The Insider Guide to an East African Safari
Going on a safari in Africa, at least once in your life, is on most people’s bucket-list. Safari dreams conjure up images of undulating grasslands, massive migrating herds of wildebeest, canvas tents with lots of wood and copper, prowling predators, circling birds of prey and sipping cocktails as you look out to the horizon watching the copper sun sinking low (possibly with Toto’s song Africa playing in the background).
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Expectations of a safari?
Different types of safaris?
How does travelling to East Africa work?
What should I pack?
What does a typical day on safari look like?
What kind of encounters/experiences can I expect to have?
The earliest safaris were undertaken by merchants traveling from the east as part of their trade route, exchanging goods with other traders along the way. Later safaris included hunting expeditions and to a smaller degree caravans of slave traders.
Today safaris are all about viewing and appreciating the wildlife and safari companies have established a proud record of conservation and community development, often leading the way in pioneering efforts to preserve both wildlife and people groups.
By-and-large most established and reputable Safari Operators provide their guests with exceptional comfort and luxury in their camps. Notwithstanding, remember that a safari is by definition a journey and one in a pretty hostile environment, compared to say a holiday at Disney World. Safety is rightly a concern of most first-time safari goers, but by simply following your Guide’s instructions and not doing anything foolish, your safety should not be in jeopardy at all on a safari. You do need to keep in mind that when on safari you are probably going to be way out of your comfort zone. Expect dust, insects, noisy animals, bumpy game drives and early mornings. However, those are small discomforts when compared to the once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing a lion take down a wildebeest calf right in front of your eyes or being entranced at the sight and sound of an elephant stripping leaves off a tree and noisily scoffing it down a few metres away or the absolute serenity when sitting around a crackling fire enjoying a drink as you stare up at the clear sky littered with stars and hearing a lion roar in the distance. You’ll love Africa.
The types of safari that you can go on vary according to the location of the camp, the safari company you have chosen and the season you are going. Options include small tented camps which are seasonal through to large permanent structures with many rooms. Depending on the terrain and animals in the area, game-viewing can be done on foot, in vehicles or even on elephant- or horse-back. Where camps are in close proximity to rivers and bodies of water, safaris by boat are often also an option. East Africa has a dry season which is the more popular option for safaris and a wet season also known as the Green Season. Safaris in the dry season generally see animals congregating at waterholes and the less dense bush makes them easier to spot, while Green Season safaris offer more opportunity to see the animals spread out, the landscape is a lush green with birds and insects proliferating. Asilia Africa offers an extensive selection of safari type options ranging from Family and Romantic Safaris to Classic and Active Safaris including an option to have an entirely exclusive Private Safari.
Travel in East Africa
East Africa is very accessible from both the USA and Europe as well as the East. The first thing you should probably do, even before booking your tickets, is to take out Travel Insurance. This will cover you for anything unexpected, especially for things that may even happen before you travel. Select a policy that not only protects you while away, but also if you have to cancel the trip for any reason. You will also have to do reading beforehand regarding what vaccinations or medical precautions you will need to take prior to traveling to East Africa. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention is a valuable resource in this regard and a good starting point for your research.
Once in the region you will most likely have to board connecting flights and possibly even additional small plane flights, boat trips or long car rides to get to your final destination in camp. If you are traveling in a group and boarding a small aircraft en route you may want to consider booking a freight seat which could provide you with an additional 75kgs of luggage. This is especially handy if you are heading on a photographic safari with extra equipment. Internet access is not as widespread as mobile phone connectivity in East Africa, so prepare yourself before-hand that you will not be able to access the Internet while on safari. Truthfully, this is probably a blessing in disguise and an ideal opportunity for you to go on a Digital Detox.
What to Pack
You’ve probably seen photos of people on safari all dressed in khaki’s and muted tan colours. That is not simply a Safari Chic style of dress, it actually is the most suitable colours to wear while in the bush. Brighter colours like blue or red are proven to attract insects while the tan range of colours show dirt less obviously and also do not absorb heat as much as darker colours. Also, it is worth finding out from your Safari Operator whether the camp you will be staying at offers a daily laundry service, if so you probably can do with packing a lot less. Footwear is also very important. You will be outdoors most of the time and possibly even head out on a walking safari, so it is worth investing in a good pair of boots or walking shoes which you’ve worn in ahead of your departure. If your safari falls over the wet season you are likely to encounter much more insects than in the dry season, so insect repelling spray or cream is vital.
You will certainly want to capture every moment of your safari on video or film, so be sure to bring a good quality camera and remember that a great camera means nothing without charged batteries or memory cards with enough storage for that National Geographic worthy footage of yours. Plan your electronic storage strategy ahead of time. Another essential piece of equipment is a good pair of binoculars. As much as you may hope to get really close and personal with the amazing animals of the Serengeti or the Maasai Mara they aren’t all going to be close enough to touch, so a pair of binoculars is actually a very handy tool to have with you. In addition, you may also find that you are an ornithologist at heart and your binocs will help provide you with hours of bird-watching pleasure. For more ideas and packing tips, go here.
A Typical Day on Safari
Asilia Africa runs and operates authentic East African safaris on 18 properties around Kenya and Tanzania. The very best time for rewarding game viewing is in the cooler early mornings and late afternoons, when the animals are at their most active. Depending on the season, your day may start slightly earlier or later, but the general pace of life in camp is focused on giving you the very best possible game-viewing experience. If you have booked a private game-viewing vehicle do discuss personal schedule preferences with your guide.
An example of a Day Itinerary:
05:30–06:00 – Wake-up call with hot tea & coffee
06:30–07:00 – Depart for a morning game drive or walk and take a picnic breakfast with you
09:30–11:30 – Arrive back in camp after game viewing, followed by breakfast (if you are hungry)
13:00 – Lunch
13:30–16:00 – Siesta time: read a book or just relax
16:00 – Afternoon tea
16:30 – Depart for afternoon/evening game drive or walk with sundowners
18:30 – Arrive back in camp
19:30 – Drinks followed by dinner under the stars
It is impossible to go on a safari and not be changed. The experience is just so profoundly different to most of our everyday lives. You are out in the wilderness, 1 000’s of kilometres from home, there are no buildings to block your view as you look out over a never ending horizon, you come face to face with animals that are at once beautiful and terrifying. Life has slowed down, you have disconnected from the life you lead back home where you are tethered to technology and seen a glimpse of a simpler life.
The close-knit nature of safari camps, shared safari drives and opportunities to eat together and chat around the fire mean that you will get to interact with a variety of people from all over the world in a very intimate setting. The exciting shared experiences of seeing a predator take-down while out in a safari vehicle, and recounting the stories afterward in camp will create a bond with your fellow safari travellers that may be the forging of life-long friendships. Interaction with local staff and community members in areas surrounding the camp will expose you to an entirely different worldview and way of living which may also profoundly impact your view of the world.
Being in nature and seeing some of the most majestic animals on the planet at close range, watching their interactions with each other, their hunting techniques and defences, and then the small animals. Besides the Big Five there is the Small Five, the animals that you don’t traditionally think of when planning your safari; elephant shrew, rhino beetle, buffalo weaver, ant lion and leopard tortoise.
The pinnacle however of any safari experience in East Africa is to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration, commonly known as The Greatest Show on Earth.
To find out more about Asilia Africa’s authentic East African safari experiences, follow this link.