By Miranda Plunkett
Are you upping your travel game now that you can go for more than a week? For what might be the most expensive vacation of your life, here are a few pointers when considering a safari.
The first step is getting a handle on the parties involved—Africa is overrun with safari companies who are represented here and overseas by an ever-increasing number of tour operators and specialists. In most cases it is only possible to book through one of these companies, rather than directly. This is actually a benefit as it gives you the assurance of having one person to oversee your whole trip and a helpline if something needs fixing. They will arrange everything and, if worth their salt, take the time to discuss a variety of options so you get the right itinerary for you and not a formulated package. Note that they only work with a finite number of companies/properties. To recognize whether you have found the right person it helps to fully understand some of the terms and possibilities available.
You will hear mention of camps and lodges. The former refers to a tented structure on a raised platform with full bathroom and often luxurious, such as Mara Plains Camp. Lodges are permanent and can vary widely from dated colonial homes to mind-blowing villas like Arijiju. Then there are mobile camps which are set up in different locations following game movement. These will have bucket showers and proper beds, for example Serengeti safari camp. Fly camping is the most stripped back option where you sleep in a different location each night in moveable tents.
The normal daily agenda is to rise early and go for a game drive, returning after a bush breakfast, lunch at the camp and then out again late afternoon. It is worth asking about the availability of other activities if you feel like a bit of a change. Many camps provide an armed scout to accompany you and your guide on foot. This is a wonderful way to observe smaller creatures and less skittish game, such as giraffe, from a safe distance. Night safaris with a spotter and a visit to a nearby local village to view tribal customs are other options. There are also safaris which concentrate on particular species, such as Greystoke Mahale in western Tanzania (pictured above), where chimpanzee trekking is the main focus.
The guide factor is probably the most important element of any safari. Do ensure that the places you are booked have an excellent reputation for their guides. Private groups of six will have a personal guide. For smaller groups, if your budget permits, I would recommend asking for your own guide and vehicle at each camp as it allows for more flexibility and you will learn so much more without the inhibition of other guests.
Miranda runs a high-end travel consultancy business, mlpdestinations.com, and advises clients on all areas of travel from whom to travel with to preparing outline itineraries.