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Tuesday Travel Tip: You can do a safari on the cheap

May 19, 2020
4 min read
Nairobi National Park - Kenya
Tuesday Travel Tip: You can do a safari on the cheap
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For many travelers, a safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The logistics involved in getting to southern or eastern Africa from the U.S. and the cost can pose a challenge to even experienced travelers, and planning a safari is not something typically done on the spur of the moment.

TPG just published a story, in fact, dedicated to planning a bucket-list safari — which says, essentially, that a safari like you've seen in National Geographic documentaries does require a lot of planning and won't come cheap. As for options to use points and miles to book accommodations, those are limited by the absence of international chains away from major cities in Africa. You have more choice when using points and miles to book airfare, but the recent demise of South African Airways has cut the number of relatively cheap options to get to Southern Africa.

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But you don't have to spend vast amounts to see in the wild the Big Five animals that are the main reason people go on African safaris. Lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo are all found in reserves that can be easily accessed from Kenya's Nairobi and South Africa's Johannesburg, two big, cosmopolitan cities reachable with one stop from major U.S. airports. You may not even have to sleep at a safari camp or lodge.

For example, in the case of Nairobi National Park, you can wake up at an international-standard hotel that's part of a major chain. Near the airport, there's a Hilton Garden Inn, Four Points by Sheraton, Crowne Plaza and Best Western if you want to use your points. From those accommodations, it's a quick drive to Nairobi National Park where you'll watch lions hunt gazelles in a real African nature park and be back at your hotel in time for a poolside beer in the late afternoon. And all of this will cost less than the price of some Broadway tickets.

Nairobi National Park is just a half-hour drive from downtown Nairobi, and may well be the most unusual national park in the world, turning on its head the commonplace idea that safaris require venturing far into the wilderness. A daylong visit cost me under $300, including entrance fees, pickup and drop-off at my hotel in a Land Rover and the services of a knowledgeable guide. I was by myself, but for a group of four people, the price can drop to just above $100 per person. This isn't a tamer, lamer version of a real safari: While you're within sight of the city, the park has lions, leopards, giraffes, hippos, buffalo and more, all wild and behaving exactly as they would in any of the far more famous African game reserves. With any luck, you will take home photos that could have been shot in the Serengeti.

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You won't find elephants in the park — they're too massive to be contained within it — but you'll see them at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust just outside. The center raises orphaned elephants and releases them into the wild when they are ready. It's well worth a visit, which many tours include with the national park.

A lion in Nairobi National Park (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

I found a reputable tour operator to take me to Nairobi National Park, Wote Group Safaris, through the concierge at my hotel, but there are many options available online. A quick search will turn up several well-recommended names.

While Nairobi offers you the ability to replicate a full-blown safari in a day — and an airport with nonstop flights to New York on Delta alliance partner Kenya Airways — in Johannesburg you have to reach a little further out from the city, but budget options are still available. There are several game reserves within a three-hour driving distance of the city and, although none are national parks, many of them offer the chance to see the Big Five in action. You may be able to swing a three-day safari, for example at the Madikwe Game Reserve three and a half hours from Johannesburg, for under $1,000 if you stick to the budget or midrange tour options.

Featured image by Getty Images

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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023