Before we arrived in the country, our prospects for seeing Namibia on the cheap were looking quite grim. Most of the package safaris we found online were north of the US$125 per day which is astronomical compared to most of the places we’ve gone (Palau excluded!). As with many other African countries, the general advice to budget travelers is to not book ahead but instead just turn up and look for a last minute discount.
We were thrilled when we met Chad, the owner of the Cardboard Box Travel Shop (and hostel) the day after we arrived in Windhoek. He was planning to try out a new business idea he had come up with for in a few days time. His idea was a “participation safari” for budget-oriented travelers. Basically, he would provide the vehicle, a guide (himself) and all the necessary equipment for NAD3500 per person for an 8-day itinerary. In addition to this cost, we would be responsible for paying for our own camping and park entrance fees.
As for the “participation” part of the safari deal, we would be responsible for preparing our own food and making/breaking camp each day. The food aspect of it was good fun. Given Amy’s vegan diet and my enthusiasm for burning things over an open fire, we would just assume do our own thing on that front. The near-daily access to Namibian grocery stores, which were well stocked, made it easy to get supplies and we even found exotic things like veggie sausages in the stores.
Helping setup and take-down the camp each night became part of the daily routine. Chad’s tents were of the industrial strength (military?) variety but they were easy enough to setup. These tents could have easily slept four people but we were assigned two people per tent. He also had some nice mattress pads and quality sleeping bags – what I would’ve given for those in Mongolia!
Overall, Chad’s safari was an excellent experience and on top of that he’s a great guy. His budget safari idea is a great one and I definitely think there is a niche in the budget travel market to be filled. In retrospect, I would say that the “turn up and see what happens” approach to budget travel in Namibia is a risky one. Unlike some of the bigger safari destinations (e.g. Kenya, Tanzania) there just didn’t seem to be a large volume of tours leaving from Windhoek and I think we were quite lucky. Hopefully Chad can make his new idea work to help open Namibia up to backpackers!
8-day Safari Budget Summary
- “Participation” safari for two: NAD7000 ($875)
- Groceries: NAD790 (US$ 98.73)
- Two nights camping plus park fees at Etosha National Park: NAD770 (US$96.25)
- One night camping in Damaraland: NAD180 (US$22.50)
- Misc entrance fees: NAD260 (US$32.50)
- Two nights at guesthouse in Swako plus laundry: NAD840 (US$105)
- Two nights camping plus park fees at Sossousvlei: NAD1000 (US$125)
Total for two people: US$1355 (or $85 per person per day)