The Safari Experts

Tipping when travelling in Africa


... is commonplace across Africa. Staff at lodges, guides, porters, drivers and other people providing services to travellers will be hopeful of receiving tips.

How much and to whom you choose to tip in Africa is usually defined more by the tipping culture that you are used to back home. The people that you meet will most likely vary their levels of expectation depending upon your nationality. So if you are American or Canadian, then you will probably be amongst the highest tippers. If you are British then you will probably the be tipping somewhere in the middle of the range. In some environments such as lodges, on safaris and on treks, tipping is structured in ways which make it clear, fair and less easy to abuse.

Tips can be given in local currencies or in US$, GBP or Euros, so be sure to carry small denominations with you.

Over-tipping ...

Offering large tips is usually seen as being generous, but there becomes a level at which it becomes counter-productive.

The most common incidence is when travellers become confused about the exchange rate and pay 10x or even 100x the correct amount. This may sound like a really daft thing to do, but the Kenyan shilling is worth roughly ten times the Tanzanian shilling, so mistakes can easily be made.

The most outrageous tipping that we have ever heard of is a customer who actually purchased a new Toyota Landcruiser for his driver-guide. Obviously the guy must have been very wealthy, but we suspect that there was probably an element of duping involved. This happened in Arusha, where talk of it spread like wildfire. In no time driver-guides were dreaming up all kind of ways in which they might be able to convince their clients that they should do the same for them. Some of the scams created were actually quite convincing and we had unconfirmed reports of some notable successes. Certainly the value of a regular sized tip was seriously undermined for a while.

The main danger of massive over-tipping is that it erodes the amount of respect that local people have for travellers and erects rather than breaks down barriers ... it increases the degree to which travellers are viewed less as people and more as targets for financial advancement. It really does contribute heavily towards a breakdown this most important type of relationship, between the African hosts and the international guests.

Please do not significantly over-tip.

Guides ...

If you are on a private overland safari with your own driver-guide, then this guy means everything to your trip and tips need to be quite high to reflect this, assuming that he has really put himself out for you. We presently recommend in the range US$25 to US$50 per day between the group.

If you are staying at a fly-in safari lodge, where guides are provided by the lodge and you share them with other guests, then you can either tip them directly, perhaps in the range US$5 to US$10 per guest per day, or you can include this in your contribution to the staff box.

Lodge staff ...

Almost all lodges operate a staff tip box. This is usually the best way of offering tips, since it ensures that all of the staff get their fair share, even the ones you did not meet but who were working hard behind the scenes, such as cooks and laundry ladies. We usually recommend in the range US$5 and US$10 per guest per day. You may also want to slip tips to specific members of staff if they have been particularly helpful or friendly, but this should be in addition to your staff box tip, not instead.

Trekking staff ...

Tipping is essential and substantial on trekking trips such as those on Mount Kilimanjaro. Specific explanations of tipping requirements are provided in your trip paperwork.

Drivers ...

For drivers of simple transfers you may want to offer a discretionary tip, particularly if he has been friendly and gone out of his way to make you feel welcome, or has solved any little teething problems along the way. Around US$5 per half hour between the group may be suitable.

Street people ...

In Africa you will encounter many people who want to help you in return for some modest payment. This can sometimes seem like a hassle, or even a hustle, but it is part of life in Africa ... there is no social security here and people who are out of work are obliged to try to earn something on the street.

We tend to be more appreciative of people who are being more creative and thoughtful about their work ... who are right there at the moment that you need them, offering exactly the service that you require. For example, if you find yourself walking down to the port in Dar es Salaam, then someone will no doubt appear and offer to buy your ticket for you. This can save you a whole lot of hassle and confusion, plus the ticket should not be any more expensive since a small commission is built into the price for your new friend. This is the African equivalent of priority boarding and it is worth sliding a couple of extra dollars to your assistant if he does the job for you. That said, don't simply give him all the money up front and then watch him disappear out of sight forever ... you need to have your eyes wide open when you enter into this kind of street deal.

We also sometimes manage to be quite creative in this regard. If you think to yourself ... "What jobs can I think up for these guys on the street to do for me?" ... then you can often find yourself being royally looked after in exchange for a few dollars ... money which may mean a great deal to these people. It is a great way of giving without resort to charity.

But please try to restrain yourself from giving to beggars, unless it is absolutely clear that they are unable to fend for themselves. And try not to give left over picnic lunches or other stuff to kids, who are particularly vulnerable to being turned into beggars.
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Jay Hanson, Senior Safari Consultant
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