African Safaris are extremely popular and for a good reason. The various lodges go out of their way to provide some of the best experiences possible. Unlike places such as Venice or Greece where you experience various cities, on Safari you experience Wild Africa and this makes this holiday truly unique.
Safaris are also quite expensive (here is a post explaining why) and planning one can be quite the challenge. So here is a simple guide to help you with planning your safari.
Establish a budget
Before you even look at places to stay, look at your budget. Safaris are expensive, ranging from R2000 per person per night sharing to over R150 000 per night and probably even more expensive than that.
The average “moderate luxury safari” begins at around R5000 – R8000 per person per night sharing, depending on where you go. Luckily these prices include all meals and two game drives daily, with some even including drinks.
For a decent safari experience, lasting three nights (4 days), I would suggest a minimum budget of R30 000. This will give you a really superb experience at the best price. You can get cheaper than this, but the level of the experience won’t be as high. There are obviously exceptions to this, but you really need to know where to shop and you need to shop MONTHS in advance as these cheaper high quality places fill up MONTHS in advance.
Who to book with
As a consumer, you are spoiled for choice who to book with. You can book online with bookings.com, Agoda, Safari Now and various others. You can approach your local travel agent or even book with a tour operator.
You can also book with the lodges directly and they are very good at handling transfers, incoming flights etc.
However, I suggest that you book with a local travel broker who specializes in Safaris. This usually results in the best advice, best prices and the best levels of service. Here is a more detailed reason why to use a local broker instead of anyone else.
When to go
This is entirely destination determined. If you want to see the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, you need to go in times when it is relevant.
The Okavango Delta is very popular during the winter months, especially June and July because it isn’t as hot and the delta is in flood resulting in some of the most amazing views you can imagine.
Other places, such as the Greater Kruger National Park and the Madikwe Game Reserve are amazing all year round. November, December and January the herbivores usually have tons of tiny cute babies running around. During the winter months, it’s not as hot and the animals are easier to see…not to mention that prices go down…some places quite dramatically.
Speak to your local safari broker about your needs and he can usually tell you when would be the best time to go.
Where to go
This is greatly determined by your budget and your expectations. The best would be to speak to someone who can advise you. Hell, drop me a comment below and I will give you some advice.
Below are some of my favorite places to go.
Madikwe Game Reserve – Offers a really good general safari at a very competitive price.
Greater Kruger National Park – Offers a really good general safari at higher prices, but is more established and has world class infrastructure, including commercial flights in and out of Skukuza airport to most of South Africa’s largest cities.
Okavango Delta – Probably my favorite place for a safari, but also one of the most expensive. You can easily triple the amount suggested in the budget section for even an entry level safari here…but TOTALLY worth it.
Getting to your safari destination
Getting off your flight at your destination country, you have various options to get to your safari destination.
Probably the cheapest is to rent a car and drive yourself. I would only suggest this in South Africa though and maybe Botswana. I would strongly suggest that you have some experience with 4×4 and off-roading when doing a self-drive in Botswana. Bring a satellite phone as breaking down in the middle of the Savuti with no means of calling for help can be a BIG problem. In South Africa, a regular vehicle with high clearance is usually more than enough to get to your destination. Be sure to rent a GPS.
Using a local transfer is the most common. A driver meets you at the airport and transfers you in a well-maintained vehicle to your destination. Ask whoever you are booking your accommodation with for suggestions or if they can book the transfer for you. Most travel brokers have weeded out the bad transfer companies, so I would suggest to go through them.
Flying into your destination is the easiest, but usually the most expensive. Flights are usually done in small planes. Some places, such as The Greater Kruger National Park and Madikwe Game Reserve have scheduled flights in and out.
Most of the staff at the various Safari places do not earn a large salary and some of them work for 6 weeks at a time. Tipping is a great way tourists supplement their income.
Because of most of the time, safaris include all of your meals, one is unsure of how much to tip. Here is my tipping structure that I use when I am on Safari and the experience was a good one.
- Game Ranger – R250 per person in my group per night stayed
- Tracker (not all safaris have these) – R250 per person in my group per night stayed
- Waiting staff – R200 per person in my group per night stayed
- Rest of the lodge staff – R400 – R600 per person in my group per night stayed
Things to keep in mind
Game reserves are not zoos. There are no guarantees on what animals you will see and how often. I have had amazing trips where we saw leopards every day and other trips where we saw none. It is the luck of the draw.
Safaris are about conservation. Throwing bottles or other litter in the park is usually grounds to be kicked out. Everyone, from the lodge managers to the rangers, cleaners, security and usually most guests have a conservation mindset. It is considered good manners to keep this in mind while within the parks.
Respect the animals. You are in their home and it is protected from human encroachment. You are usually safe within your vehicle, but do not bother the animals because they are wild and if they feel threatened they will attack. This usually ends with the animal being put down, or in the case of elephants, entire herds being put down to keep human visitors safe.
Things to pack
I have made a nice list that you can download for essentials and nice to haves.
What to expect
You can expect to have a great time. Safaris are relaxed experiences and this is the true magic of the bush. If you go with the expectation of “we see what we see” you will have the time of your life, with the cares of the real world melting away every moment and by the end of it, you will want to stay forever…I know every time I go I get this feeling.