6 Affordable Eco-Safaris in Africa - go ‘green’ on a budget

Yes, you can... You can find environmentally responsible options on a budget, and here are some tours to prove it.

These 'green' safaris visit eco-lodges that are more environmentally ethical than is currently the norm, i.e. they are more responsible travel choices. The below safaris are not the ultimate, carbon-neutral fixes, but they do have smaller carbon footprints and less impact on the natural environment than most. 

  1. Okavango Mokoro & Savuti Wildlife Safari

  2. Exclusive Kruger Park Eco Camp Safaris

  3. Victoria Falls & Elephant Eco-Lodge Safari

  4. Uganda Gorilla Trekking Safaris 

  5. Moremi & Chobe Botswana Lodge Safari

  6. Zambia, Lake Malawi & Luangwa Lodge Safari

The point: why does eco-tourism matter?

This 'eco-lightness' is particularly important in the case of safari lodges and camps in Africa, as many of them are located in rare and unspoilt habitats where conservation is a high priority. The same goes for the safaris themselves - they play an important, and potentially positive, role in conserving Africa's wildlife and the wild places that people come from far and wide to experience. 

1. Okavango Mokoro & Savuti Wildlife Safari - Oddballs' Enclave & Camp Savuti, Botswana

This budget safari combines Oddballs' Enclave in the Okavango Delta with Camp Savuti in the Linyanti Concession - two eco-conscious camps in Botswana.

What makes Oddballs' Enclave Eco?

Oddballs' Enclave is considered an eco-friendly lodge for two main reasons: it is solar-powered and they do not offer motorized activities. Instead of using the energy intensive generators commonly used at remote lodges, Oddballs' uses solar power which reduces noise, pollution, fuel consumption and the associated transport.

Oddballs mokoro -

The absence of motorized activities is an especially noteworthy achievement as this is one of the heaviest impacts lodges have in terms of the environment. Many eco-lodges still primarily offer fuel-intensive and polluting activities that are more likely to disturb the fauna and damage wild habitats.

At Oddballs' Guests explore the pristine Okavango Delta on foot or in traditional mekoros (dug-out canoes), drastically reducing the impact that the lodge has on this treasured natural environment.

The tents are also raised on wooden platforms to minimize permanent intrusion, and trash is flown (ahem) out of the delta instead of creating landfills or burning waste in the delta.

Oddballs -

The main weak-spot of this eco-friendly camp is that it is only accessible by plane - requiring a carbon intensive journey. Overall the lodge does however operate with ecologically sustainable principles in mind - a significant win in the unspoilt delta, where tourism continues to develop. 

Oddballs oddballs accommodation -

What makes Camp Savuti an environmentally-friendly lodge?

This camp's major ecologically-progressive feature is its waste treatment plant, taking environmental consideration a step further than most. The sewerage and grey water are treated before being released, keeping the Savute Marsh and Channel environment clean and healthy. Furthermore, Camp Savuti uses a hybrid power system, reducing generator usage from 24 to 8 hours a day and the camp consists of only seven tents set on wooden platforms.

One of the most environmentally remarkable aspects of Camp Savuti is its contribution to wildlife conservation and research projects in the Linyanti area and broader Botswana. 

Camp savuti signature shot -

These are two of the lodge safaris that combine Oddballs' Camps and Camp Savuti:

Both are fly-in safaris, so if you are serious about being environmentally savvy off-set the carbon footprint of your flights.

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2. Exclusive Kruger Park Eco Camp Safaris - nThambo Tree Camp in Klaserie, South Africa

These three Budget South African Safaris stay at an eco-smart camp situated in the private Klaserie Nature Reserve, which forms part of the Greater Kruger National Park.

What makes this South African safari 'green'?

The eco-camp uses solar power to heat water for its five chalets, constructed of wood, thatch and canvas. The chalets are raised on decks which lightens the structural impact of the camp and the units have been built between the existing trees.

Nthambo tree camp -

The camp features a grey water system (not to be confused with sewerage treatment) to save water and has a recycling program. The nThambo Tree Camp on a whole has been designed to reduce its affect on the wilderness area. Hopefully they will continue to develop along environmentally sustainable lines and even go off the main power grid one day.

Nthambo chalet -

These safaris visit the eco-friendly camp in greater Kruger Park:

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3. Victoria Falls & Elephant Eco-Lodge Safari - Elephant's Eye, Zimbabwe & Chobe Bakwena, Botswana

This safari visits two luxury eco-lodges - one in a private concession bordering on Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and the other at Chobe National Park in Botswana. The accommodation at Victoria Falls is at a regular lodge that does not have 'green' features.

How is Elephant’s Eye at Hwange ecologically ethical?

Elephant’s Eye is built of canvas and steel reducing the use of wood and the environmental impact of the structures. Furthemore, surplus wood and excess materials from local sources were used for the natural elements of the buidings. The lodge runs on solar energy and uses borehole water. Waste water is cleaned and recycled and the swimming pool contains salt-water which uses less chemicals than standard pools. Elephant's Eye Lodge also provides its guests with biodegradable products and uses eco-sensitive products at the lodge.

Elephants-eye-hwange-chalet -

One of the features that stands out, in terms of reducing impacts on the natural environment:

The site is located around a naturally occurring waterhole; this has eliminated the need to construct one and thus, has no impact on the natural topography of the area.

Elephants eye waterhole -

Regarding social responsibility the lodge sources its fresh produce locally and the staff are from local communities. Lastly, Elephant’s Eye aims to create awareness about the key role that nature conservation plays in sustaining the beauty of wild places and the wildlife of Africa. Like most safari lodges, game drives are the main activity on offer here, which is not the most sustainable activity around, but more eco-friendly options include game walks, trips to the Painted Dog Conservation Centre and bird watching. 

Why is Chobe Bakwena Lodge considered an eco-lodge?

Bakwena Lodge is constructed from sustainable, locally sourced materials using eco-beam frames filled in with sandbags - a popular eco-friendly building method. This building method is less resource intensive and the structures require less artificial cooling and heating which further reduces the lodge's carbon footprint. 

Buildling Chobe Bakwena -

No harmful chemicals have been used for the lodge buildings (varnishes and paints), they use biodegradable cleaning products, recycle their rubbish and feed the organic waste to blackfly larvae, which are in turn fed to the chickens. Energy efficient appliances and lightbulbs are used and the lodge draws on solar power where possible. Even their swimming pool is eco-friendly - using plants instead of chemicals to keep the water clean.

Bakwena eco-pool -

Major strengths of Bakwena's susutainability approach include their attention to detail and dedication to socially responsible tourism and community empowerment.

This budget safari visits Elephant's Eye in Zimbabwe and Chobe Bakwena in Botswana:

Bedroom at Bakwena -

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4. Uganda Gorilla Trekking Safaris - Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Most of our Gorilla Trekking Safaris stay at Buhoma Camp near Bwindi, coupled with various other lodges (some also low impact and 'green' - depending on the package).

Buhoma -

Buhoma Community Camp is an eco-spot, because...

My personal favourite. The Buhoma Community Bandas is close to Bwindi National Park, and serves as a base for gorilla trekking - a sustainable form of tourism that supports gorilla conservation, community upliftement and habitat protection. Other activities are also of the more eco-friendly variety - community village walks and mountain biking in Bwindi forest. This is a significant strong point - the activities are pro-conservation and not environmentally damaging - massive win, simply by virtue fo the nature of the business!

Gorilla trekking -

The major success story of Buhoma is the benefits that it brings to local communities, with profits being shared by funding local community projects. 

"Buhoma Mukono Community Development Association (BMCDA) has brought together over 7,000 community members for the benefit of development, improved livelihoods, and conservation of natural resources."

The camp is built from local materials, uses local produce, has solar-powered lighting and is run by the local community. 

Buhoma dining -

These are two of the many safaris that we have which visit Buhoma Community Camp near Bwindi Park:

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5. Moremi & Chobe Botswana Lodge Safaris - Chobe Elephant Camp, Botswana

Here are two Botswana Safaris that stay at Chobe Elephant Camp for the Chobe section of the itineraries. This newly built lodge has several 'green' features that make it an ecotourism destination.

What are Chobe Elephant Camp's 'green' credentials?

This is a farm-style camp built out of sandbags (filled with local Kalahari sands), lowering the carbon footprint of construction and providing insulation that lowers energy consumption. The lodge saves on energy by using solar energy to heat water, LED lights and no air-conditioners, thanks to the sandbag buildings. The wooden frames of the buildings were made on site, out of renewable timber, while furnishings have been created from reclaimed or renewable sources of wood.

 "Chobe Elephant Camp makes every effort to keep its carbon footprint as small as possible, while at the same time never compromising guest comfort."

Chobe-elephant-camp-room -

I like that Chobe Elephant Camp extends environmental mindfulness to operational issues, aiming to save on fuel by planning logicatics at camp with care. The game drives are, as with most safari operations, still the big fuel burners, but this lodge does try to be fuel-conscious nevertheless.

One of the most progressive clean measures at the eco-camp is the sewerage treatment plant that keeps pollution out of the water table and floodplains. As with Camp Savuti, this measure sets Chobe Elephant Camp apart from the pack, where grey water and sewerage treatment issues are usually not addressed at all. Here grey water is also treated and solid waste is sorted and disposed of at a waste plant (presumably to be recycled where possible), instead of creating a landfill on site or burning rubbish.

The camp is located on communal land and is thus tied to the local Sibuya community, extending skills training and subsequent employment to 30 locals. Chobe Elephant Camp is also involved in educating children and creating awareness about the environment, conservation and the benefits of tourism.

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6. Zambia, Lake Malawi & Luangwa Lodge Safari - Domwe Island in Lake Malawi, Malawi

This Zambia & Malawi Safari is more socially responsible than your average tour, focussing on community outreach and local development. While on safari travellers help out at a local school or conservation initiative in the Dzalanyama Forest area. The kayaking and hiking elements make the safari more environmentally sustainable and the tour visits an eco-camp on Domwe Island.

What makes Domwe Camp 'greener'?

Domwe accomm -

This camp, on Domwe Island in Lake Malawi, does not use any electricity. Solar-power and wind-up torches are used for lighting. Unfortuntaley, they also use paraffin (petroleum-based) lamps, which are not clean and low carbon.

The camp features dry compost toilets, with the waste material being removed from the island. The composted material is then buried in pits until it is ready to be used as compost. Kitchen waste is sorted and taken off the island to be recycled, composted or burned (the last option not being a 'green' one). The camp uses gas or rocket stoves (highly efficiency wood burning stoves) for cooking and the water is pumped from the lake and chlorinated. This leaves questions about the waste water treatment and disposal, as well as the source of drinking water.

One of the eco-friendly wins at Domwe Camp is the construction - the tents and thatched decks can be removed without leaving a permanent impact on the natural environment, and the materials are locally sourced from sustainable woods.

Domwe rooms -

"On Domwe, our challenge was to make as little environmental impact as possible in order to maintain the pristine nature of the island."

Domwe -

On the social side of sustainability, the camp hires local villagers, supports community initiatives and offers micro-loan financing to the camp staff. They use locally-produced furniture and decor, made from fabrics, cane and other materials sourced locally, wherever possible. 

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Eco-Travel in Africa - really?

Eco-tourism is far from perfect and has a long way to go before it can match the increasing declarations (greenwashing). Some of the more eco-conscious tour operators and lodges have however taken steps to reduce their impact on the wild habitats of Africa and the environment in general.

Being a responsible safari operator and lodge is also about the people involved - the staff, the local communities, the regional and even national economies that benefit, and the livelihoods that are strengthened through tourism, plus the conservation gains of healthy social development. The way that business is done in tourism, is changing in terms of social responsibility too (hooray), with many operators now prioritizing community empowerment and involvement, skills development and education.

So, all-in-all things are changing, albeit slowly, when it comes to environmental standards. Most importantly - the attitudes and expectations of travellers themselves are shifting!

Share those African Eco-Travel Experiences (comments section below)....

Been on a safari (or more) with us and come across other eco-spots? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. Go ahead and add your own eco-destinations (not for marketing, please), experiences, lodges and pointers for other eco-conscious budget travellers below...

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