Congratulations! You’ve decided to go on an African safari, easily one of the top nature experiences in the world. But what’s next? What are the key considerations in deciding where you go in Africa and when you go? What about all the other important details in making one of the most important travel decisions in your life? Here is a list of ten key steps to help you choose the best safari.
Note: Several of the steps may require some back and forth, refining as you go (for example, with considerations of your budget, you may have an initial goal then after considering the other steps, you may want to adjust the figure based on your needs). The goal here is to help get you started thinking about the right questions and to guide you in planning your trip of a lifetime.
1. Decide when to go: WhileAfrica is now a year-round destination, some months expose you to more dramatic wildlife experiences or better climatic conditions than others.Some lucky travelers can travel anytime. But others will be limited to specific travel windows like Christmas time or the summer. The time frame you can travel may influence which country you decide to visit. However, budget may play an even bigger factor as we shall see shortly.
2. Determine your budget: When determining your budget for land arrangements, remember to take a quick look at an online flight booking engine to get a general feel for air prices. A very general rule of thumb is to plan about US$2000 (per person, round trip) which may be less or more depending on a lot of factors. Generally round trip flights from the USA or Canada to Nairobi (NBO) or Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania (JRO) will be the best value, compared to the generally more costly path to and back from Botswana, for example. For travelers on a limited budget, ways to save include staying in budget accommodations, choosing a low season or “shoulder” season time frame, shortening your trip (in Tanzania, you can see the highlights in as few as 5 days), choosing a group tour versus a custom safari, and so on. Adventures Within Reach offers a high-value 5-day safari, that you can easily combine with beach time on Zanzibar or a trek on Kilimanjaro. With regards to your budget, once you’ve settled on a dollar figure, you can then begin considering the next step: the goals of your safari.
3. Consider what are the priority animals and/or experiences you want in your safari: Not every game reserve has cheetah, or mountain gorillas, or wild dogs, etc. nor do they necessarily allow the same experiences. For example, some wildlife areas offer optional hot air balloons, while others allow night game drives, and still others might offer unique encounters with native people and tribes. Some travelers love traveling in small planes, others do not. Certain travelers will want a wilderness experience, while other travelers may not be so concerned as long as there is good wildlife around.
Many travelers are perfectly OK with big lodges, while others are seeking more intimate, smaller properties like luxury tented camps. These factors and others are worth contemplating. You may have a wish list of wildlife you want to see and experiences you want (or don’t want!) to have. Sometimes it is useful to break the different experiences/animals into categories, like “must-see” and “would be a bonus,” etc.
4. Pick a travel style for your safari: In step 2, you calculated a general budget, per person. Now you can compare/contrast that with a preferred style of travel. In Africa, you have a lot of options with accommodations. Among the typical options:
- Budget lodges & tented camps
- Mid-range lodges & tented camps
- Luxury lodges & tented camps
- Elite lodges & camps
Most of our clients choose the mid-range tented camps and lodges when traveling to East Africa, preferring the quality and value they represent. Mid-range tents and lodge rooms feature private lodging, private bath, full beds, and electricity – all the core creature comforts – while the general décor and amount of space is more utilitarian compared to higher priced luxury and elite lodges and camps.
Also, while accommodations play a large role in the overall style, another factor to consider is whether a private safari or a scheduled group safari is better for you? A private safari is ideal for keen photographers and travelers with specific travel windows whereas group safaris are often less expensive and a great way to meet people.
5. Decide which region/country is best for your trip: By now, you have done a fair amount of self-scouting. This information can help you narrow down the region and/or country and/or parks and reserves that are best for you. We recommend you stick to a general region, e.g. if you choose a safari in Tanzania, stay in East Africa, while if you want to safari in Botswana, stick to Southern Africa (extending your trip to other countries within the region). This saves you time and money.
Recall the list you created in Step 3… if you wrote down, for example, that climbing the tallest sand dunes in the world is your # 1 priority, that settles it – you’ll want to focus on Namibia! Or if trekking chimpanzees was #1, you’ll want to look closely at Uganda and/or western Tanzania. Or if climbing Kilimanjaro is #1, then northern Tanzania is the answer. However, most travelers are looking for a more well-rounded experience to see a little of everything: wildlife, scenery, and culture. For this reason, Tanzania is our recommendation for a first safari, while Kenya is also an alluring option. But say that visiting Cape Town was a #1 priority; in that case you’ll want to strongly consider a safari in the Kruger region or Botswana, just north of Cape Town. Or if experiencing the bush in the most exclusive, removed way possible is the priority, and money is less of a concern, then Botswana is the best choice, especially if seeing world-famous Victoria Falls is on your list.
6. Pick a Tour Operator: Picking a tour operator often comes down to 4 key questions: can they help me with what I want? Are they experts? Do they provide good value? And do I like working with them? The good news is working with Adventures Within Reach settles all 4 questions.
- We are as flexible as you need us to be with your trip plans.
- Most of us at AWR have been to Africa before on multiple visits!
- Adventures Within Reach has been specializing in Africa from its foundation over 12 years ago.
- We are specialists in all styles of travel, from budget to elite styles – it all depends on what the traveler wants.
- And we are a small company dedicated to the best customer service possible.
Service is what separates the good and the bad and we pride ourselves on being very good. In general, we recommend travelers work with a tour operator headquartered in a Western country like the USA or Canada, which protects travelers with better consumer protection laws and usually provides better communication and service.
7. Work with an expert to refine the plan: Once you’ve picked a tour operator, you’ll want to work with them to create or refine the perfect plan based on your needs. If they can’t do that, there are plenty of other safari companies that will help you. It’s important to find a safari company that offers you sound advice and choices based on your individual needs and wishes.
8. Book your trip and flights. Be prepared to pay a deposit, usually around 20% of the trip fee (such as with Adventures Within Reach) to start out. Final payments are usually due 60-90 days depending on the company (with us, it’s 60 days). The full cost of air would be due at the time of booking. Because this is such a big trip, it’s wise to book the land and air in tandem. With us, you are welcome to book air on your own (using frequent flier miles, for example) or we have an African air specialist partner who can take care of all your air.
9. Get travel insurance: Deposits are often non-refundable, as is at least part of your international air, so purchasing travel insurance is a great idea, and for remote safaris, like in Botswana, insurance is mandatory (for purposes of emergency evacuation). Rates vary based on age, length of trip, and trip cost.We can help our travelers with quotes; there are a number of reputable travel insurance companies in the US.
10. Final preparations before your trip. Before you travel, you’ll want to be sure you have a number of key details in order:
- Visit a travel doctor/ your doctor at least 6 weeks before you go and get whatever shots or pills they recommend.
- Have all the documentation in order and be sure to bring it with you: e-tickets, passports, reservation confirmations, vouchers, etc. Important documents, like the front page of your passport, are items you should photocopy and bring with you, separate from the originals.
- Have your camera gear in order and be sure you know how to use it!
- If you don’t have a pair of binocs, be sure to buy a pair and bring them with you, preferably water-proof and 8×40 or similar.
- Get a good what to bring/ packing list from your tour operator and review it carefully.
Hopefully this list will provide some solid “food for thought” as you dream of a safari or begin planning your epic trip to Africa. We would love the chance to help: please contact us anytime for ideas and to address any questions you may have.