Safaris are synonymous with Africa. Nepal, not so much.
Yet in the shadows of this country’s most popular attractions – namely, trekking excursions through the Himalayas – resides an insanely cheap safari option. It’s called Chitwan National Park.
This 360-square-mile reserve in southern Nepal boasts jungle safari adventures led by naturalists and expert guides year-round. More “Jungle Book” than “The Lion King” in terms of landscape, Chitwan is a little-known attraction to those outside of Nepal. Many who specifically come to trek are disappointed that they cannot squeeze in a visit to Chitwan once learning about it.
Because Nepal is a relatively low-cost destination to travel in general, safaris here follow suit. For those who want an upscale experience, you can easily launch your safari from $35 per day as a solo traveler.
Yep, $35. For the more grassroots traveler, it could be even less.
Here’s how: The family-friendly Sapana Lodge, one of the nicest options fringing Chitwan National Park, boasts an elegant, eco-friendly setting with attentive service and super-comfortable rooms for $35 per night. Double rooms are $45; the honeymoon suite is $60.
Diverse a-la-carte safari options from the lodge range from $40 to $200 additional. The menu includes everything from full-day jeep adventures to elephant safaris to canoe safaris that glide past sharp-toothed crocodiles. Sapana representatives book everything on the guest’s behalf the day of arrival. With some experiences, guests needn’t leave the lodge at all: Sapana is home to two elephants named Champakali and Chanchalkali.
When compared to luxe safaris in countries such as Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa, which range from $350 to $500 per night easily, coming to Chitwan and staying at Sapana Lodge is an amazing safari bargain. It saves roughly 80 percent of what you might expect to pay in Africa.
But it also comes with some differences. Safaris in Nepal are not like those offered in Africa. While Chitwan is home to more than 500 bird species, plus rhinos, monkeys, elephants and the elusive Bengal tiger – you will not see lions, cheetahs, giraffes or zebras. Chitwan is also a little more rough around the edges when it comes to tourism, in comparison to the more “buttoned up” efforts found in Africa’s popular safari destinations. It’s not uncommon for Chitwan safari-goers to recall too-close-for-comfort encounters with wild animals while on an elephant safari (i.e. rhinos) and canoe safari (i.e. crocodiles) – closer than they might get in Africa.
An “Adventure at your own risk” attitude definitely helps in Chitwan, and it makes this insanely affordable safari experience that much more exciting and memorable.