20 Tips For Planning A Successful African Safari Vacation

Yona F. Maro

Nov 2, 2006
When planning a Safari, the starting point is to think about the time of year you wish to travel; the anticipated duration of your trip; the type of accommodation you prefer; your budget and any special interests you wish to pursue. The more we know about your aspirations for the trip the easier the planning.

Before even contemplating the different safari areas and the camps/lodges within them, it is helpful to consider the broader context within which the safari areas exist. The first question to ask your self is whether you want the high end exclusive safari destination or a low cost destination. This immediately helps to focus on specific countries, for instance if you are looking for the high end market you may start focusing on Botswana or Namibia, if you are looking for bargain safaris, you may want to focus on South Africa, Zambia or Zimbabwe. By comparing the relative strengths between countries, your choice is further narrowed. The final step is to compare the safari areas within specific countries to decide which is/are most likely to provide the safari experience that you are looking for.

In this article I will highlight the most important factors that you need to take into consideration or think about when planning a safari. I intend to write some sequels focusing in detail on the safari options in different southern African countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

1. Do some research

Start by reading articles or books about African safaris and the ‘big five’ Visit tour operator and travel agency websites to compare information. Make sure as part of your research you get a safari video to have a preview of what to expect. Safari videos are available at http://www.savannasafaris.com/ and other safari operator websites. Through your research you will decide if you will go for a packaged tour or a self drive or a combination of both.

2. Cost of a Safari

Various factors play a role in one's choice of safari destination and, for most people, cost is one of the many criteria that influence this important decision. The explanation for cost differences between safari destinations, and between camps/lodges within the same areas, is multi-faceted and complicated. The safari market in southern Africa is highly competitive and driven by supply and demand; for instance, right now, Zimbabwe safaris are at a bargain because of the low demand resulting from the political and economic crisis in the country and the uncertainty as to whether or not the general elections coming in March 2008 will be peaceful. It is important to note that in most cases the cost of a safari excludes international flights to/from Africa; visas; passports; vaccination costs; excess baggage charges; optional excursions; spending money; tips; local and airport taxes.

3. Game Concentration

For most people, an African safari is not complete when they do not see the big five – elephant, rhino, leopard, lion and leopard. These animals are concentrated at different places. Please be aware that your trip might bring you into close contact with these wild animals, which can be a threat to your safety and your health. Many of the safari camps are unfenced and particular care must be taken. It is essential that you always follow the advice of your guides, do not walk out on your own and do not touch any plants, animals or insects. You should understand the risks involved and take responsibility for your own safety. Please note that most safari lodges will require you to sign a personal indemnity form and you must be prepared to sign these.

4. Camp/lodge experience.

The level of style and luxury in accommodation, the quality of food and service, facilities and amenities are all important factors to consider when planning a safari. The more expensive properties invariably excel in these elements of the overall experience.

5. Wilderness and exclusivity.

As a rule, the larger and more private the concession /reserve, the higher the premium. Botswana (where private concessions are typically 100,000 acres or larger) is the most prominent example of this model of 'low volume / high value' eco-tourism. Zambia is an 'emerging' safari destination heading towards this model.

6. Remoteness.

The further from civilization a camp/lodge, the more expensive it is to supply and operate, and the higher the access costs for guests. Zambia's three major National Parks are very different and fairly far removed from each other. This makes a Zambian safari a very diverse experience, but travel costs are a little higher than in Botswana for example. Namibia, home to some of southern Africa's most remote camps, is perhaps the most pronounced example of this type of safari.

7. Convenience.

Camps/lodges with private airstrips that are close to camp offer increased convenience due to shorter transfer times between the airstrip and camp. This means less time in transit and more time on safari or relaxing. Such airstrips, in addition to being expensive to build and maintain, are desirable to guests and attract a premium.

8. Political situation.

The biggest factor influencing the discounted rates in Zimbabwe is the negative perception surrounding the government of Robert Mugabe. Without doubt this regime has had a very negative impact on the lives of local Zimbabweans but, as a safari destination for foreign visitors, it is still a good deal destination.

9. Passports & visas.

A full passport is essential and must be valid for at least six months after your return. Generally, visas are not required in South Africa and Botswana for United States and United Kingdom passport holders. Visas are required for Zimbabwe and Zambia. For detailed information about visas you can go to http://www.savannasafaris.com/

10. Insurance.

It is a condition of booking for most safari tours that all passengers have insurance cover. Your insurance should be fully comprehensive and include 24-hour emergency medical cover and repatriation along with general cover for travel cancellation and theft of valuables and personal items.

11. Health.

You should consult your doctor at least six weeks prior to travel. If guests have any medication requirements an adequate supply should be brought from home, as it might not be available locally. Anti-malaria medication is essential. It is recommended that visitors bring plenty of insect repellent and sun cream.

12. Safety & security.

In general, people in Africa have an enviable reputation for being friendly and welcoming. Along with most countries around the world, mugging can be a problem in certain towns and it is advisable that you do not walk at night unless you know the area well. If you are driving yourself it is sensible to arrive at your destination before dark as a myriad of animals enjoy lying on the roads at night. It is always sensible when traveling to take precautions against theft. By far the best precaution is to avoid taking valuables with you on holiday. If you do carry valuables ensure you are discreet. Do not leave any valuables or luggage unattended in a vehicle, unless in a locked trunk.

13. Clothing.

The dress code at all of the camps and lodges is casual and there is no requirement to dress for dinner. We recommend that you wear neutral colors with a good pair of lightweight walking boots for game walks. Evenings are generally spent around a campfire, so a lightweight jumper is advisable. Early morning and night game drives can get very cold, particularly in June/July, so it is recommended that you bring a warm jacket and woolly hat. During the heat of the day a shady hat is essential. A long sleeved shirt and long trousers offer a degree of protection from mosquitoes.

14. Fitness levels.

There is generally no fitness requirement for safaris. On walking safaris the walks are slow and gentle, although the ground is often uneven. Game drives can be bumpy at times and might be uncomfortable for people with back problems.

15. Luggage limits.

A luggage limit applies for light aircraft transfers between camps. Soft bags are recommended for these flights. You will normally be advised of the requirements (if any) at the time of booking.

16. Travel in Africa.

Part of what makes Africa so special is that it is very different from Europe and the USA. Please accept that things do not always happen the way you would normally expect and you must be prepared to adapt your arrangements as necessary. Whilst tour operators make every effort to ensure that your trip goes smoothly it is recommended that you be patient and understanding, accepting a degree of uncertainty and enjoying Africa as it is.

17. Climate.

Although local weather conditions vary, the main weather patterns are the same throughout Southern Africa. Evenings and early mornings can get quite chilly, particularly between May and August. October can be extremely hot and humid (although this is the best time for game viewing as animals congregate around the remaining water). The rainy season is normally between November and March.

18. Currency.

The local currencies in the major safari destination countries are the Zambian Kwacha, the Botswana Pula, South African Rand, Namibian Dollar, Mozambican Metical and the Zimbabwean Dollar. Tourists are expected to use US Dollars in camps, lodges and hotels. For local shopping for souvenirs and sundries you will need local currency. Banks will generally exchange US Dollars, English Pounds, Euros and US Dollars are required for visas purchased at the border posts (take the correct amount as any change will be given in local currency). In most of these countries, especially Zimbabwe, there are black market currency dealers. Changing currency in the black market is illegal, and you can be robbed of your money and valuables. Always ask your hotel staff about exchanging currency.

19. Time.

Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa are all 2 hours ahead of GMT.

20. Memories

Get a journal book, camera or camcorder to document your experiences.

Happy safari planning and enjoy the unspoiled African wild!

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