Virtually all our clients ask about tipping on safari. Like anything to do with money, perspectives on gratuities are shaped by so many different factors, including your culture, the culture you are visiting, your personal relationship with money, your expectations of service, and prevailing social norms.
Tipping in Africa can be a complex issue, but fortunately we’ve been planning safaris since 1998. Here is our beginner’s guide to tipping on safari…
Why Do You Tip on Safari?
In Africa, it is customary – but not obligatory or mandatory – to give tips to service staff in gratitude and thanks for good service. Gratuities can be increased or decreased depending on the level of service you are given: a high tip for exceptional assistance or a low one for going-through-the-motions, just-doing-my-job mediocre service.
Should You Tip on Safari?
This is hard to answer as it’s not a clear-cut issue for many travellers. To help answer the question of whether you should be tipping on safari, let’s look at it from:
Travellers from the US generally come from a culture where tipping is the norm and expected, while those from Europe or Australia generally don’t, so are often unsure of how to tip on safari.
Some would simply like to do away with tipping on safari altogether and add the money onto the final bill for a trip. Although this is a commendable idea, it’s hard to put into practice because a safari has so many moving parts. Also, would brilliant staff at one lodge sacrifice a good tip for average staff at another?
Some guests object to tipping on the grounds that the workers’ salaries should be enough to cover their living expenses and that lodge owners should pay more. This, once again, is a commendable idea but your safari costs cover not only wages but also concession fees, fuel, insurance, security, maintenance, food, beverages, Wi-Fi, entertainment, maintenance – the list is endless! An increase in wages would cause an increase in costs to you as other costs – like conservation fees or pumping borehole water – are fixed. Many lodges are using solar power, starting their own kitchen gardens and so on, in order to cut costs where possible and pay workers as much as possible.
Bear in mind that a major cost for owners is housing, feeding, clothing and medically caring for staff who must live on the property for weeks or months at a time. Workers cannot catch a bus or train home to their apartments at the end of their shifts and they cannot work a second job either.
Most guests expect to tip and make provision to do so in their budgets – but we stress that gratuities are completely at your own discretion for service you feel warrants them.
Of course, you say, staff will want tips. Who wouldn’t want 'free money' on top of their salaries? Once again, it’s not as simple as that. Think of a tip as more than just a ‘thank you’ for making your bed or showing you a lion – it’s also in recognition for the following:
- The long periods that staff spend away from their children, families and friends. They are often on duty for weeks at a time because getting in and out of the bush is difficult. It’s compensation for not being able to return to a spouse or child after a long day at work.
- The expense incurred travelling home. Most staff live in far-flung rural areas or cities that are difficult and expensive to get to. Your US dollars go a long way to helping families reunite.
- The bittersweet burden that almost every employed person in Africa carries is the expectation to support their extended family members who are unemployed or at school. This support network is vital in bringing up children and to stop unemployed people turning to alcohol or crime. A good tip has wide-ranging and positive ramifications. The vast majority of workers do not fritter their money away on frivolous luxuries but pay for school fees, doctor’s visits, groceries and so on. They may not have access to social security or medical aid like workers in the rest of the world.
- The long hours that staff work. They’re up way before hot tea or coffee gets delivered for your 5am wake-up call in the morning, and go to bed way after your last nightcap to put out the campfire, patrol the perimeter, prep the game-drive vehicle, and countless other chores that go into running a slick operation in the middle of the wilderness.
- The little extra lengths that staff go like remembering your name, mixing your favourite drink without being asked, finding the specific bird you’ve always wanted to see… Again, our clients consistently remark on how incredible the staff in Africa are because of all the little things that they do with friendliness and grace.
Safari staff are responsible for our safety, comfort, health and nutrition, often under difficult circumstances that we know nothing about. While we’re enjoying drinks in the boma, kitchen staff may be fending off marauding vervet monkeys. While we’re out on a blissful boat cruise, they may have to contend with pipes broken by elephants looking for water. The behind-the-scenes dramas of a lodge are incredible, and a safari tip is often a welcome recognition of that extra work.
Some guests may feel that a 'safari is expensive enough' so tips are an unnecessary added expense. From a worker’s perspective, who returns to a village with no running water or electricity, it may be puzzling to see visitors who have pricey cameras, binoculars, watches, and jewellery worth several years’ salaries baulking at paying a relatively small amount in tips. The thinking – rightly or wrongly – may be that a guest who can afford a $10,000 safari could surely afford to tip $100.
Who Do You Tip on Safari?
Generally, tips are given to workers who are not 'professionals' in the sense that they haven’t necessarily had significant tertiary education to qualify for a specific job. There are some exceptions though, like spa therapists or guides, who generally hold formal qualifications.
You wouldn’t normally tip the following individuals on safari:
- Lodge or camp managers
- Cabin crew
- Airport desk staff
- Sales assistants in safari shops
- Medical or evacuation crews
- Lodge or tour owners
You would tip the following individuals on safari:
- Back of house staff – cleaners, cooks, gardeners, maintenance workers, guards and anti-poaching units
- Front of house staff – guides, spotters or trackers, waiters and waitresses, spa therapists and transfer drivers
How to Tip on Safari
This is where it gets tricky because there is no uniformity of tipping on safari – every camp or lodge has its own system that you have to navigate. Generally, these are the most common methods:
1. Placing Cash in a Communal Tip Box
Located in the main area or mess tent, this is the easiest option as you simply put your tip into a locked box. Sometimes there are separate boxes for front- and back-of-house staff. The manager generally shares out the accumulated tips in intervals. Sometimes there is one box for your guide and tracker, and another for all other staff. This system eliminates any awkwardness about handing over money and does not allow staff to know how much specific guests tipped them.
2. Handing Money to the Manager When You Leave
If there is no box, some guests do this upon departure. Some will specifically say to whom the money must be given, while other guests leave it up to the manager’s discretion.
3. Handing Cash to Individual Staff
This is also an option but makes it clear that you are tipping some and not others, as well as how much money you are giving.
4. Leaving Cash in Your Room When You Depart
This is not recommended as staff may assume you’ve forgotten it and radio the guide to drive back for you to get it. Staff are well trained not to 'steal' and will hand over anything found in your room to the lodge manager. Honesty is a big part of running a successful lodge.
5. Adding It to a Credit Card Bill
This is only possible in the few lodges and camps with credit card machines. Since they attract hefty surcharges, many camps don’t have them. If you have purchased something from the safari shop and want to add a tip to the bill, chat to the manager to arrange this and make a note on the slip indicating how much the gratuity is. This method can be a lifesaver if you want to tip generously but don’t have enough cash with you.
How Much Do You Tip on Safari in East & Southern Africa?
Once again, this is a tricky one to answer because there are so many factors: the service you received, your personal budget, your ideas around gratuities, etc. The rule of thumb is tip as much as you can when the moment comes. We’ve never regretted a substantial safari tip but have often wished we had more cash to tip with.
No matter how much you tip, don’t apologise for the amount. Simply hand it over in whatever form and say thank you sincerely. Gratitude, appreciation and recognition are always warmly received by staff.
So how much do you tip on a Kenya safari? How much should you tip on a Tanzania safari? Or how much do you tip a butler on safari?
Here is a rough guideline for tipping on safari – feel free to adjust the amounts to suit your budget:
|Transfer||USD 5 (American dollar) per couple to the driver. Consider increasing if you had extensive help with your luggage.|
|General staff at safari lodge / camp||USD 15 per couple per day|
|Guide||USD 20 per couple per day|
|Tracker||USD 15 per couple per day|
|Butler||USD 15 per couple per day|
And here is a rough guideline for tipping in Africa’s cities:
|Guided tour||USD 10–20 per couple (or per day if it’s a multi-day tour) to the driver at the end of the tour.|
|Transfers||USD 5 per couple to the driver. Consider increasing if you had extensive help with your luggage.|
|Waiter at restaurant||Bills for parties of 8 or fewer generally do not have an automatic service fee. Add at least 10% of the total and round up.|
|Hotel porter||USD 5 each|
Of course, there are also regional variations and country-specific activities:
- Tipping in Mauritius restaurants is optional, especially if sales tax has already been added to your bill. If in doubt, enquire discreetly with the manager.
- Porters and hotel workers expect to be tipped but taxi drivers do not.
- It is customary to tip boat skippers, who will share it with the crew, as well as PADI staff, usually via a communal tip box.
- It is the norm to tip golf caddies.
- It is also customary to tip boat skippers, who will share it with the crew, as well as PADI staff, usually via a communal box that’s customary when tipping in Mozambique.
- It is customary to include golf caddies when tipping in South Africa.
- Self-drivers should tip 'car guards' (who offer to look after your vehicle while it is parked) and petrol (gas) station attendants nominal amounts. It is illegal for anyone but trained staff to pump fuel.
- Staff on Rovos Rail will expect to be tipped.
- It is customary to include PADI staff, boat skippers and golf caddies when tipping in Seychelles.
- It is usual to tip guides, cooks, waiters, porters, and tent crew who ensure a successful summit – hand the tip to the head guide at the celebration after your descent.
- It’s a lovely gesture to hand over items such as spare (clean) socks, scarves, gloves, boots, headlamps, batteries and so on to the team who assisted you – they will appreciate getting these expensive extras that make their dangerous jobs a little more comfortable.
- It is customary to include PADI staff, boat skippers and transfer drivers when tipping in Zanzibar.
Tanzania & Kenya
- It’s usual to include a group of Maasai dancers who perform at your lodge when tipping in Kenya or Tanzania.
Rwanda & Uganda
- It is customary to include guides, trackers, security personnel (rangers) and porters when tipping on a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda or Uganda.
Advice For Easier Tipping on Safari
After travelling the length and breadth of every destination we’ve been recommending since 1998, these are our practical suggestions to make tipping on safari easier:
1. Examine Your Itinerary
Note the instances where you think you may be expected to tip – such as the transfer driver from the airport to your hotel, the porter at the hotel, the waiter for dinner that night – and how much you want or can afford to give them. Ask your Africa Safari Expert for advice if you’re in doubt.
2. Divide the Tips Into Separate Envelopes
Split them either per day or per accommodation. This makes it much easier to keep track of your cash.
3. Get Small Bills Like USD 5, 10 & 20
These are easier to hand over and few places will be able to break $50 or $100 notes. In some countries, like Zambia, you are legally required to get all change in the local currency, leaving you with a handful of kwacha that you can’t use back home or elsewhere.
4. Bring Cash With You
South Africa is the only country where you can reliably draw money from ATMs or cash machines, which makes tipping in South Africa rather effortless. For the rest of the safari destinations in Africa, bring cash along with you.
5. Keep Your Cash Secure
Use the in-room safe. If there isn’t one, ask the manager to put your valuables – like money and passports – in the lodge’s safe or strongroom.
6. Take US Dollar
The currency is the most widely accepted across Africa, especially in places like Zimbabwe and Victoria Falls. It’s also much easier to stick to one currency if you are crossing borders or doing a multi-destination safari rather than dealing with pula in Botswana, or shillings when tipping in Kenya.
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