Things to Consider Before Booking an African Safari...
|Source - Victoria Falls Guide|
1) Book in Advance
African Safaris are now hugely popular and good safari camps often get booked out more than a year in advance, especially during the high season from July through to October. This means if you leave it too late your choices become limited and you end up having to shuffle the itinerary around to fit in with what is available instead of getting the camps, days and dates exactly how you wanted it. This can also end up costing more money as you end up choosing a more expensive camp just because it has space on your dates. High season bookings I suggest advance booking and planning of a year but preferably more, low season at least 6 months but also preferably more.
2) Choosing which game park
Different parks have different topography and weather patterns - this greatly affects animal movements at different times of the year. If you want to target certain species of animals, then some parks are better than others for certain species. Location and the logistics of getting to a park can greatly affect the prices so this has to also be factored into the equation. Some parks are overrun with tourists and others are remote with very few, all these factors make a huge difference to your experience. A volume of books wouldn't be able to cover all the permutations, therefore it is highly advisable to engage the services of a professional travel agent who knows their stuff and can give you the best advice according to what is important to you.
3) Choosing which lodge or safari camp
A typical safari camp has between 10 and 20 beds, it is an intimate safari experience and very personalised. However, there are also hotels in some places, either inside or just outside a national park, which can sleep anything up to 300 people. It is quite obvious that you will have a different experience in these places. Non-permanent lodges such as the mobile or walking safaris are becoming increasingly popular and are generally a bit cheaper than a permanent camp and do offer a unique experience. The choice of which lodge should be based on its location and its guides not on whether is serves the fanciest meals.
|Mobile camping safari in Mana Pools|
4) Private Concession or National park
Private concessions are blocks of land that are either owned wholly by a company or they are leased from the state. Private concessions can be within a national park, just outside on its boundary or on any land set aside for wildlife conservation. Concessions vary in size enormously and this should be considered when making your decision. The concessions location is of great importance; is it in a prime location or is it in a marginal area. It’s very easy through clever marketing to make any place look fantastic!
|Elephants on a private concession in Hwange National Park|
The big differentiation between the two is that private concessions are not open to the public like national parks so therefore there are far fewer tourists. In most private concessions off-road driving is allowed, meaning that if something of interest is some distance off the road you can drive closer up to it. Night drives are also available on private concessions and not in national parks.
The quality, experience and knowledge of the game guides at any Safari camp is almost the most important factor to consider. Good guides can transform your experience from mediocre to exceptional. Choose camps where you know that the guiding is good, if you want to walk then make sure that there is a licensed guide able to do that. Guide accreditation varies from country to country. To become a professional guide in Zimbabwe, guides have to undergo intense training which takes several years, if they finally do become qualified they are then allowed to conduct walking safaris and their knowledge of the bush outstanding. This is the reason why Zimbabwean guides are still considered to be among the best in Africa and what makes Zimbabwe a great choice for an African safari.
|Guided walking safari|
6) What's the Best Time of Year to go on Safari
Understandably as the seasons change so does the safari experience. It is highly advisable to find out the best time of year for the safari area that you are intending to visit. Prices will change dramatically between the high and the low season, so good deals are to be had in the low season but it is important to know the difference, as your experience will be vastly different.
As a rule of thumb in Southern Africa, the high season is from July through to October, this is when there is the least surface water available and animals congregate in vast numbers around the limited water sources, like the pans or rivers. As soon as the rains arrive around November the animals disperse, almost immediately. As the rains set in for the next few months a completely different season emerges with plentiful water and abundant vegetation. Game viewing at this time becomes less intense and harder to see because of the thick bush.
Birdlife is fantastic during the rainy season and this is also when some of the plains game drop their young in vast numbers which is a sight to behold. Coastal regions, deserts and inland deltas will have a different pattern to what has been described above.
7) Which Country offers the Best Safaris
The scope of this article covers Southern Africa, to detail the pros and cons of each country would be a whole article in itself. Suffice to say that each country has distinct advantages over another and careful consideration, in consultation with your agent should be undertaken.
8) The Price
Going on safari is not cheap whichever way you do it, but the price range can be enormous. Unfortunately, safaris in most cases are a case of “you pay for what you get”. Generally, the best camps, in the best locations with the best game are the most expensive. So the more of your budget that you can put towards your safari the better. Some cheaper options can be on marginal areas of land that will often have decent game viewing but they might not be able to offer the premiere game viewing of the more expensive camps and lodges, however if that’s what you can afford then so be it.
Guests at luxury lodges these days expect 6-star service and standards. All these bells and whistles add to the price, so there is a small number of safari camps in fantastic locations that have kept it simple and been able to keep the prices lower. Remote camps normally offer fly-in options to reduce travel time, this is where safaris get really expensive. The price differentials between high and low season can also be huge but it’s important to know the difference between these seasons - please look at the details in the “time of year” section of this article. Finally, prices vary quite considerably between countries, so it’s a good idea to get advice and consider all the options.
Knowing approximately what your budget is vitally important for your agent to work with. People are sometimes cagey about how much they are prepared to spend with the thought that the price will increase to fit the budget but this is not the case. Rather it allows them to choose the correct camps in line with your budget. It is nigh on impossible for any agent put together an itinerary without first knowing your budget, as the options are endless. They could offer you a cheaper option that is appealing price-wise but does not fit with your needs and expectations or conversely offer an expensive option, which is way beyond your means and you immediately discard, wasting both your time and theirs. If you had conveyed your budget in the first place they would have worked to it. If you have no idea where to start, search the internet to get an idea of the price ranges.
10) Fly-in safari or not
Using small charter planes is sometimes an absolute necessity for camps in remote areas, where road transfers are just not practical or viable. These flights can increase the overall cost of the safari substantially but generally they are worth it and allow you the flexibility to visit a variety of safari camps in different locations. So once again work with your agent according to your budget to select the camps that work for you, if the cost of the flights is just not an option the agent should be able to place you in equally good camps that one can access by road. Either way, the logistics of getting there are often complicated but vitally important and sound knowledge is an absolute requirement.
11) How long to stay at a Camp
This of-course relates to one’s budget as each night is expensive but one night is certainly not enough, two is okay but three is really the minimum at any one location. The longer you spend in one location the better, you get to know your guide, the area and the animals. You can become immersed in the unfolding real life play of for example a lion pride. So the question here is to either hop from camp to camp and see a variety of places or do less hopping and spend longer at each location. Generally seasoned safari goers prefer to do fewer locations and spend a longer time at each.
12) Use an Agent
As you can see from all the information and options detailed above, there is great deal to understand and unless you go on safari several times a year it is impossible to know all this stuff. For many people going on an African Safari is the dream of a lifetime but incorrect choices and planning can lead to immense disappointment. Choose an agent who can help you make the correct choices, it is of paramount importance and is the difference between a good or bad trip. Working with an agent who is completely familiar with a range of safari products and travels regularly to each location, will help to create a trip that fits within your budget and expectations. Camps and logistic change from year to year, an on-the-ground agent is invaluable, will save you time, maximise your experience and most won't cost you anymore than trying to do it all yourself. It's a no-brainer!
Source: Victoria Falls Guide