How to plan an African Safari
Planning your first or even second or third African safari can be an overwhelming process. Where do you even start? How much will it cost? How long do I need to be on safari? Which animals will I see? What else is there to do in Africa besides safari? This article will you figure out how to plan your African safari.
If you are thinking about going on an East African safari and you have all these questions, then look no further. Let’s dive in to all of those question and more to help you plan your African Safari.
Cost of an East African Safari
Let’s start with the big question which is the cost of Safari. I’ll be honest, safari is not cheap but it’s 100% worth it (ask literally ANYONE who has ever been on a safari).
These are just a guideline but all prices include full board accommodation, guide, transport (unless flying) and game drives.
For a budget safari, you will be looking at paying upwards of $300 per person per day. On a budget safari, you will likely be camping and will be accompanied on your trip by a chef who will cook the meals for you at the campsite ready for your return from safari. To reduce the cost further you can opt for a ‘sharing safari’ where you will join others in a car. Of course, these are not very personalised or flexible safaris as you have to stick to the group schedule.
Mid-range is around $500 – $800 per person per day. The main difference between mid-range and budget is that you will now be in a lodge instead of camping and in a car with just your group (depending on the side of your group). There will be an ensuite bathroom and potentially a swimming pool at the lodge. It is possible to fly between lodges instead of driving but the flight will be an extra cost.
The high budget is $900+ At this end of the budget you will be staying in a luxury lodge, with delicious food, probably a pool & spa and most importantly top quality guides. At this budget, you will be flying between national parks which saves you a lot of travel time and maximises your safari time.
How long should you go on an African safari for
For many, the flight to Eastern/Southern Africa is a long one and can involve jet lag. The travelling distances are long and the roads are generally not great. Therefore to enable you sufficient time to enjoy your safari I wouldn’t recommend coming on safari for less than 10 days. If your time frame is 2 weeks then I recommend just one country, although it is possible to do a combination of two countries but it will be a bit of a rush. For example, you can see the Gorillas in Uganda and then go to Tanzania to see the great wildebeest migration.
Ideally, you should be travelling for longer than 2 weeks to consider visiting 2 countries to be able to enjoy them fully and maybe get a bit of beach time at the end.
As a benchmark, aim to spend 3-4 nights in each place, this will ensure you get a good amount of time actually enjoying the lodge and the area and not just going between lodges all the time.
Consider how many days you will be on safari consecutively, especially if travelling with children. Games drives are essentially long car rides. Per day you can be spending 7 – 8 hours in a car. Try and break up the game drives with walking safaris, hot air balloon rides or even horseriding/mountain biking safaris. Also, try and break up safari days with other activities including hikes, cultural visits, going to markets etc.
When to go on an African safari
Travel in East Africa is generally split into two seasons. Peak season (June – Oct) and green season (November – May).
Peak season is cooler and dry, there are a lot more tourists and accommodation is more expensive, this is the easiest time of year to see animals as there is less vegetation and fewer water sources. Aim to book 12 months in advance. If you wish to see the wildebeest migration crossings (it’s never guaranteed), then you should travel in July/August to Northern Serengeti or Southern Masai Mara.
Green season, warm and wet weather, accommodation is cheaper (except Xmas and New year) can be harder but more rewarding to see animals as the vegetation is thicker, fewer tourists, more mud. Aim to book at least 3 – 6 months in advance.
Jan-Feb – hot and dry, animals congregate around waterholes so are easy to see
March-May – long rainy season rains often and less warm
June – Oct – dry season, warm, pleasant temperature, the best time to see the wildebeest migration river crossings
Nov – Dec – the short rainy season, fewer tourists, greenery
Other activities on an African safari
In addition to your game drive, you can do several activities to ensure you experience Africa to its fullest. Activities including;
- walking safari (min age of 12)
- hot air balloon ride (around $600 extra)
- night game drive to see the nocturnal animals (around $50)
- spa treatments (price varies)
- horse riding safari (around $90)
- mountain biking ($50-70)
- cultural activities (price varies)
- multi-day hikes
- fly camping
- visit a local school/village and take donations or just interact with the community
East African Culture
One thing you may be surprised by when you visit Africa is how much the people of Africa have such a positive influence on your trip. While you are here take the time to learn about new cultures and traditions. Africa is rich in cultural tribes each with its own rituals, dress, language and cuisine. From the Maasai warriors in their red Shuka (traditional wear) to the bushmen in Uganda to the Hadzabe hunter-gatherer tribe in Lake Eyasi Tanzania, there is so much to learn and so many wonderful interactions to have.
Where to go to the beach in east Africa:
Don’t forget to add some beach time at the end, both Zanzibar & Mafia Island in Tanzania and Lamu Island or the Kenyan coast boast beautiful white sandy beaches with lots of opportunities for snorkelling, diving, fishing, kiteboarding and eating delicious seafood. If you travel at the right time (Oct to Feb) you can even go swimming with whale sharks on Mafia Island. Lamu and Zanzibar also offer an insight into Swahili Arabic culture and are wonderful places to wander the streets trying delicious street food, bartering in the markets and sipping tea or cocktails on the rooftops overlooking the ocean.
How to choose a African safari tour company
There are so many companies out there and the quality of the company varies greatly. The main things you need to look out for when choosing a company are; does the agent have personal experience of travel in Africa, do they offer unbiased advice or whether are they working with certain lodges, insurance, and support while you are on the trip and good reviews.
Contrary to popular belief going through an agent or a tour company does not make the price more expensive for you. Companies get good deals on accommodation, know the best places to go and provide quality guides. Rather than taking a gamble on a lodge, you have never been to with a guide you have never met before it is usually better to go through a trusted company that understands the country, the travel distances, the lodges and the parks.
Not sure how to plan your safari, start with this interactive quiz:
Is an African safari safe:
Of course like every continent and country there are safe places and not-so-safe places. If you book with a certified agent and stick to your itinerary there should be no issues at all. In places like Nairobi, Kampala and Arusha, like any other big town/city you need to use common sense, don’t walk around at night, don’t carry too much cash, stick to the main areas and you should be fine. While on safari you will be safe as long as you listen to your guide, and respect the animals.
Depending on, of course, where you are coming from you might get a bit of a culture shock when you arrive in East Africa. There are plenty of places with poverty still and the current drought in Kenya is causing a desperate situation.
In general, the people are very friendly and welcoming and are happy to have tourists in their country.
Greetings are very important, always ask how someone is before you ask your question.
How to dress for a African safari
East Africa is quite a conservative place, although in the cities this is changing. If you are visiting villages and tribes then dress respectfully, cover your cleavage and knees and always ask before taking photos.
You do not need to be in full ‘safari’ attire, you just need to be in comfortable neutral-coloured clothes. Try not to wear dark blue, some places have flies that are attracted to the colour. Make sure you have a sturdy pair of shoes especially if you want to do a walking safari, a hat and layers for the cold in the morning and the evenings.
What to pack for an African safari
Pack a rain jacket, neutral light clothes, long trousers and long sleeves for the evenings, sunscreen, camera, charger, medical kit, insect repellant, torch/flashlight, adaptor (British power socket) US dollars, battery bank, swimsuit
What camera to use on an African safari
It is worth bringing a good camera with you if you can, also important is the lens. You will need a long lens, at lear 400mm if you want to get a good close-up shot, a wide angle is good for photographing the whole scene and a 70 – 200 is perfect for that midrange. Make sure you have extra batteries and SD cards I’m sure you will be taking a lot of shots. My photos are shot with a Nikon D500 with either the 16-33mm, 70-200, 100-400 or 100-600mm lenses plus some phone photos.
Should you bring children on an African safari
I definitely recommend taking children on safari, it’s great for them to see the animals but also to interact with the local kids and learn about their culture and way of life. Consider that safari consists of early mornings and long days. Some camps have children’s activities and offer babysitting services so you can potentially leave your child with the camp while you are on safari if they are too tired on any particular day.
For walking safaris, the child has to be 12 years old but there are plenty of nature walks inside the camps that the child can do instead, they just can’t go out into the national park on foot. Ask the organisers to find lodges with swimming pools this is great for entertaining the kids during the break between safaris.
Useful apps for an African safari:
- Birds of East Africa
- Maps.me download the map for the country before you arrive
- Kingdom – information on African animals
- Google translate – download Swahili (Kenya and Tanzania) before you go
- XE – currency exchange
- Night sky – learn about the constellations in the sky
Final Top tips for an Africa safari:
Manage your expectations, it is not normal to see a predator hunt, for example, you are not guaranteed to see anything while on safari. Try to not expect to see certain things but be pleasantly surprised if you do. Leopards for example are notoriously difficult to spot, sometimes you get lucky sometimes you don’t.
The guide is the most important person on the whole trip. You will be spending most of your time with your guide and getting all your information about the animals and landscape from him/her.
It is very important to have a knowledgeable, qualified guide, if you are particularly interested in photography ask for a guide who is familiar with photography and who will be experienced in getting the best angles and understands lighting.
Consider going on a safari in a private concession instead of a national park, in a concession, there are fewer people and loser rules. For example, you are often allowed to drive off-road, do walking safaris, night game drives, horse riding, mountain biking etc which is usually not allowed in a national park.
There are also usually rules about how many cars are allowed around each animal so you don’t get a big pile-up of cars around each sighting.
It’s better to do less rather than try to fit too much in. Travel slowly and enjoy each place to the fullest.
Ask your lodge about having a bush breakfast, this allows you to be out longer in the morning as you stop somewhere in the park for your breakfast and then continue the safari.
If your time is short I recommend flying between national parks, but you should definitely take some time to visit a local village/school so you can see the world outside the national parks.
Ask your lodge what community initiatives they have running and what you can bring to help. A lot of companies will be partnered with the community around them and they might need things like footballs, stationery, shoes, clothes etc. Some lodges are part of ‘Pack for a purpose and will have a list of things they need which you can add to your suitcase if you have space.
Some airlines let you take extra luggage if you are bringing donations. Email the airline and ask in advance.
If you are flying between lodges you have to pack in a soft shell bag and you will have limited weight. If you are bringing donations the company might have a head office in the capital city where you can leave them.
Have a budget in mind before you start planning itineraries. With a budget in mind, it is much easier to plan a customised itinerary and keep to your budget rather than making an itinerary, getting excited about it and then realising you can’t afford it.
Plan to come back, you will never only visit Africa once!
If you are not sure how to plan your East African Safari, start with this quiz