Choosing a Safari
This section is for those researching safaris on-line. I am often asked for advice, and as a guide with two decades of experience planning safaris there are a few “dos and don’ts” you should know.
- With safaris (as with most things in life) the the old maxim holds true: you get what you pay for. In other words; pay peanuts and you’ll get a monkey.
- You should know the difference between a true private mobile camp, and a semi permanent or permanent camp. This will affect your safari experience greatly, so I have given this a separate section.
- Sometimes people think that by going to more places in a given time they are getting better value. This is nonsense: you end up spending all your holiday packing and unpacking with no time to enjoy the places you visit. Game viewing does not conform to any timetable and to rush it is to miss the better part of the experience. Allow a minimum of two, preferably three nights in each area you visit.
- There’s no doubt that East Africa, in particular Kenya and Tanzania, has the most spectacular concentrations of wildlife to be found anywhere in Africa, ranging from the plains game of the Mara / Serengeti ecosystem to the Rift Valley lakes teeming with colourful birdlife. Uganda, Rwanda and Congo offer unique viewings of mountain gorillas. The scenery is also very varied ranging from snow capped mountains and highlands, through the Rift Valley, to semi desert. The East African coast also offers world class beaches, snorkeling and diving combined with a blend of Bantu and Arabic influence from Kiwayu and Lamu in Kenya’s north to Zanzibar. The tribes of East Africa include the colourful Maasai and Samburu amongst many others. All this gives a remarkably wide variety of wildlife habitat and safari options within a relatively small area. In recent years big strides have been made to bring the level of guiding in East Africa up to the standards that have been attained in the south, including the formation of professional guiding Associations.
- South African tourism is very well organised and offers many attractions which are not available in East Africa. These include the vineyards of the cape, the garden route, luxurious rail journeys, and carefully managed wilderness experiences in the many private reserves. Roads are also better and self drive is a real option in most areas of South Africa. Namibia offers a variety of possibilities from the rugged Skeleton Coast through the Namib desert to the Etosha pans. The periodic flooding of Botswana’s Okavango delta is one of the wonders of African wildlife to be enjoyed at water level from local mkororo canoes, and the mkadikadi salt pans give new meaning the the word “flat”. Zimbabwe’s game parks still offer much to the tourist despite the deteriorating infrastructure and perennial shortages which afflict the every day lives of its unfortunate citizens. The Victoria Falls is a major attraction that can be viewed from either Zimbabwe or Zambia which also has the Lwangwa Valley. In general the standard of guiding in South Africa is high.
- Given the state of many of the roads in East Africa the best way to get around is by scheduled flight or charter. On a camping safari your guide can fly with you, or the guide can drive and meet you at your destination. Top lodges usually have their own game viewing vehicles and guides. However, if you have time I would strongly suggest that you do some traveling by road as otherwise you will miss the “other Africa” outside of the parks and reserves. The busy and colourful roadside villages, with chickens, donkeys, and goats milling around on the road with a mass of local inhabitants are well worth seeing to understand a little of what makes Africa such a fascinating and unique continent.
- A word of warning about East Africa: the infrastructure is nothing like so well developed as in South Africa, so self-drive is only for the most intrepid, or foolhardy. Don’t be afraid to ask a specialist. It is easy to plan an itinerary on your own, but what looks like a two hour drive on the map (by Western standards) may turn out to be an all day nightmare, or worse still totally impassable. If you insist on doing things on your own, be sure to get a good guidebook or – better still – talk it through with someone who really knows the areas you plan to visit. Even then it is better to employ a driver/guide: the cost is minimal and he will save you from some of the pitfalls and add to your experience for a very modest extra cost.