Best Time to Go on Safari in East Africa

November 2nd, 2012

The best time to enjoy a safari in East Africa depends a little bit on what you want to do and see, and what your budget is. The best wildlife viewing is during the dry season when the grasses are shorter and the animals congregate in denser numbers around permanent water holes. The great migration of millions of wildebeest, zebra and impala is also a big factor in determining when to go on safari in Kenya and Tanzania.

Timing Your Safari With The Great Migration
Each year around 1.5 million wildebeest and 300,000 zebra (along with other antelope) gather up their young and start their long trek from Tanzania’s Serengeti Plains, further north to Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve. Their journey runs in a clockwise circle and the animals cover a distance of around 1800 miles. One of the most spectacular sights of the migration is when the herds gather to cross the Grumeti River (Tanzania) and the Mara River (Kenya) from July through September. But just witnessing hundreds of animals on the plains is a sight in itself. Particularly because they attract many of Africa’s impressive predators. Lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs follow the herds and give safari goers excellent chances of seeing a kill in action.

While the exact timing of the migration is never predictable, we know where to book our clients at different times of the year, so they maximize their chances of witnessing this great event. In general, the migration reaches the Masai Mara (Kenya) by July and will make its way back to the Serengeti (Tanzania) by November. The Serengeti is vast, but we can also predict that most of the animals will be in the southern part of the park from December to April (when they have their babies), and slowly head north, up to Kenya, through July. If you would like to plan a safari in June, we would make sure to book you in either in a mobile camp (which follows the wildlife), or a camp that will allow you to take easy game drives in central and northern Serengeti, so you have the best chance of seeing the migration.

The Seasons

In East Africa, the long rains are from early April through early June, and the short rains from late November through December. It is often less expensive to travel during these rainy seasons, however the road conditions within national parks, and between parks can get messy. Some of the more remote camps may close for a few months during the heavy rains, and some areas may only be accessible by aircraft, thereby adding to the cost of your safari.

The Dry Season
The dry season generally falls between July and October. Because this is traditionally the “best” time to go on safari, rates for camps are at a premium and it can get a little crowded, especially in the popular national parks like Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania. July and August are the busiest months for an East African safari, because the weather is optimal for viewing wildlife and it’s the right time of year for most families to take a vacation. We do recommend you plan your safari far in advance if you wish to go during the dry season.

The Wet Season
If you don’t mind an afternoon shower, enjoy seeing baby animals, and want to save a little money, then the “green season” may suit you. The green season generally runs from late November through mid-April. It’s a wonderful time to go on safari if you’re a keen birder (and you will become one after your first safari). Prices will hike up significantly over the Christmas holidays, so watch out for that.

Note, if the rains are late, (and with global warming the rainy seasons are not as easy to predict anymore), you have to be prepared for some impressive heat in November. If the rains are significant, some of the lodges/camps in northern Kenya and southern Tanzania are inaccessible. If you have your heart set on a specific camp, let us know so we can make sure to plan your visit accordingly. Most of the roads on safari are dirt roads and they can quickly wash away in heavy rain. The rainy season in East Africa coincides with warmer temperatures, so be prepared for some humidity and a few more flying insects.

Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla trekking can be done throughout the year in Rwanda and Uganda. The mountain gorilla habitat is naturally muddy and wet, so at anytime of year you have to be prepared to wear a jacket and good hiking shoes. Permits to track mountain gorillas do sell out far in advance as they are limited in number. If you are planning to go tracking between June and September, you want to make your arrangements at least 6 months in advance.

Combining Your Safari With a Beach
East African safari itineraries are easily combined with a beach respite. The most popular destinations include Kenya’s coast, Tanzania’s Zanzibar islands and the idyllic Seychelles. Flights are easily arranged from Arusha, Dar es Salaam and Nairobi direct to barefoot paradise. The rains do affect the coast and Indian Ocean islands, and they tend to fall when temperatures are at their highest, so it can get muggy and buggy. The best time to combine your safari with the beach in East Africa is therefore between June through October. It also stays relatively dry in January and February.

Let Us Figure Out The Best Safari For You!
Given the rather mind-boggling array of factors that determine the best time to go on safari in East Africa, let’s make this easier on you. We custom make itineraries to all these destinations and can plan the perfect safari no matter what time of year you choose to go, just contact us.

More About: When to Plan Your Safari l Best Time to Go on Safari in Southern Africa

Your Wheels on Safari

October 19th, 2012

You can expect to spend at least 6 hours a day in a 4×4 on a typical safari in Africa. That’s a long time to be in a vehicle. So it’s not surprising that many of our clients have questions about what type of 4×4 they’ll be in, how many it will seat, and whether they can get a private vehicle for their safari. We hope to clarify all these questions and more, below.

How many persons are there typically on a safari vehicle?

A typical safari vehicle for clients on a luxury safari (like the ones we book) seat 6 people comfortably. Two passengers sit side by side in three rows. Everyone has a window seat. In most cases the seat rows gradually ascend, so the highest off the ground is in the back. This allows for optimal viewing and for photographing wildlife without constantly having half a head in the frame of the person seated in front of you. In many cases the safari vehicle will have a pop-up roof, or a soft roof that can be drawn back. This allows you to stand up for better views and photo opportunities. The sides of the vehicle are often open as well. Some safari vehicles will have a console between the seats which store binoculars, wildlife books, cold drinks and blankets. The extra room can also accommodate a child if your party exceeds the 6 person limit.

What are the advantages of booking a private vehicle?

Many of our clients request the use of a private vehicle when they are on safari. There are a number of advantages to hiring a private safari vehicle (see below) but note that it will add a fair amount to the cost of your safari.

  • You can spend as much or as little time as you want viewing specific animals. If you’re on your 5th safari day, and a new couple has just arrived and is sharing your vehicle, you may not appreciate spending an hour watching impala, when there could be a pride of lion further down the road. Everyone has a different “safari pace”. Some people wish to rush through checking animals off a list, others are happy to spend an hour just enjoying the birds and plant life.
  • Private vehicles come with a driver/guide so you have the benefit of the same guide for your entire safari. You’ll get to know him well, and vice versa. One of the advantages of having your own driver/guide is he’ll be familiar with what animals you’d most like to see, and what animals you’ve already seen along the way.
  • When you’re traveling in a private vehicle you can make stops anytime you want. This is very handy for bathroom breaks, but even more so if you come across a Maasai market for example, and want to take a look.

  • You’ll have more room to spread out in a private vehicle if there are less than six of you in your party. This is handy for those with lots of camera equipment who might want a spare seat or two to put their equipment on.

Is There Always a Private Vehicle Option?

  • In some cases you will not have the option of booking a private vehicle. If you are on safari in Botswana’s Okavango Delta for example, the safari camps are usually fly-in camps and they have their own vehicles on site for game drives. You could potentially fly in your own guide/driver but you would be responsible for the extra costs involved.
  • Many of the best safari camps are on private conservancies or concessions. The advantage is that you get to enjoy a very exclusive safari experience without the crowds. To keep it this way, there are very strict rules about the number of guests allowed at camps, as well as the corresponding number of vehicles. If you are a party of two, it may be impossible to request a private vehicle because other guests may then be unable to take a game drive. You can always request a private vehicle, but it cannot be guaranteed.

    What is the difference between traveling overland with a private guide and doing a fly-in safari with resident guides?

    The VehicleIf you are traveling overland in a private vehicle in northern Tanzania, or southern Kenya, your 4×4 may look a little different than those used exclusively for game drives. You’ll have windows and a roof, all the attributes that make for a more comfortable and safe drive on a tarmac road. Once you enter a national park and begin your safari, the roof can be popped up or retracted, the windows rolled down, and you’re set for some perfect game viewing. Vehicles used exclusively for game drives may be more perfectly equipped for a safari with a special side seat that a tracker uses to spot wildlife.

    The Driver/Guide – As mentioned above, the advantage you have traveling overland with a private guide is that he’ll know what you’ve already seen and what wildlife you enjoy spending time to view. He’ll stop at markets or shops en route if you’re interested in experiencing a little culture along the way. Those clients who fly-in to camp and use resident guides and vehicles have the advantage of localized knowledge (but all the guides we use will share sightings and are very qualified). If you are a keen birder or have very specific wildlife interests that are unique to the area, a resident guide may be a better option for you.

    What Vehicles are Used on Safari?
    Contrary to popular opinion, Jeeps are not the safari vehicle of choice. Your safari chariot will almost always be either a Land Rover or a Land Cruiser. A small handful of hybrid safari vehicles are out there, but have not made a real dent in the market as yet.

The Forster’s Family Adventure

October 11th, 2012

“We have a surprise for you. We aren’t going to Idaho anymore, they explained, we are going to South Africa in ten days. An already epic summer had sparked to an unfathomable degree of adventure and experience. I was going to freaking Africa.”

You can imagine how excited we at African Portfolio were when the Forster family asked us to plan their Africa surprise. We booked them on one of our favorite South African itineraries, a 4 day safari in Sabi-Sands, and 4 days of sightseeing, fine wining and dining in Cape Town. Here are some excerpts from the blog of high school student Liz, about her first trip to Africa…

No time was wasted when we arrived at the Sabi-Sabi Bush Lodge, and we set out on our first safari drive an hour after arriving. It was hard to set any expectations but I figured we would see animals from fifty or so feet away, which to me, seemed quite close. After about thirty minutes of driving, my day-dream was interrupted by our guide, Jabu, slamming on the brakes. My eyes shot up. What sat ten feet in front of our truck numbed any pain I had from the sudden whip lash: a 5,100 pound male white rhinoceros laying in the middle of our path. I had to rub my eyes a couple of times just to confirm the reality of the moment. His wrinkled, sandpaper skin, memory foam feet and gargantuan tusk all seemed so fake; but there he was, hiding from the sun in a small patch of shade with six birds perched on his spine so close that if he decided to charge us, I would have a mere few seconds to react.

Nearly every night back at the lodge eating our amazing, amazing, amazing meals (springbuck, ostrich, oxtail stew, kingclip, monkfish, and pork neck; fresh passion fruit, strawberries, melons, and pineapple; biscuits, cookies, puddings, and tarts; salads, breads, and so much more unlimited, in-house made food to die for), the four other groups would ask what we had seen that day. We would nonchalantly explain as their mouths dropped in awe. They had not seen half the animals we had. Two things came from this: a perspective on how unique and special our experience was and an even greater appreciation for the work of Jabu and Heavyness in tracking the animals. Somehow they piece together footprints and patterns that I would never pick up myself to find the most and least stealthy animals (leopards and lions are just a little harder to find than elephants).

During our four days in Cape Town, we climbed Table Mountain (3,558 feet and a 10 minute drive from downtown!) and Lions Head (sick rock climbing there I got to try one day), visited Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope, saw baboons, ostriches, and penguins, and just soaked in the luxury we got to look out at from our hotel room window everyday.

Read Liz’s full account, or better yet experience your own South African adventure by contacting us to plan your perfect first safari.

The Best Time to Go on Safari in Southern Africa

October 4th, 2012

The best time to enjoy a safari in southern Africa depends a little bit on what you want to do and see, and what your budget is. The best wildlife viewing is during the dry season when the grasses are shorter and the animals congregate in denser numbers around permanent water holes. In southern Africa the dry season generally falls in the cooler winter months between June and October. Because this is traditionally the “best” time to go on safari, rates for lodges are at a premium and it can get a little crowded, especially in the popular national parks like Chobe in Botswana, and Kruger in South Africa. If you are concerned about malaria, the dry, cooler season is less buggy in general.

At African Portfolio we try hard to choose the most unique camps and lodges, so you’ll never feel like you’re schlepping along on a “tourist trail”. But we do recommend you plan your safari far in advance if you wish to go during the dry season. It can also be quite chilly in the mornings and evenings this time of year. So if you pictured yourself swimming while overlooking the waterhole, you may be a little disappointed to discover you’re not quite hot enough to jump into a cold pool. However, the pool itself at some camps can become a major attraction for elephants wanting a quick drink during the dry months!

The Green Season

If you don’t mind an afternoon shower, enjoy seeing baby animals, and want to save a little money, then the “green season” may suit you. The green season generally runs from late November through mid-April. It’s a wonderful time to go on safari if you’re a keen birder (and you will become one after your first safari). For photographers this is the best time to go on safari because there isn’t as much dust in the air, everything is a little more crisp. The animals are a little more photogenic too, since they’re better fed and will often have their young with them. But because water is plentiful and the bush is lush, you may not see quite as many animals as during the dry season.

Note, if the rains are late, (and with global warming the rainy seasons are not as easy to predict anymore), you have to be prepared for some significant heat in November. If the rains are significant, some of the lodges/camps in Zambia and Botswana become inaccessible. If you have your heart set on a specific camp, let us know so we can make sure to plan your visit accordingly. Most of the roads on safari are dirt roads and they can quickly wash away in heavy rain. The rainy season in southern Africa coincides with warmer temperatures, so be prepared for some humidity and a few more flying insects.

The Victoria Falls

The biggest waterfall on earth never really disappoints, even during the dry season, but the sheer mile-long curtain of water will have significant gaps in it from October – February. There are advantages to this, you can leap into Devil’s pool on the edge of the Falls during this time, a real treat that we highly recommend. The white-water rafting is also more exciting as the rapids are faster when the water is low. In April, the Falls are absolutely magnificent, but so much water thunders down that you can barely see on occasion and you will get a very thorough soaking.

Combining Your Safari With Cape Town

Many of our clients will spend a few days in Cape Town, if they’ve opted for a safari in southern Africa. Cape Town has its own unique weather pattern, and can get quite rainy and chilly from June to September. Visitors to the Cape area may also be interested in seeing whales, the Cape boasts some of the best land-based whale watching in the world. The southern right whales make their appearance from June through November. If you’re a fan of Great Whites, you’re in luck, they will happily visit you in a cage surrounded by bait, year round!

Combining Your Safari With a Beach

If you want to combine your safari with a little beach time in Mozambique or Mauritius, then May through October is certainly the best time to go. Cyclones and very wet weather tends to hit from December to February. It also gets very humid and steamy during the rainy months. You do have the ocean to cool off in, but when you’re on an island and the weather is not great, there isn’t much left to do. Although this may suit those on a honeymoon!

When Do We Go on Safari?

In a perfect world, we believe that May is a great month to plan a safari in Southern Africa. You have the best wildlife viewing weather combined with a time of year when no major school holidays are in play.

Safari Destinations in Southern Africa include: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Namibia. We custom make itineraries to all these destinations and can plan the perfect safari no matter what time of year you choose to go, just contact us.

More About: When to Plan Your Safari

Great Wilderness Journey ~ Botswana

September 26th, 2012

The Pearson Family went on safari to Botswana and Victoria Falls this summer. John was kind enough to share his impressions of the trip with us — and now we’d like to pass along his story to you. Enjoy!

After planning this trip for over 2 years, we finally took our Great Wilderness Journey with Wilderness Safaris in August of 2012. Why did we choose this particular trip? Botswana (even though much more expensive than other African destinations) was appealing because of the individualized and more varied experience it promised. We “discovered” Wilderness Safaris through the referral of a friend who had traveled with them before, and we chose the Great Wilderness Journey because of the exposure to various biomes that it offered, as well as a stop at Victoria Falls.

We took the South African Air flight from JFK direct to JNB. All I can say is be prepared with plenty to do and plenty of sleep meds. I sense this plane is usually pretty full since it is the only direct flight from the NY area, so don’t count on spreading out in some empty seats. The coach seats are a little narrower than other international seats I have been in, and I need every available inch, so they were a bit uncomfortable for my wide 6’3” frame. Food was good and plentiful and the individual video players were great for movie watchers (bring your 2 prong headphone adaptor).

Connecting through JNB to Livingstone was pretty easy. When you land you are bussed to the international terminal. You will have to go through customs and security, so leave time (we had about 2.5 hours which was plenty). They wanted to see our yellow fever inoculation cards at JNB since we were going to Zambia.
The SAA flight to Livingstone was about 1.5 hours, and we were fed again with sandwiches and beverages. Livingstone airport is small and the customs area only had one or two agents, so sitting in the front of the plane was definitely a plus for us time wise. Drivers for our first Wilderness Safaris camp, Toka Leya, were waiting for us with their van right outside the front door.

The drive to Toka Leya Lodge goes through downtown Livingstone, a busy little city with tons of people on foot and bicycle. It takes about 15-20 minutes to arrive, and we are brought to a small boat to transport us on the Zambezi River to the Lodge, while our bags are delivered via the van. Wildlife is immediately visible on the river as 4 hippos dash into the river at the sound of our boat. Upon arrival, we are offered cool towels and a drink, and then are briefed as to the camp and activities available, as well as making selections for dinner entrée. We then were escorted to our rooms, which were drop dead gorgeous!!! Great view of the river from the deck in front of the tent/cabin. The inside had beautiful wood floors, chairs and a great bed, with A/C and heat. Indoor and outdoor showers! Within two hours we were treated to our first close up with wildlife, as a small elephant herd came in to the property to feast on the brush.
After high tea, we went out on the Sunset Cruise and saw a huge variety of wildlife and birds, not to mention a great sunset over the river. We returned for dinner and and were joined by Jackie, a member of the staff, who was great company. Food was excellent, as it was throughout our journey. While at Toka Leya we did both a helicopter tour and walking tour of Victoria Falls, a visit to a nearby village to deliver some school supplies we had brought, and took two game drives in the nearby national park (one to see the white rhinos in their preserve area). Two of our group bungee jumped off of the Victoria Falls Bridge. On the last night there we met our guide, Richard, who was to be with us for the balance of our journey.

Our group of seven departed early in the AM for Livingstone airport (bring your departure tax in LOCAL currency) to fly to Kasane airport in Botswana on a Wilderness plane, only a 15 minute flight. There we were shuttled to the Chobe River Lodge for about a 3.5 hour trip on the Chobe River (lunch included), which was full of wildlife (no big cats). We had close encounters with several different animals and got incredible pictures there. Returning to the airport, we then flew to Linyanti airstrip (40 minutes) where two vehicles met us… one for us, one for our bags. We took the long route (about 3 hours) to Linyanti Discoverer Camp as a game drive while our bags preceded us. A lion pride with cubs was the highlight on this trip, and we arrived at the camp after sunset to the staff singing us our welcome.

These tents are not as luxurious as Toka Leya, but certainly more than adequate. 12×18 or so plus the bathroom area. Water is solar heated at all camps so sometimes it takes a while to get warm, but is certainly plentiful. 5 tents here plus a very comfortable common area with bar, seating area, and dining table. The common area is waterside along the Linyanti River and has wonderful views along the shore where elephants often come for their daily drink. This camp also has a boma area where we had dinner one night, eating a meal cooked over the nearby fire. After dinner at this and all locations was generally spent sipping Amarula (think Bailey’s Irish Crème) around the fire. Activities here were generally day and night game drives, but we did take a short hike with our guide, where we dodged a few elephants and studied dung… which is a lot more interesting than it sounds.

Our next 3 day stop was Khwai Discoverer Camp, which was quite similar as to the camp style, but we saw a different mix of wildlife here, as well as endless downed trees from the elephant population. There were Canadian style canoes available at this camp, but because of the lower water levels nearby and the heavy brush, we were unable to use them. We did night and day drives here as well as a hike of about 5 km. Make sure that you take an opportunity on your night drives to turn out all the lights in your vehicle and just look at the stars. Just spectacular to see the Milky Way so clearly. And by the way, the staff here love to sing. We were entertained with 6 songs around the campfire on our last night here.
Our last stop was the recently redone Jacana Camp in the Okavango Delta. Great beds, a beautiful bathroom with an outdoor shower that had an incredible view. The hosts here were especially wonderful and friendly. Most of the activities here are water based (mokoro trips, boat rides looking for birds), but we did take a ride to the Jao flats area for a game drive. At this location you are likely to see many more birds of interest (fish eagles, kingfishers, egrets, storks)… we actually did find a Pel’s fishing owl on our trip. Elephants and hippos were regular visitors to the little island that Jacana Camp is on. One night, 5 feet away from our front door, an elephant spent about ½ hour eating brush. The noises were just amazing … we could have reached out and touched this giant if we had the guts to.

Some things to remember? Bring layers of clothes and be prepared for some cold nights. We had two nights with no heat in the 30s, and even with the hot water bottles (AKA bush babys), it was chilly. Baldy’s like me should have a fleece hat to sleep in. Bring your battery chargers and a few different adaptors for your camera equipment. Every camp could accommodate charging batteries, so bring these things plus extra batteries as you will be taking thousands of pictures.

The camps are not necessarily close to the air strips, and while that is basically a good thing (no noise) it also means a long drive of 2 plus hours each way. Keep that in mind also when considering your medical situation. As we found out when one of our party needed to be flown out for an X-ray, it ain’t easy to get to health care (although the staff made it as easy as it possibly could be).I cannot overemphasize how valuable it was to have one guide all the way through our trip. Richard Avilino was an amazing tracker and source of invaluable information. He also had an incredible 6th sense about where animals were that made it all seem so easy.

In summary, we were thrilled with the service and hospitality shown by all the staff at every location. Every one of them were caring, concerned individuals. We would highly recommend the Wilderness Safaris group…. They would often surprise us with special things like dinners at remote locations, and of course the famous sundowners as well. And since WS owns so many concession areas in Botswana, we often felt like we were totally alone out there. No cell phones, Ipads, etc., just made it that much nicer. We will probably never get to go again….but we were so glad we had this wonderful two weeks together.

Thank you to African Portfolio in Old Greenwich CT for helping to pull it all together.

Staying in Touch While on Safari

April 27th, 2012

One of the best things about going on safari is leaving all the hubbub of your daily work and life behind, and truly immersing yourself in nature. The vibrations you sense should come from the rumbling stomach of an elephant, not the phone in your back pocket. But while we love the “tech-free” aspect of a safari, we understand that teenagers may break out in hives at the thought of no Facebook for a week. And life at home does continue while you’re away having fun. A working cell phone can be a “nice to have” on safari.

Will My Cell Phone Work in Africa?
The best way to make sure you can be reached while on safari is to check in with your cell phone provider. Most larger companies like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon have special international plans. Sign up for a plan in advance to make sure you don’t end up paying an arm and a leg for a basic call or text. Specify the countries you are traveling to. Ask for details on rates and find out if it will cost extra for your friends and family to call you too. Ask how much they charge for basic roaming fees. You don’t want to rack up hundreds of dollars worth of bills because you’re playing Scramble with your sister back home in between game drives.

Going Local
If you’re only planning to use your phone for emergencies or a quick call or two, then there probably isn’t a need for you to rent a local phone, buy a local sim card (you need an unlocked phone), or a pre-paid phone card. But if you know you’ll be making daily calls, or you’d like to have internet access while on safari, it’s worth looking at some of those options. If you need to make some quick local calls and don’t want to be charged international rates, use a local pay phone or borrow someone’s cell phone (everyone has them, even in the bush).

Scope out Skype
Using Skype is a cheap and easy way to stay in touch with friends and family but you do need an internet connection. Most hotels and safari lodges will have wifi access, but the fees can be quite steep and it’s generally only available in larger towns and cities. You can also use Skype to call someone’s cell phone or land line, which is very useful because you don’t have to wait for your receiving party to get online. The reception is very clear and it’s certainly cheaper than any international phone plan out there.

More Tips on Staying Connected

  • Leave your phone behind while on game drives or other safari based activities. Nothing will disturb the tranquility of the African bush more so than a call with auntie Madge in New Jersey at full volume.
  • Keep all your electronic gadgets on airplane mode and/or no-roaming to avoid extra costs and draining your battery. Practice how to do this before you leave. If you don’t know how to, ask any 13 year old and they will figure it out in seconds.
  • Bring the right adapters to recharge your phone/tablet
  • Internet connections are generally slower in many African countries than what you are used to at home. Uploading a bunch of photos while on your trip can waste precious time and get expensive.
  • If your cell phone does not work despite your best efforts, don’t panic. Every safari camp or lodge no matter how remote will have a cell phone at their base that works in emergencies. Leave a detailed itinerary of your trip with someone at home, along with contact numbers (including the international dialing code) and they will be able to reach you.

Contact us for more handy tips and to help plan an enjoyable and stress-free safari in Africa.

Insuring a Great Safari

March 13th, 2012

Travel insurance is a boring topic, but it’s a vital part of planning a safari, and we are experts at that! Because safaris take place in rather remote locations, clients of African Portfolio are covered for emergency medical services and/or evacuation transportation while on safari. We also encourage all our clients to purchase additional trip cancellation/interruption insurance. Here are some tips to help you decide on what insurance coverage you may wish to get before you go on your African safari.

Trip Cancellation
Because planning a safari requires a decent amount of pre-planning time (we recommend you start at least 6 months – 1 year in advance) as well as an upfront financial investment, it’s important to get an insurance policy that covers trip cancellation. Who knows what may happen in 6 months; life is always surprising so it’s best to be on the safe side. If your airline will refund part of your ticket upon cancellation, calculate the part that will not get refunded as your trip cost when figuring out your insurance coverage. If you think your job may interfere with your planned trip, then add cancellation protection for “business reasons” to your policy.

Medical Emergencies/Evacuations

Medical emergencies, if they arise while you are on safari, are likely to require some air transportation which gets costly. Keep your insurance carrier’s number on hand while traveling. Should an emergency situation arise, call them first if possible. They will often have specific emergency measures and service providers in place, and will help make all the necessary arrangements for you. If you make your own arrangements without consulting them though, all your out of pocket costs may not necessarily be covered.

Best Time to Get Travel Insurance?
It’s best to purchase your travel insurance as far in advance as possible. Pre-existing medical conditions are usually not covered if you buy the insurance more than 14 days after your initial payment, and if you think you may need to cancel for business reasons, you will also need to purchase the insurance within 14 days. So it is just generally “good practice” to make that extra investment in insurance at this stage. We recommend you do so when you put down a deposit for your safari. You’re filling out lots of paperwork anyway so it’s easy to do it all at the same time while the details are fresh in your mind.

More Travel Insurance Tidbits to Keep in Mind

  • A basic travel insurance plan will generally cost about 5% – 7% of the value of your trip
  • Children under 18 are usually covered under their parent’s policy at the time of purchase.
  • Read the fine print and call the insurance company with questions.
  • If you need to use your medical benefits, call the insurance company to make sure you are covered and what get advice on which doctor/service they expect you to use.
  • Some credit cards carry travel insurance policies, but you have to use the card to pay for your trip and you MUST double check to see what they cover; they are masters of disguise, just remember nothing is free!
  • Most insurance companies will re-imburse you for costs you incur during your trip, like a doctor’s visit. So keep your receipts. If something gets stolen, make sure you get a local police report that lists the items clearly.

As mentioned above, we’re not insurance experts but we have some experience with clients who have had to use policies in the past, so don’t hesitate to contact us with questions if you are booking your trip with us. We generally recommend the classic travel insurance plan through Allianz.

More Practical Tips: Tourist Visa Advice l Staying Healthy on Safari l When to Plan Your Safari

Marrakech Escapes

February 17th, 2012

The joy of visiting Marrakech is finding yourself somewhere truly exotic. The hustle and bustle of the medina is uncompromising. Dodging donkeys and mopeds while trying to find your way to the next beautiful palace is all part of the fun. Eating kebabs on the Djemma el Fnaa while watching snake charmers and story tellers entertain, is a real “if only they could see me now” experience. But sometimes the quiet haven of a luxury Riad is not quite enough to relax you after several days of sightseeing. So if you find yourself looking for a little peace to recharge your batteries, we recommend a sojourn to the coast, mountains or desert.

Essaouira is a small port on the Atlantic coast, just a two hour drive from Marrakech, but a world away from the hubbub. It’s walled medina offers lovely shopping, spice markets and antiques, in a tranquil setting. There are wonderful Riads to stay in, and excellent restaurants to enjoy. The seafood along the harbour is particularly delicious. French expats have been coming here for decades, and many have second homes here. You can take yoga classes, stroll down the old ramparts, and enjoy some traditional music in the evenings. Our favorite places to stay include the delectable and luxurious palace L’Heure Bleue, and the chic intimate Riad Madada Mogador

The Atlas Mountains
You can see the majestic Atlas Mountains from the rooftops of Marrakech, they’re just a few hours drive from the city and a world away in terms of peace and tranquility. You can hike every day of the year, and explore Berber villages tucked away in beautiful valleys. If you enjoy trekking, Djebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak is in reach, as well as a dozen other peaks. If you just like to rest and breathe some clear mountain air while enjoying traditional Berber hospitality, a few nights at either Kasbah du Toubkal or the magnificent Kasbah Tamadot are just the ticket. Taking a donkey ride or a half day hike, followed by a visit to the hammam is how we like to spend our time.

The Desert
While you can ride a camel in the Palmeraie, just outside of Marrakech, but riding the “ship of the desert” in the Saharan dunes is incomparable. The dunes of the Erg Chebbi in Merzouga are truly awe inspiring and no movie or photo can do justice to the real thing. The color of the sand, the texture and the patterns the wind makes as it blows over, are all utterly mesmerizing. Unfortunately, getting to the dunes from Marrakech requires a long day drive, but it’s a pretty one! We recommend the comfortable Kasbah Tombouctou. Camel rides are optional, but the experience of staying in a Bedouin tent should not be and we like to spend a night under the stars at the luxury camp Erg Chigaga.

Please contact us for more information and check out our Moroccan itineraries to get a taste of what we offer.

Getting Mileage Out of Your Miles

February 3rd, 2012

In our experience it’s not easy or convenient to use airline miles (or reward points) to get to Africa. Getting an airline to release seats for points on exactly the days that match your safari itinerary is difficult to find. Also, because there are not a lot of direct flights, many of our clients end up stopping over in Europe. The taxes alone, especially via London, will set you back quite some dollars.

Here are some tips that will help you succeed in finding the best value for your money, or miles, to get to Africa:

Book Far in Advance: Begin looking for flights 330 days before you wish to travel, that’s as far in advance as the airlines schedule their flights. Unfortunately, this is not always the time that they allow you to use your points or miles. Airlines like to wait and see how the full fare tickets are selling, before they offer discounts. Make sure that you do not book your flights before you have planned your safari!

Get Familiar With Alliance Agreements: It is much nicer to fly to Africa direct if possible, than endure a layover in Europe or the Middle East. Unfortunately the list of airlines that fly direct is slim from the US. They include Royal Air Moroc, Egypt Air, Delta, United, South African Airways and Ethiopian. Check with the lists of alliance partners to see if one of these airlines will accept your miles, before trying anything else. Star Alliance is one of the largest groups, and includes United/Continental, US Air, South African Airways, Egypt Air and Ethiopian.

Avoid Stopping in Europe if Possible: We used to like European stopovers because it saved our clients a lot of money. But with airport and security taxes going through the roof, a European stop over is not always a good deal anymore, even when using miles. Stopping in Europe also takes an extra day that you could be enjoying on safari instead. So unless you have to stop over, see if you can fly direct to save time and money.

Check out the Middle East options: Emirates has an extensive network in Africa and you can get some great deals on flights to destinations like the Seychelles, Nairobi, Mauritius, Uganda, Johannesburg, Tanzania and more. If you fly to Africa regularly, they have a generous mileage program, although unfortunately they don’t partner with any US airlines as of this time. But they do have truly wonderful service on their flights. We’ve also experienced much more convenient layover times.

Getting “Close” is not Always Good Enough: We have had euphoric clients that managed to use their miles to get to Gaborone, only to find out that they really needed to be in Kasane. Botswana is a big country, and internal flights don’t always come cheap. Booking agents at airlines don’t necessarily have a great grasp of African geography, so you can’t rely on them to know where to fly you. And unfortunately many African airports do not top the list of “best airports to sleep in“! Speak to your African travel specialist and make sure you are booking flights to the exact destination that matches your safari itinerary.

And If all fails … Do what our senior consultant Yvette does. Pay for your flights to Africa with American Express and use the huge amount of points you accrue to save on domestic flights, or give them to friends as gifts!

If you are booking a safari with us, we are happy to offer any advice on flights to Africa, current deals we are aware of, and other useful tips. Contact us!

When To Plan Your Safari

January 20th, 2012

At African Portfolio, we’re often asked “how far in advance should we plan our safari?” It’s a very good question and the quick answer would be, “ideally a year”. For some people though, a year is an awfully long time to plan ahead. Who knows what will happen over the course of a busy year, and to pay for and confirm a trip that far in advance can be a bit daunting. But note that the planning itself only takes a few weeks, you just want to start the process well in advance. If you follow our advice below you can guarantee yourself the safari you’ve dreamed about.

Choosing Where to Go
When you’re booking a safari you’ll need to make decisions about what you’d like to see. Do you have your heart set on seeing: gorillas, the Big Five, whales, cultural festivals, birds, the “great migration”, tropical beaches? There are a lot of options and you want to have enough time to weigh each one. Once you’ve determined what you would like to experience you can start to figure out the best time of year to go on safari. Of course, that’s where your travel consultant can help you. If you are an avid birder and also want some beach time, there are really only a few months a year where these two activities are at their respective peaks, since one requires rain and the other sun! So starting to plan in advance gives you the best chance of catching that perfect window and allows companies like ours to translate your dreams into realty. More on “Where to Go on Safari”…

Getting There
Airline reservation systems start showing flights 330 days in advance. With direct flights to Africa being few and far between, this is when you want to book your seat so you can get the lowest possible fare. Given the lack of competition between airlines for flights to Africa, there are very few sales to take advantage of. If you wish to use Airline miles for your flights, then you certainly want to book as soon as the schedule is published.

Booking Hotels, Camps and Lodges
Of course there are more accommodation options than airplane seats, but you may be surprised to discover that the best safari camps fill up a year in advance. This is especially the case around Christmas and at the height of the safari season. Luxury safari camps cater to fewer than 20 guests, so availability runs out very quickly especially if you need more than one room. One of the most enjoyable aspects of planning a safari is browsing through the incredible camps on offer, so make sure to book far in advance to avoid any disappointment. More about Safari Camps and Lodges …

Planning Over … The Fun Begins
Once the planning stage is over and you have the itinerary in hand, then you can relax and look forward to the trip. Try and read as much as possible about the destinations you’ll be visiting, it truly enriches the whole experience. Add some of our favorite inspirational movies to your Netflix list and get in the mood. Practice taking pictures with the cameras you plan to bring along, a great idea is to visit your local zoo.

Final Prep
A few months before your trip, you should check in with your travel clinic to get the right immunizations and malaria prophylactics if necessary. At this time you should also find out if you need a tourist visa and double check to make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after you arrive in Africa.

More: Safari FAQ’s l Safari Planning 101 l Safari Budget Tips