Home : Plan your African Safari

Plan your Luxury African Safari



Planning a safari is quite unlike the planning for most of your previous travels. The preparation and anticipation of the actual trip can be almost as exciting as the safari itself! Below are the main questions you should ask yourself in beginning the planning process. We suggest you take some time to read through these questions and think about or jot down your responses to them. Then once you have a better idea of your preferences, we can talk about how to match your interests and requirements to the destinations, accommodations, tours and activities that best suit your criteria. So the idea is to take it step by step, from Safari 101 (just learning what it’s all about) to booking your own, personalized “dream trip to Africa”. Once you have a clear idea of the kind of safari or tour you want, you can search our Find Your Adventure section for a personalized selection of trips. We look forward to working with you through this discovery and educational process towards the goal of helping you decide on the perfect safari adventure!

Where Should I Go On Safari?


African Portfolio offers safaris to each of these three regions. To understand how these regions differ, select one of the following links for more information.

East and Central Africa
Southern Africa
Indian Ocean Islands

What to Expect on Safari?


For most people, holidays mean spontaneity and control of their time and what better than a safari, combining comfort and untamed wilderness, to deliver this freedom? It can come as a surprise, then, to arrive in camp and find your daily routine dictated by the workings of the bush and the logistics of running a remote operation. Dawn alarm-calls, set mealtimes and a ban on solitary walks makes it all sound more like boot camp than Out of Africa. Yet the day is designed to maximize game-viewing success as well as guests' safety and comfort. The following timeline shows the framework of a typical day on safari. Remember, however, that this is a general outline. Throughout Africa there are variations. In southern Africa, for example, several lodges may operate a system of longer game activities with two main meals (brunch and dinner) and larger snack offerings in early morning, afternoon and on the game-drive. The routine may also vary depending on your location and the scenery and activities available. Seasonal changes also need to be considered. The timeline presented will hold true for most times of the year except mid-winter, when it can be so chilly at dawn that even the wildlife rises late. Your morning routine may be changed around, so that your game drive takes place after breakfast, which will be taken earlier. Safaris may be more structured than most ordinary holidays, but with an understanding of the routine, you can tailor them to fit your needs (even if you can't arrange the whole day according to your whim). Camp staff is generally as accommodating and flexible as possible. It's fine if you're tired and want to skip a game drive or a meal. If it's pouring with rain at dawn, the game drive can take place later, when the rain has stopped but before it gets too hot again. Further activities can also be arranged, but be reasonable with your requests: your guides have a long working day, from dawn until after dinner, and their breaks are well earned. Ultimately, life in a lodge is centered on you having the most enjoyable and successful safari possible.

 

A Day In The Life On Safari

 

5.00 to 6.00 am - Wake up with the animals

This isn't a holiday for enjoying sleeping in. Most game-viewing activities occur early morning and late afternoon, when the light is rich and animals are not hiding from the searing midday sun. This highly logical behavior forms the basic structure for safari camp life. You'll be woken in your tent or chalet by staff bringing tea or coffee (place your order the night before) and a basin of hot water for washing (if you don't have running water). Alternatively, hot drinks and rusks might be served in the dining area or round the fire before the morning's game drive, walk or mokoro (dugout) trip.

6.00 to 9.00 am - Morning game activities

The guides will show you the best of the area. Be sure to ask if you have any special requests to see particular places or species. Water and soft drinks - sometimes coffee and rusks - are carried on board. Drink enough to avoid dehydration. On cold winter mornings, the game drive may occur a little later, after an early breakfast, when the day is warming up.

9.00 to 10.00 am Breakfast

Breakfast is the first self-control test of the day. Large amounts of good food will be laid before you, but as safari life is relatively inactive (unless you're on a walking safari), several days in camp can feel like a premeditated assault on your waistline. Expect a buffet of cereals, fruit, toast, and "The full bacon-and-eggs Monty," cooked to order. Usually this is served at the lodge, although some camps, especially in East Africa, will vary the routine by including a bush breakfast. Staff will set this up during your game activity. In southern Africa there is an increasing trend towards having longer morning game activities prior to a brunch, a real feast to see you through to afternoon tea.

10.00 to 12.30 pm - Free time

Tempting as it may be, you can't go wandering off into the bush on your own. Most camps or lodges have a small library containing reference books about the bush and wildlife, and possibly novels left by other guests, but it's advisable to take a couple of your own books. You could play cards or use the time for things you don't normally have time to do, such as sketching. This is an excellent time for bird watching, as camps are usually constructed in the shade of trees. Many also overlook waterholes and there may be a hide you could sit at. You'll be surprised how good the game viewing can be at this time. It may seem like a void at first, but you soon appreciate having this free time structured into your day.

12.30 to 1.30 pm - Lunch

Meals are at set times due to the obvious logistical constraints of preparing feasts over a fire in the bush and of keeping prepared food fresh. Lunch usually comprises a buffet of salads, often with hot options, bread baked in the coals and a choice of puddings. Meals are the main chance to mix with other guests; potluck dictates how agreeable they are. Some camps arrange a special honeymoon meal as a one-off treat, so newly-weds can eat in a private (but safe) spot surrounded only by wilderness.

1.30 to 3.30 pm - Siesta time

When the heat haze rises, cicadas screech and light becomes blinding, all sane living things head for cover. It's siesta time. If it's really hot and you don't have a fan, try lying beneath a damp sarong to keep cool. Some lodges will have a swimming pool or individual plunge pools to help you cool off. Alternatively, savour the peace and carry on sketching, reading or playing cards. Most tents and chalets have private balconies where you can relax in peace.

3.30 to 4.00 pm - Afternoon tea

Mid-afternoon, staff will wake you by knocking discreetly. If you have a bucket shower, they may bring warm water now so you are fresh for afternoon tea. You're likely to be offered cake or biscuits (as if you haven't eaten much today), however if you have had a large brunch in late morning, a spread of savories may be served.

4.00 to 7.30 pm - Game viewing

Evening game drive or walk - a chance to search for a particular species you haven't yet seen, or perhaps follow the progress of a pride or herd spotted earlier. Guides usually find a scenic viewing spot for sundowners. Dusk is short and darkness comes quickly in Africa, so by the time you're driving back to camp, you'll probably be using a spotlight to pick out animals' luminous eyes and shadowy forms. You're likely to return to the lodge about one and a half hours after dark.

7.30 - 10.00 pm - Dinnertime

There'll be about 15-30 minutes for getting changed and having aperitifs round the campfire. Dinner is usually candle-lit and can be al fresco or within an open-sided dining area. Three courses, with wine, is the norm, possibly including some game meat like impala or ostrich. There may be a choice of two dishes and most lodges are very good at providing a wide-ranging menu during your stay. The food in most camps is excellent, but do tell the camp manager if you have any specific dietary requirements or dislikes. Dress codes vary between camps; smart-casual is usually appropriate.

10.00 - late - Winding down

The most interesting conversations take place over digestifs around the fire. Revelry can continue into the night if people are feeling boisterous (staff will stay up as late as you want), but often it feels natural to sleep early, following the rhythms of the bush. In unlit camps, guests may be given torches or a lantern for finding their way to their tents, or they may be escorted. By special request, or if there has been an interesting sighting in the area, there may be a night drive. An informed guide may give you a lesson in Africa's incredible stars. Fall asleep to the chorus of the bush. And while animals generally don't pass through camp during daytime, they may well do so in darkness, keeping you guessing as to which spoor (footprints) will appear overnight.

When Is A Good Time Of Year To Go?


You will hear varying ideas about the timing of your trip, but keep in mind that people travel year round to all the destinations on this website. Each season has its advantages, so if you have fixed dates for travel, chances are you will be able to have a great trip no matter where you are going. It is important to understand the seasonal trends and how they will affect your trip; but remember that weather is variable and so it is quite possible to go for days without rain during the peak of the rainy season, or have thundershowers in the middle of the dry season. The drier seasons are generally considered preferable for game viewing. Dry weather offers more reliable road conditions and in the winter months, milder daytime temperatures. Dry spells force game to congregate around the limited water sources, and sparser foliage makes the animals somewhat easier to find and see. While these are prime game viewing conditions, bear in mind that naturally, all properties enjoy their highest occupancy, and game reserves and parks endure more traffic, during these dry seasons. When considering smaller, more intimate, safari camps and lodges, it is necessary to book well in advance, particularly for travel from June through October.

EAST AND CENTRAL 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. Dry seasons offer excellent visibility and more reliable road conditions, and game tends to congregate around the limited water sources, making the animals easier to find. July and August are generally extremely busy in East Africa, offering comfortable temperatures in addition to being a popular time for travel worldwide, so be sure to book well in advance. December sees increased local tourism, so expect holiday surcharges and limited availability. In the Masai Mara and Serengeti, the movements of the migrating wildebeest contribute to the desirability of certain areas at certain times, and this might influence your itinerary, selections or costs.

SOUTHERN AFRICA

The rainy season (characterized mainly by thunderstorms during the afternoon) runs from late November through mid-April in the safari regions; however, the southern Cape and coastline of South Africa is experiencing summer at that time and is a wonderful place to visit. This area can also be cold and rainy during their winter from June through August. Often high season rates for the safari regions go into effect in July so it is sometimes possible to save a bit of money by traveling prior to that, in the shoulder season. May and June can be delightful months to travel. December sees massive local tourism, (e.g., summer school vacation combined with heavy holiday traffic) so expect holiday surcharges, crowded beaches and limited availability throughout. Due to the smaller size of safari camps and lodges in southern Africa, it is necessary to book well in advance, particularly for travel from June through September.

INDIAN OCEAN ISLANDS

Generally the weather is similar to that of southern Africa, with the summer rains lasting from November through April, with occasional cyclones during that time. The dry season from May to October is ideal.

What Is My Budget?


This is one of the most important questions to consider when selecting a trip. While there are some travelers for whom cost considerations are not an issue, most of our clients want to work within a budget and have a specific price range in mind. This is an extremely important criteria in helping us select an appropriate safari for you. The adage, “you get what you pay for,” probably holds true when planning a safari. There is a safari priced for just about everybody, but there are major differences in accommodations, services, transportation and food. It’s important that you consider how much “roughing it” you’re willing to do before you plan your safari. Whether you’re part of an organized tour or are interested in a custom designed tour for you and your family, will also affect the price tag. An experienced and qualified, specialty tour operator will be aware of the reputable and not-so-reputable safari companies, current prices as well as conditions in Africa that might impact on your trip. The following are factors that affect the cost of a trip:

LEVEL OF LUXURY

In general, the more luxurious the safari, the more expensive the trip. Safari camps can range from $250 to $1000 per person per night, not including transfers from one region/camp to another, which are frequently by air. However, the cost at most safari camps and lodges normally includes all your meals, game drives and most other game viewing activities on offer. Sometimes drinks and laundry are also included in the rate. So when you consider the additional cost of these other components, relative to the average price for a 4-5 star hotel (room only), the safari rate is quite a bargain! Always allow for tips and souvenirs when planning your “spending money”. Exchange rates and fuel prices fluctuate, and can have an impact on the final cost of your safari in some cases. Similarly, governments periodically change visa fees, park fees, tourism levies or sales taxes, which can impact travel costs. Try to determine what you can realistically afford, and keep in mind that in general, you get what you pay for: safaris are no exception. Do not buy into the popular misconception that because much of Africa is “third world”, accommodations and services are cheap. At African Portfolio, we are admittedly fussy about the quality of service and lodging we offer, and we are especially particular about the guides and operators we use, because they will determine not only the success of your game viewing, but also the value and quality of the whole experience and eventually – your memories of Africa!

LENGTH OF TRIP

The per-day-per-person-budget is a good rule of thumb for determining how long you can travel. Simply shortening a trip by a few days can sometimes cut the cost by hundreds of dollars. Moving around less usually saves on costly transfers or regional flights and can also make for a more relaxed, focused experience. With most camps and lodges, three nights will afford you a good opportunity to see what characterizes the area, and to partake in all the activities on offer at a relaxed pace. Moving around more can often result in seeing less of what you traveled to Africa for in the first place! On the other hand, the time and expense in getting to Africa is significant, so we would encourage you to spend as much time as you possibly can in this amazing part of the world. Rushing your trip to save money is rarely worthwhile, and while many clients find themselves going back time and again, Africa is still a distant and a remote destination – and this might be one of few, if not your only opportunity to go on safari!

SELECTION OF CAMPS, LODGES AND HOTELS

African Portfolio has always maintained complete independence and objectivity when selecting and recommending specific safari camps, lodges and hotels for our clients. This allows us the freedom to combine whatever areas, properties and activities we believe will suit you best, without the limitations and extra cost of inbound operators or destination managers. We enjoy a great reputation and wonderful relationship with properties and ground handlers all over East and Southern Africa, and as our client, you share in the advantage of various preferred rates, combination packages and incentive fares, as well as preferential treatment as very important guests! Let us suggest the ideal combination of properties, venues, activities and destinations for your trip to ensure that you have not only the best possible safari experience based on your own interests and preferences, but also the best value for the money that you’re spending on this dream trip!

ACTIVITIES

The safari portion of your trip is likely to be the most costly. Safari camps are generally all-inclusive, which means the cost of the accommodations, meals, guides, game activities, and park entry fees are included. Staying at a hotel or a beach resort is often less expensive than a safari camp because you pay for meals, tours and other activities, on an “a la carte” basis—as you choose during your stay. Combining a safari with a few days at the beach or with a self-drive tour along the Garden Route in Cape Town in South Africa, for instance, can make a trip more affordable.

SEASON

High season prices can vary quite dramatically from the low season rates for the same safari camps and lodges. Rates for high season are applicable for a reason, as often the game viewing is at its best during these times of year and space is at a premium. However, if peak game viewing is not critical and you are flexible with your travel dates, you can still have a wonderful safari experience at a considerably lower price when traveling in low or “green” seasons. The bonus is that you will find the areas less crowded and have less difficulty confirming space.

What Is My Travel Style?


This is probably the least tangible of all the factors, but one of the most fun to determine. For example, are you the “cruise ship type” who only looks to un-pack once and be transported from one place to the next with little or no input as to what you see and do? Or are you more “hands on” and look to be more interactive when it comes to the planning of and participating in your safari?

LUXURY, MODERATE OR RUSTIC?

The level of accommodation that you are expecting on safari is important to consider. Do you want unabashed luxury or 2-man dome tents or something in between? While this is very much a function of personal style, as well as budget, we prefer to design an itinerary with consistent levels of accommodation throughout. It is possible to combine different levels of accommodation on different parts of your trip; however we are adamant that you have the right expectations for each of the places you go. One of the most significant differences from one safari to another is in the degree of luxury, reflected of course in the price. High-end safaris will transport you by small plane, always with a guide, to posh lodges with every comfort. You’ll find dining and lounging facilities and a bar in a main building offering lots of African atmosphere. You’ll be accommodated in a private bungalow or permanent walled tent (complete with toilet and shower) under a thatched roof. Mid-range safaris will offer some similarities, but you’ll probably be transported by minivan (in East Africa), not by plane; and you may be transferred from place to place without a guide. You may stay at larger lodges, with more fellow guests and less personal service or at somewhat less luxurious lodges. Budget or rustic safaris are further stripped down. Transport is a bus, minivan, or open truck. Service is mostly up to you. Some budget safaris use permanent campsites with tents and showers already in place. However, at the lowest prices, you may end up pitching a well-worn tent yourself and sleeping on the ground on a too-thin mattress. You’ll make do with an outdoor latrine and shower, or none at all, and lend a hand preparing meals you won’t write home about. On the plus side, you’ll actually be camping in the bush — like a real safari — and you’ll meet budget travelers from around the world. But if budget is what you are looking for, make sure that camping is your “thing”.

WHO IS TRAVELING?

The age range and makeup of your party should be taken into account. Some safari camps do not allow children under age 12; some mobile camping safaris do not allow guests over the age of 65. A family has different requirements than a honeymoon couple. While some safaris are kid-friendly, keep in mind that a certain amount of quiet, concentration, patience, and immobility is required. If you are traveling on business, this may affect our suggestion for your safari; if you are traveling alone, some safaris are better choices than others.

SMALL GROUP OR INDEPENDENT?

Most of our clients are well traveled and enjoy a combination of small group and independent travel. Group trips are generally no larger than 8 – 16 participants, with minimum and maximum age limits and set departure dates. Independent travel is obviously much more flexible, allowing you to depart at any time, travel for as long as you wish, to the camps of your choice. While we call it "independent travel," there is always someone to meet you at the airport and transfer you to your safari camp or hotel, so even solo travelers can feel comfortable knowing that they will be well-looked after on the ground.

ROAD OR AIR?

Travel by road or air is an important question to consider in selecting a trip. Sometimes both options are not available – so the decision is essentially made for you. Travel by air, while generally more expensive, is the most efficient means of transportation, transferring you between safari camps easily and with plenty of time to enjoy activities at both camps, which is why you are on safari after all! Generally the planes are small, so those with difficulties with small aircraft should plan their trips accordingly. Travel by road can be exhausting, covering considerable distances on dusty roads in safari vehicles and it is definitely time-consuming. Nevertheless, overland travel affords you the opportunity to see some of the countryside and local villages between destinations, perhaps giving you a more realistic glimpse into a day in the life of the people whose country you are visiting. For some travelers, this is the only way to go.

GUIDES AND VEHICLES

We firmly believe that your safari guide is a critical component of the success of the overall safari experience. A great guide can make all the difference, and African Portfolio endeavors to use the best guides available. East Africa is currently standardizing its guide requirements, while southern Africa has long been known for its lengthy and intensive guide training. In East Africa, you are likely to have the same guide throughout if traveling by road, which allows you to get to know him or her, and build upon each day's experiences. If you are flying or traveling in southern Africa, you will have guides from each camp who are thoroughly knowledgeable about the concessions or National Parks that they traverse on a daily basis. Safari guides each tend to have their own personal specialty or area of expertise so you can benefit from the diversity of knowledge that each of these guides will share with you. Vehicles in southern Africa are generally open 4 x 4 land rovers or land cruisers, while most vehicles in East Africa are minivans with an opening roof hatch to allow you the best visibility this type of vehicle can offer. It is also possible to have a 4 x 4 vehicle in East Africa, although this option is more expensive.

Safari Planning 101


We know all tours are not created equal … but how can you tell? Here are some tips from the pros on the finer points and the fine print to help you avoid the most common mistakes made by first time safari travelers.

Ask for a detailed itinerary from your tour or safari operator. Try to determine what you can afford, and keep in mind that in general, you get what you pay for: safaris are no exception, so know what you’re getting!
Pay close attention to what’s included and what’s not included in the cost. A “Fully Inclusive” rate includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, teas and a minimum of two game viewing activities per day. Alternatively, while “Full Board” may sound good, it only includes your meals. All your safari activities are charged separately – oftentimes at an additional $100-$200+ per person per day.
Keep in mind that a 10-day tour means 9 nights, and if this includes your flying time to and from Africa, you could be looking at as little as 6 nights on safari.
Make sure that park fees are included in the price you’re quoted. They might be just $30 per person per day, but for two people on a ten-day safari – that’s an additional $600!
Ask whether taxes are included – especially on airfare. It’s not unheard of for taxes to be $350 or more and they rarely come to less than $200 per person on a transatlantic flight.
Ask to know the exact name of every lodge, camp or hotel visited on your tour. Don’t settle for phrases like, “You overnight in the Masai Mara”, which means practically nothing when you try to evaluate or compare trips. As importantly, you certainly have a right to know the details of what you are buying BEFORE you spend a dime.
Ask about the safari vehicles: are they open or closed? Is there a roof hatch that opens up? How many passengers do they take? Are you guaranteed a window seat? How much fun is a safari if you’re packed like sardines in your vehicle, staring at your neighbor’s knees all day?
If you’re traveling alone – expect to pay a single supplement, which may vary from nominal to almost 100% of the trip cost, depending on the logistics involved and the expertise of your safari planner. An experienced and knowledgeable safari planner can recommend a trip that offers the best value for a single traveler, sometimes even eliminating this extra charge altogether!
When setting aside your “spending money” allow for tips, drinks, and miscellaneous expenses like visas, levies, laundry and gifts. Remember exchange rates and fuel prices fluctuate and governments periodically change visa fees, park fees, tourism levies or sales taxes, all factors that impact travel costs. Your safari planner should be able to offer sound advice about how much extra to budget for these “unplanned” expenses.

In general, think about what you can afford and what you want to spend. Keep in mind that, like everything else, you get what you pay for ~ safaris are no exception. So by all means, know what you are getting and do your homework to ensure you are getting good value, not just a good price.

Who Are You going To Call?


Safaris can be complex and are not inexpensive. Resist the temptation to choose a safari company based on price alone. Working with the wrong safari planner can have consequences ranging from the disastrous to a waste of your precious time and money. So before you part with thousands of dollars, explore the following questions with your safari planner. Ensure you are working with the best! You should receive a resounding YES and further details to all of these questions:

What percent of your time do you spend planning safaris to Africa?
(Ideally, you want an exclusive specialist, spending 100% of their time, but don’t settle for anything less than 75%)
How many years of experience do you have in planning travel to Africa?
(Look for at least 10 years to ensure they have dealt with a variety of destinations in varying economic and political climates)
How many safaris have you planned?
(Should be at least 500; planners with less experience will not have the buying power with ground operators nor will they have the expertise to deal with non-standard requests or offer unique recommendations.)
Does your company have direct relationships with the camps, lodges and safari operators?
Have you personally visited the safari camps you are recommending? How many others? Who paid for your visit?
(Many operators tend to visit only those camps offering free trips—but this hardly results in an unbiased opinion. It’s like a restaurant critic reviewing a restaurant only when the owner knows he’s coming and is providing a free meal! Is the practice of “sponsored” visits in the best interest of the safari planner or the client?)
Do you track my entire trip and manage all issues that may arise while I am traveling? What if there is a forced change in the itinerary dictated by poor weather or a missed connection?
Are you members of the Better Business Bureau, American Society of Travel Agents, Association for the Promotion of Tourism to Africa, Institute of Certified Travel Agents?
If I call the tourist board, can they vouch for your good standing? Can you provide client references?
What awards have you won? Can you send me any articles written by professional journalists who have traveled with you?

Frankly, we think you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with as qualified a team as the professionals at African Portfolio!