Have you ever dreamed of taking that perfect Tailor Made African Safari? A Tailor Made African Safari could easily be arranged because it all depends with how, when and where you would like to have your trip. However, there’s no need to panic, because from volunteering with the wildlife to avoiding malaria, your burning questions answered about that perfect Tailor Made African Safari… Here are 9 Questions to ask before going for a Tailor Made African Safari;
- When is the best time to go on safari?
If it’s simply big game you’re after, conventional wisdom favours the end of the dry season, when wildlife comes to water and sparse vegetation helps visibility. Come the rains, the bush bursts into leaf, herds disperse and some places become inaccessible.
But the rainy season also brings baby mammals, better birdlife, gorgeous skies and fewer tourists. The rains in southern Africa last roughly November-March; in East Africa the pattern is more complex. Check local factors: in the Luangwa Valley, a few lodges offer excellent ‘emerald season’ safaris during the rains; Kalahari wildlife is best immediately after the rains; all-weather roads in Kruger mean there is no bad time to go.
- What should I bring with me on a Tailor Made African Safari?
Lightweight, breathable garments with sleeves and trousers (to protect against insects after dark) will do, plus trainers, a hat and something warm for evenings. If you’re tracking on foot, neutral colours are important – animals spot anything white or colourful.
Camera or not, you’ll need binoculars: views can be distant, and Africa’s birdlife soon turns non-birders into ardent twitchers. Also pack a torch, for getting around camp and spotting wildlife after dark; spare batteries, as recharging is often impossible; and field guides (especially birds) as, even with experts on hand, it’s nice to check.
- What about health – especially malaria?
Anyone travelling to sub-Saharan Africa should take the usual health precautions. Malaria, however, merits a special mention. Speak to your GP about the best prophylactics for you and your planned safari destination – and don’t forget to take them, making sure you complete the course back home. Also cover up and use repellent after dark.
Risk varies with location and season. In some places, such as Namibia’s Damaraland (too dry) and Malawi’s Nyika Plateau (too high) malaria is rare – but you’ll probably pass through a malarial region to get there. South Africa offers the only guaranteed malaria-free safaris, notably in the eastern Cape and northern Cape.
- Aren’t the animals dangerous?
As a tourist the dangers are negligible, so long as you do as you’re told. If you’re in a vehicle, most animals will ignore you: you can sit in an open jeep metres from a pride of lions and they will barely register your presence (though always allow elephants plenty of space). On foot, your guide will avoid risky situations and, in reality, most animals will be avoiding you. In a canoe, you’ll be told the protocol with hippos.
Never feed or encourage any wild animals: the most dangerous are probably those scavenging around busy camps, such as baboons, which have lost their fear of humans. It’s best to assume all water holds crocodiles.
- Will I be stuck in a vehicle all day?
For an outdoor pursuit, Tailor Made African Safari can be surprisingly sedentary. And with the amount of food you’re likely to down – especially at a lodge – the more active can become frustrated by lack of exercise. Self-drive travellers should aim to keep drives reasonably short and allow leg-stretch time at camps and picnic sites. Consider packages that offer walks – or try a full walking safari, where most of your time is spent on foot. Other active options include canoeing, horse-riding and mountain-biking. Areas without dangerous game, such as Malawi’s Nyika Plateau, tend to offer more. Try Victoria Falls or Namibia for adventure sports.
- Where are the best guides?
A good guide can turn a safari into a life-changing experience. Zambia’s guides, especially in Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi, have an excellent reputation – the product of a rigorous training system. Similar high standards are associated with northern Botswana, Kenya, Namibia and Tanzania.
On the whole, you will find the best guides at private lodges, where they live on site and know the terrain and wildlife inside out. Guides on budget packages may be sharp-eyed and helpful, but will seldom have the same level of knowledge and expertise. Only the elite are entrusted with walking safaris, and these include those leading the Kruger Park and Imfolozi wilderness trails.
- Do I really need a guide on my safari?
Guides, despite their virtues, are not essential. There is much to be said for doing things your own way; you may not see or learn as much, but you’ll have the thrill of finding and working it out for yourself. You can also follow your own agenda, without compromising for the sake of a group. Parks with a good infrastructure, such as Kruger, Etosha and Hwange, make life easy for the DIY safari-goer: you can follow the map, check sightings boards and swap news with other visitors. Doing your own thing in the wilds of, say, the Okavango or Serengeti is only for the seriously equipped and experienced.
- How do I choose a good tour operator?
Shop around – and not just for price. The best operators should offer an advisor who knows the destination first-hand and can answer your queries from personal experience. They should highlight honestly the pros and cons of the season in which you intend to visit, make clear any ‘extras’ (eg park fees, activities) and explain how long you actually spend in each place, not just en route. Be wary of wildlife ‘guarantees’: good operators know wild animals don’t work to itineraries. For peace of mind, your UK operator should be an ABTA or AITO member and ATOL protected.
- How can I safari responsibly or get more involved?
A good operator will state their responsible tourism policy clearly in their brochure or on their website. Ask about animal welfare and conservation guidelines, carbon offset schemes and whether the lodges they represent use sustainable resources and support the local community.
Your own behaviour makes a difference, whether on a package or travelling independently. Never feed or harass any wildlife. Obey speed limits and take out your rubbish, if camping in remote areas. Find out more about the local community – ideally by talking to the local people themselves – and whether there is a project to which you can contribute.