The best safari experiences depend on when, where and how you go. Time your trip correctly, chose the top countries, and the best parks and lodging within that country, and you will have the trip of a lifetime. Today, I wanted to share my beginner’s guide to planning an African safari.
I have been traveling to Africa for 34 years and designing safaris for families, couples, and celebrities including Jane Goodall, and non-profit organizations for the past 15 years.
Here are my top tips for planning your african safari.
Choose A Safari Operator
Planning a safari is very different then planning a trip to Europe, or Australia for instance. Unless you are doing a self-drive, ground-camping excursion (definitely not recommended for foreigners or people who are not experienced Africa travelers) you will need a ‘safari operator’ to put your trip together for you. You can’t get around this. The whole safari industry is based on using safari operators as the go between the tourist and the lodges and guides.
Choose an operator who specializes in Africa. Travel agencies who offer trips all over the world are not specialists and rarely do their agents ever visit Africa. These agencies offer cookie cutter itineraries with little ability to personally design your trip. Skip those in favor of an operator that is intimately familiar with Africa and able to help you sort through all the options to custom design an itinerary that fits your specific needs.
Determine Your Focus
Get clear on your dream. Do you want to see as many different animals as possible, or do you want to focus on one species like elephants? Do you want a cultural element like visiting indigenous tribes, or to add an activity or famous landmark into your itinerary – like taking a helicopter ride over Victoria Falls, hiking to see gorillas, going down into the Ngorongoro Crater, or trekking with an organization working to save rhinos?
What is it that you picture yourself doing? This is your dream and you need to make sure you fulfill it.
Prepare For The Price
Accept the fact that this will be an expensive trip. The best places to stay on safari are in the areas with the most animals. And they are exclusive and expensive. The lodging I recommend are called tented camps. These camps host smaller groups, and provide first class amenities, service and food. These smaller camps are always my client’s favorite. You can hear the lions roaring at night, and have to be escorted back to your tent after dinner because of animals wandering around. Definitely something that adds to the allure and adventure of your safari.
Choose Your Country
The most popular countries for safari goers are Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa, and Botwana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. This year Namibia has gained a reputation for being the number one spot for Americans going on safari. My first choice for first time safari travelers is East Africa for the sheer numbers of animals (the wildebeest migration happens here) as well as cultural options such as vising a traditional Maasai village, and being guided by Maasai guides.
Pick Dates Accordingly
Choosing the right time of year for the country you will visit will maximize your wildlife experiences. If you are working within a set of dates, make sure you choose the place that offers the best experience for those dates. If you are flexible with your dates of travel then choose the country and time of year that offers you what you dream of doing.
Make It Happen
Don’t let the excuse that you have always wanted to go to Africa but can’t find anyone to travel with, stop you.
If you have always wanted to go on safari but don’t want to travel on your own, and you enjoy the company of a small group of like-minded travelers, sign up for one of the safaris I personally lead each year.