By Zoe Bridger, Expedition Leader of WildThing Safaris and Donovan Pacholl, Director of Africa Travel for Bootsnall.com
Safari literally means ďjourneyĒ in Swahili, the language of East Africa. And a journey with a hint of adventure is what tourist pay for. A typical tourist safari consists of a group heading out into the vast wilderness, in places like the Serengeti, in search of animals and adventure.
If you decide on going to Africa for a safari, itís important to plan your trip and do research. There are thousands of options to think about Ė and, if youíre going to the other side of the world on vacation, you need to make sure your expectations are met.
There are two ways to book a safari. It is possible to book well in advance of arriving in East Africa. Most travel agents offer packages with set departure dates, itineraries and prices. There is also an increasing number of companies offering ‘tailor-made’ itineraries. Generally booking in advance will be more expensive but you can then relax in the knowledge that everything is being taken care of and all you have to do is get to the airport in time for your international flight.
Alternatively you can wait until arriving in East Africa before booking your safari. This is the prefered method for those travelling without a fixed timetable and usually on a tighter budget. You can get some good’walk-in’deals, but you also have to be wary of the people who will promise anything to get your money.
Safaris can be split into four main types: budget camping safaris, standard lodge safaris, luxury lodge safaris and fly-in safaris. Before commiting to a booking double check all the details to see exactly what is included. You don’t want to get out into the middle of nowhere only to discover that the accommodation is half board only, or that camping at altitude doesn’t include a blanket.
Here are some important details to consider: Where do you want to go? How much time do you have? Do you want to stay in lodges or camp outside? Which types of animals do you want to see? What is your budget? All of these factors play an important role when determining your type of safari. You should figure out these in advance before contacting any safari companies. Of course, they usually have packaged trips in various price ranges but itís important to do some research, consult other travelers, and find out what is at the heart and soul of safari in Africa.
Itís important to keep an open mind and time schedule while on safari. Of course, you want to see all types of animals, but remember that these animals arenít going to stand on the side of a paved road waiting for you to pass. The safari guide is going to need to search for them, drive off the main road, around mountains, through the water and, with this adventure, naturally come minor problems. The Land Rover might get a flat tire, the guide might need to navigate a stream, the Land Rover might get stuck, you might want to take a break from all of the harsh driving. Naturally, minor problem will happen and itís important to be patient, but this what makes them fun Ė and makes it a true adventure.
Also, finding animals isnít always easy. Sometimes you might have a great day and see all of the big five. Likewise, you might spend hours and hours driving and not see a single animal. Itís completely luck, but if you do a little research, ask other safari vehicles, and find out where the animals are grazing, you might get lucky.
This is probably the biggest decision you need to make. Safaris can vary anywhere from a few dolars per day per person to thousands of dollars per day. It depends the country where you’re traveling, your comfort level, the distances you want to drive, and if you want to camp or stay in a wildlife game lodge. All of these greatly increase or decrease the cost of the trip
Camping is probably the most affordable, realistic option, and will give you a feeling of a true old style safari. At night time, loud noises are everywhere, animals are wandering through the camp, and it gives you a feeling of what the first explorers dealt with.
Game lodges and private camps, usually have all of the western amenities, including swimming pools, hot showers, cold drinks and all those other things that are great to have after a long day driving in the bush. This, however, means they are very expensive.
How long should you go on safari? This is a difficult question for many people to decide. While the thought of looking at animals sounds very exciting, you need to gauge how long it will keep your interest. For some, it’s a few days, others could do it for month.
Book Tour Locally or Abroad:
This is a tough decision and much of it depends upon your budget and time. If you only have a quick week or two, donít want to do any research, and can afford a lot more money, then booking through a western based travel agent can solve your problems. Usually these companies have already developed special relationships and can save you the time and energy from picking from a local company. But this means the safari will be a lot more expensive.
On the other hand, if you want to save money and donít mind doing some research, you can get price quotes from local companies. Many of them provide the exact same service as your local tour organization and, since youíre cutting out the middle man, you can save a lot of money. If you do this, itís important to see if the company has got good review. Ask for references, read the guide books, review all the information on their website. If everything looks legitimate, there is no harm booking directly with them and wiring them a deposit to reserve your rooms.