The home of the Big Five, Bushmen, beadwork and battle scars, Africa elicits mixed emotions of wonderment and fear; making it a sought after holiday destination, yet not without precaution. There are many pre-conceived ideas about this unique land, and there have been many attempts at providing the perfect guide to travelling the African continent; however, it is difficult to know when bias may be affecting the accuracy of the information given. Truthfully, one can only draw the correct conclusion through experience; after witnessing the splendour of an authentic African sunset, and after hearing the reverberant roar of a pride leader. Of course, this will bring you to the assessment adopted by most safari-goers – one which eliminates all scepticism and paranoia, and one which describes the Dark Continent as anything but…
There are measures to take that will ensure a trip to Africa is well-planned and put together, after the right amount of consideration. To avoid an overwhelming amount of research, where one concern leads to the next, and one ends up feeling more flustered and unprepared than before beginning to read up; here is a numbered (only to ten!) breakdown of the only real questions that need answering before embarking. Other than what is to follow, allow for the mystery and embrace the unknown, for you will want to write your own African adaptation once you have experienced its unique intoxication.
Without further ado, here are 10 points on prepping for the perfect safari:
1) Which Wildlife and Where to Find It
The same members of the wild mostly occur throughout Southern and East Africa, as a number of the game parks and nature reserves exist across borders allowing for migration movements that occur naturally in these areas. Rivers and mountains, instead of fences and man-made boundaries, act as borders between many of the countries. Major wildlife species; such as, the Big Five, plains game, hippos, crocodiles and a vast array of birdlife can be found in both Southern and East African countries, so most destinations will present sightings of the same substance. The primary difference lies in the specific landscapes and vegetation that exist in the different regions. This will alter the quality, frequency and nature of safari sights, which is what generally differentiates destination choices.
Southern Africa; being South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, presents its specific attractions. The coastline and the Kruger National Park in South Africa encompass varied habitats and biomes, making it a versatile safari destination; Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park is home to the greatest population of elephants in the world, and Zambia is reputed by the most magnificent walking safaris; and together, they share the almighty Victoria Falls on their border. Namibia boasts enormous, shifting, red sand dunes, the ghost town remnants of the diamond rush era, and the Skeleton Coast that borders the Namib Desert. Botswana hosts the wildest of the wildlife in its unique wetland region – the Okavango Delta; creating close encounters with hippo and crocodile in the comfort of traditional dug-out canoes. Northern South Africa shares with Botswana the Kalahari Desert and the intriguing black-maned lions it hosts. East Africa essentially incorporates Kenya and Tanzania, which are world-renowned for the wildebeest migration circuit they share between July and October every year – an unrivalled wildlife spectacle of its nature.
2) Safari Safety
As with any form of travelling, it is always advised to consider safety, but Africa has been assigned a particularly dodgy reputation, which naturally makes people nervous. The nature of African travel is largely co-ordinated around a safari, which is remote and separated from the cities, which is where the danger of pick-pocketing lies. A perfect safari does require pricy items; such as, cameras and binoculars, and visitors are often required to carry cash, as opposed to a debit or credit card, which heightens one’s monetary value and may make one feel like they would be targeted. The truth is that it is wise to avoid the city bustle at night and to store valuable luggage items in locked rooms and safes, which are provided. Safari camps are removed from human settlement and that, in itself, eliminates the risk of being robbed and guests should accept the reassurance that crimes at camps are largely unheard of and as long as the usual storage precautions are adhered to, there is no reason to feel unsafe. The same goes for safety regarding animals in unfenced camps: guides, hosts and rangers are experienced and trained, and the rules given for appropriate game-viewing behaviour are set out so that this unique experience can be enjoyed at ease.
3) Planning in Advance
It is recommended that anyone planning a safari trip during the popular or “high” season (which is when the best quality sightings can be anticipated) takes into account that many other people will be thinking the same thing! Give yourself a good few months to book your place at the best safari camps to guarantee the quality of your experience. There are many elements involved, especially if you would like to visit more than one area. Your safari expert will want to put the best package together for you, which involves back and forth communication and confirmation.
Depending on the area, costs can vary quite a lot. There are more pricy regions of Southern and East Africa, and there are more luxurious forms of accommodation; therefore, a cost analysis can only be accurately given once an itinerary has been established. Experts will work with a budget given to them, and create a personalised trip suited to specific requirements and limitations. Bear in mind that safari high season (July to October) will be a more expensive time to travel, as this is when the best sightings can be expected, whereas, prices drop during low seasons and less expensive trips can be enjoyed.
5) Medical Precautions
The prevalence of viruses, such as malaria and yellow fever, changes throughout the year and is also area-dependent. It is always advised to consult the latest medical information and ask a professional before travelling, as there are oral prophylactics that are available to be taken as precautionary measures. There are no legal medical requirements for entering Southern African countries with regards to malaria medication; however, in regions where yellow fever is a risk, it is required that travellers be inoculated beforehand.
6) Passport Specifications
It is important to note that in order to travel into Southern and East Africa, passports need to be valid for the period of 6 months following your return to your homeland. These regulations are subject to change, as laws develop over time, so it is recommended that this detail is confirmed at the time of planning your safari. South Africa, specifically, requires a minimum of two blank pages in one’s passport for each entry into the country; therefore, if embarking on an inter-border safari, guests should be reminded that their passports need to possess sufficient blank pages to allow for two blank pages on each re-entry into South Africa. There are no visas needed for American passport-holders on entering Southern African countries (South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia), but valid visas are a requirement when visiting Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia – again, this is a consideration that must be addressed early on in your safari-planning process.
7) Travel Insured
In order to travel with a mind at ease, it is recommended that guests do take out travel insurance that will cover the expense of any unexpected events. You will have paid for a safari up front, so it would be reassuring to know that any cancellation can be covered by insurance. Additionally, travel insurance will protect you from expenses incurred in any emergency medical or evacuation situation, and it will cover the cost of damage or theft of personal belongings.
8) Weather Worries
Southern Africa is subject to summer rains that bring about greenery and the birth of young animals between November and February, whereas winters are dry with moderate temperatures (April to October). The climate can be compared to a less humid version of the Mediterranean – it is pleasant all year round with only a few pointers needing to be taken regarding early morning and late night wear: Sunrise and sunset game drives in winter will require ear-warming hats, gloves and scarves, but the need for these extra items will only last until around mid-morning.
9) Food Fixes
Safari camps and lodges throughout Southern and East Africa are primarily catering for guests hailing from Europe and North America and have thus developed a proficient kitchen etiquette producing food to remind of home. Guests on safari are well-fed and it is often the case that food is a celebration of unity at the end of each day. Delicious cuisine is prepared and served in a variety of venues; from indoor dining rooms, to traditional fireside bomas, ensuring that safari-goers get the best of both worlds in the sense of being away from the usual kitchen table and placed under the African stars, yet enjoying familiar, well-cooked meals.
10) Camp Communication
It is the general consensus that many holiday-makers choose safari for its remote destinations and lack of daily communication requirements. Some even opt for riverside camping without even the comfort of electricity, so that a true sense of being in the wild can be experienced. There are many luxury camps and lodges available, particularly in South Africa, that cater perhaps for the more business-orientated guest, in that there are telephones, fax machines and internet facilities available. Most other camps in countries surrounding South Africa and in East Africa are gloriously remote and do not have such services on offer, yet there is always a need for some form of communication between the camps and their town offices, in which case, radios are used for emergencies.
If you want to know what a typical day is like while on safari, have a look at this handy guide!