Going on a safari is on just about everyone’s bucket list, but how do you begin to plan? Where to go? When to go? What’ll it cost? How much time do I need? It’s enough to make a person’s head spin. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have gone on a safari, but it can be involved, and uh, expensive. It’s virtually impossible to anticipate every facet of what to expect on a safari and that’s part of the excitement of it. With that in mind, I’ve divided information into two parts. This week’s post will focus on the basics of planning. Next week’s post will tell you the stuff I wish someone had told me before I went on a safari. Hopefully, all of it will encourage you to go, too!
What’s my budget?
Most of us can’t afford to go on a three-week safari, but you don’t need to. You can do an unforgettable safari on just about any budget. Planning is key so be on the lookout for deals and be a bit flexible (click on the post 4 Ways to be on a Budget and Still Go on Vacation).
For example, I recently saw a deal on Groupon for a 9-day South Africa vacation with airfare from $1,799 per person. Plus, Groupon was running a 10% off sale, which would mean an additional $180 off. The final cost would be roughly $1,620 per person. The trip included roundtrip airfare from New York, LA or DC, 4 nights hotel in Cape Town, flight between Cape Town and Johannesburg, two nights accommodation at a game reserve lodge, daily breakfast, full board at the safari lodge, two safaris, guides, taxes and fuel. That’s a pretty good deal. I can't speak to the quality of accommodations in Cape Town or of the reserve and its lodge, but as you can see, a safari is within reach. Also, Cape Town is a great city. See my post on a Cape Town restaurant called, "The Best Calamari I Ever Ate”.
On the other end of the pricing spectrum, I also saw a 9-day luxury private plane tour of Kenya for $9,600 per person (gulp!).
Again, it just goes to show you, safaris come in all shapes and sizes, so you may want to establish your budget first.
Where do I want to go?
It’s important to figure out where to go. You don’t want to book a trip to South Africa if you want to see mountain gorillas. Similarly, if you don’t have a particular destination in mind, don’t exclude any country just because you think it may be out of your budget. While your budget might ultimately determine where you go, a killer deal could come up to somewhere unexpected and you want to be ready to take advantage. Some popular safari destinations include: South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Rwanda and Uganda.
When do I want to go?
Timing can be everything. Is your dream to see the great wildebeest migration on the Serengeti? If so, then you’ll have to go in November and December. If you want to do a side excursion of whitewater rafting down the Zambezi, there is a low water season (August- December) and a high water season (May-June and January-March). We went in May and the water levels were so high on the Lower Zambezi that there were no rafting trips going. Instead, we kayaked down the crocodile infested Upper Zambezi. It was awesome!
How much time do I need?
Again, most of us don’t have three weeks to spend on one vacation, but if you do, congratulations! For the rest of, we have to be more strategic with our vacation time. The two trips mentioned above are 9-day trips. That is probably doable for most of us.
Am I interested in an organized tour? A package tour? A self guided tour? A fly in? Yikes!
If you're on an organized or guided tour, you’ll of course be in a group, but a guided safari is good option if you are looking for a hassle-free trip.
A package tour is like a guided safari in that it offers a fixed itinerary with accommodations, but you don’t travel in a group. A rental car is usually included to drive yourself from point A to point B. Safari drives may be included, may be an extra fee, or a combination of both. Your itinerary is set up for you by a tour company in advance so you don’t have to worry about any complicated planning. A package safari is a good budget option and it’s the type that I chose.
A self drive safari is basically setting up everything yourself. The upside to that is you can go wherever you want.The downside is you have to plan everything yourself and it can be a lot of work. While self drives may be great in some countries, Namibia for example, other countries may not be good options for doing a self drive, due to a lack of infrastructure or safety. Also, with self drive safaris, you won’t know the animals’ movements the way a guide would. For example, a guide will know the zebras are at the watering hole about 10:30 every day. So you may want to hire a guide to take you through the park or reserve.
A fly in safari is great because you actually fly right in to a game park or camp. It gives you a true adventure in more remote surroundings and it saves you time, but fly-ins come at a cost - they are typically the most expensive.
What other side trips or activities do I want to do?
Don’t forget to budget for other things, like a balloon or helicopter ride, rafting, kayaking or extra safari drives. Some of these activities aren’t cheap, but chances are most of us won’t be heading back anytime soon, so you might as well build it in to your trip expenses.
As soon as you know where you’re going, figure out what vaccinations you need, maybe six months out, since some vaccinations may require multiple doses. Check what vaccinations are necessary on the U.S. State Department website under County Specific Information.
Make sure your passport is valid for the minimum amount of time required by each country you intend to visit. Also, don’t forget to check to see if you need a visa to enter the country. And here’s another wrinkle - some countries may have unique entry requirements. For example, South Africa requires that you have two consecutive pages empty in your passport per entry. So, if you are flying in to South Africa for a couple days, then flying to, I don’t know, Namibia, then back to South Africa to catch your flight home, that’s two entries into the country or so you’ll need to have the four consecutive blank passport pages. Again, check on the U.S. State Department website.
So that’s it for part one. I hope it’s given you some great food for thought. Come back next week for part two when I talk about the stuff I wish someone had told me before I went on a safari!