day): £80
- Gorilla Trekking: £420
- Twa Tribe Visit: £22
- Kigali Genocide Muemorial: £7
- Zanzibar Trip (1 night in Stone Town, 3 nights in Kendwa): £175
- Prison Island: £13
- Sunset Cruise: £20
- Village meal: £5
Please note: I did all of these activities in Zambia, but some of them take place from the Zimbabwe side now. Some of the activities I did whilst I was volunteering on the Book Bus.
- Lake Kariba Houseboats: £90
- Zambezi Sunset Booze Cruise: £35
- White Water Rafting on the Zambezi (full day): £90
- Jet Boating: £70
- South Luangwa Safari (full day): £70 (Zambia only).
- Afternoon Tea at the Royal Livingstone: £16 plus a cocktail (or two) and taxis, so more like £25 (Zambia only).
- Victoria Falls: £13 x 2 (I went by day and by night to see a Lunar Rainbow). I actually went 4 times in these 6 months, but that’s a bit excessive!
- Local Cowboy Cycle Tours: £13 (Zambia only).
- Chobe Game Drive: £30
- Okavango Delta (2 nights): £80
- Sandboarding: £30
- Himba Tribe Visit: £32
- Stellenbosch Wine Tour: £20
South Africa Road Trip – £869
At the end of my trip, my boyfriend came to meet me in South Africa and we did a bit of a road trip from Cape Town, down the Garden Route to Plettenberg Bay and back, along with 3 friends from my Absolute Africa trip. We weren’t on a strict budget, and stayed in private rooms.
- Accommodation: £200 – we mainly stayed in backpacker places, but got a double room with an en-suite bathroom.
- Car Hire/Petrol: £175 (this was my half of the cost, we had a car and my 3 friends also had a car).
- Food/Drink: £300 – there’s so much good food and drink in South Africa, it’s unreal. You can eat cheaply, or go to expensive restaurants. We mixed it up.
- Activities: I haven’t included these above, as I’d left the truck at this point. As we had the car, we also did lots of free sight seeing too!
- Robben Island: £13
- Table Mountain Cable Car: £12
- Cape of Good Hope: £6
- Shark Cage Diving: £80
- Boulders Beach: £3
- Safari Day Trip: £80
Total for 6 months in Africa = £9,909/$12,855 (or £55/$72 per day) *
* Prices approx as of July 2016.
I know what you’re thinking – how much????
But then I remember that one safari company I contacted for my trip quoted me £2,600 for a 4-day safari in the Serengeti (not including the internal flight I would need to take between camps) and then it doesn’t seem so bad.
After all, in 6 months I travelled over 17,000 km, did 2 volunteering projects (one free, one not so free), a trek up Africa’s highest mountain, a 2 and a half month overland tour through 9 countries, an epic train journey, 11 safaris. Not to mention getting up close and personal with mountain gorillas, elephants, giraffes, sharks, cheetahs and lions. All the time making lifelong friends and a million amazing memories.
But I’ll tell you one thing for free… it was totally worth it. Now, start saving!!
READ NEXT: My Top Africa Travel Tips
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