Planning your African Safari

Planning your safari

If “African Safari” is one of life’s experiences that you’ve long dreamed about and have included in your Bucket List, then you must also have a mental picture of how your safari will unfold. Will the “real thing” match your dream? Is it affordable?  Some careful planning and research will be a great idea, long before booking that trip. Then there’s the Safari Golden Rule to keep in mind: cheap buy is expensive buy – it will cost you your dream!

Let’s define what it is that we refer to as a safari. The term has its roots in Kenya and Tanzania. Here, the Swahili word roughly translates to mean “a long journey”, in the context of the hunting sojourns made by the big-game hunters of colonial times. The term is now used by the tourist industry for shorter trips to observe and photograph wildlife. A key quality of a memorable safari experience is that it has been designed to preserve the ambiance of the old time safaris. I personally rate safaris on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 equating to a trip to the zoo, after incurring cost and time to travel all the way out to Africa!

Key considerations in planning your safari

The order definitely does not denote ranking or importance. Each factor is entirely subjective, dependent upon individual circumstances and interests:

  1. Difficult terrain, discomfort and fatigue
    Typically not suitable for children, infirm individuals or lone photographers with bulky photographic equipment!
    -           Safari circuit tours: evaluate the length of time spent driving on a daily basis, the road conditions and the dust and heat
    -           Walking safaris; tracking mountain gorillas; climbing Kilimanjaro: all great adventures but not necessarily for everyone in your family or group.
  2. Safari ambience out and about on game drives and back at the camp or safari lodge
    Some safari regions allow high density tourism, impacting both your wilderness experience and the enjoyment of your overnight accommodation.
    Does the camp or lodge have an authentic safari look and feel? My personal preference includes staying in tented camps (luxury or rustic). Every sound and movement in the African night is clearly heard, providing a sense of being one with the wilderness, definitely an enhanced adrenaline experience! However, the smaller safari lodges can be another great option for folk who prefer a greater sense of security.
  3. Variety/Variation
    A great safari tour includes a variety of activities and experiences, so that each day is different and exciting. A personal rule of thumb is not to spend more that two to three nights at any one camp or lodge. On a mobile safari, this is not going to be a factor to need to consider.
  4. Adrenaline experiences
    Some tours may limit you to viewing wildlife at a distance from the roadside. Many private camps and lodges located within wildlife concessions and private game reserves will track wildlife off-road. This is an adventure in itself and provides more opportunity for close encounters and great photo opportunities. Walking safaris too can provide close and personal experiences. Your choice will depend on your affinity for the occasional adrenaline rush!
  5. Flexibility (off-road tracking and time of day or evening)
    All game parks and reserves close their gates overnight, so unless your night-stop is inside the reserve, your driver-guide has to hightail out of the gates at the very time that things get exciting around the waterholes!  Wildlife is most active in the early morning and in the late afternoon. Private safari concessions and camps typically schedule safari excursions at dawn, at sunset and early evening.
  6. Local hosting and expert knowledge
    Private camps and lodges provide their own safari guides and trackers, with expert knowledge of the wildlife and habitats within their local environment. They will know the location of a hyena den with new-born pups, or where lions were last seen feeding on a kill. This could be particularly important to wildlife photographers.
  7. Safari Season and locale
    Most safari regions provide a memorable experience during the drier season but less-than-ideal Big Five wildlife sightings during the rainy season. Be aware of the seasonal pros and cons and plan your safari well ahead. Safari season can be fully booked a year or more ahead. If your plan is to witness the annual Great Migration of wildebeest and zebra, then locale is key and dependent upon time of year.
  8. Health. Safety and reliability
    This one needs little explanation. Check safety records and look for complaints online. If you’re travelling with small children, safety considerations should include the risk of contracting malaria, specifically in malarial regions during the wet season.

African Safari Options

Use an African Travel Guide and the internet for your research, including any options mentioned below that interest you. There are many safari experiences available in East Africa and across Southern Africa, all worthy of careful consideration. Your choice will depend on budget, interests, the importance of life’s comforts on safari, level of fitness of individuals in your party, time available and the ages of family members in your party.

Not all private safari camps and lodges permit children, but there are many options where children are welcome and specially catered for. Options to consider in your planning include:

  • Walking safarispioneered in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia
  • Scheduled departure or custom mobile safarisaround Kenya and Tanzania safari circuits (minivan or land rover with roof hatch and window seat guaranteed)
  • Comfortable family safarisas above or locally hosted at select safari lodges
  • Luxury safari camps and lodgeswith superb accommodation (at a price), providing locally hosted activities in private concessions
  • Mobile camping adventure safarisranging from basic camping to overnights in luxury camps and lodges
  • Overland safaris. These are typically self contained adventure expeditions, often traversing several countries
  • Canoe and water-based safari activitiespopular in Botswana and on Zambia’s Zambezi River
  • Safaris in malaria-free reserves recommended for families with young children, available in select areas of South Africa
  • Gorilla Trackingin East Africa, Gabon and Republic of Congo. Chimpanzees and other primates are often also encountered.

After researching your safari preferences, I always recommend utilizing the services of a travel operator specializing in Africa destinations.  Unless you’re able to clearly define your specific requirements however, you may stand the risk of only getting what they want to sell to you.

The countries of East and Southern Africa offer superb safari, adventure, island, beach and leisure experiences. If Africa is not at the top of your Bucket List, it deserves to be!

James Luck is an African destination specialist and co-founder of our comprehensive African Travel Guide. Visit to learn more about Africa as a travel.

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Author: Principle writer – James Corrans

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