1. Admitted you are going to have to spend some cash on said safari.
2. Have at least perused some source of information (blog, book, doesn’t matter) about safaris.
3. Figured plane tickets into your budget, started stockpiling miles, or both.
4. Talked to other people have already been on safari.
(5. Learned I’m obsessed with African animals).Oh wait, you have a stuffed wild dog too (remember the warthog)?? Oh yes, yes I do. Of course I do.
Let’s talk for a minute about the different types of tour options for traveling to Africa for a safari. Please keep in mind, I am not a backpacker type (literally or figuratively…not all backpackers carry a backpack). I’ll tell you why that is in a minute. So this advice is targeted for a first time safari goer who has two primary goals: to vacation and to see wildlife.Actually, I’ll tell you now.
The short answer is that I want a vacation, and I want to relax. I don’t want to worry about where I’m staying tonight, or if it has running water, particularly hot water (though TIA). And fine, I’ll publicly confess to my love for nice hotels/lodges/camps (which is part of the reason I hold down a FT job). But even if you are not as attached to your shower as me, unless you have super skillz, a good sense of adventure, and the adaptability of a chameleon, I probably wouldn’t recommend going it alone the first time. Sure there are exceptions, and this advice doesn’t apply to long-term or full-time travelers (like theroamingcoconuts…I’ve been following her cool African adventures).
For the rest of you, I’d suggest two options:
Arrange your own: If you are a more experienced traveler, you might choose to do independent arrangements. It provides more flexibility to see exactly what you want , on your time-table. Booking online has become a breeze for many, many places. It’s possible you may pay just a bit more for certain things (entering game concessions, or private air transfers to camps), but it’s not certain. Shop around, bundle services. That’s the beauty of doing it yourself. If you are considering a private tour for a couple or a family or even a single, this may definitely be a cost-effective option.
Use an operator: This can be quite a project all of its own, but you can choose a tour that best fits your budget, schedule, and interests. Do you want a private tour, or do you mind going in a small group? (I’d never recommend a group over about 12-15 people, never, ever). If demographics is important to you, take that into consideration. If eco-friendly is important to you, some operators are definitely significantly better than others. You can use an operator based out of the United States, or one based in your targeted country. The former may be easier to communicate with, the latter may be less expensive. Google the operator. Use travel forums. Just because the operator is bigger, doesn’t mean its better. Just because its small doesn’t mean you’ll get more personalized attention. Unfortunately, there are some good operators with incredibly annoying sales people. And there are some good operators with sales people who go on the trips and can actually answer your questions.
Many tour operators now will also offer private, tailored-tours, so they do the arrangements for you, but it is mostly self-designed. This can be a fantastic option, if it fits into your budget. These can get costly quickly; arranging your own may be more budget friendly.
Key questions to consider:
-How long do you want to go? (most tours are 8-12 days, at least)
-How much time do you have/want to spend on planning?
-Are you content going on a tour, and following their schedule?
-Do you want to be with other people? (note…you can meet some super cool people on safari!)
-$$$ or $$$$$$$$ (think $2000 on up for a week, probably per person).
Reminder: this is Africa (TIA). Things do not go as planned, even when you are on a packaged tour. Roads flood and become impassable. Tires blow out. You get stuck in sand dunes. No matter how well you plan, something can always happen and many times, there is absolutely nothing you can do to speed up the process to get it fixed. If you are on a tour, your delay, and any associated trip interruptions and missed connections should be handled for you, which is something to keep in mind. Have a Tusker or a Nile and enjoy the beautiful scenery and engaging people. And get travel insurance, regardless of what you choose. Seriously.