Safaris Explained


When planning or booking your safari, there are a few key decisions that you need to make. Some of these might be dictated by the time you have for your holiday, by your budget - and others by the level of comfort and overall experience that you desire.

Here we have tried to give information that will allow you to make the key decisions about all aspects of your safari that will enable us to then put together the best programme for you. It is possible that all of your decisions won't align - and that is where we come in. We can guide you through the process and help you make compromises where necessary, and ultimately, your dream safari.


SO WHAT IS A SAFARI?
'Safari' is a Kiswahili word which means journey, however over the years it has become the single word which conjures up thoughts of an intrepid African adventure. The word has been adopted by the tourism industry and is now synonymous with the vision of khaki-clad explorers, hurtling across the African savannah looking to spot the Big Five.  

Ultimately, your safari is whatever you want it to be. It could be just a three-day safari to the Masai Mara, or an all-encompassing 28-day tour of Kenya and Tanzania.

Many people only ever dream of Africa and being able to go on safari. Our role is to work with you to match your dreams to reality.

THE ITINERARY
It really can be confusing when you are planning your first safari. From the outset, you have the choice of either selecting an itinerary which is already developed (look at our 'safari itineraries') or have a bespoke itinerary developed for you. Both of these are possible for us to do for you, and both are good choices depending on the amount of time you have, what you want to see and your budget. A bespoke planned safari is not necessarily more expensive than one of our pre-planned itineraries, and the best place to start your planning is looking at existing itineraries or packages that you might like to use as the basis for your safari - and then just tweak a few things.

There is always the temptation to include lots of destinations and cram as much into your itinerary as possible. The thinking behind this is that you will see more. While it might be true that you will visit more places, no matter how briefly, you will not necessarily see more. Often by visiting many parks/reserves in a short time, you will spend more time driving between these destinations, than spending time in the parks, or enjoying the accommodation you have chosen. The roads in East Africa are often poorly maintained, potholed and congested with overloaded trucks - therefore travelling the same distance will take much longer than it does at home. Vehicles operating in the tourism sector are speed limited to 80km/h and cannot travel after dark, so travelling long distances (or relatively short distances on bad roads) can be tiresome, and this can be why we can't always agree to your safari Itinerary ideas.

If you have a rough idea of what you would like to do, please send these ideas to us, and we can then advise on whether the itinerary looks workable.

TRANSPORT
So how would you like to get around on your safari? There are many transport options and what you choose will be based on the length of your holiday/safari, how many destinations you plan on visiting, and how intrepid you want to your safari to be. Depending on your destinations, it can be possible to combine different options.

By Air

Flying is the quickest and easiest way to travel between many national parks, reserves, towns and cities. There are many interlinked flights to make it much easier to join up a multi-destination safari.

The best thing about flying is, that many of the airstrips are located inside the National Parks, Reserves and Conservancies, so from the time you land, you are instantly 'on safari'.

If you fly between destinations this gives many options for safari destinations at mid-range to luxury lodges and camps. From the moment you land, you will be in their capable hands and have a safari package which includes all of your flights, transfers, accommodation, meals and game drives - so there is nothing more to think about - just enjoy.

By Road/Ground

There are lots of ground transport options, and the choice is yours based on the type of safari you wish to have, and your budget.

Safari Van
Our safari vans are all 4wd and beige/brown in colour. They have 8-9 passenger seats and a pop-top roof hatch, ideal for game viewing. Unless booked by a private group, we would not recommend more than six people plus the driver in one vehicle - that way everyone gets a window seat. These vehicles tend to be used for budget and mid-range itineraries. Safari vans are not permitted in most conservancies.

Safari Landcruiser (closed sides)
These are the most common Landcruisers that are used for safaris and/or transfers between destinations. They can come with different seating arrangements, but usually have either two or three rows of seats. They can also accommodate up to six passengers comfortably plus the driver. They have several game viewing hatches, and some also have one at the front so there is room for an additional guide or passenger at the front if necessary. These vehicles are ideal for the rainy seasons and for destinations with poor roads or difficult terrain.

Safari Landcruiser/Landrover (open-sided)
These open-sided safari vehicles tick all of the 'dream safari' boxes and are ideal for soaking up the true ambience of the African savannah. You really get a true sense of the sights, smells and proximity to the environment you are in - and unlimited viewing out of each side of the vehicle. This option is what many people have in their mind when dreaming of a safari. But please bear in mind, that these vehicles are not permitted to drive on the open roads, and so are only available if you choose a flying safari and you are staying at a lodge/camp in the park/reserve/conservancy that operate these vehicles.

Cycling
For the more intrepid traveller, we offer a number of cycling safaris. We combine cycling with driving and sometime walking as well, as it is not possible to cycle to/in all destination. It is possible to cycle in some of the private conservancies and in the open bush, and is an Ideal way to interact with local communities. The mountain bikes we use are of a reasonable standard, although are not the type that keen mountain bikers would be accustomed to. Much of the cycling that we do is off-road, so the terrain can be challenging, the days warm and the journey fun.   

Walking
A walking safari is another great way to experience the freedom of really being 'in the bush'. Most of the walking is through conservancies or community land, so you are able to enjoy a combination of beautiful landscape, spotting wildlife and meeting local people. Unless you add a mountain trek, much of the safari walking is easy to moderate. It Is also possible to combine some walking with most itineraries, and is a great opportunity to get out of the vehicle for a day or two and stretch your legs.

Special note: All vehicles have very limited space for luggage. Smaller soft cases are best so that they can fit into odd-shaped spaces. Most camps and lodges have laundry service, so it is not essential to pack excessive personal belongings. See our suggested packing list for advice.

SPECIAL INTERESTS

Do you have any special interests that we can help you indulge while on safari? Are you are keen bird watcher or photographer? Would you like a day or two walking or cycling? Would you like to visit a Maasai Village or see the Samburu tribe? Would you like to include some horse riding or a balloon safari in your itinerary? Would you like to concentrate on the Big Five, or get off the beaten track? Are you celebrating a special event or occasion?

There are many additional interests and activities that we can include in your holiday itinerary. Please let us know what you would like to do, and we will help make these dreams come true.

HOW MUCH DOES A SAFARI COST?

Here is a very rough guide for what you could expect to pay per person per day for a safari, based on the type of accommodation/style. The indicated prices are based on a driving safari (unless specified), during the high season and we have given a guide price based on if there are 2 or 4 people on safari.

There are many other price defining indicators, like season, total number of people on the safari, style of transport, individual accommodation, etc. But this will be a reasonable price guide to use as a starting point so you can start to think about what standard of safari you would like, and for how many days.

Safari Type

2 pax

4 pax

Camping

$250

$180

Budget Lodge/Camp

$350

$250

Mid-range Lodge/Camp

$400-500

$300-400

High-end Lodge/Camp

$500-600

$400-500

Luxury tented Camp (flying)

$600-1200

$600-1200

Approximate costs per person per day in US$

The old say is true, particularly in the case of safaris 'you get what you pay for'.

GROUP OR PRIVATE SAFARI

Group safaris (booking a seat onto a safari which is already confirmed with other people) are an ideal option for travellers who wish to enjoy the company of others on safari, or want to reduce the costs by travelling in a group. This is ideal for single travellers or for 1-4 people travelling together who want to take advantage of the cheaper group rate. Safaris can be a lot more fun with more people.

Private safaris (booked for just you and your family/group) are best for anyone who want to select their own itinerary, set the pace of the safari or wants some one-on-one time with their partner/family. A private safari is essential for anyone who wants to develop a bespoke itinerary, particularly if you want to get off-the-beaten-track and away from the crowds. If you have particular interests that will ultimately control the pace of the safari, like photography or bird watching, then this is the only safari option for you.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT?

East Africa is a year round destination, and different times of the year are optimum for different reasons. The high seasons are Christmas to the end of February, and then from July to October. During this time accommodation is at peak rates, and the most popular destinations will be busy with tourists. These months are most popular because they coincide with the school holidays and also the July-October period is when the Wildebeest Migration moves north from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara.

The quietest times of year are April to June and then November until just before Christmas. These months do coincide with the rain seasons, although this is becoming less predictable. When it does rain, it is normally during late afternoon or during the night, so other than adverse road conditions, there is usually minimal impact on a safari. It can be a good time to take advantage of some excellent low season rates (can be fifty percent cheaper than the high season), however many of the luxury tented camps close from Easter until June/July.

The 'Great Migration' can start to arrive in the Masai Mara around late June/early July, and then they return to the Serengeti around October.

Here is a general breakdown of what the year is like, and could help you make some decisions about when it is best to visit for you. Of course no two years are the same, and there might be variations, but this could give you a rough idea.

MONTH

WEATHER

VISITORS 1-5

PRICE 1-5

January

Warm, sunny

4

4-5

February

Warm, sunny

4-5

4-5

March

Warm, sunny

3-4

4

April

Warm-cool, long rains

1

1

May

Warm-cool, long rains

1

1

June

Cool, end of long rains

2-3

2-3

July

Cool, dry

5

5

August

Cool, dry

5

5

September

Cool-warm, dry

3-4

4-5

October

Warm, dry

3-4

4-5

November

Warm, short rains

2

2-3

December

Warm, dry

3

2-3, Festive = 5


Weather: Although the Equator runs through Kenya, depending on where you stay, because of the high altitude in some parts of the country, including Nairobi, can be unexpectedly cool - especially at night. The days when it is sunny are perfect and warm. There are two main rain seasons (April-June and November), although these are increasingly unpredictable.

Visitors: This is to give you a rough idea of when it is very busy, and much quieter (1 = least busy, 5 = busiest). Coming outside of peak holiday times means that you have a greater chance of having more private wildlife viewing experiences.

Price: If you are able to travel outside of peak season, there are great savings to have. It could mean that you could enjoy a safari of a much higher standard for a lot less than you would pay in the peak season. (1 = cheapest; 5 = most expensive).

ACCOMMODATION TYPES

There is a vast range of accommodation available on safari. You can choose anything from bush camping, where you will really be 'at one with nature', to luxury tented camps with butler service. There is no right or wrong choice, and every accommodation type has its own advantages. Ultimately the type of accommodation you select will depend on the level of comfort you desire, where you want to stay (in the Reserves, outside the National Parks, in private conservancies) and what budget you have. If budget is your key concern, please look at the 'safari cost' tab for guidelines.

In general we have made a distinction between camps and lodges based on their overall vibe, building materials, standards and target clientele. While some properties might use the word 'luxury' in their name, it does not make it true. Likewise, some of the tented camps call themselves a 'lodge' to distinguish themselves from 'campsites'. So regardless of what a property calls itself, we have developed our own system to help you understand what they actually offer.

Some of the larger tented camp can have more of a 'lodge vibe', but if they are canvas fronted/walls on the guest rooms, then we have classed them as a tented camp. Here are some broad descriptions so that you can understand the class of accommodation and what you are booking.

In general the location of your accommodation is what can be very key to your overall safari experience. Staying at a property in premium location means that you don't waste time driving to the key game-viewing areas - you are already staying there. If you are looking for a property where it is possible to see wildlife from the camp/lodge or has a waterhole for viewing, then you need to be looking at the high-end or luxury properties. Generally speaking, the more exclusive and the less people, the more expensive a property is.

Camping
If you want to really 'be at one with nature' or are on a tight budget, then a camping safari is an ideal choice. You will be sleeping in a pitched tent (camping tent) with a roll mattress and sleeping bag. Depending on the destination, this could be either staying at a bush camp (with no/limited facilities) or at a basic camp site where there are shared bathroom facilities. Meals would be served informally for your group and prepared by a cook. You might have the chance to 'chip in' if you like. Most of these campsite are located outside of the parks and reserves or if inside are operated by the Kenya Wildlife Service. Some of these camps may also have budget permanent tented accommodation as well. Numbers of guests will vary greatly throughout the year - so sometimes these places can be very serene, and other times you could be sharing with a number of overland trucks of guests.
Example: Riverside Camp

Budget Lodge
These lodges are 'bricks and mortar' style buildings of varying designs. They are located outside the parks/reserves or outside of 'premium areas'. They usually have basic to moderate facilities - some may have a swimming pool. Meals are usually served in a large dining area buffet style. They are usually popular because of their price, and for guests who don't like the idea of staying in a tent. These lodges can be quite large - usually having a capacity of 150-300 people.
Example: Sopa Mara

Budget Tented Camp
Some of these camps offer camping, and then additionally a range of accommodation which is in permanent tents with ensuite bathroom. They are usually located outside the parks or reserves and have basic to moderate facilities - some might have a swimming pool, bar and restaurant. This is an ideal choice for anyone who doesn't want to camp, but also is not fussed on the facilities of the rooms/camp. Meals are usually served from a buffet.
Example: Sentrim Mara

Mid-range Lodge
These lodges have comfortable rooms, good service, nice locations and are very popular because they offer a good consistent standard. Many of these properties are chain hotels and so have a number of properties in different parks around the country. Some are large properties which can accommodate around 200-300 people, and catering is buffet in large dining halls. Most have good facilities including bars, restaurant, swimming pool, massage centre, gift shop, etc. They also usually offer additional experiences for your safari like 'bush breakfast', sundowners, village visits, etc. These lodges are a good choice if you plan to balance your safari time in and out of the vehicle.
Example: Serena Mara Lodge

Mid-range Tented Camp
A very popular choice for guests who want to have an 'under canvas' experience, without compromising on any comforts. In fact, with many of the rooms, you might have to remind yourself you are actually sleeping in the tent. They can be located either in or outside the parks/reserves and usually accommodate between 40-80 guests at a time, and serve meals are usually buffet in a dining tent. Most camps would have extensive facilities including bar, restaurant, swimming pool, massage centre, gift shop, etc. They also usually offer additional experiences for your safari like 'bush breakfast', sundowners, village visits, etc. They are usually well situated and have enough activities to do at the camp, that it is possible to balance your safari time in and out of the vehicle.
Example: Ilkeliani Camp

High-end Lodge
Beautiful in every details, these high-end lodges are often a throw-back to times gone by, but with a modern and glamorous atmosphere. With attentive staff and facilities that you would expect of a property of this calibre, you will leave feeling spoiled. Ideal to balance game driving with time relaxing and enjoying your safari, these lodges will have a host of bars, restaurants, swimming pool, recreations facilities, massage and spa, etc. You will be wanting for nothing. Often catering for 200-300 in-house guests, these properties work hard to make you feel like you are not just one in a crowd. Meals are served from well-presented buffets and often also have the option of private dining experiences.
Example: Mount Kenya Safari Club

High-end Tented Camp
The ultimate 'glamping' experience, these camps offer a great balance between feeling adventurous and really 'getting amongst it', and yet not having to compromise on the comforts of a conventional hotel. Usually accommodating guests in large custom-made tents with beautiful décor and facilities, you will happily split your time between relaxing at camp and spending time out on game drives. Hosting between 20-60 guests, these properties are usually well placed in parks, reserves or conservancies and offer meals either buffet or a combination of a la carte. They also offer a wide range of additional dining experiences and other additions like 'bush breakfasts', sundowners, private dining in your tent. So, if you really want to have an unforgettable experience on safari, not just because of the wildlife, this will tick all of the boxes.
Example: Tipilikwani

Luxury Tented Camp
Exclusive personalised service, impressive attention to detail - it is these subtle touches throughout these camps that safari dreams are made of. Either extraordinarily luxurious, or intimate and basic with a flash back to hunting camps of a time gone by, these properties are dedicated to giving their clientele a taste of safari life, back in the day. Bathrooms with brass fittings, ensuite bucket showers, hosted fine-dining meals, and single-malt whiskey - these camps are a pleasant blend of the comforts of modern life with a twist of Hemmingway!

Available within flying packages only, with a maximum of around 24 guests staying at a time, these exclusive properties work hard to minimise their impact on their surroundings and enable their guests to have that genuine uninterrupted safari experience. They operate their own fleets of open-sided safari vehicles with knowledgeable driver/guides who know the area and wildlife like the back of their hand - as this is the only place they work. These tented camps are usually located in conservancies or land concessions which are exclusively for game drives only for guests staying at the few camps who are located in that area. Because of excellent conservation plans, you have greater opportunity to have those private game viewing experiences which safaris dreams are made of - without a circus of other vehicles around. Starting the day with a 'bush breakfast', watching lion cubs play from an open-sided vehicle while enjoying a sun-downer with your preferred drink, a private dinner in your tent, sharing stories around the campfire listing to the sounds from the savannah - these experiences will be your reality.
Example: Elephant Pepper Camp

WHERE TO GO

Well one thing is for sure, there is no shortage of places to visit - it is just a matter of narrowing down the overwhelming selection. It is always a temptation to choose more destinations in the hope that you will see more - however we would suggest that the contrary is true. In an itinerary with too many places, you can spend a lot of time just driving between destinations, particularly if you only spend one night at each place. It is nicer to get to better explore less places and enjoy the safari more.

If you are coming to Africa on a shorter or one-off safari, then we suggest you choose an itinerary that covers your areas of interest visiting some of the best parks, with high-game numbers. If you have been on safari before, or if you plan on coming for a safari of 6+ days, then you will have the opportunity to really explore some different places and get off the beaten track.

Throughout different itineraries, we write about National Parks, Reserves Conservancies and Community Land. Below is an explanation of each, which hopefully will help you to better understand what each has to offer.

National Parks
These parks are owned by the country and managed by the government, for example in Kenya they are run by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). There are many National Parks in each country and they have varying habitats and wildlife. Anybody can enter the park with the relevant park fee paid. Some National Parks are fenced and this area is reserved only for wildlife (so there is no livestock or people). There is often an array of accommodation option inside and on the outskirts of the parks.

National Reserves
There are less Reserves than National Parks and these are usually community land which is owned and managed by the community, or by an independent body or local authority. Anybody can enter a Reserve with the relevant park fee paid. Like National Parks, these Reserves are areas set aside for only wildlife - so people and livestock don't live there. There is often accommodation both inside the park and on the perimeter.

Conservancy Area
These are privately owned and operated areas of land which is leased from the land owners or community by a private entity or organisation. There is often a larger 'land management plan' in place and you may find that the areas harmonises living between wildlife, livestock and people. These Conservation Areas often operate their own conservation programmes and research, or partner with other organisations to do this. They are well managed, have good game numbers and give back to the communities in which they operate. There are usually a limited number of camps or lodges based Inside the Conservancy, and it is only guests of these properties who are permitted to game drive there. So with a lot less vehicles, this means that you have the change of having a lot more private game viewing experiences.

Community Land
These parcels of land often surrounding National Parks, Reserves or Conservancies and are managed by the community. They are home to wildlife, livestock and people and generally are used more for walking and cycling safaris and camping trips, as they often do not have other accommodation established there.

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