An African Safari is for many travelers the world over, a dream holiday, and one they have often planned for a long time.
All the more reason then that anyone thinking of booking this once in a lifetime safari in Africa should first plan it out well, ensuring their itinerary is not just a good one, but is one that suits them in terms of their interests, budget and travel style.This is especially important considering the range and depth of choice in Africa, in terms of everything from location to activities and accommodation.
Listed below are a few tips that will help travelers plan their African safari.
Know where to go in Africa:
Africa is a vast continent with 53 countries and an area of 30 million square kilometers. Africa includes countries as diverse as Egypt in the north to Congo in the center and South Africa in the south.
Only certain regions of Africa offer tourists the safari experience. These include East Africa [Kenya, Tanzania] and Southern Africa [ South Africa, Botswana and Namibia]. Uganda and Rwanda offer trips focused mainly on Gorilla trekking.
Safaris actually started in Kenya and this is recognized as the home of safaris. Kenya and Tanzania therefore provide the best safari experience due to their magnificent wildlife, established and protected network of national parks, stunning scenery, pleasant climate and diversity of attractions, everything from beaches to local culture.
When to Go:
East Africa has a wonderful climate, free from the extremes of winter and summer as endured in Europe or North America. There are two main rainy seasons, the first from late March to May and the other from September to November. These seasons vary, but generally speaking the temperatures are warm and it is not uncommon to get several hours of sunshine in a day even during the rainy season. Therefore weather is not as significant a factor. However sun-worshippers would be better off planning a trip for mid November to February as these months see clearer skies and even warmer temperatures.
Another factor is the annual wildebeest migration from Serengeti northwards to Masai Mara, when a million plus animals move enmasse over 2 months, usually anytime from mid July to early September. Some visitors want to watch this spectacle and time their visits for this period.
Finally, in terms of costs, prices are lowest in East Africa from April to mid June, a period known as low season.
There’s so much to see and do, just even in one country, that unless someone is really pressed for time, a week is the very minimum a traveler should set aside for a safari. If you want to combine Kenya and Tanzania then think of al least ten days to cover just 4 locations.
A general rule of thumb is to spend at least 2 nights at every major national park. Then add days for your flight travel and a night in Nairobi if your flight arrives in Kenya anytime past midday.
The best safaris are the ones which have a relaxed pace of travel with enough number of nights at each major location, allowing for comfortable road travel durations as well as enough time for any additional activities when on safari. Remember it’s not just about seeing these countries, it’s also about experiencing them.
Choosing your safari locations:
There are many Africa national parks to choose from even in Kenya and Tanzania, and while there are no rights or wrongs when choosing between these parks, depending on the time at hand you may have to forgo some parks and focus on what you consider the best locations. Your tour operator should give you plenty of important information on each location regarding the variety of wildlife, geographical features, access, accommodation and prices.
Some of the more popular parks in Kenya include Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru and Samburu, while in Tanzania the big draws are Ngorongoro and Serengeti. Note that some of the less visited parks tend to be very rewarding to go to as they have fewer tourists and vehicles, giving you a more natural and authentic experience. Such parks include Meru and Tsavo National parks in Kenya and the southern parks in Tanzania such as Ruaha and Selous.
Choosing your accommodation:
Safari lodges play an important role in your tour, more than, say a hotel would in a holiday in any other part of the world – this is because lodges extend their guests the beauty of their unique locations in a game reserve, as well as the usual advantages you get from a good property such as service, excellent accommodation and meals.
Book a good safari lodge and this will add to your safari experience as certainly as an inferior lodge will take away from your safari – while prices for some of the better lodges can be restrictive, one need not go to the upper end camps or lodges to enjoy a great lodge experience – there are plenty of medium priced lodges that are great to stay at without blowing a hole in your pocket.
Keep it Responsible:
Though the main responsibility for upholding good conservation practices lies with the tour operator and the hotels, travelers can also help keep their trip “green” by selecting properties and operators that are active in conservation, as well as themselves ensuring that these practices are being followed as far as this is possible. An example of the opposite is when some tourists on gamedrives actually encourage their driver guide to break the rules and go off the road, closer to the animals, often to get a better picture. A responsible tourist would instead ensure the rules were being followed and that his/her driver guide does not feel pressured into breaking the rules just to get a better view of the animals.
Africa has it’s plus points as surely as it has it’s negative points – the roads are often dusty or rough, sometimes impassable, even in four wheel drive vehicles, poverty is evident and sometimes disturbing, and results in everything from hawkers badgering you to buy their wares to children begging on the streets – this usually only happens sometimes, and only when you briefly stop in or pass through the smaller towns en route to the parks – but it does happen and is a part of an African trip, and does not have to take away from your safari, so knowing and accepting this beforehand will help you fully enjoy your safari experience.
Explore your Booking Options:
The internet is a great tool which allows travelers to select from a range of tour operators rather than just booking the tours via their local travel agents. Provided you select the right local tour operator, you stand to benefit from cheaper prices, more tour flexibility and quicker service. So do shop around on the internet for local operators, as you may just get a better safari even that at a cheaper price.
So be adventurous and go ahead and book that African Safari !