A practical guide to planning your African safari.
The preparation and anticipation of a safari can be almost as exciting as the safari itself. Below are the main questions you should ask yourself when beginning to plan for a safari. We suggest you take some time to read through these questions and think about, or jot down, your responses to them. Then, once you have a better idea of your preferences, we can talk about how to match your interests and requirements to the destinations, accommodations, tours and activities that best suit your criteria.
- Where should I go on safari?
- When is a good time of year to go?
- What is my budget?
- What is my travel style?
Where should I go on safari?
African Safaris Ltd offers safaris to Southern Africa and East Africa. To understand how these regions differ, select one of the following links for more information.
- East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Zanibar)
- Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique)
When Is A Good Time Of Year To Go?
You will hear varying ideas about the timing of your trip, but keep in mind that people travel year round to Southern Africa and East Africa. Each season has its advantages, so if you have fixed dates for travel, chances are you will be able to have a great trip no matter where you are going. It is important to understand the seasonal trends and how they will affect your trip; but remember that weather is variable and so it is quite possible to go for days without rain during the peak of the rainy season, or have thundershowers in the middle of the dry season. The drier seasons are generally considered preferable for game viewing. Dry weather offers more reliable road conditions and in the winter months, milder daytime temperatures. Dry spells force game to congregate around the limited water sources, and sparser foliage makes the animals somewhat easier to find and see. While these are prime game viewing conditions, bear in mind that naturally, all accommodation enjoy their highest occupancy, and game reserves and parks endure more traffic, during these dry seasons. When considering smaller, more intimate, safari camps and lodges, it is necessary to book well in advance, particularly for travel from June through October.
- East Africa – The long rains are from early April through early June, and the short rains from late November through December. It is often less expensive to travel during these rainy seasons. Dry seasons offer excellent visibility and more reliable road conditions, and game tends to congregate around the limited water sources, making the animals easier to find. July and August are generally extremely busy in East Africa, offering comfortable temperatures in addition to being a popular time for travel worldwide, so be sure to book well in advance. December sees increased local tourism, so expect holiday surcharges and limited availability. In the Masai Mara and Serengeti, the movements of the migrating wildebeest contribute to the desirability of certain areas at certain times, and this might influence your itinerary, selections or costs.
- Southern Africa – The rainy season (characterised mainly by thunderstorms during the afternoon) runs from late November through mid-April in the safari regions; however, the southern Cape and coastline of South Africa is experiencing summer at that time and is a wonderful place to visit. This area can also be cold and rainy during their winter from June through August. Often high season rates for the safari regions go into effect in July so it is sometimes possible to save a bit of money by traveling prior to that, in the shoulder season. May and June can be delightful months to travel. December sees a lot of local tourism, (e.g., school holidays combined with heavy holiday traffic) so expect holiday surcharges, crowded beaches and limited availability throughout. Due to the smaller size of safari camps and lodges in southern Africa, it is necessary to book well in advance, particularly for travel from June through September.
What Kinds Of Activities Are Available? Safaris call for two sedentary skills well cultivated by most people: eating and sitting in a moving vehicle. If that sounds too passive, then consider incorporating a more unique safari activity, such as a walking safari.
What Is My Budget? This is one of the most important questions to consider when selecting a trip. While there are some travellers for whom cost considerations are not an issue, most of our guests want to work within a budget and have a specific price range in mind. This is an extremely important criteria in helping us select an appropriate safari for you. The adage, “you get what you pay for,” does hold true when planning a safari. There is a safari priced for just about everybody, but there are major differences in accommodation, services, transportation and food. It is important that you consider how much “roughing it” you are willing to do before you plan your safari. Whether you are part of an organised tour or are interested in a tailor-made tour. An experienced and qualified, specialty tour operator will be aware of the reputable and not-so-reputable safari companies, current prices as well as conditions in Africa that might impact on your trip.
What Is My Travel Style?
This is probably the least tangible of all the factors, but one of the most fun to determine. For example, are you the “cruise ship type” who only looks to un-pack once and be transported from one place to the next with little or no input as to what you see and do? Or are you more “hands on” and look to be more interactive when it comes to the planning of and participating in your safari?
The level of accommodation that you are expecting on safari is important to consider. Do you want pure luxury or 2-man dome tents or something in between? While this is very much a function of personal style, as well as budget, we prefer to design an itinerary with consistent levels of accommodation throughout. It is possible to combine different levels of accommodation on different parts of your trip; however we are adamant that you have the right expectations for each of the places you go. One of the most significant differences from one safari to another is in the degree of luxury, reflected of course in the price.
- High-end safaris and tours will transport you by small plane to luxury lodges with every comfort. You will find dining and lounging facilities and a bar in a main building offering lots of African atmosphere. You will be accommodated in a private bungalow or permanent walled tent, complete with en-suite toilet and shower.
- Mid-range safaris and tours will offer some similarities, but you will probably be transported by minivan or 4WD (in East Africa), not by plane. You may stay at larger lodges, with more fellow guests and less personal service or at somewhat less luxurious lodges.
- Budget Safaris and tours are further stripped down. Transport is a bus, minivan, or truck. Service is mostly up to you. Some budget safaris use permanent campsites with tents and showers already in place. However, at the lowest prices, you may end up pitching a tent yourself and sleeping on the ground on a mattress. You will make do with an outdoor toilet and shower, or none at all, and lend a hand preparing meals you won’t write home about. On the plus side, you will be camping in the bush — like a real safari — and you will meet budget travellers from around the world.
Who is travelling? The age range and makeup of your group should be taken into account. Some safari camps do not allow children under age 12. A family has a different requirement than a honeymoon couple. While some safaris and accommodation are child-friendly, keep in mind that a certain amount of quiet, concentration, patience, and immobility is required.
Small group scheduled safari or tailor-made safari? Most of our guests are well travelled and enjoy a combination of small group and independent travel. Group trips are generally no larger than 6 – 16 participants (depending on the itinerary), with minimum and maximum age limits and set departure dates. Tailor-made/custom travel is obviously much more flexible, allowing you to depart at any time, travel for as long as you wish, to the camps of your choice. While we call it tailor-made/custom travel there is always someone to meet you at the airport and transfer you to your safari camp or hotel, so even solo travellers can feel comfortable knowing that they will be well-looked after on the ground.
Road safari or fly-in safari? Travel by road or air is an important question to consider in selecting a trip. Sometimes both options are not available – so the decision is essentially made for you. Travel by air, while generally more expensive, is the most efficient means of transportation, transferring you between safari camps easily and with plenty of time to enjoy activities at both camps, which is why you are on safari after all! Generally the planes are small, so those with difficulties with small aircraft should plan their trips accordingly. Travel by road can be exhausting, covering considerable distances on dusty roads in safari vehicles and it is definitely time-consuming. Nevertheless, overland travel affords you the opportunity to see some of the countryside and local villages between destinations, perhaps giving you a more realistic glimpse into a day in the life of the people whose country you are visiting. For some travellers, this is the only way to go.
Guides and vehicles – We firmly believe that your safari guide is a critical component of the success of the overall safari experience. A great guide can make all the difference, and African Safaris Ltd endeavours to use the best guides available. East Africa is currently standardizing its guide requirements, while southern Africa has long been known for its lengthy and intensive guide training. In East Africa, you are likely to have the same guide throughout if travelling by road, which allows you to get to know him or her, and build upon each day’s experiences. If you are flying or travelling in southern Africa, you will have guides from each camp who are thoroughly knowledgeable about the concessions or National Parks that they traverse on a daily basis. Safari guides each tend to have their own personal specialty or area of expertise so you can benefit from the diversity of knowledge that each of these guides will share with you. Vehicles in southern Africa are generally open 4WD land rovers or land cruisers, while most vehicles in East Africa are minivans with an opening roof hatch to allow you the best visibility this type of vehicle can offer. It is also possible to have a 4WD vehicle in East Africa, although this option is more expensive.