General Info - Safaris in East Africa
A Typical Day, What To Take, Tipping On Safari, And More
Going on a safari, whether it is your first time or you are a seasoned safari goer, is still an exhilarating experience. You spend your days taking exciting game drives over the plains looking for animals in their natural environment, and go to sleep listening to the sounds of the African bush – there cannot be a better way to pass the time!
Types of Safari
Safaris in East Africa tend to fall into 2 main types.
One of the most popular ways is to hire the services of a professionally accredited driver-guide and a private safari vehicle for your safari experience. The advantage of this is that your safari is then truly your own - so if you are at a sighting and you decide you want to stay there for hours, then you only have yourselves to please!
But don't worry that you will be with your guide 24/7 - whilst you are with him during the day, which sometimes can be up to 8 hours in total, once you get to your lodge he will usually disappear off to be with the other guides, so you do then have some private time alone!
The game drive vehicles are 4x4 safari vehicles or particularly in Kenya, you can choose a safari minibus. All the vehicles have sliding windows and a roof hatch for game viewing and photography. Don't be afraid to stand up and stick your head out of the roof hatch to get some good photographs! For maximum comfort and optimum enjoyment of the safari, in general everyone wants a window seat, which means a maximum of 6 passengers per vehicle - if there are 7 passengers, then one person will sit upfront with the driver.
The other option is a fly-in safari, where you fly into the reserve or National Park, and are met at the airstrip by a guide from your camp. Your game drives then are with fellow guests from the same camp, normally in vehicles seating up to 6 people. If you want more of an exclusive safari experience, you can arrange a private vehicle, but this comes at an extra cost. The game vehicles that are owned by the camps/lodges are normally open sided with a canopy roof, but some may be closed sided with sliding/roll down windows.
A Typical Day on Safari
Even though every day will bring a different experience in terms of your wildlife viewing, safaris tend to follow a general pattern.
The day starts with an early wakeup call, with tea/coffee at the lodge before you depart. Some camps may also serve breakfast before you depart; others will serve breakfast upon your return to the lodge after the morning drive. The early mornings are the best opportunity to follow fresh tracks and see wildlife, as some of the nocturnal animals are still active. Depending on what there is to see, the game drive is normally 3 to 4 hours long.
The next few hours are spent resting and relaxing in camp as this is the hottest part of the day and animal activity is minimal. Lunch is normally served between 12:00 and 14:30.
At around 15:30 or a bit later, you head off again for an afternoon game drive. If you are in a National Park, the Park regulations require your guide to have you back at the lodge by sunset, however if you are in a private concession or community area, you will often enjoy a sundowner drink stop out in the bush before experiencing a night drive en-route back to the lodge, aided with a spotlight to search out the nocturnal animals.
On arrival back at the lodge you will normally sit around the camp fire or in the lounge area and enjoy drinks while waiting for dinner. Sometimes dinner is served outside under the stars in a 'boma' around an open fire, with candles or lanterns as the only form of lighting. Many lodges will seat everyone on the same table for all meals, which gives you the opportunity to really get to know other people.
After dinner, drinks may be enjoyed again around the fire however most people find they are tired from the fresh air and early start and are in bed by 22:00.
If you are with a private driver-guide for your safari, there is also the opportunity to elect to go out after breakfast on a full day game drive with a picnic lunch, which means you do not have to return to the lodge until sunset.
Are Safaris Demanding?
Generally, safaris are not demanding in terms of heavy physical activity, however there are elements which can be tiring that you need to be aware of.
Due to the nature of the terrain the roads are often bumpy (and in the dry season very dusty too), and especially when you are driving between destinations, the journey can be long and tiring. The term you will often hear is that the roads offer you an 'African massage' - an amusing way of saying you are thoroughly jiggled around in your seat! On the positive side, however, if you wear a fitness tracker, you will easily meet your daily steps goal with all the bouncing around!
Some lodges offer walking activities ranging from one to 3 hours and this is generally the most strenuous activity you will encounter, and individuals of average fitness should experience no problems. During your walk, you will be introduced to how to spot tracks in the sand or mud, the uses of many different types of trees, and much more.
If your itinerary includes a light aircraft flight, these are often very compact and there is a certain amount of stepping and bending to get into the aircraft and manoevering yourself into your (rather small) seat. Travellers are also more likely to experience travel sickness in smaller planes than the larger commercial aircraft and this should be kept in mind.
What to pack for a safari is a question that we get asked again and again. Whilst this is not the definitive list, it should give you a bit of a guideline.There are a couple of ‘general rules’ to remember as a starting point.
- You do not need to invest in a special safari outfit, however you should try to take neutral coloured clothes – so greens, beiges, etc – and avoid taking anything too brightly coloured. Camouflage printed clothing is not necessary but if you do take anything in this style, please note it is not advisable to wear this in towns, at airports or when crossing borders.
- Take comfortable clothes – remember that your game drive may be long so you don’t want to feel uncomfortable 10 minutes into the drive as you cannot really go back to get changed!
- Try to avoid taking anything white – firstly the dust will soon turn your pristine white t-shirt into a not-so-attractive dirty colour, and secondly white does attract bugs at night.
- If you are going into an area where tsetse flies are present then you should also avoid the colours blue and black.
- Think in layers...when out on game drives, the early morning and evening temperatures can be cooler and if you are on an open sided game vehicle you also have the ‘wind chill’ factor of being on a moving vehicle. Better to layer up in the mornings and take off clothes as required. And do the reverse for the afternoon game drives – whilst it might be lovely and warm when you set off on your game drive, when the sun goes down it may suddenly feel a bit chilly! And if you are going on safari in the Southern Hemisphere Winter months (June, July, August) – the more warm layers, the better.
- The dress code on safari is very relaxed, so there is no need to worry about packing formal shirts, ties, jackets or cocktail dresses for your time on safari!
Clothing items to take include:
- Shorts/t-shirts - ideal for walks and the warm midday periods.
- Long trousers and long sleeved shirts – for the evenings to protect yourself from mosquito bites.
- A warm sweater/fleece.
- A waterproof jacket – especially if you are going on safari during a known rainy season. Some lodges will provide waterproof ponchos in case of rain but this cannot be guaranteed.
- Swimwear - just in case you fancy a cooling dip inbetween game drives if your lodge has a pool.
- Ladies may want to consider packing a good support bra, as the game drives can be bumpy.
- Comfortable walking shoes, trainers or hiking boots for bush walks and/or on game drives.
- Sandals - ideal to wear at meal times and around the lodge area.
- A sun hat or baseball cap - to stop sunstroke when out on game drives, and to help shade your eyes from the sun when looking for the wildlife.
Other Items To Take On Safari
A quick check list of other useful items to take with you:
- A small day pack to take out on game drives with you.
- A water bottle – the lodge will fill this up with water if you ask – great to stop you getting dehydrated on game drives. Equally, if you cannot do without numerous cups of coffee in the morning, taking a small thermos flask and filling it up with coffee before you depart on a morning drive is a good way to ensure you get your required caffeine intake!
- A good pair of sunglasses.
- Sun block with a high SPF factor (between 30 and 50) and lip balm.
- Strong insect repellent - some lodges will supply this in the rooms, but better to be safe than sorry and pack your own just in case.
- First aid kit (plasters, antiseptic cream/wipes, antihistamine tablets/cream or other medication to relieve reactions to insect bites or stings, painkillers, etc).
- Hand wipes - always useful to have with you to freshen up on a game drive. A flannel is also useful as the public toilets at the picnic sites may not have hand dryers!
- If you wear daily disposable contact lenses it is advisable to bring more than you think you will need, as you may want to take the lenses out inbetween game drives if you get too much dust in your eyes.
- Malaria tablets and other personal medication.
- Camera (and if you are into photography in a big way, consider different size lenses and a bean bag, monopod or tripod to to rest the lens on so that you avoid camera shake).
- One top tip for camera equipment is to take a pillowcase or other cloth bag to keep everything in when out on game drives – some camera bags are big and unweldy so take up valuable seat space, plus you end up having to unzip compartments and while the bag is open dust gets in everywhere – instead consider having everything in a pillowcase that you can keep relatively ‘closed’ and just reach in to retrieve the necessary camera body/lens as required.
- Spare camera batteries, memory cards and battery charger - there is nothing worse than seeing the perfect shot, only for your camera to die a death or the memory card to be full (bear in mind too that the opportunity to download photos may be limited).
- Binoculars - the guide will tend to have a pair of these always to hand, but they are there for everyone to share, so if you are not the sharing kind of person, better to have your own pair to use all the time.
- A small flashlight may be useful.
- Books/novels for siesta hours.
- Wildlife reference books – enabling you to read up about more facts on the animals you have seen during your drive.
- Bird books – especially if you are an avid birder, as not every bird will be identified by your guide along the way, so you can quietly look up anything you have seen and identify it yourself.
- If you use Google, downloading Google Translate onto your mobile phone with a local dictionary such as Swahili will help with the occasional word/phrase such as please, thank you, or can I have another beer! Whilst everyone will speak English (some more so than others), asking something in a local language does endear yourself to the staff!
Tipping on Safari
It is customary to tip your guide at the end of your safari, and also to leave something for the housekeeping/general camp staff, especially if they have done a good job of looking after you. Tipping in US Dollars is generally acceptable.
Driver-guide – either if you are on safari with a private driver-guide or you are on a fly-in safari and you are sharing your game drives with other guests, a tip of USD 5-10 per person per day is the norm - err towards the higher amount for particularly outstanding/personal service. This should be given to the driver-guide at the END of the safari, and it is normal to discretely 'slip' him some folded dollar bills (literally from your palm to his palm) as part of your 'goodbye and thank you' handshake.
Housekeeping/general staff - if they have kept your room spotless and your beer glass constantly topped up, then a tip of around USD 5-7 per person per night at each camp/lodge is ideal. Most camps/lodges will have communal tip boxes where you can 'post' your tip amount, and all the money is pooled and shared between the relevant staff members such as the chef, housekeeping, and waiting staff. Again, you can tip more if the service has been exemplary.
Another thing to consider is taking some envelopes with you, so that you can address the envelopes accordingly and seal the individual tips inside - in this way, the tip is not revealed until after you have departed.
Obviously, tipping is optional and what you leave is totally at your own discretion - we would stress that you should never feel pressured into leaving a tip that you are not comfortable with.
Just a Few More Things to Remember!
If you have any specific dietary requirements, please let your Travel Butlers consultant know in advance, so that we can pass this information onto the lodge.
Don't be afraid to ask questions of your guide when on a game drive! He/she has a wealth of knowledge and is happy to share this with you! Even if you think the question is silly or irrelevant, don't be shy! Just please... don't ask to see a tiger...
When you are driving between Parks or different lodges/camps within the same Park, you will not be driving at game-drive speed. The drive by comparison will be relatively fast, as your driver-guide is aiming to get you to your next destination in time for lunch. If you see something that you really want to stop for, however, then just ask him - he will also be on the look out for extraordinary sightings such as lions, but he will not automatically stop at every impala or zebra sighting.
Although it is of course very tempting to spend the entire time behind the lens of your camera, so that you capture every potential second of the lion walking past, do remember to try to emerge sometimes and just enjoy the experience first hand. Especially on a night drive, unless you have a rock steady hand or you are a professional photographer, don't expect the night shots to win many awards!
Most lodges will offer a laundry service, which will either be included in your rate as specified or it will be an additional cost (if it is the latter, the costs are normally listed per item so you can work out the potential end bill!). Dirty laundry is normally collected when housekeeping cleah the room in the morning, and returned the same day or at worst, the next morning. Please note however that due to culture, many of the lodges will not wash ladies underwear, but will leave a packet of soap powder in the bathroom so that you can wash anything yourself.
The wildlife is just that... wild. There is no guarantee that you will see every living species of the African bush, but if you have something particular that will make your safari move from being 'wonderful' to 'the very best experience ever', just let your guide know and they will do their utmost to ensure that you are not disappointed. But if you don't end up seeing the elusive leopard or witnessing an exciting river crossing if you are there at the time of the Migration, don't be too upset - just look back at everything else you did see with fond memories!
Should you be on safari with a private driver-guide, and you find that after 24 hours, there is a huge personality clash - do not let this spoil your safari. Please contact your Travel Butlers consultant as soon as possible OR call the Emergency Contact support contact number in this document, and where possible, alternative arrangements will be made.
There is, or course, an inherent risk associated with going on safari due to the fact that you are in the midst of wild animals. Many lodges/camps will ask guests to sign an indemnity form and guests will also be required to abide by the operator’s code of conduct in order to ensure their safety.
Please listen to your guide/lodge manager attentively on safety precautions particular to each lodge and follow their instructions. The lodges may not be fenced, so especially at night, you will need to be escorted between your room and the main lodge area.