QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD BE ASKING WHEN PLANNING A SAFARI IN AFRICA
So if you are planning an African Safari, it can be a significant expense and done correctly will no doubt be an experience that changes your lives and those of the communities you visit, but to avoid poor and unexpected experiences, here are some of the “out of the ordinary” questions you should be asking when you are planning your safari.
Are you clear about your Safari Objectives?
Your Safari objectives should be clear and communicated to your Safari Planner as these will determine when you go, and where to go. For example if you want to see the unique primates and wildlife in Rwanda, If it is your first African Safari and your main objective is to see the “Big 5” then not every reserve or Game park has this, whilst they may have other unique game experiences. Be clear about your objectives and communicate them to your planner.
National Parks vs Private Reserves
These factors are usually entwined but hugely important in your decision making. A Safari is usually a bucket-list trip and you need to carefully consider the quality of experience and cost of a private reserve where you will get a luxury experience with very few other people around, vs a National Park which may well be good, but not likely to be exclusive. Again, your objectives need to be clear to make these decisions.
Visa requirements for the countries you are traveling to
Most African countries require visas from foreign nationals. You need to understand:
Do Visas need to be obtained prior to travel, and what is the process, on-line or at an embassy, or can the visa be obtained at the port of entry?
Lodge / Camp Package Inclusions
Be clear if the lodge package includes all your meals and if it includes beverages. Most bush lodges are on a “Full Board” basis, but non-inclusive beverages can be a significant expense and should be budgeted for.
What are the laundry facilities at the lodge? Many lodges only do limited laundry as it is usually done by hand. Sometimes they exclude personal items such as underwear, and if so do they provide detergents in the room for you to do this yourself, or do you need to carry a small packet of detergent?
Are all the game viewing activities included in your rate, or are there optional activities which are charged separately. Some Lodges may charge for a Private Game Walk Experience for instance.
Child Policies on Game Activities
If you are travelling with children, check what the lodge policy is on children on game activities. Some lodges do not allow children under a certain age to be on activities, whilst in some lodges you have to have a private vehicle for your group with children which may cost extra.
What National Parks Fees or Conservation / Community Fees are not included?
Some Parks do not allow the lodge or agent to collect and pay the Parks Fees, and want the guest to pay on arrival; you should know what these fees are and when and how they need to be paid.
Similarly a lot of lodges have a conservation or community fee that goes towards these good causes, and you should know if these are voluntary or compulsory and how much they are, and if they are included in your package.
Seating Policy on Game Drive Vehicles
Does the lodge have a ‘window seating only’ policy or do they maximize the number of guests per vehicle. You may find that having travelled all that way for your experience you get it from the middle seat where the views are obstructed.
You can also consider private drives for your group or family, there is usually an extra cost to this, but it can enhance your experience and be rewarding.
Many lodges are accessed by light aircraft and have baggage restrictions, typically the suitcase should be less than 20kg, and be a ‘
“Soft Fabric” suitcase rather than the solid plastic type, you should plan in advance for this.
Tips or Gratuities
Tips or Gratuities are usually not included in any rate, and are at the discretion of the guest, but it is usually encouraged for good service. You need to have a good idea of how much to budget for this, and how to pay.
Some Lodges have a policy of collecting tips and distributing to all the staff rather than tipping individuals.
What is the normal tipping amount, a discretionary value or a % of service cost?
If the tip is usually paid in cash, then you need to have cash on hand, and what currency is acceptable?
What currencies are accepted?
You need to be aware of the currencies accepted in each destination and if there are for instance credit card payment facilities to pay for extras. Whilst US$ is the most widely used common currency in Africa, what is your home currency and is it accepted. How much will you need to carry, and we would advise to have it in smaller denominations as there may not be facilities for receiving change from a large denomination note.
Communication Facilities at the lodges
One of the big advantages of going on an African Safari is to be in the wide open spaces far from the madding crowds, but the reality is that in the digital world you may need to be in touch with family or friends or even work while you are traveling. It’s very important to know where you will have signal / Wi-Fi or other communication facilities and which places don’t have them, and make a note of those dates and tell your family that you will not have normal communication over those periods.
For places that don’t have normal telephone or wifi facilities, find out how they can be contacted in an emergency, for instance via their head office, and leave those details with your relatives so they can contact you in the case of an emergency.
Does the lodges you are visiting have medical evacuation, if not this could be a very expensive cost if it becomes necessary and taking out adequate travel insurance is essential in these times.
Do the properties and lodges that you will be visiting have an ecotourism policy and program, and do they have a social responsibility program. It is becoming increasingly important to support environmentally conscious safari lodges and hotels and include wildlife conservation and community upliftment activities to your itinerary.
By supporting these operators, you reduce the carbon footprint, contribute to wildlife conservation and help provide employment, education and facilities in the local community.
Covid 19 Protocols and requirements
It is an unfortunate reality that Covid protocol is a major part of any travel planning, so you need to be very informed of the regulations and facilities of the destinations you will be visiting.
What tests do you need to enter that country i.e. a Negative Covid PCR test not older than 72 or 48 hours?
Vaccination proof – is this required?
For your departure you will probably need to be retested for entry to your next country destination, where will you be able to get this test done, and in what time frame so that you can have this for your departure
What are the costs of these tests?
On the other side of the coin, what are the transfer services and lodge Covid Policies and procedures, are they providing you with a safe and sanitized environment?
There are certainly a lot of things to consider when you are planning an African Safari, but by partnering with an expert travel planner you should have all your answers, and better planning means less stress and worry, and a more enjoyable safari.