African Safari Options
TYPES & TIPS
by Mark W. Nolting
Lodge safaris are simply safaris that use lodges or permanent tented camps as accommodations. Some safaris mix lodges with tented camps or camps with chalets or bungalows, providing a greater range of experiences for their guests.
MOBILE TENTED CAMP SAFARIS
Private and group mobile tented camp safaris are, in my opinion, one of the best ways to experience the bush and a great way of getting off the beaten track.
Seeing hippo grazing by your tent at night or elephant walking through your camp by day is an experience not to be missed! When under the protection of a professional guide, this is not as dangerous as it might sound. Animals will almost never try to enter a closed tent unless tempted by the smell of food. If you keep the tent flaps closed at night and you don't have food in your tent, you are generally just as safe as if you were staying in a bungalow or chalet. Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Botswana are excellent countries for mobile tented safaris; Kenya, Zambia and Namibia are also good destinations for this type of safari.
Mobile tented safaris range from deluxe to first class, midrange, limited participation and participation safaris. You may join a group departure or have a private safari, depending on your interests and budget. Warning: some tour operators advertise their mobile tented camp safaris as "luxury" when they actually operate them on a first class or even a midrange level (i.e.. small tents with shower and toilet tents separate from the sleeping tents). Instead of stating the actual internal floor dimensions of the tent, some operators give the size of the fly sheet over the tent, which is very misleading. Be sure to be perfectly clear as to what services they provide!
Deluxe Mobile Tented Camp Safaris: Deluxe mobile tented camp safaris are the epitome of mobile safaris. The sleeping tents are large (12-by-18 ft./4-by-5.5 m in floor area) and have ensuite bush (bucket) showers and bush (short-drop) toilets. Food and service are excellent. Camp attendants take care of everything, including the delivery of hot water for your shower. Campsites are private and usually set in remote areas of parks and reserves, providing a true Out of Africa experience. For a party of four, the cost generally ranges from $400-$850 per person per day.
First Class Mobile Tented Camp Safaris: These are similar to deluxe safaris except that the tents are a little smaller (8-by-12 ft./2.5-by-3.5 m), yet very comfortable; less expensive cutlery and crockery may be used, there are not quite as many staff, and there is usually a bush shower (hot water) and bush toilet tent attached to the back of each sleeping tent. The food and service is still very good, and private campsites are used. For a party of four, the cost is around $300-$400 per person per day, depending on the country and season.
Midrange Mobile Tented Camp Safaris: Comfortable (and less expensive) midrange mobile tented safaris are available in a number of countries. Like deluxe and first class mobile tented safaris, camp staff take care of all the chores and private campsites are used. The difference is that the tents are smaller (8-by-8 ft./2.5-by-2.5 m) but are still tall enough in which to stand. The food and service are good, and guests from one to three sleeping tents may share one separate toilet tent and one separate shower tent (with hot water). Private or group campsites may be used. For a party of four, the cost is usually around $200-$250 per person per day.
Limited Participation Mobile Tented Camp Safaris: On these safaris, the guide usually has one camp attendant to do the heavy work, while guests are expected to assist in some camp chores. Bow-type nylon tents (8-by-8 ft./2.5-by-2.5 m) are often used, and you usually camp in group campsites. Rates are usually around $150-$200 per person per day.
Full Participation Mobile Tented Camp Safaris: On full participation mobile tented safaris, participants are required to help with all of the camp chores. Group campsites with basic (if any) facilities are often used. The advantage is price. Participation camping safaris are almost always less expensive than lodge safaris. However, these are recommended for only hardy travelers with previous camping experience. Most participants are under 45 years of age. Hot showers are usually available most nights, but not all. The cost is usually under $100 per person per day. The problem with these low-end safaris is that the guiding is often marginal at best, greatly compromising the quality of the experience.
GUIDED DRIVING OR MOBILE SAFARIS
Driving safaris are simply safaris in which guests are driven by their driver/guide from reserve to reserve. You generally have the same guide throughout the safari, one who should have very good knowledge of all the parks and reserves to be visited.
Driving safaris are usually less expensive than flying safaris (see below). However, travelers should take into account the amount of time it takes to get from reserve to reserve, the quality of the roads and whether or not there will be something enroute that will be of interest to them, and compare that to the cost of doing some or all flying on their safari.
Flying safaris are safaris in which guests are flown to or near the wildlife reserves that are to be visited. They are then usually picked up at the airport or airstrip upon arrival and driven to their camp or lodge ? which is usually a game drive in itself.
Guides and vehicles are based at the camps and lodges at which guests will be staying. A real advantage is that the resident guides should have intimate knowledge of the area because they are usually based in the same camp for the season.
This type of safari is very popular in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, Kenya and Tanzania. Time that would normally be spent on the road driving between the parks and reserves may instead be spent game viewing ? the primary reason why most people travel to Africa in the first place!
As the name implies, these safaris are a combination of some driving and some flying. The general idea is to fly over areas that are not interesting to drive into or that you have already covered on the ground, and drive through the areas that have the most to offer. This is an excellent option in northern Tanzania, for instance, where safariers may be driven from Arusha to Tarangire, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti, and then fly back to Arusha instead of driving the same route back.
Group safaris are, in many cases, a more cost-effective way of experiencing the bush than private safaris (see below). Group safaris usually have scheduled departure dates. The key for group safaris in Africa is to be sure the group size is small. Group size preferably should be limited, in my opinion, to 12 or fewer passengers, whereas a maximum of six to eight is preferable.
It never ceases to amaze me the number of tour operators that tout that their maximum group size is limited to only 16, 24 or 30 members. With such large groups, passengers in the lead vehicle see game, while those in the vehicles that follow eat dust. A great deal of time is wasted getting under way and time schedules are very inflexible. Large group tours may be fine for Europe or Asia, but they have no place in the African bush!
For those who wish to avoid groups, a private safari is highly recommended for several reasons.
An itinerary can be specially designed according to the kind of experience YOU want, visiting the parks and reserves YOU wish to see most, and traveling on dates that suit YOU best.
You may spend your time doing what you want to do rather than having to compromise with the group. If you wish, you may socialize with other travelers at mealtimes and still have the flexibility to do what you want on your game activities.
For instance, if you find a leopard up a tree with a kill, you can stay five minutes or five hours at that location — it's up to you!
What few people realize is that, in many cases, a private safari need not cost more than one with a large group. In fact, I have sent many couples and small groups on private safaris for not much more (and sometimes less) than the cost of group safaris from other tour operators who offer the same or often inferior itineraries.
If you find that difficult to believe, call or email us with what you have in mind, and we'll be happy to send you an itinerary (800.882.9453 or firstname.lastname@example.org ).
SPECIALIST GUIDED SAFARIS
In various parts of the continent, the idea of going on safari with a specialist guide is gaining popularity. Recognized experts in particular subjects, such as elephants, predators, birds, nature photography or trees, lead or accompany a safari ? concentrating on the aspect that they have most knowledge of, but also providing a good all-round safari. Book authors, respected conservationists, photographers and artists are among the personalities who lead such safaris, but a growing number of local, resident guides are becoming specialists on particular aspects of their own environment. The additional experience gained by having one of the top guides in Africa lead your safari is almost priceless.
There is no more romantic setting for a honeymoon than an African safari. Most honeymooners begin with a few days to relax and recover from the wedding in a five-star hotel or beach resort — then it's off on safari!
Honeymoon safaris, like all safaris, can include as plush or rustic accommodations, as you wish. Most camps and small lodges have a "honeymoon tent" or "honeymoon suite" on the premises to ensure maximum privacy. Please keep in mind that most tented camps and small lodges have two single beds per room/tent, so be sure to have your tour operator let them know you are indeed honeymooners.
The epitome of a honeymoon safari, in my opinion, is a private mobile tented and lodge safari, with a private guide. Tenting at a remote, private campsite is truly the Out of Africa experience!
My romantic honeymoon included visiting Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park (Zimbabwe), a private reserve near Kruger National Park, Rovos Rail and Cape Town (South Africa), and the Seychelles. What an exciting way to begin a life together!
More and more parents and grandparents are taking their children and grandchildren on safari. Seeing nature in all its abundance as a child is an experience that cannot be underestimated. As of this writing, our son Miles is eight years old, and has been on five safaris; Nicholas is five and has been on three safaris. We have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing Africa through their eyes. Needless to say, the kids have also had a wonderful time filled with exploration and adventure!
In most cases, the best option for families is a private safari with your own vehicle(s) and guide(s). You may travel at your own pace and choose camps and lodges that offer amenities, like swimming pools, that will provide the kids with some play time as well as help them burn off some of that endless energy they seem to possess. In addition, visits to local schools and villages provide insights into how children of their own age live in the countries you are visiting — and will hopefully make them more thankful for what they have!
Most guides, camp and lodge staff love to have children visit, and they go out of their way to make kids and the parents feel welcome. Be sure to plan into your trips some activities that your children enjoy.
Many of the smaller camps and lodges in Africa have minimum age restrictions (ranging from seven to 16 years of age) while most of the larger camps and lodges have no restrictions at all. Some camps and lodges have minimum age restrictions (12 or 16 years old) for activities offered, such as walks in the bush with professional guides and canoeing. However, if, for instance, your family or group takes over the entire lodge, camp or canoe safari departure, or if you do a private mobile safari, you can, in most instances, get around the minimum age requirements. As some safari camps and lodges cater to a maximum of six to 20 guests, taking over a camp may be easier than you think. Just try to book your safari well in advance to ensure availability.
In Africa, self-drive safaris are a viable option for general sightseeing in countries such as South Africa that have excellent road systems. However, self-drive safaris into wildlife parks and reserves are, in general, not a good idea for several reasons.
One major disadvantage of a self-drive safari is that you miss the information and experience that a professional driver/guide can provide. A good guide is also an excellent wildlife spotter and knows when and where to look for the animals you want to see most. In many cases, he or she can communicate with other guides to find out where the wildlife has most recently been seen. This also leaves you free to concentrate on photography and game viewing instead of worrying about the road, and it eliminates the anxiety of the possibility of getting lost.
Self-drive safaris, especially ones requiring 4wd vehicles, are most often more expensive than joining a group safari. Gas (petrol) is generally several times the cost of what it is in North America. Vehicle rental costs are also high.
Finally, self-drive safaris by people without extensive experience in the bush can be dangerous. Lack of knowledge about wildlife and the bush can result in life-threatening situations.
Carnet de Passage is required by most countries to take your own vehicle across borders without paying import duty or leaving a deposit with customs; a carnet must be purchased before arrival.
An International Driver's License is required by some of the countries covered in this book. Contact the tourist offices, consulates, or embassies of the countries in which you wish to drive for any additional requirements.
Overland safaris may cover several countries and last from around six weeks to nine months. Participants usually take care of all the chores and sleep in small pup tents. In addition to the initial cost of the trip, travelers must contribute to a "food kitty." Because many of these safaris originate in Europe, where they load up with supplies, only a small amount of the money spent for the safari reaches the local people. A lack of local infusion of funds places this type of safari very low on the ecotourism scale.
by Mark W. Nolting
Once on safari, you will notice that when you ask people what animals they saw on their game drive, they might reply, “Elephant, lion, leopard and oryx,” when in fact they saw several members of each species. This use of the singular form when more than one member of a species is seen is common. However, one exception to this rule is saying crocs for crocodile. This form of “safariese” will be used throughout this guide to help separate you from the amateur.
Obtain detailed maps of the countries you intend to visit. This will not only increase your awareness of the geography before and during your safari, but will better enable you to relate the story of your safari to family and friends upon your return.
It is often better to sit quietly at a few water holes than to rush around in an attempt to visit as many locations as possible. Don’t just look for large game; there is an abundance of reptiles, amphibians, smaller mammals, birds and insects that are often fascinating to observe. Do not disturb the animals. Remember, we are guests in their world.
Instead of just checking species of animals off your checklist and then moving on, concentrate on observing the behavior of the animals around you. Asking your guide about the animal behavior you are observing will open up a whole new level of exploration for you. Most people who take the time to really look find animal behavior fascinating!
Put your valuables in a safety deposit box at your lodge or hotel or in your camp manager’s safe.
Do not call out to a person by signaling with your index finger. This is insulting to most Africans. Instead, use four fingers with your palm facing downward.
Wear colors that blend in with your surroundings (brown, tan, light green or khaki). Do not wear perfume or cologne while viewing game. Wildlife can detect unnatural smells for miles and unnatural colors for hundreds of yards (meters), making close approaches difficult.
Do not wade or swim in rivers, lakes or streams unless you know for certain they are free of crocodiles, hippo and bilharzia (a disease). Fast-moving areas of rivers are often safe, but can still be a bit risky. Bilharzia, fortunately, is not the dreaded disease it once was; if detected early, it can be easily cured.
Do not walk along the banks of rivers near dawn, dusk or at night. Those who do so may inadvertently cut off a hippo’s path to its water hole, and the hippo may charge. Hippo are responsible for more human deaths in Africa than any other game animal, most often from this type of encounter.
Malaria is present in almost all the parks and reserves in sub-Saharan Africa. Malarial prophylaxis (pills) should be taken and in the United States must be prescribed by a physician. As malaria-carrying mosquitoes come out at dawn, dusk and night, during this period you should use mosquito repellent and wear long pants, a long-sleeve shirt, shoes (not sandals) and socks.
Wear closed-toed shoes or boots at night and also during the day if venturing out into the bush. Bring a flashlight and always have it with you at night.
Don’t venture out of your lodge or camp without your guide, especially at night, dawn or dusk. Remember that wildlife is not confined to the parks and reserves in many countries.
Never feed any wild animals as they can be dangerous.
Resist the temptation to jog in national parks, reserves or other areas where wildlife exists. To lion and other carnivores, we are just “meat on the hoof” like any other animal — only much slower and less capable of defending ourselves.
The very few tourists who get hurt on safari are almost always those travelers who ignore the laws of nature and most probably the advice and warnings of their guides. Common sense is the rule.
African Safari Options is excerpted from Africa’s Top Wildlife Countries by Mark W. Nolting. Copyright © 2003 Mark W. Nolting. Excerpted by arrangement with Global Travel Publishers, Inc. $19.95. Available in local bookstores or call at 800-882-9453 or click here.
Safari Tips is excerpted from African Safari Journal by Mark W. Nolting. Copyright © 2000 Mark W. Nolting. Excerpted by arrangement with Global Travel Publishers, Inc. $16.95. Available in local bookstores or call at 800-882-9453 or click here.