Budget Safari Tours from Durban

Getting from anywhere else in the world to South Africa is not a cheap trip – long, sometimes multiple flights are involved and we all know airport taxes suck. This is why I offer budget tours.

South Africa is a land of travel options. You can decide on 5 star all the way, or perhaps 3 star; you can even mix and match and choose backpackers or perhaps B&B’s. There are camp sites and camper vans. There are many ways in which to travel around South Africa affordably. In this blog post I want to chat about budget safari tours from Durban.

Table of Contents

Don’t be afraid of budget safaris

Does the term “budget safaris” conjure up images of dodgy tour vehicles held together by string and a prayer? Or perhaps 1-star hotels where you share a bathroom with 10 other people? Fact is, you can have a fantastic safari experience on a budget.

Not every budget safari has to be bad! (still from European Vacation)

But what does that mean?

Often guests will book into hotels. For the most part they do so because it’s convenient and easy. To help make your trip more affordable, there are great B&B options and backpackers as well.

There are many amazing game reserves in KwaZulu-Natal, all just 3 or 4 hours from Durban. Some are private and luxurious, some are state owned and managed, are just as great and are far more affordable.

So enjoying a budget safari doesn’t have to mean skimping, but rather looking for better options.

Why the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve is a budget friendly safari

Just north of Durban is the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve. It’s just a 2,5 hour drive to one of the best reserves in the country. And unlike Kruger National Park, it’s far more affordable since it’s closer to an international airport (King Shaka International).

Every game reserve charges a daily conservation fee – Hluhluwe is nearly half the price of Kruger National Park. To be fair though, Kruger Park is six times the size so it kinda makes sense it’ll cost a bit more. Hluhluwe Imfolozi isn’t small though; at 960km2 it’s roughly 8 times larger than Paris, slightly larger than New York and about a little larger than half the size of London.

A paved road runs in front of a cluster of small huts
The rondavels at Hilltop camp offer an affordable option to visitors to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve

So cheaper to get to, cheaper to visit and they have great affordable accommodation.

There are the rondavels (two beds and shared ablutions) and safari tents. Both options are very affordable. And since you’re really only sleeping (you should be out looking at animals the rest of the day) they definitely are workable.

There is a restaurant at Hilltop Camp (one of the camps in the reserve) and breakfast is always included. For lunch and dinner you can always braai (barbecue if you don’t speak South African) which is eating about as cheap as it’s possible to eat – and delicious! The restaurant is not that expensive though, so you can treat yourself and still stay within budget.

On top of all that you can even book 3 hour game drives on open vehicles at around R350 per person (prices do change to maybe ask ahead). This is a really affordable option if you’re staying in the park since you get to learn so much from the guides, knowledge you can put to use if you decide to do your own driving at another time.

Budget friendly activities on a safari tour from Durban

Driving around (or being driven around) the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve is not all you can do though. There is much to do nearby as well. Here’s some options.

Visit St Lucia and spend two hours cruising the estuary spotting hippo and croc’s and amazing birdlife). Then stop at the small shopping center, grab some goodies and go and enjoy a picnic on the beach; just keep an eye out for the aforementioned hippo and crocs.

A pait of hippos standing in the middle of a road while tourists watch on
It’s not the first time hippo decided to go for a stroll in the middle of St Lucia high street

Visit False Bay and spend the day walking the many trails while spotting nyala, bushbuck, duiker and other small antelope And again watch out for hippo and croc (seems to be a common theme right!?). Enjoy a well deserved picnic when done.

There are a few more options you could explore in the area, but the important takeaway is that booking your safari in Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve gives you lots of other options and at affordable rates as well.

Keep reading below


Ready to Book a Safari Tour?

I offer a number of different safari tour options, from full day tours and longer multi-day tours to the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, as well as tours to the Kruger National Park as well as other game reserves around South Africa. If you would like more information on the various tours I offer then simply get in touch 🙂

Continued from above.

Budget Accommodation Options

There’s two option here, either stay in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, or stay in a nearby town. Both options have advantages.

If you stay in the game reserve, you have the option of two separate camps, either Hilltop Camp or Mpila Camp.

Hilltop Camp

If you are not keen on cooking at all, then Hilltop Camp is the way to go since they do have a restaurant. It’s worth noting that the cost of the accommodation at Hilltop includes breakfast.

There is also two options at Hilltop Camp; stay in either the rondavels (budget friendly) or stay in the chalets.

The rondavels at Hilltop have twin beds in them, with a small fridge, a small table and two chairs and air-conditioning (it gets hot in Zululand). There are shared ablutions (really good ones) and if you happy to cook for yourself, there are braai (barbecue) stands and even a shared kitchen with ovens and microwaves.

A giraffe stands behind a group of tourist
Giraffe poses behind a group of tourists at the Tala Game Reserve

The chalets are a bit more luxurious. There are options for twin beds and queen sized beds, and there are large family sized units sleeping 6 and 8. There are ensuite bathrooms and kitchens; everything like back home.

In terms of budget friendly accommodation, the rondavels are the way to go and it’s where I stay every single time.

Mpila Camp

Mpila camp has number of budget friendly options, either the tented camps or the chalets. The important thing to know is that there is no restaurant, so you will have to cook but the price reflects this.

Personally I am a big fan of the tented camps but be warned, in summer they are as hot as can be tolerated! Also, the little kitchens are separate from the actual sleeping area (10 steps away) and the monkeys are expert thieves so you do need to pay attention.

The chalets at Mpila sleep 2 up to 8. All of them have ensuite bathrooms as well as kitchens with an oven and a microwave.

Here;s something you should be aware of though, at 10pm, the lights go out. That’s right, the electricity is cut at 10pm unit 6am the following day. This can be a bit of a surprise if you’re not expecting it. The upside is that the stars really shine bright.

Another thing to know about Mpila is that the fence around the accommodation is great at keeping out elephant and giraffe, and not much else. So there are warnings posted everywhere about walking about at night – don’t. I have personally seen wild dog and hyena walking through the camp, and have heard of lion doing the same.

In terms of budget friendly accommodation, I would go with the rondavels at Hilltop.

St Lucia

Another option to consider is staying outside the park and traveling into the park during the day. If you;re happy to do that, then the nearby town of St Lucia offers great affordable options. The downside is it;s an hours drive from St Lucia to the main gates of the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve.

The sun sets in the late afternoon over a wooden jetty that extends into an estuary
The very aptly named “Sunset Jerry” at St Lucia

The upside though is that some of the accommodation in St Lucia is super affordable, from backpackers to full suite accommodation and camping options.

And of course if you are staying in St Lucia, you’re a stones throw away from the Eastern and Western Shores game reserves, both fantastic reserves to visit. Oh and watch out for meandering hippos late at night in the town of St Lucia.

What the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve costs

The Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve is probably one of the most affordable reserves to visit in South Africa; here’s a breakdown of what you can expect (correct at the time of writing).

  • The entrance fee for international travelers is R240.00 per day. More correctly this is called a conservation levy and is charged for every day that you are in the reserve.
  • The rondavels at Hilltop cost R1800.00 for 2 persons sharing which includes a buffet breakfast.
  • The chalets at Hilltop are R3600.00 for 2 persons sharing and also includes breakfast.
  • Lunches at Hilltop are around R120.00 for a burger and chips, toasted sandwiches around R80.00 and about R60.00 for kids meals.
  • Dinner at Hilltop costs around R280.00 per person and is usually a buffet though it does depend on how many people are booked in.
  • The tented camp at Mpila is R1150.00 for 2 persons sharing.
  • The 2 bed chalets at Mpila are also R1150.00 for 2 persons sharing.

Dining can be affordable and fun

Most South Africans will agree that the national past-time is braaing (barbecuing) and at the camps at Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve are conveniently fitted out with braai stands and al the utensils you could ask for.

If you do intend to braai, it’s best to either bring your groceries with you from Durban or you can purchase in one of the nearby towns of Hluhluwe or St Lucia.

Two female kudus stand side by saide in the stand of leafless trees
Kudu females stand watching guests

If I know I’m braaing for guests on a safari tour, I’ll usually stick them on a 2 hour estuary cruise in St Lucia on the first day and while they’re enjoying the sights of hippos and croc’s, I’ll stop of the local SPAR and purchase everything we need.

For the most part, I find I can easily braai for three people for the same price that I would pay at the restaurant for 1 person! I usually head on over to the “Braai Boy” website for great ideas and recipes on what two prepare for guests.

Final thoughts

There really are so many options when it comes to budget friendly safaris that the best advice I can give anyone is to contact their tour operator (or travel agent) and be upfront and explain that you’re on a budget, that way a safari experience can be tailored exactly to your needs and budgets.

So get in touch with me today and let’s get started planning your budget safari from Durban.

Contact Us

    Two female kudus stand side by saide in the stand of leafless trees
    Kudu females stand watching guests