Our tips for planning an African safari
With its wealth of wildlife and magnificent landscapes, the African savannah is a truly fascinating destination. If you dream of a safari adventure, here are a few tips to help you plan a trip on the wild side.
Define your priorities
To say that there is a multitude of safari trips to choose from is an understatement. Just typing “best African safari” will set your search engine off in a spin. Before looking for a travel agency, make a list of what you really want from your trip.
First, be clear about the level of comfort you need. Everything is possible: from rustic tents with a mattress on the ground to five-star lodges with soft beds and all comforts imaginable. Food-wise, some packages provide basic, nourishing fare while others offer gourmet cuisine.
You will also need to consider whether you are physically fit for the activities proposed; some safaris involve more walking or bumpy rides than others.
There are various formulas on offer: group tours, solo expeditions, or couple or family adventures. Keep in mind that the various options will have an impact on the total bill.
It is also important to let your agency know which animals you absolutely want to see. While the species are essentially the same across all the African countries, the itineraries and seasonal weather might make all the difference—pleasant or disappointing.
A good travel agent is vital
A safari represents a sizeable budget and you are therefore justified in expecting a certain quality of return.
Before opening your wallet, check out the agency’s reputation and reliability, as well as those of the African partners it works with. Reading other travellers’ comments posted on websites can help you find out whether the enticing promises made by the agencies really match the reality.
If you’re wondering whether to book through a Canadian company or a local agency, be aware that it is generally riskier to buy your trip from an agency in a foreign country unless you’re already familiar with it and know that it has an excellent reputation. The main advantage of using Canadian companies is that they must comply with Canada’s consumer protection standards, even if the service is provided abroad and the intermediaries are in another country.
For example, if a mechanical problem prevents your excursion from going ahead, you would have certain legal recourse – something which might be more complicated, if not impossible, at your safari destination.
Here’s another consideration: not all agencies are subject to the same ethical standards when it comes wildlife and environmental protection, so if this is something that concerns you, ask questions. There are always ecotourism options to turn to.
Where is the best African safari?
How do you decide where on the African continent to focus your binoculars? Several countries abound with incredible wildlife.
Safari classics Kenya and Tanzania are a safe bet, with large numbers and species of animals, colourful cultural experiences and friendly people.
Botswana enjoys a very high reputation for its park management and the quality of its accommodations. Focusing on the luxury end of the safari scale, Botswana will wow thrill-seekers with its wildlife and breath-taking scenery.
South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and Namibia also have plenty to offer. Depending on whether you prefer lush or desert landscapes, accessible or remote parks and reserves, and depending also on how adventurous you are, you will certainly find just the right safari to suit.
Wherever your destination, it is important to take seasonal weather patterns into consideration, not to mention the political climate. You don’t want to be making a river crossing in a jeep in the rainy season, nor find yourself in an area of political tension while on route to the steppe. The Government of Canada provides excellent, up-to-date recommendations for travellers and it is strongly advised to consult them.
Don’t forget the practical details
As well as a possible visa which must be valid for at least six months after you arrive at your destination, you must find out about any vaccines (often yellow fever) that are required or recommended in the country where you will be travelling.
Contracting a tropical disease may sometimes require emergency hospitalization or repatriation as well as unforeseen complications in organization and transportation, all of which can disrupt your expedition. It therefore makes sense to take out good travel insurance.
Ready to pack your bags? Don’t forget the camera!