So You Want To Go On A Safari? Part 1
The most common question I get is; "where is the best place to go on Safari?". Well to answer that there are three things to think about first. 1) What type of Safari do you want to do? 2) What do you want to do on safari? 3) where can I go?. This article answers some of these key things to think about.
Ask a friend who visited Kenya - and they will tell you to go to Kenya, ask a guide who guides in Chobe and they will tell you to go to Chobe...Not that there is anything wrong with either, and I have had fantastic times in both several times, but first decide what you are looking for. Explore the options.
The word Safari originates from the Arabic language for "a journey or to travel." it is not a destination.Africa is an amazing and diverse continent, and no two experiences are the same. Africa is made up of 55 countries so let's narrow down this journey.
Before I go on I must warn you...There is a saying in Africa. "Once you have it's soil on your shoes, they will want to take you back." Africa is addictive. With over 50 trips under my belt to 28 countries in the continent, I can attest to this... :)
What types of Safari's are there?
There are 3 main types of safari - Package, Tailored and Photographic.
Photographic Safaris: These can often be the best value, and cater for the beginner, enthusiast or Pro photographer. Photo Safaris are often very personalised and sized to small groups 4-8 with focus on capturing the most of a sighting from a photographers perspective. Often hosted by passionate professional photographers. They have the added benefit of teaching, post production and best practice. They can be very affordable given the dates are blocked and planned in advance and once the spots are filled you will be in the company of like minded individuals. There are a number of great safari/photographers out there, far too many to name individually, I highlight a few selected Safaris such as Pangolin Photo Safaris, Duma Safaris, Africa Geographic and Wild-Eye. Often a non photographer is catered for.
Tailored Safaris: These types of safaris are designed to specifically meet your needs, accommodation, dates, locations and budgets . Although these can (but not often) be a little more expensive, will ensure you have a personal itinerary and maximise your total experience, with transfers, excursions, logistics all provided to suit you. This is best organised through a reputable and experienced travel consultancy, rather than a general tour operator. Many things will influence the price of a tailored safari, but through expert consultancy you can get some fantastic deals and experiences. I wholly recommend Safari365, and can testify to their expertise, experience and value.
Packaged Safaris: These types of safaris may on the surface seem good value, however dates and costs are normally fixed. You may find yourself grouped with others that have different needs and demands. Choices of accommodation do not offer the same flexibility as a tailored safari. You will need to check what is and is not included. This is really a safe option, but the experience may not be the one you are after. large tour companies outside of Africa may take large profits and not invest in developing sustainable tourism in country. Often these can be over priced.
What can I do on a Safari
So what does one do on a Safari? Again this really depends on where you go and what you want to do.
Game Drives are the most common, and typically consists of early morning or late afternoon drives anything from 2-4 hours. All day drives are possible, but in hot seasons can sometimes be a let down. Many animals seek shade from the heat. Sleepy lions may be exciting if you have never seen them, but more activity happens during the morning and late afternoon hours. Some reserves allow guides to drive off road (e.g. Ndutu, Tanzania or Madikwe, South Africa) This gives more opportunities but will very much depend on the reserve or area chose. Night Game drives can be exciting looking for glimpses of eyes in the dark of leopard, bush-babies and owls can be great, and offer a very different perspective.
Boat Safaris or trips are amazing particularly in the Okavango Delta, Chobe, Zambezi and parts of Uganda, as well as house boats in Zimabwe e.g. Lake Kariba.
Walking Safaris or bush walks often allow you closer looks at prints, smaller animals fauna and flora that you won't see from a vehicle. (age restrictions can often apply)
Self drive Safaris - South Africa, Namibia and Botswana are the best countries to explore yourself.
Use the down time to watch birds, look over a waterhole (if your lodge or camp has one) or catch up on that sleep from a pre sunrise game drive. Don't rely on good internet everywhere. Although some lodges and internet in general are getting better, you are often in a very remote part of the world. Digital detox goes a long way to enjoying your experience.
The Bush TV. Evenings are dark in Africa, and the smaller and rustic camps will probably sit you around a camp fire before and after dinner to reminisce on the days events, plan the next day or listen to the sounds of the bush (hippo, lion, hyena and owls).
Additional excursions can be offered, such as balloon or helicopter rides, these are normally extras that can be booked as part of your trip.
Accommodation comes in every flavour you can imagine. from High end luxury lodges, mid range, rustic lodges and camps. Don't be put off by a tented camp - or unfenced camp. It really adds to the experience. Also no matter the price of the accommodation, the animals are the same when you leave your base. One of the most important factors is the quality of the guides.
Where to go on Safari
This is the most difficult one to answer as there are hundreds of destinations. Seasons will impact what you see and when best to go. Remember Africa is huge - so a rainy season in Kenya is not a rainy season in South Africa. Considerations like visa, health such as malaria or vaccination requirements vary by country. Also how are you planing to travel - Solo, couple, Family or group. These are many of the considerations to undertake before honing in on a trip of a lifetime. A little research is needed to finalise where and when to go. Here is a small list of some highlighting some key areas and countries.
Kenya: The wildebeest and zebra migration season in the Masai Mara is from mid-July to late October. Tsavo and Amboseli for large tuskers, Laikipia for Grevy's Zebra and Reticulated giraffe. Great for Lion cheetah and Rhino.
Tanzania: Serengeti and Ndutu - all the cats, elephants - the Wildebeest calving season in Feb and March with the migration. Ngorongoro crater, Tarangire & Lake Manyara NP
Uganda: Gorillas and chimps, Bwindi and Kibale. Shoebills - lake victoria. Murchison Falls and Kazinga for birding, hippos and elephants. Queen Elizabeth National Park for birding, tree climbing lions.
Namibia: Cheetah, Oryx, desert elephant, Damaraland. Sossusvlei & Deadvlei. Etosha national Park - lion, big game, cheetah & hyena. Caprivi strip birding and greenlands.
South Africa: Wild Dog, Cheetah, big 5 and birding. Madikwe, Kruger (inc Sabi Sands and Timbavati), Zimanga, Pilanesburg and the Cape Peninsular for penguins and whales also.
Zimbabwe: Victoria Falls, Zambezi river for birding, Mana Pools for Carmines and elephants, Hwange for wild dogs, lion and elephant
Zambia: Victoria Falls, Zambezi, South and North Luangwa & Lewa Plains.
Botswana: Elephants, Birding & big cats - Chobe River, Chobe and Savuti national Parks. Elephants lions and great birding. Okavango Delta and Khwai. Nxai pans, Central Kalahari and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.