Going on safari can be the trip of a lifetime, but it's also a major investment. Here are some tips to make the best of your once-in-a-lifetime trip.
For animal lovers and work-weary urbanites like us, an African safari is a dream trip. There is something joyous about watching a herd of elephants lumber across a grassy plain, lanky giraffe munch lazily from the tops of trees, and ostriches, necks swaying rhythmically, high step into the sunset.
But some travelers, no matter how much they yearn for a safari, resist this special vacation. Here are some tips that can help you plan.
Book with a quality company
Beware of bargains, although it’s tempting to search for savings on such a big-ticket item as a safari.
“It’s all about the quality,” says Darren Humphreys, owner of Travel Sommelier, a luxury safari and wine travel company. “You pay for the quality of the vehicles, the quality and location of the camp, and for knowledgeable guides. You want an operator that has back-up vehicles in case one breaks down and guides who know how to track animals. Wilderness Safaris offers prime locations and an infrastructure without compare.”
Wilderness Safaris, and some other top companies, lease concessions long-term and work with local communities to create sustainable tourism. In private concessions, you won’t be sucking in the dust of a string of Land Rovers and Jeeps as they all race to surround the same lion.
For example, Botswana’s Moremi Game Reserve, on Chief’s Island, is open to the public. Day trippers driving their own vehicles crowd the park. “In Moremi you cannot drive after sunset or before sunrise. You do not see the last kill of the night and you cannot track animals off road,” says Humphreys. A luxury lodge, Mombo Camp, on Chief’s Island near Moremi offers a totally different experience that includes no more than three vehicles at a sighting, at often only one. That gives you a chance to experience the wilderness as well as the wild life.
Stay in an upmarket hotel pre or post safari
Yes, there is crime in Africa's cities, but likely no more than in the same size US, UK, or European metro region. Depending upon your flights, you may land in Nairobi, Arusha, Dar es Salaam, or Johannesburg just long enough to transfer to where your safari begins.
If you require an overnight, a savvy safari operator books you into a good hotel in a safe neighborhood. We always felt comfortable. In Kenya we stayed at the Nairobi Serena Hotel, in Tanzania we lodged at Dar es Salaam's Hyatt Kilimanjaro, and in Johannesburg we got over jet lag at the plush Westcliff in an upscale Johannesburg suburb. Undergoing renovations, the Westcliff is slated to debut in December as a luxury Four Seasons’ property.
Choose the right pace and the right camps for a family safari
Be sure to fly between distant game parks. Long van drives provide ample opportunities for boredom and squabbles about windows, seat space, and almost anything.
Be certain that the van is large enough so that everyone has a window seat plus room for cameras. A 9-passenger van should not be booked for more than 6 people.
Stay at least 2 nights at lodges. Changing accommodations every night gets the family cranky from packing and unpacking plus you won’t really get to enjoy the lodges.
Book camps with family rooms. Since most tents sleep just 2 people, a family of 3 or more will require 2 tents unless the camp offers family rooms. Family units at many of Wilderness Safaris’ camps feature either extra large tents or 2 tents connected by a sitting area.
Photos copyright Alissa Kempler.