Monday-Morning Moving: Maximizing Your Safari Experience

By Daniela Harrison

What style of safari is right for you?

Despite all the recent bad press about safaris, that’s still a valid question. Properly run safaris are an amazing experience and a true win-win-win. Travelers get bucket-list thrills, the local economy benefits, and wildlife are unharmed.

However, note the term “properly run.” Poorly run safaris can be as bad as well-run safaris are good. Adding to the muddiness is the fact that not everybody imagines the same safari experience.

Because safari can mean different things to a lot of people, it’s important to be very clear about the experience you’re looking for when you start planning your trip.

Elephant-back treks are just one of your travel options for a safari. (Daniela Harrison photo.)
Elephant-back treks are just one of your travel options for a safari. (Daniela Harrison photo.)

Your first choice will be your type of camp. Some camps are tents, some are cottages or bungalows, and some are hotels. Each has its own personality, pros and cons. Some camps are very small and intimate, with only six to eight rooms. One of my favorite properties for a small, intimate experience is Dulini Safari Lodge. I truly felt like I was coming home to visit family.

Other camps are larger and focused on pure luxury. Do you want your room to be next to the riverbed and close to the wildlife, or on a cliff wall with breathtaking views overlooking the bush? Lodges like Richard Branson’s Ulusaba offer both options.

Some camps will be set up for community dining; others only offer a private dining experience. I loved our communal dinners. After the game drives we were able to sit down together to an amazing meal and share the day’s sightings.

Next, look at the kind of vehicles used during your safari. If you like roofless Land Rovers, you’re limited to a South African safari. If you feel more comfortable in an enclosed vehicle or Jeep, you should consider East Africa.

Personally, I love the open Land Rovers. It really makes you feel as if you’re part of your environment. No walls or windows separate you from nature. There is nothing like having your hair blow in the breeze, smelling the trees as you hear and see a leopard dining on an antelope in the tree next to you.

You also need to consider the kind of wildlife you’d like to see. Do you want to be in the bush looking for small herds of animals, or do you prefer to be out in the open savannah gazing upon herds of thousands of animals in migration? Are you hoping to see a family of gorillas? Are the Big Five (lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard, and white/black rhinoceros) must-sees for you? Are you into birding? You can’t see all these in the same place, so you need to make choices.

East Africa is more wide-open, and lets you see huge herds of animals during their migrations.
East Africa is wide-open, and lets you see huge herds of animals during their migrations.

In general, South Africa has a wide variety of wildlife, but in small groups across a dense bush. East Africa is home to the famous migrations and lets you see thousands of animals in a very open space. Gorillas can be found in the forests of Rwanda and Uganda. If you’re into lemurs, Madagascar is your best bet.

If you have a specific interest like birding, it’s important to find a lodge that employs guides who will focus on your interests. During my stay at Tintswalo Lodge we actually saw a kill. Our guide had the knowledge and the patience to follow one particular pride of lions for multiple hours. Even when it was pitch-black outside, he entertained us with stargazing and some lovely guide stories until the lionesses we were watching bolted into motion. We were able to follow the entire hunt, including seeing the males stealing the kill from the females and protecting it from stealthy crocodiles. Not many guides would have had the patience to wait.

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Nothing beats the open-top Land Rover for wildlife viewing. (Daniela Harrison photo.)

Finally, you should include your preferred type of transportation for the actual game drives. Do you want to do all your safari game drives by car, or do you prefer to do them via elephant or bicycle, on foot, in a canoe, via river cruise, or from a bush plane? With so many options, it can be hard to choose.

Fortunately, many camps let you combine multiple experiences. On my recent trip I was able to do a Land Rover safari, bush walk and an elephant-back safari all from the same camp. Camp Jabulani did a great job organizing all these different activities and fitting them into our day.

Most people traveling to Africa want to be able to support a local school, community, or wildlife-preservation organization. A visit to the local town and school is so rewarding. The people are friendly and love meeting visitors. To pack for your trip, visit Pack For A Purpose and see what a certain village or school in your itinerary actually needs.

Wildlife-rehabilitation centers are another great way to get involved and learn about conservation efforts. If you’re interested, ask your safari specialist about ways to get involved. There are camps that allow you to travel with local veterinarians to trek rhinos, and more.

Please know that your presence alone is helping make a difference in Africa. The tourist industry sustains many villages and conservation acts. Just by visiting the continent you’re making a huge difference.

Traveling through Africa can take you to some very remote areas. Travel insurance with emergency evacuation, such as ExactCare from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, can be a huge lifesaver. Contact your travel specialist for more details on the right policy for your next trip.

Now all that’s left is to pick up the phone and contact your Africa specialist to book your next safari.

Daniela has been a Travel Consultant since June 2010. She works for Avenues of the World Travel, Flagstaff Ariz. 86004. For more information please contact Daniela at 800.230.3322 or Daniela@avenuesoftheworld.com. For travel inspiration please visit: www.avenuesoftheworld.com.