Can you safari on the cheap? Yes. Should you? I don’t think so.
Some of the prices for these holidays will make your eyes water. They’d buy you a second-hand car or an Hermès bag. But they need context.
You can buy safaris off the shelf, but you’ll get what you pay for them. Do you want to join one of a dozen Jeeps scrambling for views beside a well-worn waterhole, or the sole vehicle spending hours alone with a lioness and her cubs?
On safari, you’re buying an experience, and excellent planning is rewarded… Here are eight tips to get you started.
1) Set your budget
How much are you prepared to spend? Could you target a trip a few years out and start saving now? It’s better to splash on a super safari than to cut costs and rush a mediocre one.
2) Pick your moment
Hot, dry weather (July-October in East Africa) sees lighter vegetation, plus it draws animals towards dwindling water supplies. November to March is hotter and greener, and can be rainy. It can also be great for birdlife, however.
3) Don’t rely on your phone
Good binoculars and/or a camera with a quality long/zoom lens are essential on safari. It’s surprising how little phones and point-and-shoot cameras can capture, especially in low light at dawn or dusk, so now’s the time to invest (or borrow!). Bring spare memory cards and batteries too.
4) Plan your jabs
Most African countries require a yellow fever vaccination certificate for entry. That’s just the beginning. Check with your GP several months ahead as regards polio, tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis A and other vaccinations that may be required.
5) Dress for the occasion
It can get hot on safari, so pack appropriately, drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen and a hat and take the camp’s advice on how to fend off mosquitoes or flies (which can be a real nuisance on game drives). On a walking safari, wear long trousers and sturdy shoes for protection from thorns, insects and snakes. Yes, really.
7) Get a good guide
Talk to your tour operator, your lodge and locals about this one. A guide with a grá for his work and a genuine knowledge of the wildlife and terrain is worth paying more for. A bad one can turn a long drive into an expensive yawn-fest.
8) Don’t forget to relax
Long flights, drives, hot weather and insects can make safaris hard work. Plan your downtime to rest and recover before, during and after safari days, and think seriously about whether your kids are old enough to manage.
P.S. Getting started
Google will only get you so far with safaris. With a holiday this specialised, and expensive, you need to get talking to humans.
In Ireland, The Safari Expert (thesafariexpert.com), Sunway (sunway.ie), Trailfinders (trailfinders.ie) or Tropical Sky (tropicalsky.ie) are worth a call. Today’s euro/sterling exchange means prices from UK operators like Kuoni or Belfast’s Mahlatini are bit keener too.