General Travel Tips
Insights to help you understand your destinations as you plan to take your African Safari
Who can go on Safari
Most people can go on a safari in East Africa. The safari tours sold by most travel companies are not adventurous expeditions, but rather outdoor holiday tours focusing on looking for and watching the African wildlife. No previous knowledge of Africa or animals is required, neither is experience from outdoor activities. You don’t need any special safari equipment (but a pair of binoculars is very useful).
Travelling by Road
Most safaris are done by road in 4WD safari jeeps or minibuses. These are used for game driving, i.e. to look for wildlife in the parks, and for travelling to and between parks. Many safaris have ambitious itineraries, including three or four different parks during a one-week safari. You may have to travel five to six hours getting to some of the most remote parks on the most popular safari circuits. It is not unusual travelling 25 hours on the Kenyan roads, or 15 hours on Tanzanian Safaris, during a week.
Road conditions vary a lot, from good tarmac roads to poor bush roads. The latter may be dusty, corrugated, and bumpy. Combined with high day temperatures (exceeding 30ºC/85ºF), long hours on these roads can be tiring.
Not 100% Fit
If you are troubled by a poor back, have problems sitting for long or similar, you may want to think twice before booking a safari, because of the poor roads. Or, you may speak to a travel company specialized in safaris about options for tailoring a safari. You may, for example, reduce travel time by visiting fewer parks or flying parts of the route, and long travel distances may be split over more than one day. You may benefit from focusing on the very best parks, and on getting there in a comfortable way, rather than wearing yourself out on the roads to see all parks.
Avoid poor roads by Flying
Virtually all major parks may be accessed by air, which is a faster and much more comfortable way of getting there than travelling the roads. There are daily scheduled flights to most of these parks, apart from Mikumi in Tanzania. By chartering a plane, you may visit any park that has an airstrip. The flights to the parks are operated by smaller planes, such as Cessnas and Beechcrafts. Most airstrips are grass or dirt/gravel.
For a single safari-goer, joining a packaged safari on your own is no problem, not even if you have little experience from travelling the world. The local tour operator will meet you at the airport on arrival, and from then on, you spend the safari with the rest of the group. You are not left on your own to handle any arrangements or problems, but can always rely on the assistance from your driver guide or tour leader.
If your group is not accompanied by a tour leader speaking your own language, you may need to speak a little English to communicate with your driver guide and with staff in hotels and lodges. English is (together with Swahili) also an official language of both Kenya and Tanzania, and may be used for contacts with authorities. Some local safari operators employ driver guides that speak other foreign languages than English, such as French, German, Spanish or Italian.
Travelling with Children
Most safari-goers are adults, but children can go, too. We have seen six-month-old babies in the bush, and five-year-olds are regularly seen. A good general age for safaris starts at nine or ten, considering the hot weather, travelling on poor roads and road distances. You may have an itinerary tailored for you, to adapt the activities to your children. For example, you may want to reduce daily travelling distances, and choose lodges and tented camps that have swimming pools. Some tree lodges, where the concept is watching the animals that come to drink from waterholes at night, may have lower age limits, to keep noise levels low. 7 years is a normal limit, but they vary from lodge to lodge, so you need to check them up with your tour operator. There may also be age limits for activities involving an increased risk for its participants, such as bush walks. On such activities, the ability to act disciplined and follow instructions may be of great importance for safety, and 15 years is often a lower age limit. Medical factors, for example a minimum age for using malaria prophylaxis, may be a reason not to bring too young children for safaris.
Disabled Safari Goers
Disabled safari-goers can expect many obstacles to overcome. Most lodges and camps have no adaptations to allow wheelchair access (the best you can get may be a room close to the restaurant and the reception), and many have staircases and steps, some lodges even excessively as a design feature. Showers are often found in bathtubs, and toilets in rooms may be inaccessible from wheelchairs, as may the tents in tented camps. There are high steps into safari vehicles, and space for manoeuvring inside is limited. The better hotels in the cities have elevators/lifts, but there may still be single steps in corridors, bars or even receptions, preventing you from easy access to all parts of the premises. If you speak to a competent travel company specialized in safaris, with own experience from visiting different lodges, you may be able to find places to stay where such obstacles are few, if not absent. There are also some lodges and camps adapted to safari-goers in wheelchairs, and even some that have special vehicles allowing wheelchairs onboard.
Travelling with Special Needs
Tanzania and Kenya are developing countries, and even though the tourist industry offers easy and uncomplicated visits, special needs may not be possible to handle as easily as they may at home. The same level of service or availability of commodities or equipment cannot be expected. Speak to your travel company or travel agent prior to booking, to make sure you’ll be OK on your safari.
Pharmacies, doctors etc may be available along your safari route, but not everywhere. Bring (in your hand luggage on flights) all medicine or drugs you know that you need. A flying doctor service based in Nairobi is available from African Medical & Research Foundation. (See More web sites in the left column.)
Most safaris are done in the inland, where air is dry. As the best safari areas are found at some altitude (1,600–1,700 m/5,250–5,575 ft for Serengeti and Masai Mara), the air cools at night, and night temperatures are pleasant.
If you are depending on electric equipment, remember that electricity in lodges and camps may be generated locally, and generators switched off at night. If you need electricity at all times, an arrangement may be required with the lodge management; you may have to pay for running the generator when it’s usually off. The best way is to have this arranged beforehand, through your travel company. In the cities, power failures are not uncommon, but most good hotels start their own generator as soon as the mains goes down. A few years ago, poor water levels in dams following a long dry spell caused an electricity shortage in Tanzania, and electricity was rationed; it was switched off in many parts of the country during daytime.
Food and Beverages
There is usually no problem for safari-goers who want for example vegetarian or gluten-free food. Many lodges, hotels and camps serve meals in form of buffets, where you may choose yourself what to eat. The staff is available to help you identify the ingredients that have been used. Where meals are served à la carte, vegetarian options are available, and the staff is usually very responsive to any other requests regarding your dishes. The international airlines offer special food on request, but you should ask for it when booking your flight. You order beverages for meals etc yourself, and can always decide what to drink.