Some Common Questions on Private Guided Safaris
Below we will try answer the why, how, when, where, who & how much questions you may have about a private guided safari to Africa. Each safari is obviously unique & specially crafted for each individual traveller, however there are some generic FAQs (frequently asked questions) which can be answered here - such as, which seasons are best for which areas, where is the best place to take a young family on a malaria-free safari, how does one go about booking a private guided safari, etc.
If after going through these FAQs, you still have any questions at all on the subject, please do drop me a line, and I will get back to you on your query as soon as possible...
1. Why do I need to consider the services of a private guide to help me both with my trip planning, as well as to accompany me on my next safari to Africa?
Aren't private guides just glorified hand-holders after all?
For a few reasons why you should consider a private guide for your next African safari, click on one of the pictures below...
being able to hold your hand through The Ordinary (e.g. passport control at an airport or check-in formalities at a remote camp), as well as The Extraordinary (e.g. tracking an endangered black rhino calf or seeing that birding 'lifer' after years of trying) - and in so doing making your safari an easier, less stressful & more rewarding experience...
2. Where are the best places to go on safari in Africa?
Certaily a loaded question, and one without any definitive answer. However, there certainly are better places to travel to for different requirements than others, although in the dynamic context of today's world, the recommended hot-spot of travel today may well be on the worst-place-to-go list in a few years time.
Still, there are a few basic rules and it is these that we will focus on here:
Safari Africa defined:
Firstly, by way of definition - it is important that we set the stage, as the term Africa is used a little loosely in general safari-speak to refer to the areas from Chad & Ethiopia in the north down through the Central & East African countries, and covering most of Southern Africa. West Africa and Africa north of the Sahara are generally excluded, although safaris to destinations such as Morocco, Ghana & The Gambia are obviously possible.
In terms of this site, we refer to Africa as any place where you can have a meaningful & natural wildlife experience. From time to time we will write about areas outside of the traditional scope of Southern, Central & East Africa, but on the whole we focus on the countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique, Madagascar, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia & South Africa, as well as recommending select other areas in Africa.
Reliable safari destinations:
Generally (as there are of course exceptions) the best safari destinations in terms of wildlife richness and camp & lodge facilities are the following: Serengeti & other northern Tanzania parks, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, a few parks in Zimbabwe, the Sabi Sands in South Africa. These will make for very reliable, first-time-to-Africa destinations for most folks. However, once the Africa bug has bitten and you find yourself returning more & more for your 'Africa fix', you will find yourself automatically drawn to more interesting, less-accessible, and generally wilder places such as the great wilderness areas of northern Mozambique & southwestern Tanzania, the rainforests of Central Africa, and Zakouma National Park in Chad to mention a few.
This is key, especially today and in the context of 3rd-World Africa. What was safe 10 years ago is not necessarily safe anymore and vice versa. A lot of the time it comes down to monthly (or even weekly!) checks with people on the ground when it comes to travel to some of the more tricky spots such as central-north Africa (Gabon, C.A.R., the Congos, Chad, etc), north & eastern Ethiopia, and more recently small pockets of north-eastern Kenya. If you are planning trips that might include these areas, Rob & the team on the ground at each place will provide you with daily & weekly updates to inform your final decisions. Terrorism is the safety concern in parts of north-eastern & north-western 'safari Africa' and your respective country's travel warnings in this respect should be taken carefully. Political threats are generally not a concern for travellers as long as travellers do not try and encite political conflict or raise controversial issues too boldly whilst in those countries. As such, and despite media to the contrary, politically-fragile places in Africa such as Zimbabwe are actually very safe to travel to. Health safety is an important aspect and the normal prevention practises for the key ones should be practised in Africa - see below points for more on health in Africa.
Whilst it is impossible to avoid areas where this disease is prevalent (& more often than not the best places are at best low-risk malarial areas), there are certain conditions where it would be prudent to lok at malari-free destinations. These include if you or your partner are travelling pregnant, if you are travelling with young kids (esp. infants & toddlers), if you are allergic to a number of the drugs used to treat malaria, etc. It is true that most of Africa falls into at least a low-risk area for this mosquito-borne disease, yet there are a few stand-out places that one could look to for a malaria-free safari - such as much of Namibia, the Kalahari in Botswana & South Africa, the Eastern Cape & North-West in South Africa, and the higher lying areas of East Africa. However, it is important to state that malaria is both preventable and treatable, and effective preventive and curative tools have been developed. For more on travel and malaria check out the informative CDC site...
Whilst malaria certainly is the most prevalent and potentially most threatening, there are of course other diseases which need to be understood and, preferably, discussed with your personal doctor before travelling to an at-risk area. These include the diseases for which innoculations/vaccinations are generally prescribed pre-travel (Typhoid, Hepatitis, Yellow Fever, etc). However, one of the lesser-known, but more serious diseases present in (thankfully) very few areas is Sleeping Sickness (Tryps, or Nagana). This disease is carried by a few of the tsetse fly species in a few areas popular with safari-goers. Still, it is treatable and as with all of the diseases listed here, prevention is certainly better than cure. But if you are concerned in any way pre-travel, please have an open conversation with your doctor on the various diseases, prevention & treatment methods. You will notice I am not even including Ebola in this response since the disease has not affected, nor should it, any of the countries listed above which form part of 'safari Africa'. It is an awful disease with fatal symptoms, but it - like other similar terrible diseases (HIV, etc) man has picked up from eating our closest living wild relatives, the great apes - is preventable & manageable with correct education, action & lifestyles.
For more on the subject of where to go on safari,
check out my recent blog post which include some of my top places to go in Africa...
3. When is the best time of year to go on safari in Africa?
This is a very good question - visiting an amazing place at the wrong time can mean the difference between a great safari experience and an average one. Of course, Safari Africa is a big region with a wide range of climatic conditions, and so there is no one set rule of thumb in terms of when to go on safari... but there certainly are some good pointers which you should bare in mind:
Seasons & weather:
The climate in Africa is usually the principal consideration when looking at when to travel on safari. Many parts of Africa can be excessively hot & uncomfortable at certain times of year. Generally ( & it is not set in stone by any means), the best season to go on safari is during the late African winter / early Spring when temperatures are mild to warm, and there is minimal chance of rain affecting your trip. Bugs such as mosquitoes & tsetse flies are also generally less active at this time. For Southern Africa, this would mean an ideal safari season from late July through to end September. In East Africa this would probably be more August through to October. However, this been said, there are some incredible photographic opportunities, wildlife experiences & budget-friendly deals out of this traditional peak season. This is especially true of the green season in many destinations in Africa, or the incredible game interactions that take place in the very hot dry season (late October) in places like Mana Pools.
Probably the main reason why people travel to Africa on safari is to get to see wildlife. And whilst there is a broad scope of African wildlife from birds to big game, it generally is the wild interactions between species in particular that are of most interest. These interactions are usually amplified during the dry season when access to, and need for water at restricted sources (both natural & artificial) means more chances of predator & prey crossing paths. For Southern Africa, this means a peak around October, and for East Africa this usually equates (although sometimes it goes well into November too in both regions).
Major events & happenings:
With the diversity of landscape, climate & culture in Safari Africa, anyone wishing to travel on safari should try and find out if there are any major events or must-see happenings on the go at a particular time of year. A private guide like Rob, who travels around Africa for more than 50% of the year, is in a great position to be able to advise on such timings. This is especially true for the Great Migration which, although a year-round phenomenon, certainly has peaks and movements that change on an annual basis, which are good to keep in mind when planning travel dates. The same can be said for cultural festivals, and the more unique experience such as the 'singing wells' of Sarara in Kenya.
Sounds like a bit of an oxymoron really, but most people like to travel to places where they will not see or be accompanied by many other people. For your own slice of private & exclusive Africa, it is vital that you consult someone on the ground & in the know about such things, such as a private guide. There are still quite a few 'secret' gems that give you the feeling of having a part of this wild continent all to yourselves. Contact Rob for more information on some of these special places...
4. What are the must-do experiences I should have / places to see that I should include on safari?
To list all the amazing experiences and places in Africa would take a whole series of websites dedicated to the subject. Africa really does just offer so much to the intrepid traveller. However, it is generally agreed that there are certain must-do experiences and must-see places that are worth including in a shortlist such as this one. Starting from the far south of the continent then, I will list my top things to do and places to see in Safari Africa:
Cape Town & surrounds, South Africa:
Include: sundowners at the Kalk Bay Harbour, a visit to Babylonstoren gardens in the wine country, join a tour of the Haute Cabriere estate with the eccentric owner on a Saturday morning, take a helicopter flip around Cape Point, climb/hike at least one part of Table Mountain, stroll around Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, watch a rugby game live at Newlands & enjoy the post-match buzz in the neighbourhood, visit one of the many Saturday morning markets such as the one at the Old Biscuit Mill, take a jog along the Sea Point Promenade, waddle with the penguins at Boulders Beach, dine out at one of a multitude great restaurants, haggle & enjoy the craft market at Greenpoint...
The Okavango Delta, Botswana:
Just do it. Any part of it. As much as you can. You won't regret this...
The Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana:
The meerkat experience, quad biking, baobab 'islands', zebra migration in wet season, amazing camps such as Jack's & San, San bushmen tracking, landscapes to take the breath away...
A stand-alone safari if ever there was one, Namibia is very different from the rest of Safari Africa due mostly to its dune-filled deserts & vast areas of semi-arid wilderness. Unique desert rhinos & elephants, inspiring predator conservation programs, the highest dunes in the world (balloon over them for added thrill), stars to blow your mind away at night, the Skeleton Coast (do the flying safari there - just do it!), endemic birds, and much much more...
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe & Zambia:
Try experience the lunar rainbow if you are there within 3 days of a full moon - an evening walk around the Falls presents rainbows in shades of grey, if you're up for it - do the white water rafting, enjoy a presentation on the history of the area from one of the specialists on the subject such as Russell Gammon or Luke Terrblanche, take high tea at the Vic Falls Hotel - because you just have to, go on a walking safari in the Zambezi National Park with one of the top local guides such as Charles Brightman and show your support for the great Anti-Poaching program he runs there...
Mana Pools, Zimbabwe:
By safari vehicle, canoe & on foot, this is one of the most exciting wildlife & wilderness areas in Africa. Take on the dry heat and visit in September & October to get the most incredible predator-prey interactions you will see anywhere on earth...
Niassa Reserve, Mozambique:
Enormous wilderness, towering granite inselbergs, an incredible river (the Lugenda), real wildlife, complete exclusivity, extraordinary experiences...
The Luangwa, Zambia:
Whether you choose a luxury lodge in the more busy South or a remote walking safari in the wild North, the Luangwa Valley is a very special place and home to great wildlife, excellent camps & very cool people - many of whom have been in 'the Valley' for decades, having pioneered safaris in the country...
The Serengeti, Tanzania:
No matter what is written about it being a zoo, it is not. And whilst many areas are a bit crowded in the high season, there are still vast areas that are not only empty of tourists, they actually have even more appealing wildlife and scenery. One of our new favourites, Namiri Plains, falls into this category. There are also areas where one can walk which are off the beaten track. Serengeti is the quintessential African safari park...
Mara Bush Homes, Kenya:
Three exclusive houses dotted around private ocnservancies that border the Maasai Mara Reserve provide a unique home-away-from-home experience in wildlife-rich setting and with staff and experiences that make for the ultimate family holiday...
Sarara's Singing Wells, Kenya:
One of those out-the-box type experiences and places but the remote conservancy in central-north Kenya is just super special place with a very interesting cultural experience featuring the local Samburu people bringing their cattle to the wells with their songs - completely one-of-a-kind experience...
Gorilla trekking, Rwanda or DRC:
Nothing can prepare you for the experience of sitting across a few feet from a guant Silverback or a family of gorillas browsing for lunch in a forest clearing - a must-do African safari activity...
5. How much will a private guided safari in Africa cost me?
Whilst every safari is different and unique, the average daily cost of a private guided safari (including meals & accommodation, local transfers, domestic flights (excl. long-haul international flights), guide fees, park entries, etc) can be estimated on a relatively generic level depending on the region, quality of accommodation, number of people in the group, and amount of travel you wish to include in an itinerary.
For ballpark purposes, it is very hard to plan and book a great private guided experience for under US$1,000 per day per person. However, if there is a big group travelling and making use of mid-level accommodation and not moving between many different places, this could be as low as US$750 per day per person, but in reverse, it can be as much as US$2,500 per day per person, all depending on the required program.
But for planning purposes - and by way of example - if you are a couple with a travel budget (excluding long-haul international flights to & from Africa) of US$20,000 for the pair of you, you can realistically expect to be able to plan & book a great 10-day private guided safari with most costs included.
6. How do I go about planning & booking an African safari with Rob?
Planning & booking a safari to Africa can be as exciting as the trip itself, but can also be quite daunting without the right information & support.
Booking a safari with Rob usually starts with an initial email or call in which the initial requirements are put across from your side (e.g. 2 weeks, family of 4, want to see rhino, etc). This is followed by a more detailed call (Skype usually works best for this) in which Rob asks some more in-depth questions about you, your expectations, your likes & your interests. From here Rob puts together an initial draft itinerary plan which is shared with you for feedback. After a little bit of backwards & forwards'ing by email & calls, a final itinerary is agreed on which ticks all the boxes in your safari wish list. This is then linked to a quote which covers all trip costs including booking administrative fees, guiding costs, and relevant activities, travel & accommodation costs. Once you are happy with the itinerary & costing, the process moves on to the second step...
From here, the amazing team at African Expertise take over the actual booking process, securing availability and arranging payments with the various suppliers by means of a deposit (timing dependent) and lump-sum final payment from you into their account. Rob's super-organised wife, Jos, co-runs this safari management service, and so you are assured of the best service at minimal cost to you (they work on a commission basis with the suppliers and so the only fee charged directly to you is an administrative one covering banking charges and the like). You have the choice of dealing directly with Rob for this process, or with Jos or one of the other fine people in their office. With Rob often out of the office on safari, it is recommended that you work with Jos or one of her people during this stage of confirming availability and payment procedures.
Once all the parts of the safari have been confirmed, booked & paid for (which may include slight tweaks to accommodate availability clashes at some of the camps, etc), the final stage of the safari planning process is a series of mails & calls with Rob or Jos which walk you through the various what-to-expect, what-to-pack & other related information (books to read beforehand, country information, travel tips, etc). This is by far the most exciting part of the planning process and helps raise anticipation for the safari ahead.
If you would like to book a safari with Rob or simply find out more about the process, please drop him a line and he will get back to you as soon as possible...